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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 Iâve 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 dayâthoughtfully and peacefully in Godâs presence. The monsignor at the parish even remembered about the wedding and announced it at the end of mass, extending the communityâs prayers and good wishes for the day, and for our marriage.
When we got home, the whirlwind of preparations startedâhair, 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 excitedâmore nervous than Iâd 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 heâd 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 aisleâmarried! 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 Zachâs 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 guestâŠ It was so wonderful to be surrounded by all of the people we love. That was my favorite part of the dayâhaving 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 weddingâa 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 energyâI felt like I didnât 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 weâd barely had a chance to say hello to at the wedding and Iâm 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 werenât flying out were invited back to my parentsâ house for an âopen houseââdrinks, sandwiches, etc.âduring 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 Iâd started itâin my parentsâ house, among family and friends. The only difference was, I was now married!
Every religion and culture has its unique ritual objects and garments that are part of wedding ceremonies. When planning for your Jewish interfaith wedding you will want to consider which to include. You may choose to include ritual objects and garments from multiple traditions or just Jewish ones.Â We willÂ explain some of the Jewish ones here.
The Chuppah (Jewish Wedding Canopy)
AÂ chuppah (sometimes spelled âhuppahâ) is a Jewish wedding canopy with four open sides. Jewish wedding ceremonies typically occur under a chuppah, and this tradition offers great opportunities for interfaith couples to integrate elements from multiple traditions.
A basic chuppah looks like a square piece of fabric supported by four poles. The poles stand on the ground and are often held upright by friends of the couple. The poles can also be free-standing and decorated with flowers. Couples can make their own chuppah, use aÂ synagogue’s or rent one. There should be enough space under the chuppah for the couple, clergy and a small table for ritual items like wine glasses.
The chuppah symbolizes the coupleâs home. The ancient rabbis compared it to the tent of the biblical Abraham, who was famed for his hospitality; his tent had entrances on all four sides to signal a message of welcome to travelers coming from any direction.
Making or decorating a chuppah offers opportunities to include various traditions in the wedding. Partners who are not Jewish can include materials and patterns representing their heritage in the chuppah cloth cover. Some couples use a family heirloom, such as a grandfather’sÂ tallitÂ (prayer shawl; more on this below) or a prized family tablecloth (from Irish culture), as the chuppah covering.
The costs of making your own chuppah can be modest, especially if you keep things simple. You can get everything you need in one trip to a building supplies store for $100 or less (www.apracticalwedding.com has a great DIY page called How to build a chuppah). Prefab kits available online run from about $130 to $250. Rental costs vary but are often under $100. The website huppahs.com rents different styles of chuppot (plural of chuppah) as well as canopies and poles if you only need one or the other.
Two Cups of Wine/Grape Juice
A typical Jewish wedding ceremony includes two cups of wine (or grape juice). Wine is a Jewish symbol of joy. (Learn more about how these two cups fit into the wedding ceremony.) You can use any cups or glasses for this purpose; however, these cups offer an opportunity to include elements from both familiesâ histories or traditions. Also, try using white wine or juice just in case of spills during the ceremony.
Some couples use only kosher certified wine or grape juice. Most rabbis who officiate at interfaith weddings donât require kosher wine. The rationale behind what makes wine kosher goes back to very ancient times when Jews were concerned that wine they might buy in the marketplace could have been ritually dedicated to the polytheistic gods of their neighbors. Today, most liberal Jews donât check whether wine is kosher, but some choose to buy kosher wine for weddings in order to support the industry, or in case they have guests who only drink kosher wine.
A Glass to Break
Most Jewish and interfaith weddings end with one (or sometimes both) partners smashing a glass (for an explanation of the meanings, see Elements of a Jewish Wedding Ceremony from our Guide to Weddings for Interfaith Couples). You can use any glass for this purpose. Just make sure itâs thin and will break easily. Wrap the glass in a cloth or put it in a cloth drawstring bag to avoid injury from the broken shards.
Â What to Wear at a Jewish Interfaith Wedding
There really arenât any rules here. You can have a very casual wedding or a very formal one. There are some traditional ritual garments that one or both partners may want to wear including a kippah, tallit, kittel and veil.
A kippah (Jewish head covering, a.k.a. âyarmulkeâ) is traditionally worn by Jewish men, but sometimes by women too. Either or both partners can don a kippah for the wedding. You can also request that your guests wear kippot (plural of kippah)âyou donât need to be Jewish to wear oneâthough if you do youâll want to provide them with some. You can order from wholesalers like www.kippot.com and spend anywhere from $50 to a few hundred dollars (for personalized embossed kippot). You can also support fair trade by ordering kippot through Jewish United for Justice.
Jewish partners, particularly men, sometimes like to wear a tallit (ritual fringed prayer shawl) during their wedding. In traditional Judaism, the tallit symbolizes the commandments of the Torah and the enveloping and protective presence of the Divine, though not all Jews who wear a tallit practice traditional Jewish lives. Wearing a tallit that belonged to a deceased relative, for instance, can add meaning. Some people take the opportunity of getting married to buy themselves a new tallit that they plan to use in the future, perhaps in the hope of passing it down to future generations.
A kittel is a ritual garment that is typically worn by more traditional grooms. A kittel is a belted white robe, usually made of linen, symbolizing purity. The kittel, which is worn by married men on Yom Kippur, is also used as a burial shroud.
