Connecting Interfaith Families to Jewish Life in Greater Cleveland by providing programs and opportunities for interfaith families to experience Judaism in a variety of venues, meet other interfaith families, and to connect to other Jewish organizations that may serve their needs.
A great way for Jewish professionals and volunteers who work with and provide programming for people in interfaith relationships to locate resources and trainings to build more welcome into their Jewish communities; connect with and learn from each other; and publicize and enhance their programs and services.
Steven and I were married in an outdoor Catholic and Jewish celebration on May 23, 2015. The ceremony itself was the biggest black box for us when planning our wedding and we hope sharing how we brought our two faiths together into an interfaith ceremony helps anyone else trying to decode this process.
Steven was raised Jewish and I’m a born and raised and practicing Catholic. We wanted faith as part of our ceremony and we also wanted to make sure it represented us and was welcoming and inclusive for our families and friends in attendance.
With some work, the help of great people and some luck, we pulled it off.
Steven’s parents are really involved in their Jewish community and through those connections found us a local rabbi, Lev Baesh that they thought we would like. It just so happens that Lev has a long history with InterfaithFamily and continues to work as a consultant with the organization. Steven and I both really value sustainability, so when we found out that Lev has solar panels on his house and chickens in his backyard, we felt like things would work out. The first time we met him for coffee (and to “interview” him) he said two things that stuck with us through the planning process:
1. Many of the major religious milestones (or sacraments in the Catholic world) recognize things that have already happened—baptism/ naming ceremonies (the baby is already born), funerals (the person is already dead) and in the case of marriage, two people have already made the decision to be together and the ceremony is to officially recognize it. Knowing this took some pressure off of us—we’d already been through the hard part of finding each other and figuring out that we wanted to be together forever. The ceremony was the cherry on top.
2. The ceremony is the first real opportunity to set the tone for how religion is going to look in your newly formed two-person family. That observation actually added a little more pressure, but also helped us find a framework as we came to decision points when planning the ceremony. For example, while I had written a word-by-word ceremony, our officiants both wanted the opportunity to speak in their own words, reflecting the sentiment we put forth in the draft. When we looked at our framework, we decided we wanted our faith journey to have room for flexibility and to be genuine and personal, so we agreed to let our officiants speak from the heart (that ended up being a GREAT decision—more on that later).
We found our priest through the recommendation of a friend who served on the Board of Directors for the Interfaith Action of Central Texas. I like the priest at my longtime Catholic parish, but I wasn’t sure he had the personality we needed for an interfaith ceremony. It can also be challenging to have the Bishop recognize an interfaith, outdoor marriage. Luckily, Father Larry Covington knew how the system worked and helped guide us through the process which included the required paperwork as well as Pre-Cana, multiple pre-marriage preparation meetings a Catholic couple goes through. He also made us feel at ease about an interfaith ceremony and marriage. Oh, and he speaks some Hebrew, which came in handy (see list below).
We decided on a mix of Catholic and Jewish traditions as well as things we just thought would be cool. Here’s what we ended up doing:
Both of my parents walked me in; both of Steven’s parents walked in with him (Jewish tradition)
Our dog was in the wedding party, holding the rings on her collar
We got married under a chuppah (the canopy structure present in traditional Jewish weddings). My father made it for us and personalized it by using Longhorn and Duke bed sheets as the canopy covering, paying homage to our alma maters
The priest and rabbi each gave a welcome and a blessing
We invited seven friends to give a blessing of their choosing, a twist on the traditional
The priest said the traditional vows, the rabbi did the exchange of rings
Steven and I wrote and said our own additional vows to each other
We did the Jewish stomping of the glass at the end of the ceremony
The singing of a prayer in Hebrew: We lucked out—our priest did this part and wow’d everyone!
Katie & Steven’s wedding ceremony with Rabbi Lev Baesh and Father Larry Covington co-officiating. Photo by Elizabeth McGuire
Here are a few additional resources and things we did that were helpful:
Lots of communication with our guests: We emailed all of those attending the wedding to give them the heads up that our wedding would have a rabbi, priest and a dog. It really helped people know what to expect.
