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My name is Hannah, and as one half of an engaged couple, I’m excited to share with you my experience planning our upcoming May wedding. I found InterfaithFamily online when I began searching for a rabbi who was willing to officiate the type of wedding ceremony my partner and I want to have: namely a non-traditional, and somewhat Jewish one!
Let me tell you a little bit about us:
Amma and I met in San Francisco in 2013. When I wasn’t making art, I was working as a cashier in a popular specialty food market, where Amma would often stop to get lunch or that last minute, forgotten grocery item. She lived around the corner from the market, and was what you would call a regular. It wasn’t long before we had noticed each other, and the fast-paced market, with its never-ending checkout line was quickly becoming an insufficient meeting place. At the end of our first date, we made plans to see each other again the next day. We both knew early on that ours was a relationship we wanted to put our all into.
We’ve had fun together since we first met, and still do every day. We also work to understand each other and smooth out the inevitable bumps that arise. We are similar in our beliefs and dreams and in the activities we enjoy, and we can be very different in our approaches to problems and the ways in which we get through daily life. We balance each other out in really meaningful ways that make us both better people.
Some of our differences could be attributed to our respective upbringings. We have really different backgrounds. At this point you may be expecting me to describe our religious differences. Ironically, neither one of us was raised with any religion at all.
(I will explain how we ended up getting involved with InterfaithFamily, and deciding to have a rabbi officiate our wedding in my next post.)
In their early 20s, my parents moved to Vermont to escape mainstream culture and headed into the woods to find peace and organic food. My father was raised Jewish, and though very spiritual, no sooner had he completed his bar mitzvah then he decided he didn’t want any part of organized religion. My mother was raised Catholic, but her spirituality seems to be more centered around interconnectedness. I often hear her say “Isn’t that cosmic?” or use the term “kindred spirits.”
Amma’s mother was actually the daughter of a Hindu Priest, and as the very independent individual that she is, I think it just felt natural for her to discover her own brand of spirituality. Amma’s father grew up Christian (I’m not sure which denomination) and I would venture that his life’s work in science is indicative of his pragmatic and analytic mind, where religion has no place.
So, if only by coincidence, religion has not been an issue for us. As similar as our backgrounds are in terms of religion, they are equally as different culturally. Amma’s parents are both from developing countries. Both recognized for their brilliance, they took advantage of every opportunity to educate themselves and develop careers that would eventually take them around the world. They have worked so hard to be where they are and to give their children a good life. Their perspective is potent, and they have passed much of it down to Amma and her brother. To come from such humble beginnings and work that hard means you don’t take anything for granted.
My parents were fortunate to be born in the U.S. Even if you’re not wealthy here, you are afforded certain opportunities and privileges that simply don’t exist in the developing world. Life begins on a stronger foundation. Both of my parents are musical and artistic, and because they didn’t have to worry about having a roof over their heads, or getting a good education, they were able to concentrate on more creative ventures and choose a life for themselves that suited their personal interests and beliefs. The culture within our family, not to mention the whole community I grew up in, emphasized creativity and peace, getting along and being physically and spiritually healthy. My parents didn’t have a lot of money, but because of their foundation, they had more choice and flexibility in their lives. Not surprisingly, my siblings and I were very much influenced by the priorities of our parents and our community.
Through the lens of Amma’s experience and perspective, I realize how fortunate I truly am. I have also learned that working as hard as her parents had to can produce better results than being privileged from the beginning. There are some extremely positive qualities engrained in Amma that I’m still working on. Strength, clarity and perseverance are just a few of my favorites!
Just over a year ago, on my birthday, we got engaged. Amma knew it would be the best birthday present. She had broken her ankle about a week before, and was still bed-ridden. She somehow (read: Amazon.com) managed to prepare the most perfect “birthday in bed,” complete with pink wrapping paper (my favorite) and daffodils. One of her gifts to me was a pack of origami paper. That was good enough for me, but then she said, “There’s something I want to teach you how to make.” She kept me in suspense as I followed each of the folding directions. I didn’t know until the last fold that we were, in fact, making origami diamond rings! As soon as I realized what they were, we looked at each other with big grins and she said, “Wanna get married?!” I obviously said yes.
We agreed that we wanted to have real rings to symbolize our engagement to each other, and we wanted to pick them out together. As soon as Amma’s ankle had healed, we went to our favorite jewelry shop, Bario Neal, and picked out matching gold bands…well, almost matching. Amma’s has a polished finish and mine is brushed. We hadn’t necessarily set out to get matching rings, but in the end, it turned out we wanted the same thing: a thin gold band with a tiny champagne diamond. Something simple, timeless and low profile.
