Downton Abbey Portrays Reality of Interfaith RelationshipsBy Gerri Miller
Go inside Season 5 Episode 9 where the story line of Atticus and Rose's interfaith relationship comes to a head.Go To Pop Culture
These last few months have been busy with dress fittings, selecting the menu, arranging the seating chart, creating the invitations, ordering the suits, and other wedding plans. Sam and I continually remind ourselves that the wedding is only one day and we should focus on preparing for a marriage. This lifelong commitment to each other begins at the wedding ceremony. With that in mind, we are trying to combine the rituals and symbols of both Judaism and Catholicism in our ceremony.
We specifically chose our priest and rabbi to not only co-officiate the ceremony, but also to guide us along this spiritual journey. The rabbi is someone very dear to Sam and the priest is the presider of my family’s parish. These two special people have been a part of various life cycle events in Sam’s and my life. They know us and our families very well, and we are honored that they will be officiating our marriage ceremony. The rabbi and priest continue to help us in the marriage preparations by proofing our ketubah language, assisting with Diocesan paperwork, and helping us with the order and symbols of the ceremony. In our first meeting with the priest, he gave us words of wisdom to keep in mind, throughout this entire process (and our lives): “Keep your own faith at heart, but do not minimize or trivialize the faith of the other.”
If I were converting to Judaism, or Sam to Catholicism, we would have chosen a specific house of worship for our ceremony, such as a synagogue or church. Because we are not, we decided to have our ceremony in a country club, a “neutral” location. This way, both faiths are equally visible and our guests won’t be uncomfortable in attending a wedding in another house of worship. By having our wedding on a Sunday afternoon, Sam and his family can still go to Shabbat services, and my family can go to early Sunday morning Mass.
Throughout the ceremony, we want to honor each other’s faiths, focusing on the similarities, rather than the differences. We have asked my brother, Chris, and Sam’s sister, Stacey, to help us explain the wedding rituals and symbols in each of our faiths at the start of the ceremony.
There are a few symbols that are used in both religions, such as bread, wine, rings, and most importantly, the vows. Sam and I will say the blessings over the bread and wine in our own respective religions. The priest and rabbi will guide us in exchanging our vows and rings.
We have adapted some rituals and symbols to be more conducive to an interfaith wedding. The chuppah is a symbol unfamiliar to my Catholic family, whereas the unity candle is a symbol unfamiliar to Sam’s Jewish family. We will sign our ketubah during the ceremony rather than before it, honoring the Catholic tradition of the bride and groom not seeing each other beforehand. The traditional Jewish Seven Blessings will be said, with both fathers participating. At the end of the ceremony, we will break the glass. This has many meanings in the Jewish faith, but for the two of us, it will also symbolize the breaking down of barriers between people of different cultures and faiths as our families are now joined together.
By incorporating some Jewish and Catholic wedding rituals in our ceremony, we will signal to our friends and family our intent to continue practicing our religions. We hope that this public declaration of faith will communicate our plans to remain strong in faith while supporting our partner’s religious practice.
Sam and I were discussing our ketubah (marriage contract) artwork and after much thought, we decided to ask Michelle to paint it for us. We looked at hundreds of designs online and most of the ketubot used trees because the Torah is referred to as the tree of life. We are comfortable using this imagery and would also like to incorporate the four seasons. After talking with Michelle she is combining these ideas into two trees of Spring and Summer reflecting the two trees of Fall and Winter to represent the years gone by and the years to come. We asked her to use chalk pastels in bright, bold colors to exude life and energy. Sam and I took what we liked from a lot of different designs and Michelle is combining all of our ideas together to create something uniquely for us.
Finding a scribe that would write interfaith text on a piece of someone else’s art took some research. We found a scribe who belongs to the New York Society of Scribes and happened to be visiting Boston, near where Michelle lives. Michelle met with this scribe and together they picked out the paper that would be conducive for both her chalk pastels and his calligraphy ink. After much discussion, we realized that it would be better logistically for Michelle to do her artwork after he wrote both the Hebrew and English text.
Finding the text for the ketubah was more difficult. We looked at several texts and it was a lot easier to pick out the language we didn’t like, than find something we both agreed upon. Sam wants the language to be more formal, in honoring the traditions of the past, whereas I would like the language to represent us both as equals. After going back and forth on text, nitpicking every word, we think we have finally agreed on some language but would like to get approval from our parents and Rabbi before the scribe begins his work.