Finally, some brides wear a bridal veil (and at same-sex weddings, sometimes both partners do). In a traditional Jewish wedding, before the ceremony, there is a ritual that takes place called Bedecken, which means âchecking to be certain.â In heterosexual weddings, this involves the groom putting a wedding veil on the bride shortly before the ceremony. The groom gets to âverifyâ that the bride is in fact the person he means to marry. Thereâs a lovely version of this ritual for lesbian weddings here.
A Jewish wedding has two major sections: erusin (betrothal) and nissuin (marriage). The central part of erusin is the exchange of rings. The central part of nissuin is the seven wedding blessings. Though erusin and nissuin were originally two separate ceremonies, they now take place one immediately after the other, and together they make up the Jewish wedding ceremony. There are many ways to personalize your wedding ceremony and include elements from other religious traditions. As with all aspects of your wedding ceremony, you should discuss with your officiant what you do and donât want to include in your ceremony.
There are no set Jewish rules regarding the processional, just customs, so the processional offers interfaith couples a great opportunity to weave in traditions from other faiths or include other cultural elements.
In traditional Jewish weddings the entire wedding party processes down the aisle, with the rabbi going first or simply starting the ceremony waiting at the chuppah (wedding canopyâyou can read more about the chuppah here). In heterosexual weddings, the processional typically continues with the groomsmen walking single file, followed by the best man, and then the groom with parents on either side of him. Then the bridesmaids walk single file, followed by the maid or matron of honor, and then any other members of the wedding party (flower girls, ring bearer, etc.). Finally, the bride processes with parents on either side. It is traditional for the bride and her parents to stop before arriving at the chuppah and for the groom to walk to the bride, and then walk together with her under the chuppah. Under the chuppah, the bride stands to the groomâs right (which is the reverse of traditional Christian or American weddings).
In same-sex weddings, and in many Jewish heterosexual weddings, couples use various processional configurations.
Music for the processional usually includes pre-processional music, to which the grandparents process, a piece chosen for all the attendants including ringbearer and flowergirl. The bride and her parents usually come in to another piece of music. Traditional wedding marches including Wagnerâs “Here Comes the Bride” are not typically used in weddings with Jewish families/guests due to the musicians’ association with anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. Like all details of the wedding, be sure to clear music choices with your officiant(s) and family members.
Most liberal rabbis offer couples the choice of whether or not to include circling in their wedding ceremony. Many modern couples adapt this ritual to make it egalitarian, with each partner circling the other. A typical mutual-circling ritual would see one partner circle the other three times in a clockwise manner, followed by the other circling the first one three times in a counter-clockwise manner. They then complete one last circle together. Some modern couples view circling as a symbol of the way they’ll define the home space for the couple, each seeing themselves responsible for protecting and supporting the other.
The circling is usually done while music is playing, before the couple enter under the chuppah together.
After a brief welcome, the ceremony typically begins with a blessing of the first of twoÂ cups of wine (or grape juice). In Judaism, wine is a symbol of joy. In a traditional Jewish wedding, a second blessing is also recited before the couple sips the wine. This blessing is called birkat erusin. To learn about birkat erusin, click here.
After reciting the blessing(s) the rabbi invites the couple to sip from the cup. Traditionally, in a heterosexual wedding, the rabbi gives the cup of wine to the groom, who sips from it, and then the cup is presented to the bride, who sips from it.
The Ring Ceremony
In liberal Jewish communities, both partners give each other a wedding ring to symbolize their love and commitment. When exchanging rings, each partner recites a verse expressing their commitment to one another. The exchange of rings completes the first part of the wedding ceremony.
The ring ceremony is a good time for couples to exchange vows with each otherâsomething that isnât part of a traditional Jewish ceremony, but which many couples like to include. Additionally, some couples like to write something personal that they can each say to the other when exchanging rings.
Traditionally, there are no âI Doâsâ in a Jewish wedding ceremony. However, if you want to have your officiant ask, for example, if you âpromise to love, honor and cherishâ your partner, and then respond âI Do,â you should ask your officiant if this is something they are comfortable with. To read a blog about one couple who wanted to say âI Doâ in their wedding ceremony, click here.
See sample ring ceremonies here.
The Seven Blessings and the Second Cup of Wine
The second part of the ceremony typically begins with the seven wedding blessings, which includes the second blessing of the wine. The seven blessings give thanks for the joys of love, intimacy and marriage, for the creation of humanity and for the communityâs happiness.
Most Jewish officiants sing the blessings in the original Hebrew and translate each blessing into English. These blessings are ancient, and a lot of contemporary couples prefer to use modern creative translations. Also, the original wording of the blessings refers only to heterosexual weddings. Creative Jewish liturgists have written modified versions of these blessings, in Hebrew and in English, which honor same-sex weddings.
The first of the seven blessings is the blessing over a second cup of wine, and after all of the blessings are recited the couple is invited to take a sip.
After the seven blessings, some rabbis will recite another set of traditional blessings. These words, known as the âpriestly blessings,â ask God to bless and protect, enlighten and give peace to the couple. Some rabbis will ask if the couple want to have a tallit (prayer shawl) draped over their shoulders while this blessing is recited. If this is something you would like to do, you should speak to your officiant about it.