Lots of communication with our parents: We especially wanted to make sure our parents felt good about the ceremony since we were the first interfaith couple in our immediate families. We gave the opportunity in the beginning of planning to share anything they really wanted in the ceremony. We also shared the ceremony document with our parents in advance and they appreciated it.
Ceremony: It wasn’t easy to find more than an outline of a ceremony, but we did find one from InterfaithFamily that we really liked. Here it is.
Vows: In addition to the traditional vow exchange, we also wanted to say our own words to each other. We worked off of this listand made the vows our own.
Blessings have been on my mind lately. In the Jewish wedding ceremony there are seven blessings recited, and, for better or for worse, I’m finding them complicated. Which is why, when our house started to shake during a thunderstorm the other night, I was already awake turning blessing after blessing over and over in my mind.
Photo by Justin Hamel
The thunder rolled, the lightning flashed, and my mind immediately went to the damage that we’d seen this winter, wondering if this storm would re-expose those leaks. After a few minutes of almost deafening rain, my mind finally slowed past its catastrophic style thinking to an appreciation of all of the noises, smells, and feelings that accompany a thunderstorm.
I was thankful for the rain that we receive here in New England, as opposed the droughts that are impacting so much of our world. I was thankful that I was inside, and lucky enough to be safe from the elements. I was grateful to be cuddled up under my blanket next to my sleeping partner, with my sleeping cat in the nook behind my knees.
I noticed Justin stirring from his sleep. “Good thunderstorm,” he muttered to himself.
It might seem simplistic, but right there… that was a blessing.
One of the pieces of Jewish learning I’ve most taken to heart is the idea that a prayer should speak to what is truly in your heart—the trappings of the words matter a whole lot less. (This idea seems particularly relevant when coming at the idea of one religion’s prayer from a multi-faith lens.)
Which is why we’re going to take the seven blessings and take them from complicated ideas to a simple “good thunderstorm” style message. But we need your help.
We’re asking seven of our friends to craft their own blessings based on the meaning of the originals. They’ll then be recited in the original Hebrew by our rabbi. What matters to us is less of the traditional language (we’ll have our bases covered by our rabbi’s recitations), but the sentiments passed along by the friends reciting the blessings.
Here’s where we’re asking for your help: if you were to simplify the following prayers to one word, what would it be?
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.
Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, Who has created everything for your glory.
Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, Creator of Human Beings.
Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, Who has fashioned human beings in your image, according to your likeness and has fashioned from it a lasting mold. Blessed are You Adonai, Creator of Human Beings.
Bring intense joy and exultation through the ingathering of Her children (Jerusalem). Blessed are You, Adonai, are the One who gladdens Zion(Israel) through Her children’s return.
Gladden the beloved companions as You gladdened Your creatures in the garden of Eden. Blessed are You, Adonai, Who gladdens this couple.
Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, Who created joy and gladness, loving couples, mirth, glad song, pleasure, delight, love, loving communities, peace, and companionship. Adonai, our God, let there soon be heard in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem the sound of joy and the sound of gladness, the voice of the loving couple, the sound of the their jubilance from their canopies and of the youths from their song-filled feasts. Blessed are You Who causes the couple to rejoice, one with the other.
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
It is hard to believe it has already been a month since our “big day.”
It is finally starting to sink in.
It seems that we have not stopped moving since we got married. Between the holidays, Lisa’s sister getting married, and my new employment opportunities, there has been barely a moment to sit and take it all in. However, this week, we received our photos and have been listening to our playlists from the ceremony and reception. It is certainly bringing us some cheer.
It was an incredible journey for us both. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
We had a lot of help along the way. So thank you everyone who helped. Friends, family, and loved ones. Thanks to all our wonderful vendors too. Thank you all who followed us both on this journey and the whole InterfaithFamily staff who gave us this opportunity to talk about and really explore what having an interfaith wedding is all about and meant to us. (I also apologize to our photographer because I had to resize all the photos to fit into this post, they simply do not do her work justice.)
