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In the days after our engagement, we began to imagine our wedding. I had thought about a possible future wedding many times in the past, but the realness of that imagined wedding became heightened by our official engagement. Distant ideas like, “getting married outside might be nice,” were suddenly translated into Google searches for “outdoor wedding venues.” One of the first questions we asked ourselves was, “Who do we want to officiate?” I was actually surprised by how quickly the answer came to me. After flipping through the various options in my mind, I knew a rabbi was the right choice for us. I asked Amma what she thought of the idea, and without skipping a beat, she completely agreed.
Just a couple of years ago I don’t think either of us would have guessed that we would be married by a rabbi. For starters, neither of us is technically Jewish (depending on how you define Jewish). One could argue (and I often do) that I am Jewish because my grandparents are. Whether or not that argument wins, depends on the audience. Because I wasn’t raised Jewish, and whatever lineage I do have is on my father’s side, some would say I’m a far cry, but that has never stopped me from feeling Jewish! And that isn’t the only reason we want a rabbi for our ceremony.
As Amma and I examined our decision, we discovered our desire for a tie to something greater than ourselves to play a meaningful role in our wedding. We may not be religious, but we do feel a strong spiritual connection to humanity, the universe and God. It was clear to us that we wanted the person leading us into our marriage to be someone who is dedicated to that greater spiritual connection.
Also on a spiritual level, being two women, we felt that our union would be best endorsed and honored by the heart, experience and wisdom of a woman. Reform Judaism has not only been ordaining women and LGBTQ rabbis since the early 1970s but also supporting its followers in the LGBTQ community. This history of equality and acceptance was yet another great reason for us to adopt Judaism into our wedding and our lives.
So we knew we wanted a rabbi, but we still had to find the right one. I didn’t know what I would find when I started my search. Not only had we just moved to Philadelphia, but we also weren’t part of a Jewish community. I went online and Googled “Philadelphia rabbis,” and up popped an ad for InterfaithFamily. I didn’t know what InterfaithFamily was, but it sounded inclusive and open-minded, so I clicked. I liked what the InterfaithFamily community stood for and it seemed like it had grown from a wonderful place of wanting to bring people together. The fact that they had a rabbi referral service was more than I could have dreamed of.
The referral service was exactly what I needed, and my request was handled with care and attention. When I received a response from Rabbi Frisch, it felt like a gift. The questions on the referral form were used to compile a list of potential rabbis who were appropriately matched to our needs. It was fun learning about all these different rabbis. I did an Internet search for each candidate to find out more.
After narrowing the list down to a handful of rabbis who I thought might be a good fit, I sent out initial emails. I felt hopeful as the responses began popping up in my inbox. There were two or three who, through the tone and wording of their emails, felt like they could be “the one.” But over the next week or so, each conversation resulted in a dead end due to various issues, and there I was back at the drawing board, feeling defeated.
Rabbi Frisch must have heard my prayer, because the next morning I received an email from her asking how my search was going. I wrote back describing my fruitless efforts. In my reply I also felt inspired to talk about my strong desire to have a rabbi marry us, and why. Much to my surprise, but true to her generous nature, she offered to be our rabbi. I can’t begin describe my delight. Not only did I already feel like I was getting to know her through the emails we had written back and forth, but I absolutely knew she was a perfect fit for us.
There is something about the way everything worked out that just feels like fate. Since Rabbi Frisch agreed to officiate, we have met in person to chat and get to know each other better. Suffice it to say, we all hit it off wonderfully! We plan on meeting a few more times before the wedding to talk about the ceremony in more detail, and we can’t wait to see her again.
One of my favorite holidays is Hanukkah, and for that, I give a lot of the credit to the Beerorah. The Beerorah is something that my fiancé Derek and I came up with the first Hanukkah we were dating – well, really it’s a gift pack from He’Brew brewing company (a division of Schmaltz brewing) that his best friend had given him when the friend found out he was dating me.