Read more about the seven blessings and sample programs here.
Breaking the Glass
Jewish weddings end with the breaking of a glass. In heterosexual weddings, itâs usually the groom who stomps his foot down on a thin glass (wrapped in a cloth for safety), though some couples (heterosexual or same-sex couples) will do it together or break two glasses. Many couples also want to have a kiss at the conclusion of their ceremony, which can fit nicely right before or after the breaking the glass. Here you can see a fun short video taken from a same-sex wedding in which we see both grooms breaking a glass. And in this blog post, a groom tests out breaking a glass before the big day.
Progressive or traditional, religious or secular, Jewish weddings almost always include a breaking of glass at the end of the ceremony. The glass-breaking is typically followed by a communal “Mazel tov!,” which means “good fortune” in Yiddish and is the equivalent of “Congratulations!” In addition to the communal congratulations, Siman Tov u’Mazel Tov is sometimes sung after the breaking of the glass. Watch this video to learn the words.
There are countless interpretations for the tradition of breaking a glass. Some see it as a reminder of the destruction of the First Temple of Jerusalem. Others say it is meant to remind us that marriage is as fragile as glass. It also has been interpreted to demonstrate how life is so fragile that the couple should enjoy every day as if it were their last together.
Read more about breaking the glass here.
Recessional and Alone Time
At the end of the ceremony, couples typically walk back down the aisle, accompanied by music. The recessional can be deliberately âmessy,â with the couple heading off down the aisle and then everyone else simply mixing and mingling with the guests, or it can be structured and more formal.
Couples often take time for yichud (seclusion) after the ceremony. This gives couples an opportunity to have a little time to be alone together in a private space immediately following the ceremony. The rabbi may mention, just before the breaking of the glass, that the couple is going to do this, and may offer any other short practical instructions to guests at this point as well. Taking a little time to be alone together before returning to your celebrating guests can be rewarding and grounding.
Including Elements from Other Religious Traditions
Sometimes couples want to include elements of other religious traditions in their Jewish interfaith wedding. There are many options for doing so as well as sensitive issues that may arise. Some couples decide to have separate wedding ceremonies in order to allow both of their traditions to be fully expressed.
For issues specific to Jewish-Christian weddings, click here.
For issues specific to Jewish-Muslim, Jewish-Hindu and Jewish-Buddhist weddings, click here.
I tried incredibly hard to make the wedding planning process as organized as I could. I had spreadsheets upon spreadsheets of guest lists and vendors that I shared with my fiancĂ©, Andy. I had folders with links saved and an extensive private Pinterest board of DIY wedding planning ideas that required far more creativity than anything I would ever be capable of and which, closer to the main event, I had completely forgotten about.
As our wedding date loomed ever closer, as our work lives became more hectic, and as we closed on our first home two weeks prior to the wedding, I realized that we were still missing vital last minute details and items.
It was two weeks before the wedding and I had forgotten to buy my shoes, to create the wedding programs, to give the music requests for the ceremony and reception to the DJ, and to top it off, the kiddush cup we had ordered still hadnât arrived.
But somehow, despite a few last-minute glitches, it all came together to be one of the most unforgettable, special, and happiest day of our lives.
As mentioned in my first InterfaithFamily blog post, we started our wedding planning journey with the book A New Jewish Wedding by Anita Diamant. Together, we carefully selected Jewish wedding traditions that were meaningful to us:
Tenaim:Â Tenaim is the pre-wedding ceremony where the families of the bride and groom decide on the financial and logistical arrangements of the marriage. Our rabbi drew up a progressive tenaim document which we and our ketubah witnesses, our two sisters, signed. The document stipulated that we would bring a physical reminder of our love and our spiritual gifts for one another (in lieu of a traditional object of value/dowry) which in our case, was a kiddush cup from our wine fountain set. We had originally ordered a new kiddush cup but soon realized it was not going to arrive in time so we ended up using the cup that we regularly use for Shabbat.
Tenaim includes the pre-wedding tradition of the mother-in-laws breaking a plate together. Two nights prior to the wedding, Andy and I trudged to Pier One to buy the cheapest, most breakable looking plate we could find. The rabbi had warned us to break the plate beforehand and glue it back together but we figured the plate would break easily. Lo and behold, as our mothers, the rabbi and then Andy desperately tried to break the plate in various ways, it was clear that we should have followed instructions. No matter what we did, the plate would not break. I will never underestimate the strength of Pier One plates ever again. We all laughed, the rabbi called it a âsymbolic breakingâ of the plate and we agreed that our mothers would break it at our house warming in two months.
Ketubah:Â A ketubah is the Jewish wedding contract which conveyed our commitment to each other and to building a loving and supportive home together. It requires the signature of the bride and groom, the officiant and witnesses. We each have one sister and while traditionally, witnesses should not be related to the bride and groom, we decided that we truly wanted to honor them in this way. We had purchased the ketubah off of Ketubah.com and made some adjustments to the Hebrew spelling thanks in part to a rabbi friend’s review of the text. The ketubah.com team was more than willing to correct the text. It was a great experience and I highly recommend them. Our ketubah is beautiful and we look forward to putting it up in our new home.
