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Note: Zach and I worked on this blog post together, to make sure it’s a fair representation of what happened and what we both learned.
Zach and I have been married for a few months now, and one of the things that has surprised me most? We donâ€™t have a dog yet! Our friends know weâ€™ve been talking about fostering dogs for a while, but with the wedding we never had the time. We went through the screening and training, but when it came down to it, we were never around enough on the weekends to commit to caring for a foster, let alone our own dog. We both agreed that this dream would have to wait until after the wedding.
Fast forward to a weekend in October, where we have almost nothing going onâ€”a blessing after a whirlwind preparation year, wedding and honeymoon (all of which were wonderful, but still). I received an email from our rescue organization of choice, Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, about fostering, and I opened it to look through some of the photos. I found a beauty and fell in love. Her name was Becca, and she was a 1-2-year-old Feist, muscular and small. Perfect for apartment living. Her big brown eyes begged me to take her home.
I told my co-workers about my newfound love, and most of them fawned over Becca with me. Here is where I learned my first lesson on marriage: Just because your co-workers agree with you, doesnâ€™t mean your partner will. My co-workers advised me to really talk with Zach about it seriously, and (here comes my downfall) assured me that he would understand. I mean, that face!
My emotional attachment to Becca caught Zach by surprise. I was already ready to take this dog in permanently, and Zach was looking forward to doing more short-term fostering before adopting. He was concerned about how having a dog would fit into our lives, while I was ready to jump in and make it work.
One big mistake was starting this conversation a few minutes before we had planned to go out with friends. Our fraught emotional state really made for a, shall we say, tense Friday night on the town.
That night, it dawned on me that I was never again going to make big decisions on my own. This was something that affected both of us (in a big way), and so we both needed to be ready for it, no matter how much Beccaâ€™s eyes drew me in. Zach was not accusing me of not knowing what I wanted or being unwilling to take on this responsibility. He was coming to me as a partner saying he wasnâ€™t sure he was ready, and he wanted us to take our time and go into it together, slowly and thoughtfully.
My personal faith encouraged me to slow down, take some deep breaths and really be open to the growth that this encounter offered. I’ve read a few books by a Jesuit priest named Father James Martin, S.J. (Jesuits are an order of Catholic priests that live in community and serve in various ways, as opposed to diocesan priests who mainly serve parish communities). He often emphasizes the Jesuit idea of “meeting people where they are.” In this small way, IÂ needed to meet Zach where he was as opposed to dragging him to wherever I was.
The solution was finding the sweet spot between comfort and compromise. We decided not to adopt Becca, but we committed to block out some time to foster, to see if this is really what we want to do. Zach saw more of my deep desire to care for our own dog, and my frustration that we keep putting it off because it never fits neatly into our existing schedule. And I learned how seriously Zach takes pet ownership and how both of our feelings and perspectives matter in making decisions as a family.
Becca is adopted now, and I hope she’s happy with some other family. Iâ€™m happy in mine, growing in understanding and partnership with my new husband. And still looking forward to getting a dog one of these daysâ€”maybe after we stop traveling every weekend.
While it’s been exhausting to be so busy after a year of wedding planning, our travels have been for good reason. This month we went to Mexico to celebrate the wedding of two friends. Their wedding was also interfaithâ€”the bride and her family are Hindi, and the groom and his family are Jewish. There was a fun multicultural element as well: The bride’s family is Indian and resides in Brazil, while the groom’s family is American. Needless to say, the food was delicious and the party was bumpin’. They chose to do two ceremonies, with an American Jewish ceremony on the beach on Thursday night, and a Hindu ceremony (condensed to an hour from the four hour version) on Saturday afternoon.
I was interested to see how they chose to express their religions differently than oursâ€”namely, with two different ceremonies, while we did one combined ceremony. While I wouldn’t have changed anything about our wedding, I saw that they way they chose to do things allowed them to go more in depth with the traditions associated with each religion. You could tell that they didn’t feel truly married until after the second ceremony, and in that way we were similar: We couldn’t imagine not including both religions.
AÂ few weeks ago, I posted some pictures from our honeymoon along with an account of my first Yom Kippur fasting with my new husband. But, you may ask, how was the wedding? It was the event Iâ€™ve been planning and dreaming about for the past year-and-a-half that has taken my sweat and tears (thankfully no blood) for its own. And, it went off without a hitch.
Well, not entirely, but the few mishaps that did occur happened before the wedding day, which is a blur. I woke up on Saturday morning and went with my mom to our local church. It was bittersweet, because I had always assumed I would be married in that church, but it was a wonderful way to start the dayâ€”thoughtfully and peacefully in Godâ€™s presence. The monsignor at the parish even remembered about the wedding and announced it at the end of mass, extending the communityâ€™s prayers and good wishes for the day, and for our marriage.
