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While Iâ€™ve dealt with doctorâ€™s appointments and missed deadlines at work, Iâ€™ve had a mental image of a calendar with pages flying byâ€”each representing a day of wedding planning that weâ€™ve missed. But, honestly, none of that really matters. What matters is the fact that, with the support of family and friends, weâ€™ll make it there togetherâ€”the details of what the wedding day will look like are substantially less important. After all, thatâ€™s what it means when you choose love.
At a recent doctorâ€™s appointment a nurse smiled at Justin, as she said to me, â€śyouâ€™ve got a good one sticking by you through this.â€ť Justinâ€™s response was instantaneous: â€śwell, sheâ€™s sure had her share of being by my side in similar situations.â€ť
Itâ€™s true. Only four months after we met I was by Justinâ€™s side, calling 911 when he was injured, holding his hand as he came to after a 7 hour surgery, and traveling almost every other week between Boston and Philadelphia as he spent three months in a rehabilitation hospital relearning how to walk.
We havenâ€™t actually made it to the point of planning where we are addressing vows (which, as weâ€™ve learned, are traditional in Christian ceremonies but not in Jewish ceremonies), but we both know that this concept isnâ€™t new to us. Weâ€™ve committed to holding up our relationship through adventures and health, and through the lows of sickness and injuries.
So, the countdown is on.Â We need to order rings. We need to design our invites. We need to pick out a ketubah. Finalize our huppah design. We need to pick out food. And figure out what to wear. And how to light our venue. And order flowers. And learn how to dance. The list is long, but weâ€™ll get it done.
After all, those are just details. Weâ€™ve already worked out the important things.
Blessings have been on my mind lately. In the Jewish wedding ceremony there are seven blessings recited, and, for better or for worse, Iâ€™m finding them complicated. Which is why, when our house started to shake during a thunderstorm the other night, I was already awake turning blessing after blessing over and over in my mind.
The thunder rolled, the lightning flashed, and my mind immediately went to the damage that weâ€™d seen this winter, wondering if this storm would re-expose those leaks. After a few minutes of almost deafening rain, my mind finally slowed past its catastrophic style thinking to an appreciation of all of the noises, smells, and feelings that accompany a thunderstorm.
I was thankful for the rain that we receive here in New England, as opposed the droughts that are impacting so much of our world. I was thankful that I was inside, and lucky enough to be safe from the elements. I was grateful to be cuddled up under my blanket next to my sleeping partner, with my sleeping cat in the nook behind my knees.
I noticed Justin stirring from his sleep. â€śGood thunderstorm,â€ť he muttered to himself.
It might seem simplistic, but right thereâ€¦ that was a blessing.
One of the pieces of Jewish learning Iâ€™ve most taken to heart is the idea that a prayer should speak to what is truly in your heartâ€”the trappings of the words matter a whole lot less. (This idea seems particularly relevant when coming at the idea of one religionâ€™s prayer from a multi-faith lens.)
Which is why weâ€™re going to take the seven blessings and take them from complicated ideas to a simple â€śgood thunderstormâ€ť style message. Â But we need your help.
Weâ€™re asking seven of our friends to craft their own blessings based on the meaning of the originals. Theyâ€™ll then be recited in the original Hebrew by our rabbi. What matters to us is less of the traditional language (weâ€™ll have our bases covered by our rabbiâ€™s recitations), but the sentiments passed along by the friends reciting the blessings.
Hereâ€™s where weâ€™re asking for your help: if you were to simplify the following prayers to one word, what would it be?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
In 2011, TheKnot.com surveyed almost 20,000 newlywed women. They found that only 8 percent kept their last names. Of the remaining 92 percent, 86 percent took their partnerâ€™s last name. Six percent hyphenated or created a new last name.
While Iâ€™ve seen other studies that show the percentage of women who keep their last names atÂ closer to 20 percent, the fact remains: Changing your name after marriage is the â€śnormalâ€ť thing to do.
Changing my name has never felt like the right move for meâ€”my last name is the one on my degrees, itâ€™s part of the name of my photography business, itâ€™s the name Iâ€™ve written under, and, itâ€™s the name Iâ€™ve used my entire life. Iâ€™ve given this some serious thought. I support a personâ€™s right to choose the name that feels like the best fit for them, and I understand the idea that a unified last name presents a unified team.
