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How is this version of your wedding book more inclusive of all who identify as Jewish or are marrying into a Jewish family?
AD: This edition of the book reflects the fact that the chuppah, the wedding canopy, has never been bigger or more inclusive. The Jewish Wedding Now addresses the advent of marriage equality, and the language throughout embraces people of all gender identities. I also discuss the diversity of people who are not Jewish but choose marry under a chuppah. Just as there is no generic Jewish wedding, there is no such thing as THE âinterfaith wedding.â Itâs all about making choices that are meaningful and authentic for the couple under the canopy.
How can the book be helpful for someone who is not Jewish or is not sure they want Jewish rituals at their wedding?
The book is intended to help people of any background decide which, if any, Jewish rituals, can help them create the wedding they want. I hope the tone and language of the book is clear, jargon-free and inclusive, so that the Jewish rituals described are doorways, never barriers. I hope that couples are surprised and delighted to learn about the varieties of joy that are woven through the customs and rituals of Jewish weddings.
What is your greatest hope for what a couple from different religious backgrounds would take away from this book?
I hope couples feel empowered by learning about Judaismâs wealth of customs, rituals, wisdom and insights, and I hope they feel encouraged to make use of what speaks to them. There are countless ways that Jewish tradition can enrich a wedding ceremony and I hope couples see Judaism as a source of joy and spiritual expression.
ByÂ DebraÂ Lynn Shelton
Apparently when she and her non-Jewish fiancĂ© scheduled their most special event, they had no idea the date coincided with the holiest days on the Jewish calendar. By the time they realized the conflict, it was too late. They werenât able to change the date of their wedding at the fancy country club where it was booked.
On a scale of religiousness, our family ranges from fairly religious to completely non-participating. So the fairly religious contingent now have a difficult decision to make.
The bride is my first cousin, the daughter of my momâs younger brother. For my immediate family (parents and sisters) the knee-jerk reaction was: reject the occasion altogether. Send a gift, but donât attend.
I mean, how disrespectful could you be to schedule your special day on such a somber and important holiday? What could the future bride and groom have been thinking? What could they expect? But the deeper we delved into the dilemma, the more complicated it became.
For my mom who is fairly religious, in her mid-70s, and lives across the country from her two brothers, the decision was especially difficult. She was choosing between sharing the joyous celebration including magnificent meals with her cherished brothers vs. observing the High Holidays by attending services and fasting.
Rather than asking the audience, she decided to âphone a friend.â That friend was her rabbi who happened to be in Israel on a trip with fellow congregants.
After explaining the situation, my mom asked: âWhat advice can you give our family regarding attending the wedding? I can hear my fatherâs voice saying, âfamily is family.âÂ How do I choose between my family and my faith?âÂ
His response was surprising. On a call from Jerusalem the rabbi advised:Â âDonât go, but do send a gift.Â Do not tell her why you are not going.â
This confused my mom even more, especially the last part. If she chose not to go, why not stand up and say why?
She called her brothers to discuss the situation, and their voices reminded her of the deep love they share. In the end, that love overpowered everything else. She and my dad booked their tickets and will be attending the wedding at the end of September.
The bride-to-be also showed some flexibility, changing the time of the rehearsal dinner so anyone who wishes may attend Kol Nidre services. She also researched nearby temples and their times for services on Friday night and Saturday.
Her Saturday evening wedding is, technically, after the holiday is over. I think she genuinely feels bad about the predicament this has put her observant family members in, and has done what she can to rectify the situation. (Iâm sure many of you will disagree with this.)
Personally, Iâve come full circle. At first I was ready to book my plane ticket. Then I thought, since it was so disrespectful of the bride and groom to put so many in such a challenging position, I wouldnât go. Then I considered what really matters: family. So Iâll be checking out flight and hotel information soon.
This isnât an uncommon dilemma in our world where so many levels of observance can be found in one family. Secular Jews may have weddings or birthday parties or even graduations or professional milestones that involve travel on Saturdays, for instanceâleaving their Sabbath-observant relatives torn.
After all is said and done, as inconsiderate as keeping the wedding date scheduled for Yom Kippur is, Iâm of the opinion that, as my grandfather said, âFamily is family.â
The High Holidays will occur again next year. My cousinâs wedding will not. So, Iâll be joining my parents to watch my cousin walk down the aisle (They plan on attending services near the wedding venue.) Iâm looking forward to spending time with relatives I donât get to see very often, and to celebrating this special milestone with them.
But it isnât an easy choice. Dear readers, I wonder: what would you do?
This article was reprinted with permission fromÂ Kveller.com, a fast-growing, award-winning website for parents raising Jewish and interfaith kids.Â Follow Kveller on FacebookÂ andÂ sign up for their newsletters here.