After the wedding, we ended up answering a lot more questions than I thought. We had a lot of members of Lisa’s family asking about the Ketubah ceremony, while others asked about the circling of one another toward the beginning of the ceremony.
We also received a ton of compliments. The donut table (instead of cake) was a huge success. You could not tell the difference between the adults and children because all of them kept staring at the table with hungry eyes, even with a belly full of delicious meatballs. Our Jewish friends also said that when it comes to the Hora, Lisa and I hit it out the park. It was their most fun moments of the wedding.
What’s next in our journey? That is a great question. We are hoping after the New Year to settle down a little bit more. There should be some clarity in our close future. I also hope to attend temple more regularly. For the first time in awhile, we do not have a deadline for our life and maybe that is the best gift of marriage. It is what you do with it after the big day.
I made a comment to Lisa while we were getting our hair done together this week. This is what you and I are going to look like on our wedding day. It was a jarring statement that caught Lisa off guard.
I did not mean that we were walking down the aisle in jeans and hooded sweatshirts. I meant that if you asked 5-year-old Ryan what he would look like or who was the man he was going to be on his wedding day, he could not have imagined it. And everything is different from what I imagined on my 15th birthday. And even at 25, I would not have believed you I would be getting married 600 miles from where I grew up and that was only four years ago.
At the beginning of this blog, I was asked to introduce Lisa and me as a couple. That couple could not have planned what lay ahead for the both of us. It is amazing to look back when I first started writing in April and see the changes in our lives that have happened since then. Many of them were not planned, but Lisa and I remained a team and got through all the ups and downs together. The wedding we planned in April is nowhere near identical to the wedding that is happening in just 8 days.
Where am I going with this? I don’t know.
My spiritual mentor Scott and I talked about the power of “I do not know” this week during our weekly chat. Sometimes in life, it is best not to know. There is a lot of truth in that statement. We tend to get caught up on what we do know, and forget that we do not need to know everything in order to be successful. We simply have to trust that G-D has got it worked out.
Easier said than done. Especially this close to the date and you feel like you have to know everything. Everything needs to be set in stone. And maybe for the wedding it does have to be. However, at the moment, in life, it is best that I do not know life’s full plan. Knowing that I love Lisa with all my heart is really all I need. Life’s other details will be taken care of with or without my help, it seems.
I have talked about being spiritually ready to get married throughout the course of this entire blog. I can say that I am ready and have not even gone to the mikveh yet. What I thought “spiritually ready” looked like in April, and actually feeling it now, into my soul, are two very different things.
"...the one who chops your wood.. that you may enter into the covenant with the LORD your God, and into His oath which the LORD your God is making with you today" - Deuteronomy 29:11
One aspect to my spiritual life and was instilled into me by my original mentor and many who came after, was to be of service. In the beginning I took the suggestions that being of service meant giving someone a ride if they needed it. Or if someone was struggling it meant to stop and lend an ear. I came to understand that being of service meant being in service to others and to G-D. My experience has shown again and again that being of service was a keystone to spiritual development.
After those first experiences, I began to realize I was being drawn further into the nonprofit sector as a desired occupation. Before I knew it I was working at a nonprofit food bank and volunteering my time at two other nonprofits. Even during my current job search, I find myself unable to get away from wanting to have an extra purpose in going to work each day.
When it comes to the wedding, there not a lot of time when we can be of service to others. After all, this wedding is about us. As I discussed my “food blog post” we need to at least give everyone a good meal. Meatballs and doughnuts is the least we could do. And since making that decision, not everything has been easier, but it did give us a brief moment of calm when it came to planning.
When it comes to my religious practices, we always talk about Jewish “Services” for the holidays and Shabbat. Although we call it a wedding ceremony, couldn’t it also be called a wedding service? But why would we call it a service? It is the whole reason we decided to have a Jewish service in a Catholic Chapel, because it is for G-D. When we join together on that day, those prayers are for us, but also very much for G-D as well. The whole ceremony is joining the three of us in a holy union of love. Sounds like being in service to G-D to me.