But, for me, changing my name just doesnâ€™t feel right.
(It also should be noted, that Justin isnâ€™t up for changing his last name either. My last name is hard to spell, and heâ€™s spent too long building his brand to change his name to something else. I donâ€™t think this is a conversation only half of a coupleÂ should be havingâ€”if name changes are on the table, they should be on the table for everyone.)
It wasnâ€™t until recently, when concepts like name changes shifted from hypothetical to reality, did something click for me. Changing my last name would mean separating my name from my familyâ€™s nameâ€”and taking a step away from my Jewish identity.
I know that marrying Justin, who isnâ€™t Jewish, wonâ€™t make me any less Jewish.
It wonâ€™t make our home any less Jewish; it wonâ€™t invalidate the mezuzah hanging on the door, or make my observance of holidays any less meaningful.
It wonâ€™t make my work any less Jewish; it wonâ€™t tarnish my past community organizing, nor will it make my work with Keshet and commitment to full LGBTQ inclusion in the Jewish community less authentic.
Taking Justinâ€™s last name wouldnâ€™t make me any less Jewishâ€¦ but it feels that way.
As an Ashkenazi Jew, with a very classically Ashkenazi Jewish last name, my name is a calling card. Rozensky, with its â€śrozenâ€ť and its â€śsky,â€ť shouts Jewish. I can trace its Jewish history. My name comes with a connection to my peopleâ€”not just in the sense of â€śthe chosen people,â€ť but also in the way it connects me to previous generations of Rozenskys. Iâ€™m not ready to step away from that tradition.
There will be plenty of compromises made in our marriage; after all, meeting each other halfway is an important part of keeping a relationship working. But when it comes to our namesâ€”which hold such important aspects of our identitiesâ€”compromise doesnâ€™t seem like the best bet.
I donâ€™t want anyone to panic, but weâ€™re nearly at the six-month mark. Six months untilâ€¦.holy moly matrimony. Luckily, weâ€™ve figured a few things out. Like that big question: who will officiate the ceremony?
One of the pieces of InterfaithFamilyâ€™s work that I’m most excited about is how they work with couples to find officiants for wedding ceremoniesâ€”my work at Keshet has put me in touch with couples who have found it easier to find officiants for a same-sex marriage ceremony than for an interfaith ceremony.
I have a soapbox I could stand on to discuss how bananas I think that is, but Iâ€™ll save that for another timeâ€”thatâ€™s more of an in-person rant.
I donâ€™t think our situation is very uniqueâ€”unless you have very active ties to a religious institution, finding an officiant means doing a little research and a little legwork. It means thinking about the type of person you want setting the tone for your ceremonyâ€”what readings will they recommend? What customs do you want in place? How much flexibility will there be with traditions? Will they be funny? Somber? Will they quote the Princess Bride? Will they be OK with the fact that your partner isnâ€™t Jewish? The list goes on and on.
For us, we wanted someone who knows us well. Weâ€™re actually lucky in the fact that I count in my closest circle of friends not one, not two, but three rabbis. And, one of Justinâ€™s best friends was at one point ordained in an online ceremony in order to perform weddings.
So, finding someone who knows us well enough to help tailor a ceremony to our inter-faith, egalitarian, not-so-traditional-social-norm needs wasnâ€™t as big of a challenge as we first assumed.
All of these considerations led us to sit down with one of my friends from college, Rabbi Becky Silverstein, to discuss the idea of his performing the ceremony.
Working with Becky has a few obvious advantages: since he serves in the official role of â€śOne of Jordynâ€™s Best Friends in the Whole Wide World,â€ť he has already implicitly agreed to help field any pre (and post) wedding melt downs. So, on the trust level, weâ€™re good. This is someone who knows us well.
And, Rabbi Silverstein is the type of rabbi weâ€™d want to work with even if we didnâ€™t know him personallyâ€”smart, kind, and actively working to make the Jewish world more inclusive for the queer community. Rabbi Silverstein is one of the very few openly transgender rabbis in America, and both Justin and I are inspired by his courage.
Youâ€™d think asking one of your best friends to be the rabbi at your wedding would mean you’d get a pass on the tough questionsâ€”but Rabbi Silverstein asked us to think about the same things heâ€™d ask any couple.