Our goal is to get the text to the scribe by the end of this month, so he can create his calligraphy so Michelle has enough time to create her artwork. Our ketubah will be the most valuable piece of artwork in our home; therefore, we are being very diligent in crafting the language and design.
Apologies for the radio silence from the Pulda/Acone camp. We just returned from a 10 day trip to Israel and have A LOT to post–and will do so over the next few weeks.
Just before we left for Israel we celebrated Passover. Passover has always been one of my favorite holidays. For me, Passover meant getting together at my grandparents’ home with the whole (gigantic) family and singing Had Gadya and Let Our People Go at the top of our lungs. In more recent years we have continued this tradition for the first Seder and then people usually break into smaller family groups or join friends for the second Seder. Passover holds special significance for Chris because it was his first introduction to Judaism (and my family) and, thus, this holiday has always been special for him.
This year’s family Seder did not disappoint. We have a large number of kids these days and my uncle (who led the Seder) made the event very kid friendly and the food was amazing, as usual. One part that stuck with me was a passage we read about Israeli soldiers who have been captured in the last 40 years. I was studying at Tel Aviv University when Gilad Shalit was taken prisoner. I remember being in Israel at that time and praying for his return, so this part of the Seder really hit home for me.
For the second Seder, we were a bit lost this year–my mom was away and my dad was looking for somewhere to go–so we made a (very last minute) decision to host the second night. We invited some friends, a local cousin, and Chris’ parents. Chris and I have hosted Seders before with a group of Jews and non-Jews, but this Seder was really special because it was the Acone’s first time participating in a Seder.
My dad led the service and began by asking each person to share one way in which we each have freed ourselves in our own lives. Everyone had a great example, some of which were Chris’s dad retiring from 30+ years as a pilot, my cousin Ben moving to Boston for a new job, and my dad realizing that he should be doing more things he likes rather than obligations. I really enjoyed this addition to the Seder and liked how it connected our lives with the lives of the slaves in Egypt.
The rest of the Seder was pretty traditional. We sang the four questions, hid the afikomen, drank some wine (probably more than four glasses), read the plagues, ate the bitter herbs, etc…and had a delicious meal. Even though the service was ‘old hat’ for me, I really loved watching Greg and Judi experience it for the first time. They had such interesting questions and comments, and were especially surprised at how many parallels there were between the Seder to Easter and the Catholic religion. When the night finally came to an end they both expressed how much they had enjoyed it and how they would love to do it every year.
And thus…a new tradition shall begin!
I think the Passover/Easter combination is more difficult than Hanukkah/Christmas. This is because Easter most always falls within Passover. Over the past few years, Sam has celebrated Easter with my family: joining us for mass, taking part in the Easter egg hunt, and sitting down with us for our giant ham dinner.
Two years ago, a few months into our relationship, I invited Sam over for Easter at my parent’s house. Not wanting to make a big fuss about his religion, I explained to my mom that Sam was Jewish. Mom told my sister, Michelle, who told my sister Carolyn, who told my brother Chris, and soon everyone knew that Sam was Jewish.
Sam and I attended Easter Sunday mass with the rest of the family. I spent the entire mass worrying about how uncomfortable Sam must have been. Later, he told me that he wasn’t uncomfortable at all. He had gone with me to previous masses at my parish in New Jersey, which helped acclimate him to the flow of the mass.
After mass we had our annual Easter egg hunt. My siblings and I have a tendency to make a mess searching for eggs, whereas, Sam was being very careful looking for his egg behind books and under boxes. Upon finding his egg, he realized that he couldn’t eat anything inside because the goodies weren’t kosher for Passover.
Easter dinner came around and my sisters bombarded Sam with “Why can’t you eat ham on Easter?” and “Are peeps kosher for Passover?” Sam fielded these questions like a champ! We had brought some kosher for Passover wine, but it had slipped my mind to tell everyone that it was specifically for Sam. The wine was poured and by the time the wine reached Sam, all the kosher for Passover wine was gone. We sat down to our usual Easter ham, rolls, corn, and potatoes. Thankfully my uncle brought over a small lamb. I think the only thing Sam ate that night was lamb and a potato.