We joke that the Beerorah combines our two loves: “My love of God with his love of beer.” And Derek really does love beer – it’s his hobby in a true aficionado’s way. I have learned more about craft beer in the four-and-a-half years we’ve been together than most people learn in a lifetime, and we love to visit beer bars and breweries just to try new and rare beers. Also he and his best friend have a collection of over 500 bottles of (craft) beer, carefully inventoried in their “beerventory.”
As for me though, the love of God part is apt too. A Conservative Jew, Judaism has always been a large part of my identity. Growing up, I attended synagogue every Saturday because I wanted to – not only to gain guidance from the Rabbi’s sermons or to enjoy the serene satisfaction of the silent Amidah (one of my favorite prayers), but because it was the center of the social circle for my friends and I. Go on a date? Having family drama? Meet at synagogue and we can discuss it.
But going to synagogue and practicing Judaism were also integral to my identity in part because of the climate in which I grew up. I am from Riverdale, NY – home of eight or nine different synagogues and many many Jews. Nonetheless, my synagogue was swatstikaed one weekend when I was in Hebrew School. On the night before Kol Nidre (the holiest night of the year) a year or two after September 11th, our synagogue was firebombed with Molotov cocktails. We attended services while eager news crews waited outside to interview us and have gone through metal detectors and pat downs with varying regularity ever since. So my Judaism and its essentialness to my identity came in part from the fears to my safety that came with it – and the way those fears bound my group of close friends and I together to the community and to each other.
That said, it was never essential to me to date a Jewish guy. I greatly enjoyed learning about different religions and cultures and watching people experience aspects of Judaism for the first time. I always had a strong opinion about how I wanted to observe Judaism and had my own relationship with God. I knew that my kids will be Jewish, that I am Jewish, that my family is Jewish, that I will never be anything but Jewish. And honestly, I knew I needed a laid back low-maintenance sports fan kind of guy – I wasn’t sure I would necessarily find that within the Jewish community.
You can say “Oh, but traditions! But continuity! But faith!” but I have also found that Derek has been much more respectful of my faith and practice than the Jewish guys I’ve dated. One got mad at me for not answering the phone while I was at a Friday night Shabbat dinner. I got in a heated argument with another who asked, “But WHY do you believe? WHY do you have faith? Where’s the rational proof that God exists?” Both were the moments when I knew the relationships wouldn’t work out. The Beerorah was one of the first examples of Derek’s openness and respect of my faith. And when we light it together each Hanukkah (this year was its fifth iteration), it reminds me of that – that we can meld what matters to us together to create something just as wonderful (or more wonderful) than the original. I haven’t compromised anything – I’m still Jewish, and I still have my love of God and my observance. He still has his love of beer. And we both have each other.
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.
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.
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.
We just celebrated
Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the East Coast and spend some time with family and friends.
I certainly felt that with that trip, there were some chapters closing. I played in a “Send-Off” roller derby game. The send-off was because it was the end of my bachelor party and my very likely retirement from the sport that brought Lisa and me together. There have been a lot of mixed emotions over the sport and how the last year with my involvement in the sport ended. It was more than one could hope for, to play with some friends, have a good time, and being able to end something that has meant a lot to me for the past five years.
I also look forward to starting life anew. Many people have commented, “There is no difference between the day before and the day after the wedding.” For the moment, I am going to disagree. Although there are some things on paper that change, and yes some of our daily life will remain the same, I think that spiritually this is a new beginning. Without that thought rooted deep in me, this wedding would not mean nearly as much to me. At the end of the day, in front of everyone and G-D, we are beginning our new life together.
One Ending. One Beginning.
I have been talking about being spiritually prepared for the wedding in many of these posts. It is only now with a little bit of time and deeper reflection, I am not where I wanted to be, but I am where I needed to be.
November 21st (just two weeks after my wedding) will mark my fifth year of abstaining from drugs and alcohol. The significance of this is that it will mark precisely two separate lives. My drinking career which lasted roughly about five years (I was a little late to the game) and the one I now live completely sober. And yet, I find myself feeling like I’m back to the beginning.