The three of us spoke about what role Judaism played in our lives, how we would continue to support each other in our religious practices, and why we wanted to have a Jewish ceremonyâ€”all good questions to set the tone for planning your ceremony. Actually, and perhaps more importantly, these are all good questions for setting the tone for your life as a partners. Talking with Becky reminded us that no matter what, communicating with each other as we explore faith, religion and community is so incredibly important for a healthy and supportive relationship.
Now, with just over six months to go, weâ€™re pulling together the little details and asking some of the bigger questions. Weâ€™ve got our officiant. Weâ€™ve got our ceremony location. Next weekend Iâ€™ll be marking the start of Passover and Easter by going dress-shopping with family. I think weâ€™re going to pull this off.
Here are some places that we quickly checked off the list:
– A rotating wedding with stops at each temple or church where a friend of ours works as a rabbi and/or spiritual leader: problematic mostly as this particular world wide wedding tour would probably require a month long commitment for any wedding participant.
– My very first truly Jewish home, the Smith College Kosher Kitchen: while the space is filled with amazing memories of learning how to braid challah, welcoming Shabbat, and being part of true community, itâ€™s notÂ exactlyÂ equipped for a wedding shindig.
– The churches that Justin attended growing up: a destination wedding wasnâ€™t something we were 100% opposed to, but asking family to trek out to the winding trail of places he called home (from Ohio to South Dakota back to Ohio and on to Pennsylvania) as he grew up wasnâ€™t exactly practical.
After all, as an interfaith couple with varied roots and no shared official physical spiritual home, there is no obvious, easy answer. And, as we look to bring together a diverse group of family and friends, we want to avoid the â€śeekâ€ť feeling that often accompanies being in someone elseâ€™s religions home base. (Weâ€™re introducing enough new things as it is!)
Our dramatic question of belonging (or a lack thereof) answered itself when we took a different tact to planning. When we rephrased the question from â€śwhere do you get married when you put religious tradition in the centerâ€ť to â€śwhere do you get married when you put your own relationship in the centerâ€ť the options started to reveal themselves.
A ceremony in a science museum? Why not? (Unless there are mummiesâ€”I have an irrational fear of mummies.)
A ceremony on a boat? Sure! (Weather permitting. And is one allowed to be both captain and bride?)
A ceremony in an abandoned theater with no lights, no running water, and a more than fine layer of dust? Yes. Thatâ€™s the winner.
When we looked at locations that had significance to us, a vacant theater became the obvious choice. Justin has been a part of a community of urban explorers for far longer than Iâ€™ve known him, and Iâ€™ve come to appreciate the beauty that is found in a place paused in time.Â We are people who, individually and as a couple, value adventure, the offbeat, finding experiences that might not jive with the normsâ€”and so this feels more like “us” than any church or synagogue we might find.
I wouldn’t go as far as saying that this is where we find our “sacred” … but, there is something holy about appreciating glamourÂ where someone else might not look twice.
Taking a space, one that has been forgotten by its surroundings, and stepping back is a powerful experience. Thereâ€™s beauty in seeing a place for what it once was, what it is now, and what it could be. (And, isn’t that the essence of a relationship? Appreciating all steps of the journey?) For us, the idea of transforming a quiet, slightly downtrodden theater into a site for a ceremony just makes sense. Weâ€™re adding the lights, weâ€™re bringing in the huppah, but the magic of the building was already there.
Todayâ€™s blog post brings us well into wedding planning processâ€”as well as to a few other relationship landmarks.
Last week we celebrated Justinâ€™s birthday, which we do in a traditional (to him, not so much to me) wayâ€”with a King Cake. The King Cake is a Mardi Gras custom (Mardi Gras being part of the Carnival celebrations that occur immediately before the observance of Lent)â€”and Justinâ€™s family has roots in the Bayou of Louisiana.
With his birthday falling so close to Mardi Gras each year, itâ€™s become a tradition for his Grandparents (who live just over the Louisiana border in Mississippi) to send him a King Cake.
Before meeting Justin Iâ€™d never had a King Cake. Now itâ€™s something I look forward to each year. This purple, green, and gold cake is topped with frosting and sugar, and from the time it arrives until weâ€™ve eaten it all, every meal involves cake. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, mid-day, and midnight snacks all involve King Cake. (And, as we are adults, we have deemed it okay if one wants to have a slice of cake before dinner.)