Round Two. Last year, my mom and I worked really hard to make the entire meal kosher for Passover. I explained to her all the dietary restrictions. For the month leading up to Easter, I received calls with “Is this kosher for Passover?” or “Can Sam have that?” My mother experimented with matzo meal and potato starch for the first time in cooking all the Easter dishes and desserts.
During the Easter egg hunt, Sam had remembered some of the hiding places from the previous year and that was where he started looking. Once he found his egg, there were kosher for Passover macaroons inside!
My brother and father picked up some really good kosher for Passover wine which sparked some good conversations about keeping kosher. Dinner was served and my father said the prayers and then offered for Sam to say his blessing. Sam said the motzi in Hebrew and English. My dear old grandfather (who is hard of hearing) blurted out with “That’s not Catholic!” It was at this moment that we told my grandfather that Sam wasn’t Catholic. My dad responded with, “Yes, but everything he just said, you also believe in!” Since then Sam and my grandfather have had many conversations on religion, and have come to the conclusion that there is always more to talk about.
Looking back on last year, I think, making the entire meal kosher for Passover was too stressful for my mother. For Easter, a week ago, I provided the main course and desserts and gave my mom some specific sides to make.
Easter mass was very comfortable sitting alongside Sam and my family. After Mass, Sam even went up to the priest to talk to him. We have been meeting with this priest to plan our wedding ceremony, so he is getting to know Sam and I very well.
The infamous Easter egg hunt came around and after much searching Sam found his egg taped under the lampshade in replace of the light bulb! After an enjoyable egg hunt, dinner was served. Both my father and Sam said the blessing over the meal and everyone left pleasantly full. It took us three years, but I think we have finally found a routine in balancing Easter and Passover!
By Sam Goodman
Won’t you help to sing / These songs of freedom?
We’re currently in the middle of one of the most widely-observed Jewish holidays, Passover. One of the Shalosh Regalim, or three pilgrimage festivals (literally “three legs”), in ancient times Jews throughout the land of Israel would gather and make sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem. Passover celebrates the Exodus from Egypt, and is one of the few holidays mentioned in the Torah. In modern times, it is observed by abstaining from the consumption of items with leavening (e.g. bread, cake, beer), and with a festive meal on the first two evenings, which is called a seder.
When I was growing up, we would have the first night seder with extended family. Between grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and my nuclear family, there would be about fifteen of us crowded around the table, hearing Poppop recite the story of the Hebrews’ exodus from Egypt. It was always fun running around with the cousins, searching for the afikomen, and staying up way past our normal bedtimes. We still meet at my uncle’s place every year on the first night, and although lately we’ve had a couple faces missing from the table due to cousins living abroad, or away at college, usually at some point we would Skype them in. Also, as some of the older cousins have become involved in serious relationships, there have been new guests at the table – including, for the past three years, Anne.
The second night seder had a very different tone than the first night while I was growing up. My two sisters and I would each get to invite one friend, and beyond these three friends, it would just be our nuclear family at the table. We lived in an area that had very few Jews, so most of our school friends had never been to a seder before. At the beginning of this seder, we would start by explaining the symbols on the table – the matzah, different items on the seder plate, Elijah’s cup, etc. Diana, my youngest sister, would start the explanation; Stacey, the middle child, would add things that Diana had forgotten, and provide additional layers of meaning behind the symbols; and I would continue with the things both sisters had left out.
This year, we invited Anne’s parents and siblings to our second-night seder. As an added twist, my Dad had asked me a few weeks ago if I could lead our seder. My father, an accountant, was a *bit* exhausted by the night of the second seder, which fell this year on April 15th. After a few weeks of reviewing the haggadah and the Passover story, I had committed as much as I could to memory, and felt prepared for what was to come.
Anne and I arrived at my parents’ house around 5:30, about half an hour before the seder was to begin. I wanted some time to settle in, and do some last-minute reviewing of my notes and the biblical Exodus story. Thanks to some heavy traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway, I ended up having quite a bit of extra time – Anne’s brother Chris showed up around 6:15, and her parents and two youngest siblings didn’t arrive until nearly 7PM. After some brief greetings, we sat down at the table, and the seder began.