When we got home, the whirlwind of preparations startedâ€”hair, makeup, dress and jewelry. My bridesmaids (my two sisters), my maid of honor (Sarah, my college-and-beyond friend) and my parents were all getting ready with me at my parentsâ€™ house, which made it really lovely, and about as relaxed as I could be. Before I knew it, the photographer was at the house and ready to take photos! I had lived my whole pre-adult life in this house, so having the photos at home was really important to me. The photographer was able to capture the importance of the house and my family in her photos.
On the way to the venue, I was so nervous and excitedâ€”more nervous than Iâ€™d been about almost anything else in my life. We got into the bridal suite for a few minutes to cool down with a glass of water before the ceremony started. In the bridal suite, there was a card and gift waiting for me from Zach. He had written me a beautiful message, and gifted me a mezuzah he had gotten on one of his trips to Israel (before which I had bugged him to get a mezuzah for the house and was puzzled why heâ€™d never brought one home after the trip. Patience is not my strong suit.) Needless to say, it made me cry, and centered me in a way, knowing that the Zach I know and love was waiting for me a few (long) moments away.
The ceremony was also a blur, but what surprised me was the number of people who came up to us during the reception to tell us it was one of the most beautiful wedding ceremonies they had ever been to. People were really impressed with the way we seamlessly blended our two traditions, chose readings and readers that wereÂ meaningful to us, and included prayers that signified our desire to build a better world. I posted about the ceremony here, but the highlights are:
Before I knew it, we were walking back down the aisleâ€”married! It definitely took some time to sink in. We took pictures with family, signed the ketubah with the rabbi and headed over to the reception to be introduced as Mr. and Mrs. Zach and Laura Drescher! The reception was a whirlwind of dances, dinner and toasts.Â We danced our first dance to “Stand By Me,”Â followed by my dance with my dadÂ and a parents’ dance:Â Zach dancing with my mom and me dancing with Zachâ€™s dad.
As the dance floor filled up, we tried to split our time between dancing and saying hello to folks sitting around the tables in the tent. Honestly, I was surprised at how quickly it went by and how little we got to see each individual person (we had about 100 people). I would start talking with one person, and then be pulled away to take a picture, or hit the dance floor, or say hi to another guestâ€¦ It was so wonderful to be surrounded by all of the people we love. That was my favorite part of the dayâ€”having all of the people who have played different roles in our lives, and seen different parts of our stories, come together to celebrate this new chapter with us.
Before the wedding, Zach was lobbying hard for us to do something after the weddingâ€”a party, a bar, something. I was pretty adamant that we would both be exhausted, but we left the door open for anÂ informal option. When the reception wound down, I was surprised to find I had a lot of energyâ€”I felt like I didnâ€™t want the night to end! We decided to go with some friends to a bar near the hotel, just for one drink…which turned into three. It was surreal, to be in a bar, still in my wedding dress, catching up with old friends from college. It was a great opportunity to see some of the people who weâ€™d barely had a chance to say hello to at the wedding and Iâ€™m so glad we took the opportunity to spend more time with friends who had traveled to spend the day with us.
The next morning we hosted a brunch at the hotel for our families, because many of them had traveled far to attend the wedding and we wanted another opportunity to hang out with them. It was a great continuation of the joy and celebration from the day before. Those who werenâ€™t flying out were invited back to my parentsâ€™ house for an â€śopen houseâ€ťâ€”drinks, sandwiches, etc.â€”during the afternoon. We got to see more family members there, said goodbye to our maid of honor and best man, and eventually wound down from the excitement of the wedding. It was wonderful to end the wedding weekend right where Iâ€™d started itâ€”in my parentsâ€™ house, among family and friends. The only difference was, I was now married!
Zach and I were married on September 16! We were away having a blast on our honeymoon in Portugal, but before we had time to post our honeymoon pics to Facebook or look through our wedding photos, Yom Kippur was upon us.
I had decided a few days before we got back that I would be joining Zach in the fast for Yom Kippur. For most of the other years weâ€™ve been together, Yom Kippur has fallen on a weekday and Iâ€™ve been working. I would usually meet him for the evening service, but I had never joined him for the whole day fast. I decided that now that we were married, it was important for me to join him in this observance, so that we could begin our faith life as a family, not just two individuals.
You may say, well, Catholics fast, right? And my answer would be, sort of. For example, Catholics are supposed to fast on Good Friday, the day that Jesus died, but this â€śfastingâ€ť means one full meal and two smaller meals, as long as they do not add up to a single normal meal. Needless to say, the undisciplined can go downhill quickly, myself included. My Good Friday fast usually includes a meatless lunch, but I convince myself that I need to eat enough to continue working at my job. Therefore, the prospect of going all day without food on Yom Kippur seemed daunting.