That trip back East certainly opened me up spiritually. Not because I spent a lot of time with former mentors, although that did help. I just became able to let go of more things that I was holding on to and that were keeping me” blocked off.” I also became very aware that G-D is always working in my life, and that losing my job was a blessing. It also has brought out some deeper feelings as I am scheduling the mikveh. This is all new. A new low led me to a new beginning and a new perspective.
An ending. A beginning. Another beginning.
Life is like the Torah. It never really ends. You celebrate the endings and you rejoice in the new beginnings.
Sam and I were sitting at breakfast this morning reflecting on our wedding, which was a week ago yesterday. We were exchanging our favorite moments and stating what we enjoyed about that special day.
Everything about the day was beautiful. Although the weather on the days before and after was cold and rain-drenched, the day of the wedding had clear, blue skies and temperatures in the low 70’s, which allowed us to take photos outside among the gorgeous fall leaves. Friends and family members from across the country traveled without difficulty, and shared in our joy. Everyone was dressed to the nines and looked stunning. The ceremony was so beautiful that I cried through most of it. Thankfully, Sam was prepared and surreptitiously slipped me a tissue a few minutes into the ceremony.
The ceremony carried additional emotional weight as a result of the items that were owned or created by our relatives. Sam’s tallis was on top of the chuppah, so he wore his deceased Uncle Morrie’s tallis. My brother Dave made the paper for the ceremony programs using some fabric from my maternal grandmother’s wedding dress. My sister Stephanie did the graphic design for the ceremony programs (and all other printed materials). Sam’s sister Diana crocheted all the kippot that the Jewish men wore during the ceremony, and our ketubah was painted by my sister Michelle, as we mentioned in an earlier post.
Sam and I worked really hard to combine both Judaism and Catholicism into the ceremony. Two close family friends, a rabbi and a priest, co-officiated the wedding, and both did a phenomenal job of partnering together and taking the lead on our ceremony. At the beginning of the ceremony, Sam’s sister Stacey explained the Jewish rituals and symbols, and my brother, Chris, explained the Catholic ones. The fathers recited the seven blessings together, and the mothers took part in the unity candle. A cantor friend of ours chanted the shehecheyanu and my sister Laura read from the book of Genesis. Afterwards, many of our family and friends came up to us and said, “I really enjoyed how you blended both religions in the ceremony.”
Anne’s favorite moment fell during the ceremony, when our dads split up the Seven Blessings. Sam’s dad said them in Hebrew, and my dad said the translations in English. My dad is a professor at the local university and his diction is very clear and precise, so he over-enunciated every syllable in each of the blessings. In a very emotional ceremony, these blessings broke the tension and made me laugh.
Aside from watching my parents walk me down the aisle, Sam’s favorite moment was during the hora. After Sam and I went up on the chairs, our parents were also hoisted up on the chairs. Now, we had warned my parents about this dance when we first started planning our wedding. My mom was still scared when four men lifted the legs of her chair up and down, while my dad’s expression was the complete opposite. He had a blast! Every time they hoisted him up, his hands went up, as if he was on a roller coaster. It was a lot of fun to see that much excitement and joy on my dad’s face.
“You guys clearly had thought of every little detail, and I really enjoyed how everything tied together.” Yes, we did have a beer themed wedding. The place cards were beer bottles, the centerpieces were made out of beer bottles, the favors were bottle openers, and we even made our own beer to serve during the reception. My sister Stephanie created a logo for us which was made out of a sheaf of barley, bottle cap, and a hop cone that resembled a heart. This logo was on the invitations, ceremony program, signage, beer labels, and all of the printed material. The logo was even incorporated into a tile mosaic, crafted by my sister Carolyn, which functioned as our guest book. My youngest sister Theresa took this logo and made tags for everything in the hospitality bags for the guests to enjoy at the brunch afterwards. The guests at the brunch also enjoyed oversized Jenga and Kerplunk games built by my brother Andrew. All of the wedding details went off without a hitch thanks to Nicole, another sister, who was the day-of-wedding-coordinator.