Being of service and chopping wood for an underprivledged camp
This blog has focused largely on being spiritually ready for the big day. So if being of service is important, than how was I in service this week? I actually found myself at a working interview at a soup kitchen and food pantry. I do not think there is any higher calling than giving people the basic need of food. Ever since leaving Philadelphia and the food bank there, I missed working in that environment. I missed it so much that even spent part of my time during a business trip in New Orleans at TribeFest, where I met Editor Lindsey Silken, this past year and volunteered at a food bank. It is the most rewarding thing to do with my time and at the end of this, there may even be a chance at an upcoming open position. I actually agreed to have the second working interview this upcoming Tuesday, before I turn 100% of my thoughts over to the wedding.
“Service which is rendered without joy helps neither the servant nor the served. But all other pleasures and possessions pale into nothingness before service which is rendered in a spirit of joy.” – Mahtma Gandhi.
This year may have been the perfect snapshot for our inter-faith life together.
As Friday settled in and the sun began to set, we began to prepare for the weekend. I was preparing my body by beginning my fast. Lisa was preparing for a busy Saturday.
One thing that makes Lisa a wonderful inter-faith partner is that she asked me before she made dinner if I minded. Since to my knowledge, there is not a lot of fasting in Catholicism, she wanted to be respectful for my decision to practice faith in a way that was meaningful for me. I never once expected her to fast with me because our relationship is based on encouragement and not on forced decisions.
When we rose on Saturday, it was going to be a busy day for the both of us.
We both attended the Saturday morning services for Yom Kippur.
Although the services and sermon was great, it was the simplest things of the day that brought me the most joy. A year ago, I could not even enter a temple if I wanted to because major knee surgery had me laid up and streaming the services from my computer. And as we chanted during services, we would have been grateful and content. However, with so much changing over the past year, outside my relationship with Lisa, our temple was the only constant. And for that I would have been grateful and content. The last part I will say about services is that it was great to have Lisa there for me in the morning. When I attended the afternoon services without her, she was dearly missed. However, she was there in the morning for me and for that I am grateful and content.
When I asked Lisa about services, her first answer was the most important. She liked being there for me. It melts my heart a little bit even to think of it. However, her overall view was that a lot of things remained universal. There were songs to be sung, readings to follow, and a sermon to be heard. She was most fascinated with seeing the Torah scrolls being unveiled from behind the curtain and then carried around to be touched by tallit or prayer books and then kissed.
Lisa At Her Bridal Shower
Lisa also had a busy rest of the day preparing for the wedding. She needed to go purchase a slip for her dress and several other pressing wedding purchases. And this was before she needed to attend her own bridal shower that day. We know we should have planned better to not have it on such a big day, but that is when most people were available and since we do have not a very active Jewish circle of friends, no one really thought much of it until the date was set. Lisa was grateful for all those who were able to attend the event.
This snapshot of our day is very much what it is like to live in an inter-faith world; we all just need to be respectful of everyone’s decisions and try to be there in the best ways that we can.
Cole Porter famously wrote, “What is this thing called love? This funny thing called love. Just who can solve its mystery?” It is hard to explain love. We try. Poets try. Scientists try. However, it all falls short in the actual feeling one gets while being in love.
One piece of spiritual advice I like to adhere to is that you should do what you feel connects you to G-D. When being a Reform Jew in my daily practice, the guidelines seem looser, and this allows me to find a Judaism that works for me on a daily basis. It is one reason why I eat “kosher”, but do not ask Lisa to do the same. (My definition of kosher is that I do not eat shellfish, do not mix meat and cheese, and no consumption of pork.)
These two ideas brings us to the Ketubah Ceremony. I cannot exactly explain why I feel the importance of the Ketubah. I hold the ceremony, the tradition in the highest regard not much dissimilar to a High Holy Day.