Chuppah:Â A chuppah is the wedding canopy which represents the home that the couple will create together that will be open to family and friends. To create ours, we purchased four 7-foot birch poles off of Amazon for around 60 dollars and large eye hooks for 10 dollars. Andy drilled a hole at the top of the birch poles and screwed in the eye hooks. Our rabbi brought in his large tallit, tied the corner fringes to the hooks at the top and voila! A chuppah was constructed cheaply and easily. We had also wanted to include and honor our friends and family and had decided to have chuppah bearers. Our chuppah was held up by my best friend, my sister, Andyâs brother-in-law and one of his best friends.
One of the most special moments for me was when my parents walked me to the chuppah. It was great being able to have that time with them before the ceremony.
Circling:Â Circling is the tradition where the bride circles the groom seven times (or the partners both circle each other). Seven is an auspicious number in Judaism and circling seven times can represent the seven days of creation, the seven blessings and other instances where something happens seven times in the Torah/Talmud. However, for us, the circling meant that we would make each other central to each otherâs lives. We decided to keep it equal and circled each other three times.
Birkat Erusin:Â The Birkat Erusin is the betrothal blessing recited by the rabbi over a kiddush cup of wine. We then drank from the same kiddush cup that we had used in our tenaim ceremony to symbolize our commitment to sharing our lives with each other.
Ring Exchange:Â Traditionally, the ring ceremony in a Jewish wedding is where the groom gives the bride a ring, constituting the act of gifting an artifact of value to the bride and therefore making the marriage official. However, we decided to do a double ring ceremony where we used my maternal grandmotherâs ring for my wedding band and Andy had his paternal grandfatherâs ring for his. Neither of us have any living grandparents left so it felt like they were able to participate in our celebration in a way, making it even more special for us.
Sheva Brachot:Â The Sheva Brachot are the seven blessings which are recited for the bride and groom. Our rabbi read them in both Hebrew and English. We had no strong feelings about the Sheva Brachot and allowed the rabbi to select the wording.
Breaking the Glass:Â Breaking the glass marks the conclusion of the ceremony and has many interpretations but the ones we chose to add into our wedding programs were that itâs a reminder that there is still suffering in the world and that it represents the breaking of barriers between people of different cultures and faiths. After being regaled with stories of over-confident grooms going to the ER after stomping on the glass, I made sure to put the glass into a plastic bag and cover it with multiple cloth napkins prior to the wedding. I was relieved that Andy was able to break the glass without any issues but Iâm also pretty sure our wedding pictures captured my anxiety-filled expression. We kept the broken glass and are now trying to decide what to do with it.
Yichud:Â After Andy broke the glass, and everyone yelled âMazel tov” and we shared our first kiss as husband and wife, we then left for yichud, a time of seclusion for the bride and groom at the end of the marriage ceremony. We escaped to the bridal suite where we had water, Coca Cola and appetizers waiting for us. We also had a chance to practice our wedding dance one last time. It was an ultimate must-have for us and we are both glad we had those moments to be alone and decompress before heading out to our guests again.
Our wedding ceremony was perfect for us and set the tone for not only the rest of the wedding but for the rest of our lives. It opened our hearts in a way we could never have imagined. It was a celebration of love, of unity and of starting our marriage with our nearest and dearest close by.
Most of all, it was a celebration of us.
Now a week after the wedding, weâre excited to have started our marriage adventure and have mostly stopped accidentally referring to each other as âfiancĂ©.’
By Maria Bywater
I grew up in a large, close Catholic family, so when I got married in a Jewish wedding ceremony, finding meaningful roles for everyone in my family proved challenging. I had converted to Judaism, and the rabbi required that the roles linked to Jewish ritualââsigning the ketubah (Jewish marriage contract) and reciting the Seven Blessings, for exampleâbe filled by people who were Jewish. Eventually, I figured it out: I asked my two sisters and two of my brothers to hold the poles of the chuppah, the wedding canopy under which the ceremony took place (youâll also see it spelled âhuppahâ and âhuppaâ).
Looking back, what I remember most about the ceremony was how comfortable I was standing there, in that space under the chuppah, surrounded by so many people who represented important parts of my life. I didnât feel nervous. I felt supported. I felt at home because the chuppah is symbolic of the marrying couplesâ homeâboth their physical home and the spiritual home theyâll build together. And today, as a chuppah designer and founder of Huppahs.com, I specialize in hand-held chuppahs.
The chuppah is a deeply traditional element of the Jewish wedding ceremony, but also one with a great deal of flexibility as far as what style you use, which makes it a great opportunity to make the ceremony your own, whether you use a hand-held or free-standing version, want something large or small, formal or casual, traditional or modern, or simply or elaborately decorated.
If you didnât grow up hearing a lot of Hebrew, like me, the only really intimidating thing about using a chuppah might be the moment you first try to pronounce the word out loud in front of someone. It has that back of the throat âhâ sound at the beginning. Itâs the same sound as at the beginning of the word âChanukkah.â People pronounce Chanukkah all kinds of different ways, so however you pronounce the first sound in the word âChanukkahâ is a good way to pronounce the first sound in the word âchuppah.â
And really, once youâre past the pronunciation, itâs on to the fun stuff.
Handheld or freestanding?
There are two basic styles of chuppah: handheldâthe kind I usedâand freestanding. Both kinds have a canopy held up by four poles. The difference is that a freestanding chuppah will have more structure so that it stands on its own.