We began with my retelling the story of the Exodus, beginning with Joseph’s trials and tribulations, culminating in the arrival of the Hebrews in the Promised Land, and hitting all the major high points along the way. Unfortunately, due to my nerves, I ended up hitting many of the minor points as well, resulting in a retelling that felt as long as Cecil B DeMille’s epic film. In reality it was probably only 15 minutes, but it felt much longer. At least nobody could say I missed anything important!
After my retelling was complete, we began reading from the haggadah. After the first cup of wine, my nerves (finally!) began to ease up. We went popcorn-style around the table, each person reading a paragraph. As we reached the Four Questions, we broke our order and had Theresa, Anne’s youngest sibling, read them. We continued along, with Anne’s parents and siblings asking questions as we went. What foods do we “dip”, as mentioned in the Four Questions? What’s the egg for? Why is the shank bone, rather than another part of the lamb, used to symbolize Passover offering? Is that really a lamb’s shank bone, or just a chicken bone? When do we drink more wine? In some cases, the answers were literally on the next page of the haggadah, but I was able to field most other questions without significantly affecting the flow of the service.
Finally, it was time to eat the main meal. Anne had prepared eggplant dip, chopped liver, and potatoes, and my mom cooked up some beef brisket, chicken, and fruit kugel. Everything tasted delicious, though it certainly helped that we were having a very late dinner. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to go through the post-meal portion of the seder due to a confluence of the delayed start time and Anne’s youngest siblings’ bedtimes (the following day was a school day, after all).
I’m certainly in no rush to lead my next seder, a responsibility I hope continues to be held by my healthy father and grandfather for many years. However, it was a lot of fun studying the details of the seder and the Passover holiday while preparing to lead it. Also, I’m extremely grateful that Anne’s family is open to learning about the customs and holidays of my faith. While we certainly differ on quite a few theological matters, I appreciate that Anne’s parents are willing to join my family for holiday celebrations. It displays both a confidence in their beliefs and an acceptance of my ability to practice my faith.
On a completely unrelated note, I listened to this song on repeat while writing this blog.
Last weekend we met with the caterer to finalize the menu and taste some of the dishes we had picked for our wedding. We decided a while ago that we would serve dinner ‘family style’ with large platters of each dish placed on each table, instead of individual plates or buffet. We choose to serve the meal this way for two main reasons: one is because we think it goes well with the aesthetic of our backyard themed wedding, and the other is simply because we don’t have room in the backyard for a buffet table.
Once we nailed down the manner in which we would serve the meal, picking the dishes proved a bit more challenging. Interestingly enough, the meeting with the caterer proved reminiscent of Chris’s post last week about how “Jewish” our wedding is going to be. The caterer was very sensitive to potential religious restrictions and was very upfront about all of the ingredients in each dish. While we are not serving a Kosher meal, we will have some guests who keep Kosher and want to make the meal accessible to those individuals. It would have been quite expensive to serve a fully Kosher meal so we decided we would serve a ‘Kosher style’ meal, meaning no shellfish, pork, or milk and meat together–likely disappointing Chris’s Uncle Bobby who had requested both scallops wrapped in bacon and escargot. Sorry Bobby!
After the serving style and food accommodations were decided it was time to choose the actual menu. This was the fun part! The caterer choose for us to taste a variety of appetizers including homemade hummus and baba ganoush with pita chips, a Caprese salad, beef satay, mini quiches, and roasted zucchini and summer squash. We loved them all and chose to serve each one. For the salad course we picked a spring salad with strawberries, goat cheese, and a pomegranate and blood orange dressing (my mouth is watering just thinking about this salad). For the main course we decided on two meat dishes–salmon with a spicy avocado sauce and chicken piccata–and green beans, wild rice, and a tortellini salad on the side. We were utterly pleased with each dish we tried and even more impressed with the effort the caterer showed us by serving Hamentashen for dessert! He also ordered fresh baked Challah from a bakery in Brookline that we will be serving on each table.
Now…all we can hope for is to actually get to eat some of it!