For those who are new to Jewish traditions, the Ketubah is a piece of art that is hung by the entrance of a Jewish or Inter-Faith home. It is there to remind you each day as you enter the home of that day and the happiness in your life. The art usually encompasses words that are very similar to traditional wedding vows. It also is the religious version of a marriage contract where it is signed by Bride, Groom, Officiate, and two non-family Jewish friends as witnesses. (There is a story about the witnesses, but I will save it for another time.)
The signing of the Ketubah is a short ceremony the couple does with a very small group (though some couples invite more of their guests to witness it) right before the big walk down the aisle. And in our true inter-faith fashion, we decided last weekend to sign the Ketubah in the chapel’s sacristy. The sacristy is where most items like the chalice, vestments, and altar cloths are stored for the priest before mass. It is a very ritualistic room and we feel it is the perfect place for an inter-faith Ketubah ceremony.
When it comes to the purchasing of the Ketubah, I felt strongly about spending a large but reasonable amount of money. Apparently, that is a trend of mine as I also purchased an original comic book page from a convention this weekend. And when this piece of art symbolizes so much importance, spending a little extra never hurt.
Our actual Ketubah purchase was easy as we looked on a couple websites like Etsy, but selected one from ketubah.com. Lisa and I have very different tastes when it comes to art, so we looked through quite a bit until we found something that we were comfortable looking at for the rest of our lives.
The most adventurous part of the Ketubah purchase was when selecting and editing the text. Although I can be wordy and passionate, Lisa plays the role of reserved and is not quite as flowery I am when it comes to language. Due to that, we are not doing vows during our ceremony, and the Ketubah will serve that purpose during our actual wedding. Therefore, getting the inter-faith language perfect was critical. We also had an in-between-the-planning moment recently which I talked about the importance of here.
No clever ending today. Ready for the weekend. 57 days to go…
I am having a rediscovery of music and have been listening to the band The Mars Volta quite a bit. One of the things that I love about those albums is that the lyrics do not seem to make any sense, but it does not take away from the enjoyment of the music. In my mind and to my ears it all makes sense. To a lot of people, without any context, it could easily be misunderstood, dismissed, or even perhaps judged harshly.
Our inter-faith yearly Seder, where all are welcome
I think a lot could be said similarly to Lisa and me, in our inter-faith relationship and our inter-faith ceremony.
I felt strongly about having a rabbi marry us and incorporating a lot of Jewish customs. Lisa was passionate about getting married in the Catholic chapel due to her upbringing and her love for her grandparents. To a lot of outsiders, those concepts married together (pun intended) may be strange and misunderstood.
Before I came to Cincinnati, my then rabbi sat down with me one-on-one and in groups with other inter-faith couples. I not only left with the rabbi’s blessing, but also with the idea that in order for an inter-faith couple to be successful, both faiths must be embraced and encouraged.
Outside of our ceremony, I feel that one misconception of an inter-faith couple is that G-D has very little to do with the relationship. I was having a conversation with a rabbi this week. (Note: I speak with a lot of rabbis in my line of work. This was not a rabbi I have an ongoing relationship with.) He was the second rabbi who tried to nicely explain that when couples are inter-faith, that somehow G-D is taken out of the equation.
When it comes to Lisa and me, it is G-D who made and continues to make our relationship possible. My spiritual mentor, and groomsman, Scott, encouraged me to allow G-D to come into the relationship. Whether it was sending a text message or calling Lisa on the phone, I always said a prayer. Even before Lisa and I met in person, there was a big G-D moment. As I was running late for my flight to visit her and speeding toward the airport, I decided to pull over my car and pray. The five minutes I took to pray was the same amount of time the flight was delayed and I was able to make the final boarding call. Our foundation is based on our relationship with G-D. Whether it was moving across the country, or planning our wedding today, our relationship continues to thrive because we both have faith, even if we express it in different ways.
This week, Lisa and I both felt that we as an inter-faith couple were being misunderstood, whether from people trying to understand the ceremony and the venue choices or our life decision. I am just grateful that I simply have this space to reach out to others who are inter-faith to let them know they are not alone in those awkward moments. The important thing to remember is G-D speaks every language and will show you love no matter how you want to express it.