Traditionally, the chuppah is open on all four sides, in a nod to the first Jewish couple, the Torahâs Abraham and Sarah, who traditionally kept the four sides of their tent open to welcome guests.
Hand-held chuppahs hark back to when the custom of using a chuppah first arose in Europe in the Middle Ages. Young boys would escort the bride from her home to the ceremony location, holding the canopy over her head like royalty on procession through the city. Thereâs even an official name for the chuppah bearers: unterferers, which means âsupporters.â
To use a hand-held chuppah for your ceremony, you can have the chuppah bearersÂ lead the procession or enter from the side of the ceremony space just before the procession begins. Aside from the links to tradition and community, a hand-held chuppah works great when your ceremony space doubles as your reception venue and you need to move the chuppah out of the way quickly.
Youâll want enough square footage under the canopy for the couple, the officiant and a small table for the wine and other ritual items. It can be as small as 60 inches by 60 inches. Generally, poles that are seven to eight feet tall work well for small to medium sized canopies, although youâll also find taller versions for a dramatic look.
Where to Get a Chuppah
Some synagogues, wedding venues, florists, and event rental companies have a chuppah to borrow or rent. If youâre interested in this option, be sure to check the condition of the chuppah early in your wedding planning process. Ask the chuppah provider if they set up and take down the chuppah and if there are extra fees for delivery and set up.
You can also buy or rent a chuppah or chuppah kit online. Youâll find both commercial and artisanal versions. If you want a custom design, look for an artist on Etsy or other sites selling handmade items. My company, huppahs.com, rents different styles of chuppahs as well as canopies and poles if you only need one or the other.
For the canopy, you can use a tallit or tablecloth that you have on hand, especially if it has special meaning to you. Just make sure the fabric is in good shape and will hold up to being secured to the poles.
Another great option is to make the chuppah yourself or have someone make it for you. You can choose the form and materials that work best for the wedding you want to create, and you can let your style shine.
If youâre looking for a wedding role for someone who is not familiar with the Jewish wedding ceremony, asking them to help create your chuppah can be a great way to include them. Depending on the chuppah you envision, there can be roles for sewists, fabric painters, embroiderers, weavers and other textile artists as well as folks with light construction skills.
My book, Sew Jewish, includes instructions for making a chuppah canopy and poles, but here are some guidelines to keep in mind if youâre designing your own.
For the canopy, choose fabric that is lightweight, doesnât stretch, and looks good from both sides. A canopy made heavy by the fabric or extensive needlework can make holding the poles or attaching the canopy securely to the frame difficult. If the canopy is lightweight and not too large, add some combination of loops, reinforced holes or ties to enable you to attach the corners to the supporting poles or frame. If the canopy is large or heavy, make sleeves on the edges of the canopy to fit into supports running across the top of the chuppah frame.
Popular materials for the structure are wood, dowels and tree branches, especially birch branches. PVC piping is also a popular choice for frames when you plan to cover the pipes with drapery.
If different people will be providing your canopy and poles or frame, make sure you know how theyâll fit together before anyone gets to work. Ideally, put the whole chuppah together for a trial run well before your wedding day so that you can make adjustments if you need to.
Whatever style of wedding you choose, with all the chuppah options available to you, youâre sure to find one that feels like home.
Maria Bywater is the founder of Huppahs.com, the leading national wedding chuppah rental company and author of the bookÂ Sew Jewish: The 18 Projects You Need for Jewish Holidays, Weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvah Celebrations, and Home. She lives in New Yorkâs Mid-Hudson River Valley amid her large, close family.
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 werenât ready to share. I didnât 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 Iâm 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 donât miss a moment of this exciting yearâor 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 Ceremonyâwe borrowed heavily from the suggested ceremony components and order. If youâre 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 Iâve 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 venueâme 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 guestsâhe suggested printing explanations in the program, so we wouldnât 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. Hereâs what it will look like:
After the procession (where there will be oodles of happy tears), Rabbi Bleefeld willÂ open with a statement remembering Zachâs 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, weâre asking my mother and Zachâs aunt to read from the New and Old Testament, respectively, to introduce each of those components. Weâre getting the dads involved tooâtheyâll say the Seven Blessings, alternating in Hebrew (Zachâs dad) and English (my dad). Weâll 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 theyâre 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 Weâre 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.
Iâm 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
By Elana Bell
Photos by Peter Dressel
It is two days until our Hindu wedding ceremony, and my fiancĂ© Jai and I are standing outside the Rama Krishna Mission where I am staying, in Calcuttaâs hundred-degree humidity, arguing about translations. I am asking, for what feels like the hundredth time, for an accurate translation of the mantras I will be chanting during the four-day ceremony.Â Jai has been promisingâand putting offâthese translations for months, but apparently, it is not as easy as weâd originally thought.
It turns out that there is not one generic Hindu wedding ceremony, but rather a precise set of mantras for each region, caste and specific lineage. He thought that once we arrived in India it would be easier track down translations from the local priest, but unfortunately the local priest actually lives in a remote village on the outskirts of the city, has no cell phone and can only be reached during certain times of the day on the communal village phone, which is almost always busy. And, as Jai painstakingly explains to me, there are no simple, ready-made English translations for a four-day ceremony.