Let me tell you, friends–my first Yom Kippur went surprisingly well. First of all, I was worried that my â€śhangerâ€ť (anger resulting from hungriness) would get the best of me. I saw that, throughout the day, I was able to take strength in my weakness, and knowing that others were experiencing the same weakness filled me with patience and love for the community. Zach and I attended a morning service with Interfaith Families Project of DC, and I was able to see for the first time how this Jewish and Christian community worked (Zach had attended another service of theirs before). I was inspired by the inclusivity and friendliness of the community, as well as the different backgrounds or spiritual paths of the community members. It was a wonderful and welcoming experience.
Second, I learned that napping can be key to a successful Yom Kippur. We came back from the morning service, and about an hour or so after we had been quietly unpacking from the wedding and the honeymoon, the hunger set in, and I felt more and more tired. Instead of pushing past it, which is my normal tendency, I let my body be tired. I stopped working, even though there was still plenty to do, and read through our wedding guestbook, and then took a nap. Friends, I never nap. I need earplugs and a facemask to fall asleep on a normal night, but I was asleep in 10 minutes. Thankfully we set an alarm to alert us to get ready for the evening service.
We went to Sixth & I Synagogue in Chinatown for the neilah evening service. I had attended this service at this location last year with Zach on Yom Kippur, but as I mentioned, this was my first year doing the fast, and I was nervous about not only staying focused but standing up and not getting sick.
The collective strength of that community kept me on my feet and singing for the whole hour plus of the service. What a beautiful, urgent way to plead with God for mercy and forgiveness! It was a prayer for which we had emptied ourselves all day, which actually sharpened my focus rather than dulled it.
All in all, for me it was a Yom Kippur in which I not only successfully fasted, but I gained meaning, prayed intensely, practiced patience, surveyed my faults and mistakes and grew closer to my spouse. Yom Kippur presented a beautiful opportunity after we had returned from our honeymoon to reflect on the past year and prepare for the next year, the first in our married lives. Iâ€™m so thankful for that opportunity–and my next post will fill you in on our actual wedding! Spoiler alert: Multiple friends and family members told us it was one of the most beautiful wedding ceremonies they had attended. So stay tuned.
Weâ€™re counting down the daysâ€”less than one month until the wedding! Plenty of friends and family have been askingÂ us if weâ€™re excited (of course) and if weâ€™re ready (which is a tougher question). In the practical sense, yes, we are ready. The caterer has our menu, the DJ has our song list and weâ€™re finished with all of our DIY projects. In a broader sense, Iâ€™ve been thinking a lot about the question: How do you know youâ€™re ready to make such a monumental commitment to another person?
Since weâ€™ve completed most of the wedding planning, weâ€™ve been able to spend the past few weeks making sure we stay connected and grounded. Last Saturday, we biked to Yards Park in the Navy Yard area of DC, which is where Zach proposed over a year ago! We rodeÂ past one of our favorite breweries and sat in the park with our feet in the wading pool for a while, watching the kids run around and play. I thought about this lazy summer day that we were taking advantage ofâ€”that we were making the time to have fun and do something that wasnâ€™t wedding-related, grocery shopping or watching TV together. I promised myself when we got engaged that we would make time for these things, and I havenâ€™t been as good about that as I would have liked, but that day, we were.
We ran into our maid of honor and her family visiting from out of town, got ice cream with them and biked home in time to host some friends for a low-key game night. Thatâ€™s one of the many things I love about Zachâ€”that he gets me out of my head, and he challenges me to enjoy things like warm summer days and riverside parks without thinking about what I should be doing instead. Yards Park was a perfect reminder of that strength of his, at an exciting and busy time in our lives.
Iâ€™ve also been catching up with old friends, like my former roommate. We lived together for two years right after college and have kept in touch since both of us moved on. Last week, we met up for dinner at our favorite place in the old neighborhood. As we laughed and commiserated over wedding planning (and assured each other that the headaches would be worth it), I couldnâ€™t help but think: Am I ready to get married? To leave my single life behind?
Those years of supporting each other through good and tough times over wine, lazy weekends and taco nights seem so rosy, and Iâ€™m a little sad to leave them behind. But then, I go home to my amazing fiancĂ©, who has already unloaded the dishwasher, or left me Reeseâ€™s in the fridge, or asks me how my day was, and I know Iâ€™m ready to marry Zach. I’m ready to promise to be there for him in all of those ways and more. Itâ€™s still important, for me, to reflect on where this journey has taken me, and the other relationships I formed on the way. Iâ€™m a firm believer in the value of friendships outside of a relationship, even outside of your marriage, and the end of my â€śsingle lifeâ€ť in no way means the end of those friendships. But it does mark the beginning of a binding partnershipâ€”a promise to work through tough times and celebrate the good ones in new ways.