Just like all beginning relationships, I had plenty of questions. “Will he still like me if I eat three burgers for dinner?” “Will my parents and siblings like him?” “Will his parents and siblings like me?” “Will we get along with each other’s friends?” “Will he be ok with my Catholicism?” At first, these questions bugged me. I had doubts that the relationship wouldn’t last because we are so different. However, after talking it over with my friends, something clicked. Instead of focusing on the fact that we were different, I began to embrace it.
I started sharing my hobbies with Sam. When I was with Sam, I experienced things differently than when I was with my other friends. After going to the theater with my girlfriends, we would talk about the rehearsal process, technical elements, and cast and crew. Seeing the exact same show with Sam, we would talk about how we related to the characters and how the acting moved the story along. Sam also started sharing his love of concerts and brewing with me, and introduced me to Judaism.
I began going to synagogue with Sam a few months into our relationship, and it was confusing at first. The service was completely different from the Catholic Mass, and it didn’t help that I didn’t understand Hebrew. After attending a few more services with Sam, I started researching the holidays and cultures and began to find joy in the ways that the Jewish holidays could benefit me personally or spiritually. Creating a menu for Passover became an exciting search, between my friends and I, to experiment with different ingredients within the dietary restrictions mandated during the holiday.
Sam and I started turning activities into exciting adventures. Over the past two years we have attended numerous family holiday celebrations; the National Homebrew Conference, several beer festivals, numerous Synagogue events, Philadelphia Folk Festival, and other concerts; stewarded a mead (honey wine) competition; road tripped to Chicago (twice), Boston, and Minnesota; held a game marathon during the two-week black out of Super Storm Sandy; and celebrated a handful of friends’ interfaith/intercultural weddings.
So when did I know that Sam was the “one”? The answer is three-fold:
Planning a wedding is difficult. Sam and I are trying to juggle all of our vendors. However, there is one vendor that we are not worried about at all: the florist.
I work for an event production company that specializes in weddings. Flowerful Events has agreed to help us with our wedding décor and flowers. The designers not only create bouquets and centerpieces, but also custom pieces such as a butterfly-themed chuppah and an 8’ tall Eiffel Tower sculpture as place card table decor. Sam and I do not need an 8’ Eiffel Tower for our wedding; however, we are adding little touches to make the décor reflect who we are. We have given the designers a few ideas about our décor and they are excited to create something a little different for us. The designers have been trying to finish most of the prototypes before the start of wedding season, which runs from April to October. Because our wedding is at the end of wedding season, our prototype will be finished in July.
At any given time, I am dealing with 80+ events. Some of our clients are mothers planning their child’s Bar/
It is very easy to get lost in the overwhelming sea of wedding information. There are hundreds of little details to keep organized. Each detail plays a part in the décor that we bring into that specific venue. The color of the venue’s walls will help us determine the color of the uplighting. The number of chair rows or pews at the ceremony affect the number of chair/pew arrangements and the type of chair or pew factors into how we can attach the décor. Even the ceremony flooring is taken into consideration. If the aisle runner is thin on a wooden floor, it could be a tripping hazard.
Being immersed in this business on a daily basis has helped me navigate my own wedding planning. For example, when a client emails me her inspiration board, I may add some of their images to my own inspiration board. I may use a wedding planner’s day-of timeline as a reference to create my own day-of timeline. When I ask the client the quantity and size of her tables, I am jotting down a reminder to get that information for myself. While the clients and I are at a walk-through of a venue, I am envisioning my venue and where certain items will be placed.
Our wedding is at the end of wedding season. I have planned it perfectly that the thick of wedding season will be right when Sam and I are knee deep in our own plans. This may sound daunting to some people, but I find it exciting!
“Are You Having a Jewish Wedding?” is a question that I seem to field a lot from friends of mine. I’m not sure why, but initially this kind of bothered me. “No, it’s going to be a fusion,” I’d reply, somewhat annoyed. I’ve come to realize that I was concerned because the question seemed to disregard my faith, my religious background. I was worried that people would assume that Dana’s faith was the prominent one, much the same as I used to get a little anxious when people would (jokingly) ask me if I was converting.
The more I thought about it, however, the more things I came to realize about the question. First, it generally came from non-Jewish friends of mine, whose exposure to Jewish customs was limited to pop culture representations. They weren’t asking whether Dana and I would sign a Ketubah or be married under a Chuppah. They didn’t want to know who would be reading the 7 blessings or if we would partake in Yichud following the ceremony. They wanted to know if I’d be stomping on a glass and getting picked up in a chair. A resounding “Yes” to both of those, for the record.