This is not our first wedding. Six weeks earlier, we were married in a Jew-ish weddingÂ ceremony on the canals in Venice, California, a few miles from where I grew up. I say Jew-ish, because while it was rooted in Jewish culture and included many elements of a traditional Jewish wedding, weâd devoted months to crafting the language of our ceremony to make sure it was a precise reflection of who we were as a couple.
Since Jai is not Jewish, and has no plans to convert, it seemed false to recite the traditional blessing for the ring exchange: Haray aht mâkudeshet li bâtabaâat zu kâdat Moshe vâYisrael, which translates as By this ring you are consecrated to me in accordance with the traditions of Moses and Israel. Instead, we wrote our own blessing, recited in both Hebrew and English: With this ring I consecrate myself to you by the universal laws of love. During the sheva brachot, the seven blessings, we invited Jaiâs parents and sister to recite Sanskrit verses that were close to the meaning of the traditional Hebrew blessings, because we wanted to honor and include his language and culture, and because we wanted our guests to understand that although this was a predominantly Jewish ceremony, it was also the marriage of two rich and ancient traditions.
So you can imagine my annoyance when two days before the Hindu ceremony, I still had no idea what it was that I was actually going to be saying. The year before, we had come to Calcutta to participate in Jaiâs sisterâs wedding. Though born in Calcutta, Sukanya was raised in the United States and holds a doctorate in astrophysics from Berkeley. Going in, Sukanya was already skeptical of some of the rigmarole that the traditional Hindu ceremony requiredâthree different heavy-silk, embroidered saris, yellow paste smeared on the face and more than a dozen intricate rituals to bind her to her chosen mateâceremonies that were not necessarily reflective of the quieter, more stripped down Hinduism practiced by her family growing up. Yes, there were the small altars around the house with statues of Durga and Ganesha, but the most important ritual was the daily recitation of the Sanskrit verses their father demanded. Add to the equation the fact that Sukanya was marrying a nice, Bengali young man who, although he cooked a perfectly delicate hilsa fish, believed in the intricate rituals of his born religion about as much as he believed in the tooth fairy.
Throughout their four-day ceremony (which I studied intently, knowing that I might soon be going through it myself), I occasionally noticed Sukanya grimacing, or calling her father over and whispering to him with agitated gestures. When I asked her later what was wrong, she explained that unlike most contemporary Indian brides, she could actually understand the Sanskrit verses she was reciting and they contained some pretty paternalistic sentiment. âI canât believe I am supposed to repeat this crap about thanking my husband for taking over the burden of taking care of me from my father!â she hissed. Â âElana, you and Jai shouldnât even have an Indian wedding. Just do it in America. Then you wonât have to go through all of this nonsense.â
As a cultural and religious outsider joining the family, I didnât really think that was an option. Can you imagine me telling my soon-to-be Indian mother-in-law that her only son wouldnât have a traditional Hindu ceremony? Plus, I was already picturing myself in a flowing red silk sari. And, although I was not thrilled about the chauvinistic element that Sukanya had revealed, most organized religions are patriarchal in origin, and their marriage rituals reflect that. Judaism is no exception. The traditional ketubah, the Jewish marriage contract, includes a promise from the husband to present the bride with âthe marriage gift of virgins, two hundred silver zuzimâ in exchange for her promise to live faithfully according to the laws of Moses and Aaron, and bring the agreed upon sum of silver, gold, and valuables from her own fatherâs house.Â Sounds like a sale to me.
Even more than my concern with an antiquated, patriarchal ceremony was my secret, deep-seated fear that I was going to unknowingly end up invoking some god or goddess that wasnât mine. That somehow, by reciting these ancient Hindu mantras, I would be betraying my God, and therefore my essential Jewishness.
As Jai and I stood outside the Rama Krishna Mission, trying to resolve this frustrating circumstance, I realized I had a choice. I could hold my ground on principle, andÂ spend the last days before our wedding in a state of tension and frustration over what I could not control, or I could jump into this ceremony on faith and with the clarity of my intention to honor my soon-to-be-husbandâs culture. I knew that no matter what words I would repeat during the ceremony, we would be invoking the love we have for each other, and honoring the values that are important to us, whether connected to our cultural heritage, spiritual practice or to something as mundane as who is going to take out the trash.
On the day of the ceremony we wake at dawn in our separate residences. I am brought toÂ the wedding house and dressed in an elaborate red silk sari and made up to look like a combination of Bollywood starlet and a Hindu goddess. When I come out, they seat me in a red velvet wedding chair to wait for my turn to participateâwhich turns out to be not for a long time. In the Hindu ceremony, it is the father of the bride who actually has the most to say and do. And my father was a champion. He sat under the wedding tent on a white mat, dressed in a white dhoti with a red-checkered cotton shawl around his neck, repeating Sanskrit verses after the priest for hours. Watching the delight my musical father took in pronouncing these foreign phrases helped me relax and be present for the ritual. Although I did not understand every word, when Jai and I threw the fragrant jasmine garlands around each otherâs necks, circled the fire together seven times and tied his clothing to mine, the metaphor was clear.
It would resemble a fairy tale rather than life if I ended the story here, if I implied that after that powerful and exhausting ceremony, and the compromises we each made to get through it, everything fell into place and the struggles of being an inter-faith couple faded into the sunset. In truth, the negotiations continue, some more painful than others. Whereas in India I felt that I was the one who ended up compromising more, in our day-to-day life, it is Jai who is consistently being asked to include more and more Jewish ritual into his life.
