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By Courtney Dunne
An “interfaith wedding.” What does that mean? I, after all should know what that means. My partner of 10 years and soon-to-be spouse is the CEO of InterfaithFamily. But understanding what it means to be in an interfaith relationship and putting it on display for all of your family and friends to witness…well, those are two different things.
Our families knew we would eventually tie the knot. After all, when we made the decision to move to Massachusetts, the ability to legally wed was a strong pull for us. Yet, life so to say, got in the way. Jodi was working full time in preparation for the transition in leadership at IFF and I was a first-time full-time stay at home mama for our active, inquisitive and adorable twin boys.
Yet, living in Massachusetts and not being married felt strangely different than living in Pennsylvania and not being married. No one, at the time, expected a same-sex couple to be married in PA. Yet, in MA people sort of looked at us in bewilderment when they found out we weren’t married. It almost felt like we were “living in sin” and as a Catholic school graduate, I knew what that felt like. Alas, new friends of ours gave us the added push of encouragement we needed to tie the knot.
So, 10 years. A house. A cat. A dog. Two kids. A BIG move to Massachusetts. And, finally…wait for it…marriage. I think we’re ready. Now, to share the news with our family and friends—this brought the expected excitement. The details—everyone wants to know the details. When? Where? Who? Most important, I’ve been asked by numerous people in an almost huffy and emphatic way, “Well, it will be interfaith, RIGHT?” Well, yes. Um, sort of.
Growing up Catholic, going to Catholic school and a Catholic university, I have always held very strong beliefs about humanity that did not always coincide with doctrine. When Jodi and I met, we connected very deeply on a spiritual level. We found commonality in our differences and took a humanistic approach to seeing how her Judaism influenced her existence and my Catholicism influenced mine.
A lot of thought went into raising our children Jewish, a decision I did not come to quickly or easily. Ultimately, it was a decision made out of love for them. About wanting my children to belong to a faith community; to believe in God; to participate in community service. And most important—at least to me—was to belong. I mean, truly belong.
That said, planning this wedding has forced me to really unpack the meaning behind what an interfaith wedding would mean for me. We made the decision to hold our ceremony in our synagogue, Kerem Shalom. We also made the decision to have our rabbi and friend, Darby Leigh officiate our ceremony. And here comes the line of questioning from my Catholic family members: “So, the rabbi is marrying you? And you’re getting married in the synagogue?” I can hear my mother’s Long Island accent: “I told her (my aunt) that you’re getting married in the synagogue but it IS and will be interfaith.”
Yes, mom. It is. But what does that mean? I might mention that my mother is also in an interfaith relationship—she’s Catholic and my stepfather is Jewish. But that’s a story for another time. So, how do you plan an interfaith wedding when some tenets of the Catholic faith (i.e. Christ-centered beliefs; Eucharist) contradict principles of Judaism? I found myself really questioning what an interfaith wedding would look like.
Luckily, we knew where to look for just the resources that would help answer some of our questions. Several helpful tips came out of the Guide to Wedding Ceremonies for Interfaith Couples. We also used the Tips for Inclusive Weddings to answer questions about involving friends and family (our parents will write personalized sheva b’rachot (seven blessings), choosing readings, creating an interfaith ketubah and more.
What I ultimately came up with was a Courtney-Jodi wedding that embraces our different faith traditions. Our interfaith wedding will include the pieces of our lives that that celebrate who we are; the spirituality that weaves in and out to create a bond and a tapestry. Our wedding will be in the synagogue and will have some of the traditional rituals present in Jewish weddings, such as the chuppah, the reading of the seven blessings and the breaking of the glass. However, it will also include blessings from our parents, who come from both Catholic and Jewish traditions. It will include family and friends that have been raised Catholic and family and friends who were raised Jewish. We have chosen to have our siblings, my two sisters and Jodi’s two brothers, be our chuppah holders, and the chuppah will have a Celtic web of life design. My sisters (Catholic) and Jodi’s brothers (Jewish) will provide the support for the canopy representing God’s presence in our lives and in our new life together.
Most important, our wedding will include two lives coming together in God’s presence—two lives who find commonality in spirituality. To me, that is an interfaith wedding. It may not include a priest. It doesn’t need to. What it needs to be is inclusive. Our lives and the choices we’ve made as a couple and as parents center around celebrating difference and inclusivity. Our interfaith wedding may not be your interfaith wedding. That’s the beauty of it.