This past weekend, we went home to Pennsylvania to work on our seating chart. Putting it together was beautiful because, at each table, we see different groups of people from different times in our life, who have made us into the people we are today. We have friends from childhood, friends from high school and college, family friends who weâ€™ve known since birth, current friends, work friendsâ€”theyâ€™ll all be there, with our loving families, to watch us commit to the rest of our lives together. We canâ€™t wait for everyone to meet and mingle, and to represent for us on this momentous day who we have been and our hopes for who we are to become.
When I read about the Jewish tradition of the ketubah, I realized it was the perfect way to create a visual representation of this commitment weâ€™re making to each other. Rather than a contract or agreement, itâ€™s a perfect reminder of the promise weâ€™re makingâ€”to constantly strive to live up to the ideal of love for each other. You can read the text we selected here. Different articles (likeÂ this one from InterfaithFamily and this one from America Magazine) and conversations with family and friends have forced me to acknowledge the uncertainty associated with marriageâ€”the idea that peopleâ€™s values, personalities and desires can shift over time, and marriage is a promise to work through those. Like many people, I personally struggle with uncertainty, but in thinking about these issues, I know that Zach is the person I want to take that leap of faith with. I canâ€™t wait to see where we end up on this journey.
This post was written by my fiancĂ© Zach Drescher, who is Jewish and whose work often intersects with issues important to the American Jewish community.
When you live in Washington, vacations can be a good opportunity to get away from the news cycle and conversations dominated by politics. While our trips home to plan the wedding could only be loosely termed as â€śvacations,â€ť it has been nice to focus on something happier than whatâ€™s going on in our adopted home city.
That was impossible this weekend. Try as we might to avoid the paper and cable news, it was impossible to ignore what was happening in Charlottesville. The imagery and vitriol stemming from the white nationalist march saturated social media, and it was hard to think about anything else in between our appointments and errands. Reading the word â€śnaziâ€ť showing up so many times on what was supposed to be a quiet and enjoyable weekend was startling enough, especially for me (Zach), whose family history is in many ways shaped by the Holocaust.
The contrast between the wedding planning and the horror story playing out in our Facebook feeds was especially jarring to witness as an interfaith couple. While not as outwardly obvious as the color of oneâ€™s skin, there are certainly stigmas attached to marrying outside of your religion. As friends and newsmakers quickly spread the faces of angry, tiki-torch-wielding crowds, it was easy to picture them yelling directly at us, vowing to take back their religion from those who are in interfaith marriages. Those who oppose interfaith marriage often espouse a similar combination of fear and traditionalism to what came across in the message of white nationalist marchers. With everything weâ€™ve seen happen in the last year, and given the fact that weâ€™ve even discussed moving to Charlottesville in the future, it was easy to imagine a torchlit mob showing up at our doorstep one day.
Itâ€™s worth reiterating that we have felt extremely accepted as an interfaith couple. Weâ€™re blessed to have friends and family that are nothing but happy for us, and are excited for us to embark on a journey of religious discovery together. And living in a liberal bubble helpsâ€”itâ€™s hard to imagine our neighbors in Washington getting too worked up over our dual-faith identity. But the events of this weekend were an unsettling reminder of the ignorance and anger that is out there.
The more conversations we have as the big day approaches, and the more we delve into the communities other interfaith families have already built, the more encouraged we are that tired stereotypes are being washed away by tolerance. We hope that the events of this weekend are but a speed bump on our societyâ€™s path toward acceptance and open-mindedness.
And we pray for those hurt or killed in Charlottesville, and for those all over the world who are afraid to be themselves in their daily lives. Let us strive for a day when we do not fear our differences, but celebrate them instead.
I recently joined a Facebook group that InterfaithFamily started to connect couples planning interfaith weddings (join here!). As Iâ€™ve mentioned in a few of my posts, Zach and I have our wedding pretty well planned already, and weâ€™ve been working with great officiants to create a beautiful, meaningful and inclusive ceremony. I joined the group because Iâ€™ve realized during this process that the choice we made with this wedding to include and celebrate both traditions–to make both families feel welcome and represented–is a challenge and opportunity that we will continue to face in our married life.
Iâ€™ve mentioned a book called Being Both by Susan Katz Miller that solidified our decision to marry. The book isnâ€™t about weddings; rather, itâ€™s about what happens after. That was our biggest question in deciding to get married: What would we do if and when we decided to have children?
Meanwhile, what I had heard from clergy, both Jewish and Catholic, was that â€śbeing bothâ€ť was not an option. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops claims that religious leaders agree that raising children of interfaith marriages exclusively in one religious tradition is best. While this may be true, I had a hard time finding studies on the alternative, save for Millerâ€™s book. Additionally, both Zach and I felt that a piece of us would be missing from our future family if our future child or children was or were raised exclusively in one tradition. Being Both offers examples of families and congregations that enable families to participate in both traditions fully, rather than having one or more family members as a spectator to that tradition.