Secondly, I realized that I couldn’t accurately answer the question “What is a Catholic wedding?” Aside from being in a church, which wasn’t happening, and sharing Communion, which is also a no-go, a Catholic wedding doesn’t have much to set itself apart. Sure, I want my uncle, who is a Jesuit priest, to be involved in some capacity, and there are a couple of beautiful readings from the New Testament that I would like included, but other than that I am perfectly content to let the ceremony take shape as it will. The fact is that the Jewish faith has more customs and traditions for weddings, and I have to say that I am enamored by many of them.
I’ve been to a few Jewish weddings with Dana now, and one wedding between a Jewish woman and a lapsed Catholic that was probably the most similar in appearance to what ours will be. Aside from the breaking of the glass and the Hora, I love the symbolism of a Chuppah. Dana’s mom has requested various articles of clothing from both of our large extended families and is quilting them together to make our Chuppah. We will be married beneath the symbolic shelter of their love and support, and will keep this quilt throughout our lives together. I am also always struck by the power of the 7 blessings. We haven’t determined exactly what they will sound like or who will read them, but it does strike us as an opportunity to get many more people involved in the ceremony. Our wedding parties being limited to just my brother as best man and her sister as maid of honor, this is a great opportunity for other people to take on an important role. More than that, I have been moved by the obvious emotion shown by everyone who reads one of the blessings, and the intimacy it adds to the ceremony. Another element I am excited about is the Yichud. The interfaith couple I mentioned before introduced me to this concept, and I like the idea of taking a little bit of time after the ceremony to just be together, to celebrate our love and our union before we take the stage and start glad-handing during the reception.
A final element that I am excited about is the Ketubah. The same interfaith couple made their own contract which featured a beautiful drawing by the groom, and this is something I am interested in doing as well. I’m thinking about drawing a picture of a tree and some birds in flight, echoing a quote that my mom has hanging on the wall in her house, “There are only two lasting bequeaths we can hope to give our children: one is roots, the other wings.” I like to think that this is a good foundation to build a marriage upon, the idea of stability and freedom as equal elements. I know that the roots of our marriage are deeply embedded in our families, and we will try to honor them both by including elements of their religious faiths in our wedding ceremony. Exactly what it will look like, we’re not sure yet, but we know that it will be special and that it will be us.
Since Chris and I have been planning our wedding for so long, it’s strange to think that it will actually happen–and soon! This weekend really put it into perspective how close it is as my bridal shower was this past Sunday. It was held in my hometown, at the home of a very good family friend. Four of my mom’s friends hosted the shower and it was amazing. They truly thought of every detail and made sure the women from both sides of our families felt included.As we’ve mentioned many times before, both of our families are large. So, as one may imagine, the shower was quite crowded with about 50 in all of family and friends–most of whom were meeting for the first time. The event began with lunch and schmoozing. After we ate everyone gathered in the living room to embarrass me (in the most loving way possible) with a quiz about Chris.
Then, some members from both families stood up and spoke. This part was so touching. My aunt Liz spoke about my grandmother, who passed 5 years ago, and how much she would have loved Chris. A few of Chris’ aunts read poems or blessings. My sister, who lives in Israel, sent something for my mom to read for her, and Chris’ sister, who lives in England, sent something for Chris’ mom, Judi, to read. Then, for the big finale, both my mom and Judi said a few words, both of which brought me to tears. Chris’ mom read the following poem:
A Mother’s Prayer
I prayed for you
There was something about you
You were the answer to the prayer
I prayed for your health
And now I know just who you are
I have put together this little poem
Now…if that doesn’t bring you to tears, I don’t know what will! My mom also brought the place to tears, but mostly through laughter. She teased about how the key to a successful marriage is BreatheRight Strips and how it’s best to bake goodies when your children aren’t home so you can lick the batter, ha! Now I know why there was always banana bread and brownies around when I got home from school!
I truly felt like the luckiest person in the world, not only for the amazing gifts we got (!!!) but also for the immense amount of love that surrounded Chris and I. We are truly blessed.
110 days to the wedding!