Being interfaith is about noticing the differences and looking for the thread that ties you together but maintains individuality. Jodi and I found that thread 10 years ago. It has just taken 10 years to become a tapestry.
Today’s blog post brings us well into wedding planning process—as well as to a few other relationship landmarks.
Last week we celebrated Justin’s birthday, which we do in a traditional (to him, not so much to me) way—with a King Cake. The King Cake is a Mardi Gras custom (Mardi Gras being part of the Carnival celebrations that occur immediately before the observance of Lent)—and Justin’s family has roots in the Bayou of Louisiana.
With his birthday falling so close to Mardi Gras each year, it’s become a tradition for his Grandparents (who live just over the Louisiana border in Mississippi) to send him a King Cake.
Before meeting Justin I’d never had a King Cake. Now it’s something I look forward to each year. This purple, green, and gold cake is topped with frosting and sugar, and from the time it arrives until we’ve eaten it all, every meal involves cake. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, mid-day, and midnight snacks all involve King Cake. (And, as we are adults, we have deemed it okay if one wants to have a slice of cake before dinner.)
The most important part of the King Cake—besides it being delicious and often arriving in the same box as Mardi Gras beads—is that it comes with a plastic baby Jesus hidden inside the cake. It’s good luck if you find the baby in your piece of cake.
And, every year that we’ve celebrated with a King Cake, I’ve always ended up Jesus-less.
Somehow that plastic baby is always in one of Justin’s slices of cake. (Perhaps there’s a secret to finding the King Cake baby that I’ve missed out on? My ability to always find the Afikoman at a Passover Seder does not seem to translate to the King Cake’s hidden Jesus.)
Justin’s Jesus finding skills did, however, set us up for a fantastically cheesy exchange this year about how he was the one with the luck—thus he gets to marry me—and I was the one without the luck—hence I was stuck marrying him.
This year, we’re hoping that little plastic baby Jesus is going to bring us some mutual luck—especially as we move from the theoretical planning into actually putting the plan into action.
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.
The following is a guest blog post by the groom’s father, Phil Goodman followed by some additional thoughts from officiant Rabbi Robyn Frisch who is the director of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia
Like many of you I have enjoyed Anne and Sam’s wedding blog, but I have a major bias, I am Sam’s father. By way of introduction, over thirty years ago I entered my own interfaith marriage. I was not overtly active in daily religious practice and neither was my wife. Raised as a Conservative Jew, in my twenties I had become the proverbial twice-a-year-Jew assuming I would become more involved once I had a family. Pennye, raised Catholic, practiced little of any Christian faith. Once engaged we attended many community programs addressing interfaith marriage issues as we knew they would continually be the elephant in the room and it was important for us to have a basis to lean about what we knew would be part of every family decision we would make as a couple. We found a rabbi to perform our wedding ceremony as the Jewish traditions included in our ceremony were important to me and many of our guests, and acceptable to Pennye.
Religion remains an extremely important part of both of our lives. Jointly we’ve explored each other’s beliefs. I am a committed Reform Jew who, with my wife’s full support, has been very active in our large suburban congregation and held many leadership positions. Pennye is a committed Presbyterian with similar leadership positions in her church community. We are very lucky to have found two faith communities that accept both of us and consider both of us as resources when figuring out how interfaith issues affect their congregations. The key is mutual respect.
I frequently find myself in conversations concerning the increase in interfaith marriage in current society. I always ask the naysayers whether they practice their religion the way their parents do. Rarely is the answer “yes.” I then ask why they have any expectation that their children should be any different. When Sam brought Anne into my life I could not be happier for them as a couple. Individually they will figure out how their beliefs and practices will be part of their lives. InterfaithFamily certainly provides resources that were not as readily available to us thirty years ago. Over the past three years I’ve seen how Anne seems to complete Sam and visa versa. Their happiness is all that really matters to me.
Incorporating religious tradition, both Jewish and Catholic, in their ceremony was important to Sam and Anne. I expect that Sam’s upbringing made him cognizant that the beauty of his wedding day would partially rely on the comfort of the clergy participating in an interfaith ceremony. Knowing that our family’s rabbi did not perform interfaith ceremonies, his participation was never considered. (This rabbi was their guest at the wedding and in the following week he extended a congregational membership to Sam and Anne.) Sam and Anne were lucky to have relationships with other clergy who have known them individually since their childhoods, who took the time to get to know both of them over the past year, and who were willing to co-officiate. These personal relationships added to the beauty of the ceremony that seamlessly wove in two religious traditions.