Iâ€™m not entirely sure what the right answer is for us, but reading that book made me realize that our family might not feel completely at home in either tradition, because of our desire to not just respect but incorporate both traditions into our one family. As a Catholic woman from a Catholic family, where we get together for baptisms and First Communions, that is a realization that, honestly, I still struggle with.
But I draw strength in my conviction that the benefits outweigh the negatives. Iâ€™ve already writtenÂ about how well Zach and I complement each other, and I also see a unique calling or mission in creating an interfaith family. I love celebrating Jewish holidays with Zach, and I canâ€™t wait to share those beliefs, prayers and family traditions with our children. Similarly, when I go to church on Sunday, I think about sharing with them my familyâ€™s stories, beliefs and rituals. I think our overall desire is to raise children comfortable and familiar with both traditions, who see and appreciate God in all forms. Because, when it comes down to it, I see God in my relationship with Zach, and I refuse to be bound by the lines our religious communities have drawn around us. Our love is boundless, and our family will be too. Thatâ€™s been the biggest realization for me in this process–weâ€™re starting something new, that no one in either of our families has done before, but connecting to the larger interfaith community, with families who have years of experience before interfaith marriage became commonplace, is so valuable.
I recently decided to take the last name Drescher. I struggled with the decision for a while. I like my name as it is: Laura Rose Free. I like the connection that â€śFreeâ€ť gives me to my family. I like the pun possibilities (bachelorette hashtag: #freeasilleverbe). But marriage signifies the start of something new–of two people coming together as one, acting as partners, and making decisions together. For me, taking the last name Drescher is a step in that direction; it’s an act that symbolizes that change for me. In addition to all of the practical reasons, this symbolism made me decide that I want to change my name. Iâ€™m not saying itâ€™s the right decision for all couples, but I feel itâ€™s the right decision for us–itâ€™s the first step toward the new family that weâ€™re starting. Iâ€™m thankful to have this community to support us and show us the ways they have chosen to create new families and traditions.
Over the July 4th weekend, Zach and I spent some time with my family in the Philadelphia area. As mentioned on my previous post, we got ambitious with some DIY projects, so we planned a few (three) weekends to go home and visit (work) with family to complete those projects. The first weekend in July was one of those weekends.
In thinking about blogging for InterfaithFamily, Iâ€™ve thought about what readers might be interested in, and family acceptance probably ranks pretty high. Itâ€™s an obstacle many couples (including some of my friends) struggle with, but luckily, weÂ did notâ€”my family loves Zach. Loves him. This cannot be stressed enough. They ask about him all the time.
While it doesnâ€™t surprise me that everyone loves Zach (I do, after all), it did surprise me how that affected their reaction to us getting married. No one was disappointed that I wasnâ€™t marrying another Catholic, because they all knew and loved Zach. They knew how well we worked together, they knew how well he got along with the rest of the family, and they knew how well he complimented my strengths and weaknessesâ€”and same for me to him. They got to know him as a person so that by the time we announced our engagement, everyone was on board. They knew I could not find anyone who complimented me better, challenged me more and treated me better than Zach.
Thatâ€™s not to say that this path has been super easy. It took some time for my parents to understand that my family life probably wouldnâ€™t look like the one they had provided for meâ€”with private Catholic school and a strong rooting in Catholic parish life. I loved growing up with that setting, but it might not work for our family-to-be. Thatâ€™s a struggle that Zach and I, along with our extended families, will have for the rest of our lives. But I feel that both families see the love that we have for each other and know that for us, the struggle will be worthwhile.
Readers, excuse the interruption, but Zach has something to add!
Hi, this is Zach. While Lauraâ€™s been doing most of the heavy-lifting around here, I wanted to insert myself into this post to say that my family also loves Laura a ton. Weâ€™re more of a secular bunch than her family, but there was still somewhat of an expectation that I would end up with a Jewish spouse. But theyâ€™ve been nothing but supportive of our relationship, and everyone can see how good we are for each other. So thereâ€™s excitement on both sides for us as we begin this journey together.
Back to Laura:
One of the most fun parts of being an interfaith couple is learning, with your entire family, new things from your significant other. One year, Hannukah started while we were home with my family for Christmas. Zach led the family in prayer in lighting the menorah, and the next day my Grandma called to make sure that we had gotten home in time to light the menorah. Zach taught my family to playÂ dreidelÂ by the Christmas tree, and everyone had a great time (while he hustled us). Weâ€™re taking the same fun, learning approach to our wedding. Below is a video of Zach explaining to the camera and my parents the significance of the tradition of breaking the glass after the wedding ceremony. We were testing out a glass to make sure it would actually break!