âSo, howâs the wedding planning?â 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 âgetting it all done.â To explain that, I need to go back to the beginning of the process and explain a few things.
From the beginning, weâve been fairly flexible about what this wedding will look like. I donât 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, thereâs a lot to do, but Iâm organized! Iâm 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 didnât 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 itâs all free! Perfect.
Itâs 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 arenât 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 didnât 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 didnât 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 âget it all done.â 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 wasnât 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–youâre 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 thereâs something special about this expectant time, where youâre waiting for that next step, and I donât want to miss that. I want to savor it.
So, when I start to think about all that I âhave to do,â I think about all the people around to help me. I think about what the âbare bonesâ of the event will look like, and Iâm 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 doesnât matter if we get the photo booth just right.
Iâm choosing to use this time to prepare for a lifetime with my best friend, where the little things donât 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.
Before Jose and I got married, I wondered how marriage would influence our personal growth. I frequently heard the term âgrowing apartâ to describe divorce. I worried whether that happens to some extent in all marriages, that all couples drift apart in their natural self-evolution and whether some couples are just stronger at making the union work. Would growing alongside another person stunt personal evolution, constraining one to only grow so much? Or would a marriage stimulate more self-growth?
Even before setting off on a career as a yoga teacher, I was interested in the concept of self-improvement. I believe we must better ourselves to better serve the world around us. I always saw, and still see, only minor hurdles in Jose and I coming from different religions and cultural backgrounds. All spirituality teaches us to be compassionate and kind to others, and there are more similarities than differences. If our religions encourage us to serve and to love, then Joseâs Catholicism is not at odds with my Judaism in that sense. Still, what obstacles from our faiths might emerge within our continued growth?
As we sat outside enjoying frozen yogurt last week, I asked Jose to get a cup of water from inside the shop. He refused. I thought he was being lazy and I got annoyed, but he explained that he didnât feel comfortable asking for a cup of water when they sell bottles.
Wow, I thought. I was raised to not spend money unless I had to. Tap water is always free, so why buy a bottle? He was raised to respect a shop ownerâs right to sell a product and to buy the item they sell.
Part of the beauty of our interfaith, intercultural marriage is the subtle differences in values, opinions and behavior that shine light on our self-development. When youâre married, you allow yourself to be exposed and vulnerable, to reveal your faults and to be embraced by love. When you give your partner the chance to love you fully for your strengths and for your weaknesses, you become aware of how to grow as an individual and as a partner. When your starting point involves different backgrounds, you often face these opportunities for growth early on.
When you grow alone, you may shoot off in one direction, one path, and no one is there to reality-check you. You may have family and friends as a support system, maybe roommates you must learn to live with, but no relationship compares to a life partner in the way it forces you to face yourself. Thatâs part of the reason I was always afraid of marriage.
I used to think of marriage like a sandbox: You build the wood planks around the outside to set clear boundaries for your wishes, desires, dislikes, hopes and dreams, and you try to keep the sand inside because thereâs a finite amount of it. You can play with the sand, shaping and molding it in different ways as you grow and learn together, but the sandbox itself never changes shape, unless you break it down and start from scratch. Thatâs the other reason I feared marriageâwhat if we grow out of the sandbox?
I realize now thereâs a much better metaphor for marriage. The marriage itself can grow; itâs not a sandbox. The two partners grow as individuals, but at the same time the union itself grows with life experiences, hurdles overcome and shared memories. I see marriage now as a garden. What grows each season may change. Sometimes you have a fruitful harvest because you have tended your garden with care, while other times the external factors like too little rain, sun or warmth prevent growth. Ultimately, each season is new, a new beginning for you to replant and learn from your mistakes.
Our interfaith and intercultural marriage is a beautifully varied garden. Together we have more seeds to choose from, more lessons from our ancestorsâ cultures and religions to explore. We can plant something new, something uniquely blended to our garden, when we have children. Most important, if the harvest of our self-evolution grows beyond the perimeter of our garden because we tended to each other and ourselves with care, we can expand the garden.
Our marriage, still in its infancy, has taught me that growing alongside another person is in fact a greater, more rewarding challenge than growing alone. Marriage forces you to grow to the very edges of your comfort zone, expanding within the shape you and your partner design. That allows you to grow fully in all directions, becoming a well-rounded individual and a loving, supportive partner. And just like a garden, marriage grows when seeds are planted for the future, and that growth happens when you arenât looking.
By Sarah Martinez Roth
How We Met
Growing up Catholic, I knew I wanted to marry a man of faith; however, when I met Jonathan, I realized maybe things were not so black and white, and maybe faith in God was what I was searching for.