I was honored when Sam and Anne asked that I toast them at their reception. Assuming that the maid of honor and best man would probably offer lighter remarks about the couple, I wanted to be more solemn and personal so I included the following in my speech:
“Following the priestly benediction over our children on Shabbat after we light the candles we ask that God make our sons like Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons, not so ironically for us here today, of Joseph and his Egyptian wife brought from an interfaith Diaspora into the fold by their grandfather, Jacob, becoming the namesakes of two of the tribes of Israel. Sam, wherever life may lead you, may you be like Ephraim and Manasseh, earning and deserving the respect of your peers and prospering by your continued good deeds.
We also ask that God make our daughters like the matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. Anne, may you be like our matriarchs, the diligent manager of your household and strong protector of your family.”
At the end of the day, the oldest biblical history of our separate religions is the same. The past two thousand years may have led us down different paths, but the desire to make our world a better place and dreams for our children are the same. The reverence and respect that Sam and Anne have shown to their different religious faiths offers us all hope as it has provided us opportunities to learn from and about each other. I don’t deny that our uniqueness is important, but finding a way to weave our separate threads into a tapestry of new traditions that can envelop us all should be our goal.
Rabbi Robyn Frisch shares a few more personal words:
I met Sam and his family 13 years ago when I came to work at the congregation where Sam grew up. The Goodmans have been good family friends since then, and I have always admired the way that Sam’s parents navigated their own interfaith marriage. It has been a true pleasure for me to get to know Sam and Anne together as a couple for the past year. When Lindsey Silken mentioned many months ago that she was looking for a new couple to be wedding bloggers for InterfaithFamily, I knew that Sam and Anne would be perfect! Here is a piece of what I said to them at their wedding ceremony.
“Over the last year I’ve had the joy of getting to know you as a couple and of reading your blogs about your relationship. I’ve been so touched by the respect you have for one another. It’s rare to meet someone in their 20’s who has such a connection to both family and religion – such an awareness of their heritage – as each of you do. You’ve probably both heard me say many times that I hope that when my kids grow up they have as deep a connection to their Judaism as the three Goodman kids (Sam and his sisters) do. Anne, I know that you too respect this about Sam – just as he respects your bonds to Catholicism.
Rather than being scared of each other’s bonds to your religions, you both admire that in one another and you have let this draw you together. Rather than either of you trying to convince the other to believe or to worship the way that you do, you’ve explored each other’s religious traditions to learn what is meaningful to your partner. You’ve accompanied each other for family holidays and for worship – and your families have engaged in “Theology on Tap” sessions, combining both of your loves for learning, for holy scripture, and for a good beer.
Neither of you expects the other to compromise in a way that isn’t sincere; nor do you compromise your own practices or beliefs. Rather, you navigate your own unique path – together.”
Congratulations to Anne and Sam from everyone at InterfaithFamily!
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.
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 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.)
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.
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.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about the space between the checklists, but this week, I wanted to go further.
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.
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.
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.
Quick Update! We are full steam ahead. There has been a lot going on.
Here is the quick list:
Here is what we are doing over the weekend:
Plus, life is happening between each one of those items on the list.
Wedding planning should be both. It should not only be the check list items, but it also is what goes on between. If you do not get the check list items done, the wedding simply does not happen. G-D works wonders in our lives, but if we chose not to take any action, we simply cannot expect to show up on our date and have the place set up and everything paid.
This week we both sat down and had a long conversation. Mainly to do with some of the fears we both have over unresolved matters. We live in a very real world, and not every relationship, or lack thereof with other people outside of us is perfect. Sometimes, we have to sit down and talk and talk to one another about our fears. We have to sit down and just put our emotions on the table right next to the wedding magazines. Although, we know much of these things about one another, it really is taking us towards the wedding as well. We are growing and learning about one another and although it does not show up in your typical check list, it is as important to know your partner deeper with each day, each month, and each year.
Whether on the checklist or happening in between, both get you closer to the big day.
Even as I read this post, I see what started as a check list has grown into some reflection and a deeper look. So this week, it is a bit of both. Looking forward to sitting down and breaking down each item in the list and the things in between.