â€śSo, howâ€™s the wedding planning?â€ť These days, this question excites and exasperates me at the same time. I have a lot of energy and excitement about the wedding, but it varies day by day whether that excitement is greater or less than my stress about â€śgetting it all done.â€ť To explain that, I need to go back to the beginning of the process and explain a few things.
From the beginning, weâ€™ve been fairly flexible about what this wedding will look like. I donâ€™t have a crystal-clear vision of what I want, so I have invited and taken suggestions from family and close friends. I was breezing along for the first nine months, checking things off my list, thinking, this is easy! Sure, thereâ€™s a lot to do, but Iâ€™m organized! Iâ€™m on top of it! We can do this!
In May I started to feel the pressure. And it was all because of Pinterest.
In the winter, we visited Lansdale and started thinking about decorations–again, an area where I didnâ€™t have preconceived ideas about what I wanted. My parents own a beautiful old house, and my dad has completed a lot of home improvement projects. Back in the wintertime, we discovered some old doors and windows he had saved that sparked some crafty neurons in my brain. I thought, these things will be perfect for signage, table assignments, whatever! And itâ€™s all free! Perfect.
Itâ€™s true that nothing in life is ever really free. I did not factor in how much effort it would take to polish all of those things. Washing, sanding and painting. Re-glazing some of the old window panes. Building stands for the doors so they arenâ€™t a hazard. We spent a full day cleaning some of these pieces and drawing out multiple iterations of plans for how we would use all the pieces. Luckily my family (and fiancĂ©) dove into the projects with gusto, each contributing their own talents to different pieces.
I went into that weekend excited, but I came out feeling overwhelmed. We had so many different ideas for how to use each piece. Plus, there were so many steps to bringing it all together–for example, to use one window we would need to wash it, sand the frame, repaint the frame, re-glaze the panes in the window and then write table assignments on it! I was having a hard time figuring out how we would get it all done, even with all the helping hands we had.
I did two things in response to this overwhelmed feeling. First, I sat down in my cone of silence and came up with a plan. I laid out all the steps, determined the critical path, and wrote out which tasks we could complete on which weekends we would be coming to Lansdale from Washington, DC. I had it all figured out, but I still felt tense.
Then I did the second thing: I envisioned what our wedding would look like if these projects didnâ€™t all come together. Surprise–everything was still beautiful. And we were still getting married! There would be officiants, food and a DJ. Somehow people would be welcomed, know where the bathroom was, and find their seat, even if it didnâ€™t look like the way we had envisioned it.
I realized that I was, to some degree, in control of how much pressure I was feeling to â€śget it all done.â€ť If I decided that some things, like the signs for the bathroom, were more important than others, I could give myself (and everyone else) permission to not get those other things done, if we ran out of time.
Sure, an old window with a quote from Song of Solomon would make a beautiful addition to our ceremony space–but it wasnâ€™t as high on the list as, say, the table assignments. I needed to let some of these things go if I was going to enjoy the rest of this process. The time between engagement and marriage feels so special–youâ€™re giddy and excited and hopeful, all leading up to this one day that will be over before you know it. The wedding day starts a blessed and fulfilled lifetime of marriage, but thereâ€™s something special about this expectant time, where youâ€™re waiting for that next step, and I donâ€™t want to miss that. I want to savor it.
So, when I start to think about all that I â€śhave to do,â€ť I think about all the people around to help me. I think about what the â€śbare bonesâ€ť of the event will look like, and Iâ€™m still happy. I think about standing in front of friends and family and promising to love Zach for the rest of our lives, and I know it doesnâ€™t matter if we get the photo booth just right.
Iâ€™m choosing to use this time to prepare for a lifetime with my best friend, where the little things donâ€™t shake our happiness together. And I make that choice anew every day. Some days are better than others, but I, like most of us, am a work in progress.
After my latest blog post on finding officiants for our Jewish-Catholic interfaith wedding, I got questions from both friends and fans about what the actual ceremony would look like. We had started a draft but needed to tie up some details, so we werenâ€™t ready to share. I didnâ€™t really think about it much in the past week, because we went to Cancun, Mexico, with my sisters and my parents to celebrate myÂ parentsâ€™ 30th wedding anniversary. As much as I love how our wedding is coming together, and as much as Iâ€™m excited for us to get married and start our married life together, I cannot emphasize enough how beneficial this time off was. No cell service meant no emails to vendors, no looking online for wedding bands and no Facebook monitoring of friendsâ€™ wedding photos and measuring up our plans against theirs. I was barely on my phone all week and it felt amazing.