We celebrate Shabbat on a weekly basis, either in our home, with friends or with our beloved local Hassidic rebbe. Jai accompanies me to Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and other Jewish holiday dinners and services. In the beginning, I think Jai came for my sake, so I would not have to be alone, since Judaism is such a communal religion. And while Jai is very clear that his is a Hindu soul, he acknowledges that his life has been enriched by his experiences with Jewish culture and practice.
As far as my participation in Hinduism, as I mentioned, Jaiâs familyâs practice is more philosophical, internal, and text-based, than communal. In fact, when we were traveling in India I would eagerly go into each temple, leaving my shoes at the threshold and braving the dirty water littered with petals, while Jai waited outside for me to return, forehead sticky with the remnants of a priestâs blessing. Early in our relationship, Jai would tell stories from the Bhagvad Gita and the Ramayan so intimately, it seemed that heâd been born knowing them. Besides making me fall more in love with him, being exposed to these stories through his eyes has made me want to have a deeper understanding of my own sacred stories, and wish that I was as versed in the Torah as he is in the Hindu sacred texts.
A few days after our Hindu ceremony, on a train heading from Calcutta to Delhi, still reeling from the four days of intense festivities, I asked my father how he, a Conservative Jew from California, felt about all the Sanskrit heâd had to recite and if any of it had made him uncomfortable. He paused for a moment and said, âWell, the way I see it, Sanskrit is a holy language, like Hebrew. The sounds felt familiar in my mouth, even though I didnât know exactly what I was saying. And as I was speaking, I just kept focusing on my love for you and Jai, and my blessing that you should have a long and happy marriage.â I canât imagine any God that I would call mine taking issue with that.
Elanaâs debut collection of poetry, Eyes, Stones (LSU Press 2012), was selected as the winner of the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets, and brings her complex heritage as the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors to consider the difficult question of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She is the recipient of grants and fellowships from the Jerome Foundation, the Edward Albee Foundation, and the Brooklyn Arts Council. Her writing has recently appeared in AGNI, Harvard Review, and the Massachusetts Review, among others. Elana was a finalist for the inaugural Freedom Plow Award from Split This Rock, an award which honors a poet doing work at the intersection of poetry and social justice. To find out more about her work, please visit: www.elanabell.com.
Forty-four days, 23 hours and 53 minutes to go to the big day (but whoâs counting?), so we thought weâd give you a sneak preview of how weâve constructed our interfaith ceremony. All the way back last summer, we had a lovely meeting with our rabbi, IFF/Philadelphia‘s Rabbi Frisch, and our priest, Mother Takacs, where we talked about the elements of the wedding services from our religions and which of them were particularly meaningful to us.
There was no question that we would stand under a chuppah; after walking down the aisle separately, weâll hold hands and stand underneath it together, entering the special space as equals. Weâll begin with the Kiddush, and then the âDeclaration of Intentâ from the Episcopalian tradition, in which weâll both announce to everyone that we intend to get married and stay married!
Both our officiants will say a few words, and Rabbi Frisch will read our ketubah text aloud as well (weâll sign it before the ceremony). We then move onto the part of the ceremony that, for Vanessa, was the most important part from her tradition: the vows. Rather than writing our own vows, weâll say the traditional ones derived from the Book of Common Prayer. These vows encompass everything that we could possibly want to cover, promising to remain faithful to each other through the best and the worst times. After exchanging our rings, weâll hear the Sheva B’rachot (seven blessings), and have the second Kiddush. One final blessing from the priest, and then â weâll break the glass together!
Hopefully you can see from this description that weâve tried to weave our two traditions together: Weâre not keeping the Jewish parts of the ceremony separate from the Christian ones, but rather combining them to make a wedding service that does justice to how we plan to continue our lives together. Our conversations with Rabbi Frisch and Mother Takacs helped us to figure out what we needed to do to make our ceremony perfect for us and our families, and the process of planning the ceremony has given us the space to reflect on exactly what each part means to us. So much of the wedding planning industry tells us to spend hours picking the perfect menu and flower arrangements: Why shouldnât we spend just as much time thinking about the words and actions that will be the centerpiece of our ceremony?
One of the items that we needed to tick off our Wedding To-Do List this month was ordering the ketubah. As an interfaith, same-sex couple, we were looking for a text that spoke to the myriad possibilities of what it means to be in a loving, committed relationship. In a moment in the wedding industry when interfaith and same-sex ketubah texts are relatively scarce, we were happy to find something that struck a chord with us.
The Church of England doesnât have anything similar to a ketubah. The traditional wedding ceremony involves words and vows that have remained more or less the same since the Book of Common Prayer wedding service was first codified in the 17th Century. Our own wedding ceremony will combine these long-recited vows with elements of the Jewish tradition, so we wonât be taking the opportunity to express our more personal thoughts about marriage within the service itself (partly because the Church of England vows are very meaningful and beautiful, and partly because Vanessa would become a blubbering wreck). So, the ketubah felt like a wonderful opportunity for us to reflect on our conception of marriage and to verbalize our priorities and commitments for the years ahead.
In the end, we decided to choose a ketubah that encompasses more of a poetic, abstract notion of love. The design is relatively abstract too: an impressionistic tree with blue and gold leaves, with its roots drawing strength from the text underneath. Our ketubah tells the story of a partnership between two people using beautiful metaphor, but a metaphor that is rooted in concrete behavior.