“I have been to several weddings before and never have I heard the Best Man or the Maid of Honor’s toast so clearly and so well thought out.” The credit is all theirs. The Maid of Honor went to school for theater management, so speaking clearly in front of a large group of people is second nature to her. The Best Man’s occupation is planning long term medical treatments, so it is quite understandable that his speech had a very distinct beginning, middle, and end.
“Even though I just met you, I feel like I have known you for years.” In some cases, family or friends from one side of the family had gotten to know our “other half” through this blog. In others, it was a reflection of how strangely similar our families are. When I was putting together a slideshow of Sam and I growing up, for the brunch following the wedding, there are some images of my family doing a goofy face and I found images of Sam’s family doing that same goofy face. Our siblings and cousins had a ball dancing with each other, especially to songs such as Wagon Wheel by Old Crow Medicine Show, and “Cotton Eyed Joe”. It was great seeing everyone on the dance floor having such a good time.
“Keep on blogging.” Many of our guests have been following this blog. There were a few people that I met in person for the first time at the wedding who knew me only through these blogs. Sam and I are both very grateful to Interfaith Family for providing us with this forum for communicating with the world our love for each other in our different faiths. Best of luck to the other couples on this wedding blog; I hope your weddings are as joyous, loving, and fun as ours.
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.
“My Happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations.” – Michael J. Fox
One thing about me is that I am an avid fantasy football player. As a matter of fact, I am champion of one league, two years in a row and am currently tied for first place in that league again. Before the season began and even before the draft, I went over my team from last year. I realized that I had very little of my original team that I drafted still on that team. That means that week in and week out, I played the game. I worked hard and it brought home two championships. This year is not much different. I selected Adrian Peterson with my first pick in the draft, thinking it was a steal at the fifth overall spot. I expected him to be a stud and carry my team to victory. However, due to his legal issues, he is sitting on my bench and I have had to pay attention every day and make the smart decisions to put me into first place. As a matter of fact, my only loss of the year was when he was playing for me in the first game. Every win since then has taken a lot of work and of course some luck.
Planning a wedding and a life is not much different.
There will be expectations when you begin planning. Some of those will not be met. You accept them and continue to forge ahead.
One expectation Lisa had was that her grandparents would be able to attend the ceremony. It looks like now, the trip may be a little much for them and we are both a little heartbroken. For myself and those who have been reading along, know that I was very excited to have my spiritual mentor come be at my side during the wedding. As it turns out, he was over committed and triple booked that weekend and could not get out of one commitment to be at the wedding.
In life, I have really been focusing on the expectations not being met in, but in a positive way. As the job search continues, I am overwhelmed by the experience. But in a good way. In the middle of the recession, I lost my job and it took nearly two years to find steady employment and many hours submitting resume after resume. I had those expectations when I sat down and started the job process this time. However, people are stepping up in ways I did not expect. Every day, my face is in front of someone new or someone offering advice and information. It has actually made the process exciting and even enjoyable. Instead of expecting the worst, I accepted this is the reality and it has helped my outlook tremendously.
As we enter in Yom Kippur this weekend and continue to reflect, I had a lot of expectations over this past year. What would happen and where I would be today. I cannot do much with those failed expectations. I can accept that I have a beautiful fiancé that I could not be more excited about marrying in just over a month. I can accept that I am being overwhelmed with support from people right now. I accept and cherish that I can put extra time into the wedding planning. I accept that not having a job is allowing me for a visit back east. I can accept I will not be at a desk for the next month and instead will be spiritually readying myself for the big day and what comes next. I do not expect, I simply accept in just over a month I am going to be surrounded by loved ones and have one of the greatest days of our lives.