Brides and grooms, do this for yourselves. Give your partners the opportunity to do this for themselves. You don’t have to go anywhere, but take some time (an afternoon, a day, a weekend) and do something you love with people you love. It really helped me to regain a sense of mindfulness and a desire to be present in the moment and it will continue to help me make sure I donâ€™t miss a moment of this exciting yearâ€”or what our wedding is really about: two people starting a new life together;Â two becoming one.
After this time off, we’re now ready to share the details of our ceremony. This custom wedding ceremony is a beautiful blend of ourÂ respective traditions. It was crafted using the years of interfaith experience of our rabbi, Rabbi Bleefeld, and several resources I found. I talked in my last post about using a book by Rabbi Devon A. Lerner: Celebrating Interfaith Marriages: Creating Your Jewish/Christian Ceremonyâ€”we borrowed heavily from the suggested ceremony components and order. If youâ€™re not sure where to start, this book will not only give you sample ceremonies, but will also explain the importance of the different components of a wedding ceremony.
I also read blog posts such as this one from InterfaithFamily to get a sense of what others had done. As Iâ€™ve alluded to in earlier posts, it was really important for us to have both traditions not only represented but celebrated during our wedding ceremony. We both made compromises and sacrifices on the venueâ€”me on my dream of being married in a Catholic church, and Zach on the familiarity and beauty of being married in his native California (some of our East Coast relatives would not have been able to make the flight). It was important that the wedding ceremony, like the outdoor space, feel like a reflection of us, because we were both in otherwise unfamiliar territory.
Our rabbi has done several interfaith weddings and our first meeting with him was aÂ great orientation to all we had to think about in the next year. He offered a suggested ceremony outline and explained the different parts and how he would handle explaining the significance of each to guestsâ€”he suggested printing explanations in the program, so we wouldnâ€™t interrupt the flow and beauty of the ceremony with too many teaching moments. We built on that initial outline, got some input from the priest officiating, added some special touches and voila! AnÂ interfaith wedding. Hereâ€™s what it will look like:
After the procession (where there will be oodles of happy tears), Rabbi Bleefeld willÂ open with a statement remembering Zachâ€™s mother Roberta, who passed away four years ago from breast cancer and my grandfather Tom, who lost his battle with bone marrow cancer a year ago. These people were so important to us and we will miss them so much on our special day. We want everyone to know that we feel their absence on this momentous occasion.
In explaining the subsequent different components of the ceremony, the insight we got from Rabbi Bleefeld and Fr. Mike was consistent: The consenting and the vows is paramount in a Catholic wedding ceremony, while the exchange of rings is theÂ high point of a Jewish ceremony. To that end, weâ€™re asking my mother and Zachâ€™s aunt to read from the New and Old Testament, respectively, to introduce each of those components. Weâ€™re getting the dads involved tooâ€”theyâ€™ll say the Seven Blessings, alternating in Hebrew (Zachâ€™s dad) and English (my dad). Weâ€™ll mark the last blessing by drinking a cup of wine from a goblet that Roberta made for Zach, one of the many uniquely beautiful pieces of hers that we have in our home. My godparents will then read the General Intercessions, which are not required in a Catholic ceremony, but Zach says theyâ€™re his favorite part of the Catholic mass. (You can find an explanation for this part of the mass here, at paragraph 69. ItÂ is also called the Prayer of the Faithful or the Universal Prayer.)Â Weâ€™re writing our own prayer that reflects our hopes and values, as well as our desire for health and happiness as we start our marriage surrounded by the family and friends we love.Â
Throughout the service, we sought opportunities to involve our parents and close family in the wedding ceremony because these individuals helped us form our sense of faith, tradition and family. It was important to us that they be intimately involved in the ceremony that would mark the start of our own new family with its own faith tradition.
Iâ€™m adding an outline of the ceremony below, for those who would likeÂ more details.
Our Wedding Ceremony
Remembrance Statement – Rabbi Bleefeld
Opening words of welcome and blessing – Fr. Mike and Rabbi Bleefeld
New Testament Reading – Mother of the Bride
Introduction to and recitation of vows – Fr. Mike
Old Testament Reading – Aunt of the Groom
Introduction to and exchange of rings – Rabbi Bleefeld
7 Blessings – Dads, alternating in Hebrew and English
General Intercessions – Godparents of the Bride
Pronouncement and Marriage blessing (Hebrew and English) – Rabbi Bleefeld and Fr. Mike
Stepping on glass – Rabbi Bleefeld
Kiss and Processional
Our first hurdle in planning an interfaith wedding (other than the insanity of touring and booking a venue) was findingÂ an officiant and creating a ceremony that reflected both of us. TheÂ day after we got engaged, I began fumbling around for some guidance. I knew what a Catholic wedding looked like, but I had no idea what was important in a Jewish ceremony, much less what we could do if we wanted to combine them.