As an artist, I work with my hands constantly, and I wanted to be able to wear my ring without it getting in the way. Amma doesn’t wear a lot of jewelry, so for her it had to be something that wouldn’t feel foreign on her body. We weren’t sure if we wanted a stone at first, but it felt incomplete without one, so we picked the tiniest diamond available at the shop. It gives the rings just a touch of character and represents the spark between us. Because we do not view our engagement and our wedding as two completely separate notions, we really only wanted the one ring to represent our commitment to each other. Instead of getting a second ring to exchange at our wedding, we plan to exchange the rings we already have, and get them engraved with our initials and the date of our wedding.
Thinking about the idea of rings and picking the right ones turned out to be the first exercise in a long string of challenging decisions. Within the context of planning my own wedding, a lot of big questions have come up. It takes diligence to get to the bottom of your own beliefs and desires. I didn’t fully realize until I began this process myself, that there is an unspoken, pre-written script to wedding planning and the wedding itself. Even after recognizing the presence of this script, it is easy to lose sight of what you and your partner really want. For Amma and me, the marriage is what we are most excited about. The wedding will be a [hopefully] fun celebration of our love and commitment, and the official gateway into our marriage. As we continue planning, we are trying to stay true to ourselves and keep our own desires for the big day in the forefront of our minds, whether they coincide with the script or not.
When I was single, I spent a lot of time on OKCupid. But when I got Jean’s message, I’d never seen her profile before. My filter was set to see only women up to age 33. I was 37. Jean was 36.
I wasn’t ageist—at least that’s what I tell myself—but I want to have kids. When I did the math in my head—1 year minimum dating + 1 year minimum engagement + 1 year minimum to have a baby—the math got hard. There were other things to be wary of. She was a teacher. I had dated teachers before and was looking for something different. And then, under religion: “Catholic.”
When you’ve spent enough time on dating sites, you know what it means (or what you think it means) when someone who isn’t Jewish mentions their religion. It’s a big, almost political, statement. It means their religion means something to them. It means they knowingly are excluding a significant number of potential suitors who are actively anti-religious, non-religious or uncomfortable with the whole topic. And it probably excludes another not insignificant number of people who are wary of anyone being too serious about anything on OKCupid.
My profile said “Jewish.” But “Jewish” comes with a lot more useful flexibility than “Catholic.” When people write “Jewish,” they could be declaring an important part of their identity. Or, they could be sharing an interesting detail, a conversational topic for late in a good first date. They could be including “Jewish” for other Jews on the site who will only date Jews, as a way to make it through their filter. Occasionally, people write “Jewish” because they’re actually religious. Then again—most of those people are on JDate instead.
I wasn’t against dating someone who wasn’t Jewish. But I want to raise my kids Jewish. “Catholic” signaled a different intention.
But she was cute. She was rock-climbing in one picture. She held a (good) beer in another. There wasn’t a pink Red Sox hat or Macchu Picchu picture in sight. I liked her message to me: It was thoughtful. She had read my profile. She appreciated that I noted that I was aware that my job description sounded “douchy.” (I’m a business strategy consultant for the telecom industry. It does sound douchy.) I liked that. Also, I had recently broken up with somebody—a “perfect on paper” and Jewish, but not so perfect a match in reality, somebody—and was still kind of beat up about it. So I wasn’t looking for anything serious at this point. I figured we could have fun for a little while.
She was late for our first date. Not terribly late, only 15 minutes or so.
“I’m sorry, I’m a time optimist,” she said, a little out of breath. She didn’t seem sorry.
“It’s OK. I used to be a punctuality Nazi,” I said. “But I’ve mellowed.”
On our fourth date, she came over to my apartment.
By this point, I knew I liked her. She was smart. She was funny and self-deprecating but confident. She was a great listener. We always had something to talk about. But she didn’t fit my script. The age, the profession, the religion, a vegetarian to boot. It sounds shallow—and it is. But online dating’s greatest attraction (and no doubt its deepest flaw) is that it offers the promise of enough choice to find someone who actually fits your script. No settling necessary.
Liking her carried another danger, more significant than the risk of going off-script. Permanence. Permanence with somebody who cares enough about their religion that they include it on their online dating profile. Permanence with somebody who may feel strongly about raising her children Catholic, and will probably have better, clearer reasons for doing so than I do for wanting to raise my kids Jewish.
We were lying in bed, smiling at each other.
I asked her the question I knew could end things.
“Soooo…,” I said, turning toward the ceiling. “This Catholic thing. What does it mean for you, in terms of how your kids are raised?”
She sat up. She seemed intrigued, not anxious, about the serious turn the conversation had taken.
I wasn’t sure what answer I wanted to hear.
“Well. When a guy says they’re Jewish on their online profile, I know it usually means he wants to raise his children Jewish. I wouldn’t have sent you a message if I weren’t prepared to do that.”