One of my favorite spiritual concepts is the idea of liminal space. I think about this concept a lot. I try to see where in my life, I am in liminal space.
It was taught to me to by a former mentor who explained it this way, when you look between rooms, or a door, there is a small space between the two. That space does not show up in a floor plan and it is not counted when looking at square space. However, you have go through that space in order to get to the place you need or want to be. If become hungry, I simply cannot stay in the living room. I have to get up and move into the kitchen. However, I do not stop in between the two rooms and get fed, I have to go further and into a new room to take care of this hunger.
The foundation for much of spiritual work is done in liminal space. The space between the current situation and the new situation. We have to do work and go into that uncomfortable space if we hope to come out on the other side.
Lisa and I began our time together in two separate cities, separated by 600 miles. It was a subtle space between us, but we grew to love one another because we had that space. Before we met in person, our long conversations were intense and deep. We grew in that space apart and without knowing it, that new space we were moving into was to be the most important relationship of our lives.
When planning a wedding, life is very much lived in liminal space. We have spent nearly a year planning this endeavor and when it is said and done, we really begin to plan life together. It is not like Lisa and I have not spent time talking about our dreams of owning a home and having children, but with a wedding, those plans are set temporarily on the back burner.
Lisa and I also are in a lot of liminal space in our everyday lives. I am still within the first two years of my long-term career and Lisa is still searching niche in the working world. If you remember back to our first post, we met through the sport of roller derby. After being so heavily involved with the sport years (seven for me and nine for Lisa) both of us on a hiatus and I am leaning towards yoga and ballet. I still feel in spiritual transition between Conservative services and Reform services. Moving from one coast to another, just puts everything into liminal as the settling process begins.
A picture of a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon from a recent trip to Columbus, OH and is a lot like entering liminal space
After the ceremony, we are finally out of liminal space, and officially a married couple. I am already excited to take time and have a Yichud. A Yichud is when the bride and groom take a couple minutes to just be by themselves. It is that moment, when we end our lives as we have known it and step into a new one. Honestly, this week I thought about this moment, and I cried. That is what the movement out of liminal space can create, true moments of joy. It creates a true spiritual experience. One that Lisa and I can share forever in our truly inter-faith life together.
Circle up everyone, it is time for another blog post!
It is Friday so let’s put on our dancing shoes and talk about the Horah!
Dancing is Just Controlled Falling
After talking about it a couple months ago and Lisa unsure, we have decided that we are all in!
The Horah is a traditionally Jewish custom where guests circle up and dance around with linked hands, while another group of people lift the bride and groom in chairs. If you are still lost and need examples feel free to pop in Fiddler on the Roof or go on over to YouTube.
Although, it is a Jewish Tradition, there actually is not a very deep spiritual meaning to it. Some people dance in lines and Jews apparently dance in circles. So this means this tradition is very open to your own interpretation and room to make it your own.
As I mentioned before here, we will likely use Harry Belafonte’s version of Hava Nagila. Hava Nagila is the traditional song and Belafonte is a family tradition so it fits well.
We also have recruited a couple friends to be in charge of hoisting us up in celebration. As I broke the news to Nick, my best man, I congratulated him on being a fine physical specimen with rhythm. He is a boxer and a musician so the mold fits. We then asked our friend Sarah, who is Jewish and competes in CrossFit competitions to be the other captain. She was happy to oblige as well.
The next piece we needed was someone to lead the circle, and we asked our friend Paula who is the person who talked Lisa into the Hora in the first place. Paula and Seth actually have a large part in our wedding and it seems almost by accident. They went with us to the caterer that we chose and Seth, her husband and my colleague, is signing our Ketubah.
We have some more things planned with it all, but it is not yet finalized, so I will wait to share the details.
Slipping the Night Away?
I know this week is a little light, but with so much going on, I feel a bit all over the place. Which when talking about movements where you are easy on the feet and dancing around, it might be the best way to write this post.