As the daughter of a lifelong librarian, I put my research skills to the test. Surprisingly, my local library had exactly what I was looking for. A quick search in the card catalog for â€śinterfaith marriageâ€ť turned up a fabulous book by Rabbi Devon A. Lerner: Celebrating Interfaith Marriages: Creating Your Jewish/Christian Ceremony. Yes! Exactly what I was looking for! Itâ€™s like someone has done this alreadyâ€¦
I read the book cover to cover. It was super valuable during this process and covered almost every ceremony question I had: from the treatment of Jesus in a Christian-Jewish ceremony to what to expect when we met with the rabbi a few weeks later. The book included several sample ceremonies and really opened my mind to what we could create. The next step to realizing that vision was to decide on a venue.
After doing some research and talking with Zach, I decided I needed to reassess my dream of being married in the church where I grew up. That church meant a lot to me and to my familyâ€”we had received all of our sacraments there, attended the connected parish school and built our family life around that community. Discussing it with Zach, I realized that my in-laws-to-be might not feel comfortable in the churchâ€”and that maybe the church wasnâ€™t the neutral ground zero from which the rest of our lives would start.
We needed somewhere that was meaningful to both of us, because that compromise or give-and-take is pretty emblematic of our life together. We found a beautiful venue in Historic Graeme Park that combined my Pennsylvania roots with Zachâ€™s love of (and my appreciation for) nature. With a meaningful space secured, I set out to tackle the big question: Who would officiate our ceremony?
I first asked a clergy member from our local parish to officiate. He congratulated us and promised to look into the logistics. After some discussion and deliberation, we decided that it wasnâ€™t the right fit. The diocese where we were getting married had policies about diocesan clergy (priests and deacons) performing wedding ceremonies in a dignified space–which typically means inside, not outdoors. (A Catholic diocese is a district that is under the supervision of a bishop and is made up of parishes run by priests.) I had done my research beforehand and, to the surprise of many (myself included), the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops does not appear to explicitly ban outdoor weddings when it comes to a Catholic-Jewish ceremony because they recognize the need for a neutral space. But, as I understood it, this diocese had their own restrictions.
We didnâ€™t know what to doâ€”we had just selected a beautiful park to be married in, not thinking it would make finding an officiant more challenging. The decision on how to move forward really shook me. I felt like I had been part of a family for my whole life and now they were taking issue withÂ something that seemed inconsequential to our marriage. We had looked at hotel ballrooms and fancy mansions in our venue search, but none of them really felt like a venue for us. We thought about having the ceremony inside the tent at the venue and we considered having a Catholic clergyman (priest or deacon) do a blessing after the ceremony. But after discussing it together and with my parents, we decided to see if we could find another Catholic officiant for the outdoor ceremony.
Our success in finding such an officiant was a small miracle, likely brought about in some part by the fervent prayers of my mother. After reading the book Being Both, we looked up the Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington to see if they offered any resources on interfaith marriage. We found a couplesâ€™ workshop for engaged and married interfaith couples, and I contacted the Catholic priest listed as a speaker at the workshop. Fr. Michael Kelly of St. Martinâ€™s in DC was a godsend. He talked with me over the phone and agreed to help us fill out the paperwork, do the required marriage prep and find an officiant. On his recommendation, we contacted Rabbi Bleefeld in Dresher, PA, and met with him a few weeks later. Having read up on my stuff, I was thankfully aware when the rabbi asked us about things like a ketubah and the seven blessings. He has been a pleasure to work with and a resource in putting together our special day.
The priest was a little trickier to find. Fr. Kelly connected us with an order of priests that were not subject to the same rules and policies as diocesan priests (name of the order withheld). We met with Fr. Mike around Thanksgiving: He came across as kind, gentle and generous. He talked with us for a few hours about our relationship and what we wanted in our ceremony and he happily agreed to officiate our wedding.
Now we finally have a Catholic priest and a Jewish rabbi, both doing equal parts of the ceremony and offering us the flexibility to incorporate parts of our traditions that have meaning to us (more on that in another post). It has been a long process to get to this point and I experienced a crisis of faith in my struggle to gain a Catholic officiant for my wedding. ThroughoutÂ this journey, we have met so many incredible people who are doing Godâ€™s work. We would not have met them if we had taken the easy wayâ€”such as asking the rabbi to officiate and having a priest say a blessing.
A friend asked me the other day what Iâ€™m most excited for on our wedding day, and other than the dress (itâ€™s gorgeous), I am most excited for our ceremony, a unique blend of the faiths and prayers and people that matter the most to us. Iâ€™m so thankful we can have it all present as we start our life together. Check back in a few weeks to see the ceremony, after weâ€™ve put some finishing touches on it!
Looking for an officiant? InterfaithFamily can help!