Wedding planning can be stressful, and weâre combining it with finishing our graduate degrees and looking for jobs: So when we read our ketubah text that speaks of supporting each otherâs dreams and comforting each otherâs sorrows, we know that the beautifully-illustrated document is not just for show. The line that describes holding each other in both our arms and our hearts has never seemed more appropriate than in recent weeks, as weâve huddled together under a blanket on our sofa, escaping the delightfully chilly weather/miserable freezing temperatures (depending on who you ask).
So, the ketubah is on its way. Many more things remain on the Wedding To-Do List, the vast majority of which relate to a single day. But this is one element of our planning that weâll see every day for the rest of our lives, throughout our entire marriage.
It has been two months since Jarrett and I tied the knot and there are times I still catch myself daydreaming about our wedding day. While it was not the easiest task to plan our big day, the reward was better than I could have imagined! In the weeks leading up to the wedding, I tried to remain cool and collected while tackling an intimidating to-do list but I remained motivated knowing every check off the list was one step closer to marrying my best friend.
As October 8Â inched closer, I grew more and more anxious knowing our closest friends and family members would soon be traveling from near and far to celebrate with us and my hope was that everything would run smoothly day-of. When I woke up the morning of our wedding day, I knew every item on the checklist had been completed except one: Get Married. In that moment, the advice from many close friends who had gotten married months or years prior to us popped into my headâŠ âBe present,â âDonât sweat the small stuffâ and âEnjoy every moment because the day will go by in the blink of an eye.â In that moment, I put every worry behind me and was ready to walk down the aisle.
The day began on a relaxing note with breakfast and movies at home with my mom and bridesmaids while we had our hair and makeup done. The limo arrived to take us to the wedding venue. Once at the venue, time moved faster than ever before. We began photos right away, then it was time for the first look with my soon-to-be husband. We chose to do a non-traditional first look because it allowed us to take all photos before the wedding ceremony so that we could be present at our cocktail hour to have more time with our friends and family. As I walked out onto the patio toward Jarrett standing with his back to me, I smiled knowing we were about to see each other for the first time on our wedding day. The photographer instructed Jarrett to keep his eyes closed while she arranged us back to back for a few photos. My mind raced with memories from our relationship over the last six years that brought us to this point and my smile grew even wider as the photographer instructed us to turn around to see each other for the first time. We cried happy tears as we exchanged notes we had written to each other the night before the wedding.
After our first look, we headed upstairs for our ketubah (marriage contract) signing ceremony. I was raised Catholic and never experienced a ketubah signing ceremony until my own wedding day. But after Jarrett and I spent weeks designing ourÂ ownÂ Interfaith ketubah, I was excited for this event to be part of our big day. Our wedding venue, The Bradford Estate, recently completed upstairs renovations which provided us with a perfect space for a private ceremony. Rabbi Robyn Frisch (Director of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia) led a beautiful and intimate ketubah-signing ceremony for Jarrett and me along with my parents and sister, Jarrettâs mom and two close friends we chose as our witnesses. The ketubah-signing ceremony will forever be one of my favorite parts of our wedding day. It was such a special time with the closest people in our lives and a way to spend a short time together before the chaos of the reception began. The ketubah ceremony even calmed some nerves before the wedding ceremony because technically, we were already married once our ketubah was signed!
Following our ketubah signing was our wedding ceremony (chuppah ceremony) officiated by Rabbi Robyn Frisch. Jarrett was raised Jewish and it was his request to be married by a rabbi in a ceremony incorporating Jewish traditions. I was happy to agree to his request as I understood how important this was to him and I did not need to be married in a Catholic church or by a priest for our wedding day to feel special to me. We chose to be married under a chuppah and it was so special to have our parents and my sister standing under the chuppah with us during our ceremony. I love the sentiment of the chuppah representing the home we will build together and how it is open on all sides to represent the welcoming of others.
We also chose to incorporate the Kiddush/Blessing over the wine utilizing a kiddush cup given to us by Jarrettâs aunt from a trip to Israel earlier this year. During our wedding ceremony planning, Robyn provided us with different verses for the exchange of the rings and Sheva B’rachot/Seven Wedding Blessings. Jarrett and I took time together to read through the different verses and chose verbiage that we connected with for use in our ceremony.
We were so thankful to have chosen Robyn as our officiant as she was so helpful during the ceremony planning (especially as a resource to someone who was not raised Jewish). She also took the time to get to know us as a couple and shared stories about us that truly made for a personal and unforgettable wedding ceremony. She even provided explanations during each part of the ceremony for those in the audience who were not from a Jewish faith background so they too could connect and understand the ceremony. Our ceremony ended with the Priestly Benediction and Jarrett breaking the glass with all of our loved ones yelling âMazel Tov!â
Following our wedding ceremony, our cocktail hour and reception commenced complete with the hora and cutting of the cake. We ate, drank and danced the night away with our closest friends and family members who helped make the day so special. Two months later, we continue to receive compliments about how beautiful and personal our wedding ceremony was and we feel very lucky to have had such a memorable experience. We are thankful for the memories from our wedding day that we will cherish for a lifetime and look forward to what the future holds as we embark on our interfaith marriage together.