Jonathan and I met our freshman year at Colby College in Maine. While in college, we grew closer as friends and I got the chance to admire his commitment to his faith as a friend before we started dating. Even though Jonathan grew up in a Conservative Jewish household, he was very much aware of what being Catholic meant since his mother converted to Judaism from Catholicism before she got married. In addition to celebrating all of the Jewish holidays, Jonathanâs parents would celebrate the Christian holidays with his motherâs family. I think growing up in that background made Jonathan more open to dating me. Conversely, I grew up without the exposure to the same level of religious diversity, so I was not sure how my family would react.
Soon after we graduated, I remember having a conversation with my mother and asking her what she would think if I started dating Jonathan. She said: âSarah, he believes in the same God. As long as you communicate and are open and honest about what you want, you will be just fine.â I took her advice, and we started our relationship soon after.
As we began to plan our wedding we knew we wanted to tie together our Jewish and Catholic faiths. Our situation was especially unique, since Jonathan is a Conservative Jew, I am Catholic and we were having an outdoor wedding ceremony. We needed clergy that would be accommodating to all three of those things. After many months of searching, we were honored to have my husbandâs childhood rabbi and the priest that confirmed me marry us.
Our wedding weekend began with our aufruf, which technically translates to âcalling up,â at Jonathanâs childhood synagogue. An aufruf is a custom where the bride and groom are called up in front of the congregation, usually during a Shabbat service, to be welcomed by the Jewish community. We invited both sides of our immediate family to our aufruf, where Jonathan and I were both asked to join the rabbi on the bimah and participate in the service by saying the blessings over the challah and wine.
The cantor sang âAll of Meâ by John Legend in Hebrew, which we thought was very meaningful because my family, who doesnât understand Hebrew, was able to recognize the song. At the end of our aufruf, the congregation threw little candies at us, which represented sweet blessings for our marriage.
Signing Our Ketubah
Traditionally, it is two male non-family members who are Jewish that sign the ketubah, the Jewish marriage contract. Adhering to that rule would mean that no one on my side would be able to sign such an important document in my life.
I mustered up the courage to ask our rabbi if I could have someone from my side sign it, and he said of course; there is no rule that three people could not sign it. So in the end, our ketubah was signed by my husbandâs best man, a close family friend of my husbandâs family and my godmother.
One of the most memorable parts of our wedding to me was the circling tradition. In Judaism, when the bride circles the groom seven times it represents the creation of our new family circle and the intertwining of our lives together. This was a beautiful moment for me because as I circled Jonathan I felt our lives truly becoming one. Our rabbi suggested that my mother and mother-in-law help me with my veil and dress while I circled Jonathan. Even though that moment was supposed to be about the new home Jonathan and I were creating, it was reassuring to know that our families would always be right behind us to support us.
We wanted our wedding to be as traditional to both faiths as possible. Our rabbi kept the structure of the traditional Jewish wedding in its entirety until before the breaking of the glass, when our priest shared a reading from the New Testament, followed by a homily and blessing over our marriage. Then they both pronounced us husband and wife. Given that my family is bilingual, it was important to me to have the Spanish language included on our wedding day, and our priest was more than willing to conduct the reading and homily in both English and Spanish.
Our chuppah, or wedding canopy, was made from white birch wood, which reflected our roots from college in Maine, and the tallis (prayer shawl), which covered our chuppah, was my father-in-lawâs and was handmade in Israel.
Our vows were a unique part of our weddingâwe completed the traditional Jewish ring exchange in Hebrew and in English: âBehold, you are consecrated unto me with this ring in accordance with the Law of Moses and the People of Israel.â After that, we exchanged our own personal words.
At the end of our ceremony, the last prayer, called the Priestly Blessing, was sung by our rabbi in Hebrew and our priest in English. We were wrapped by both of them in my husband’s tallis from his bar mitzvah. At that moment it really felt like we became husband and wife.
My Advice to Couples
My biggest piece of advice for couples planning their interfaith wedding is to not give up. Whatever your vision is, there will be someone who will help make it come true. Just have faith and donât get discouraged. Planning a wedding can be very stressful, and at times overwhelming. When also trying to balance and manage the interfaith component to your wedding, it can get increasingly complex.
Create your vision for what you and your future spouse want, and I promise this will be the happiest day of your life. When you are standing next to your partner as you are committing yourselves to each other in holy matrimony during your unique and special ceremony, your different backgrounds and faiths will fuse together in the most beautiful moment of your life.
Are you planning a wedding? Find clergy from InterfaithFamily here.