“Seriously!” she said. “I go to church because I was raised Catholic. But I would probably be Muslim if I were raised Muslim. Or be Jewish if I were raised Jewish. I just want my children to be raised in a religion. What religion that is is less important.”
This was someone to take seriously. What kind of person thinks a first message on OKCupid all the way through to child-rearing? Or rather, what kind of person actually makes a decision about a major life compromise they’d be willing to make before they hit Send? I knew she was thoughtful, but this was another level.
But this wasn’t just a hurdle cleared, or even just a deep source of potential future conflict addressed early on and head-on. It was a gift, yes—as it is for all Jewish people whose partners are willing to make this compromise. It was also a challenge.
When two Jewish people decide to have a family, this kind of conversation can be put on the backburner. Regardless of whether they send their kids to Hebrew school or whether they observe Shabbat, the parents can be confident their children will identify as Jewish. Two Jewish parents + bagels and lox + appreciation for Woody Allen movies = Jewish upbringing. But when your partner who puts “Catholic” on her OKCupid profile says, “I just want my children to be raised in a religion,” she is laying down a challenge: If you are making me sacrifice sharing my religion with my children, then you better be ready to share yours. Bagels and lox + Woody Allen movies ≠ Jewish upbringing. This means Hebrew school, bar mitzvahs, weekly Shabbat perhaps, talking to your children about God…
What had I gotten myself into?
I was raised Catholic. I have received sacraments in the Catholic Church including Baptism, Penance, Holy Communion and Confirmation. While spirituality has always been an important part of my life, it has been a part of me that I have kept more reserved. As I grew through adolescence and into adulthood, the thought of marrying someone of a different religious background never crossed my mind. But after meeting Jarrett and growing closer, our different faiths became a norm in our relationship. We continue to teach each other about our different religious backgrounds and continue to respect each other for these differences… and that is how our relationship works.
Jarrett has been my wedding date to 10 weddings in the last two years. We have watched some of our closest friends and family members marry their significant others in Catholic, Jewish, Christian and non-denominational ceremonies. As each wedding came and went, I found myself thinking about what kind of wedding ceremony I might someday have. It wasn’t until Jarrett and I got engaged in March of 2015 that I realized my thoughts would soon become actions as we prepared to plan our interfaith wedding.
When Jarrett and I sat down to begin wedding planning, he expressed to me how important it was to him to be married by a rabbi in a Jewish wedding ceremony. At this point in time, I had been to two Jewish weddings but felt they were truly unique and memorable. I liked that the Jewish ceremonies were personal and intimate with a strong focus on the bride and groom. While I have always felt that Catholic wedding ceremonies are beautiful and meaningful, I had never dreamed of getting married in a Catholic church and this was not a requirement I needed in order to marry my best friend. What mattered to me was what Jarrett felt to be important for our big day. It was special to hear him explain that his Jewish heritage was very important to him and that having a Jewish wedding was something he had always wanted. So it was settled. We would be married by a rabbi in an interfaith wedding ceremony with an emphasis on Jewish traditions. The only problems were, I did not know a lot about Jewish wedding traditions and had no idea where we would find an interfaith rabbi to marry us!
As fate would have it, while working in Philadelphia one day, I had a meeting with a pharmaceutical representative. At the end of the meeting, I asked her if she had plans for the upcoming holiday weekend (Easter). When she responded that she was Jewish and celebrates Passover, I found myself feeling somewhat embarrassed that I hadn’t considered this before asking the question. I apologized then explained that my fiancé is also Jewish and that I celebrate Passover with him and his family. She asked about wedding planning and I explained that we had plans to look for a rabbi to marry us. She excitedly responded that she has a very close friend who just so happens to be a rabbi and the director of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia. She gave me her friend’s contact information and I reached out to introduce myself. Jarrett and I met with Rabbi Robyn Frisch and knew our search for the right wedding officiant was over before it had really even begun. Rabbi Frisch was kind, easy-going and non-judgmental. We look forward to working with her over the next several months and having her as an essential part of our big day!
During our second meeting with Rabbi Frisch, she provided us with some information to guide our decision-making through the ceremony-planning process. I was relieved to have someone to teach us more about Jewish wedding traditions so I could expand my knowledge and understanding throughout the planning process. Over the next several months, Jarrett and I will be busy making important decisions including designing our chuppah, choosing a ketubah and determining which Jewish wedding traditions to incorporate into our ceremony. As we continue to move closer to our wedding date, we are also looking forward to the opportunity to participate in InterfaithFamily’s “Love and Religion” Workshop which will give Jarrett and I the opportunity to dive deeper into some challenging scenarios that may arise in our future as an interfaith couple. I feel this will help strengthen our bond and allow us to learn even more about each other as we approach marriage. I look forward to sharing our wedding planning experiences as we move closer to saying “I do” in eight short months!