The most important part of the King Cakeâ€”besides it being delicious and often arriving in the same box as Mardi Gras beadsâ€”is that it comes with a plastic baby Jesus hidden inside the cake. Itâ€™s good luck if you find the baby in your piece of cake.
And, every year that weâ€™ve celebrated with a King Cake, Iâ€™ve always ended up Jesus-less.
Somehow that plastic baby is always in one of Justinâ€™s slices of cake. (Perhaps thereâ€™s a secret to finding the King Cake baby that Iâ€™ve missed out on? My ability to always find the Afikoman at a Passover Seder does not seem to translate to the King Cakeâ€™s hidden Jesus.)
Justinâ€™s Jesus finding skills did, however, set us up for a fantastically cheesyÂ exchange this year about how he was the one with the luckâ€”thus he gets to marry meâ€”and I was the one without the luckâ€”hence I was stuck marrying him.
This year, weâ€™re hoping that little plastic baby Jesus is going to bring us some mutual luckâ€”especially as we move from the theoretical planning into actually putting the plan into action.
I love telling our â€śhow we metâ€ť story, because if you donâ€™t know us, itâ€™s pretty unexpected. And, if you do know us, well, our beginnings make a lot of sense.
We met three years ago in Guatemala City, both having traveled there for a photography workshop. My first impression of Justin was that he was a skinny hipster. (Youâ€™ll have to ask him what his first impression of me was.)
On (what we now realize was our first date) we climbed an active volcano just outside of Antigua. At the top we roasted marshmallows on the volcanoâ€™s natural heat sources and felt like we were on a completely new planet. On the way down, distracted by taking pictures and pausing to climb trees, we got momentarily separated from the group and started practicing, in our very limited Spanish vocabulary, the phrases we might need to get a ride back into town. Eventually, we found our bus back.
Afterwards, covered in dirt, we went out for dinner.
A few months later, on a camping trip in Pennsylvania, Justin broke his T-12 vertebrae and severed his spinal cord incompletely. After being life flighted to a hospital, a seven-hour surgery, and a week in the ICU, we both felt the intensity and realness of our relationship. (Iâ€™ve written previously for IFF about how I processed praying for Justin, when our faiths were so different.) The next few months I traveled back and forth between Boston and the rehabilitation hospital in Philadelphia where he was recovering.
These days we live just outside of Boston in Salem, Massachusetts. Weâ€™re both photographers, and Iâ€™m part of the communications team at Keshet. Our day-to-day life of marathoning TV shows, looking for photography work, and teaching ourselves how to cook is punctuated by weekend adventuresâ€”itâ€™s not abnormal for me to go into work on a Monday and answer the question of â€śwhat did you do this weekendâ€ť with â€śwe ended up in the middle of New Hampshire and met some people who were ice fishing in the middle of a frozen lakeâ€¦â€ť
Our proposal story is the flip side of how we metâ€”but, much like our first date, it makes complete sense if you know us.
There was no big romantic moment, but a long discussion. After several years of dating we knew how we felt about each otherâ€”the question was more how we felt about marriage. In many ways, deciding to get married made a lot of sense. In other ways, it was more of a stretch. We went back and forth about wedding hypotheticals and what would be important to each other. For me, having a Jewish ceremony was the most meaningful part of taking our commitment to the next level. For him, having a large gathering where all of our family and friends could be part of a celebration was essential.
Our decision to get married was just thatâ€”a joint, mutual decision. We both asked each other, we both agreed. We kept the news to ourselves for a while, just to see how it felt. A few weeks later we got a ring from my family, and we made it official. And, weâ€™ve set a date: 9.26.15.
Weâ€™re pretty excited to share our story with IFFâ€™s Wedding Blog. Storytellingâ€”with photos and with wordsâ€”is a big part of who we are. Weâ€™ll be navigating how to put together a ceremony that feels comfortable and right for my Judaism, appropriate to Justinâ€™s secular belief, and understandable for all of our guests. Weâ€™re trying to plan something on a modest budget, and weâ€™re hoping to do so without going crazy. Iâ€™m sure there will be some surprises along the way, but right now weâ€™re looking forward to our next adventure.