Two years ago, I joined Sam for High Holy Day Services for the first time. In preparation, he tried explaining the major rituals and meaning behind them to me. At the time, I picked up that there was something about eating apples and honey, spending an entire day at services, and not eating or drinking anything from sundown to sundown during Yom Kippur. Yikes!
What I did’t realize was that, in Sam’s family, apples and honey weren’t the only traditional foods; that was the first time I had Sam’s grandmother’s AMAZING brisket. Even the break the fast meal, after Yom Kippur, had a variety of bagels and lox, spreads and jams and jellies, the best oatmeal I’ve ever had, and all sorts of other wonderful food. Throughout the years, I have come to realize that there is good food at every Jewish function.
The first year, I was worried about spending a full day at services. I had been to hour-long Shabbat evening services with Sam before, and the thought of spending two entire days at the synagogue scared me. All I could think of was those times as a child when the hour-long Sunday Mass felt like an eternity. However, when Rosh Hashanah morning services started, I got so mesmerized in the music that the three-hour-long service was over before I knew it. I had no problem going back for second day services. That first year, I had no idea what was being chanted, but the harmonies with the cantor, choir, and organ were absolutely beautiful. Fast forward a few years and I have taken an Intro to Judaism class and understand a little bit of Hebrew, and the Kol Nidre prayer speaks to me as a gut-wrenching prayer of forgiveness, not just a haunting melody.
The other thing I was worried about that first year was the Yom Kippur fast, which we’ve discussed in this space before. There are a few days during the Catholic liturgical calendar that call for fasting, in which you may eat one full meal during the day. With the Yom Kippur fast, however, you may not eat, drink or consume anything from sundown to sundown. Even though we all ate a rather large meal to start the fast and then another huge meal to break the fast, this was still very difficult for me. The following year, it became less difficult and in its own strange way, it is kind of comforting to really enjoy the fullness of the day itself. Going for a walk, taking a nap, enjoying time to read, not having to worry about work, turning off your phone and computer, and just having a day removed from the high demands and stress of life was relaxing in a way I’d never before experienced.
As I look forward to spending my third set of High Holy Days with Sam, they have become less daunting and more meaningful than they were even two years ago. They are a time for introspection, forgiveness, good food, enjoying the fullness of the day, and being with family. I’m glad that in just a few days, I’ll be able to enjoy them as an official part of Sam’s family.
One of the things we celebrate at this time year is the chance to begin anew.
As of this past Friday, life is going to be starting in new ways quite frankly which we had not planned. I lost my job. And for the first time in awhile, I am simply at a loss for words.
I was trying to come up with a theme or message for this post, but keep coming up short. Therefore, I will do what happens when I go and give a mentoring talk and am not feeling incredibly inspired. Just share my honest experience and hope I am able to help one person.
This year has been tough, for Lisa and me. A year ago, I was stuck in a chair, completely laid up due to a massive knee surgery. The return to normal from there has been a long process and I still feel some of the effects of that every day. Lisa and I also were pushed out of one of the things we loved most in this world and the thing that brought us together: roller derby. And now, we are dealing with the loss of a job. All while planning a wedding.
This weekend we had a simple mission. Put one foot in front of the other one. Do the next right thing. Be in the moment. The remainder of Friday was spent talking to my spiritual adviser as well as my temple rabbis. One even shared that while she was getting married, her husband lost a job too. Saturday and Sunday we were visiting Lisa’s family, trying to remain normal and focus on being around people who care for us. When I look back at the weekend, I remember the people who cared, the people who reached out and the look on our niece, and flower girl’s face after she got off her first roller coaster.
Monday, we are back to the new reality.
Tuesday, we marched ahead and continued planning our wedding the way we envisioned it. We are too far along to be able to change much.
The next couple weeks are now going to be split between holidays, wedding planning and a job search. Lisa has a lot coming up as well. Her bridal shower and attending her first Jewish High Holiday services.
These upcoming weeks are going to be interesting. So in the meantime, L’shanah tovah (Happy New Year).