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“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 â€śYesâ€ť 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!
By Sam Goodman
Ash Wednesday fell this past week.Â The holiday marks the beginning of Lent, a period of penance, fasting, and abstinence in the Catholic faith, as well as many other Christian denominations. Ash Wednesday is one of the two days during the liturgical year that Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 observe a fast; the other is Good Friday (which happens to fall on Anneâ€™s birthday this year).
My first introduction to the concept of a Catholic fast was Ash Wednesday two years ago, when Anne and I had been dating for only a few months.Â She had told me that she was fasting, but had asked me to have dinner with her that night. I thought that was strange, and upon further questioning found out that a Catholic fast means partaking in only one full meal throughout the course of the day.Â Also, during the Lenten season (between Ash Wednesday and Holy Saturday, the day before Easter), it is customary to abstain from a pleasurable activity.Â Among the most common are giving up sweets or Facebook.Â Alternatively, a Catholic could also consciously perform an action throughout the Lenten season to bring himself or herself closer to God, such as pray more often, forgive more easily, or complain less frequently.Â Finally, during Fridays in Lent, Catholics do not eat meat.Â As with kashrut, in which it is considered pareve (neither dairy nor meat), fish is not considered meat for the purposes of the Lenten abstention.
The two most well-known Jewish fast days (Yom Kippur, one of the â€śhigh holidaysâ€ť, and Tisha Bâ€™Av, the date commemorating the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem) require abstinence from not only food and drink, but also washing, applying perfumes, wearing leather shoes, and engaging in sexual relations.Â These fasts last 25 hours, and take place from sundown to sundown during the holiday.Â For those of you whoâ€™ve never tried it, it can be really tough to go without anything to eat or drink for a full day!
I bring this up on the Wedding Blog because it is traditional for Ashkenazic Jews to fast from sunrise until after the ceremony on their wedding day.Â This is because the sins of the bride and groom are forgiven as they begin their new life together. In that way, the wedding functions like Yom Kippur, one of the most holy days in the Jewish calendar. Â I intend to uphold this tradition during our wedding, fasting from sunrise until our Yichud, a ritual in which the bride and groom are secluded in a private room for about 15 minutes immediately following the conclusion of the wedding ceremony.
Our wedding is less than two weeks after Yom Kippur.Â Normally Iâ€™d be concerned about my ability to endure two fasts in such quick succession, but this is one of the reasons why our ceremony will be over at 4:30pm!Â In any case, Iâ€™m looking forward to a pair of meaningful fasts in the month of October.
My mom gave me her wedding veil: a simple veil that she had made for her wedding. In my head, I had always wanted a veil, but I wasnâ€™t sure why. I didnâ€™t know if it was a religious symbol or a fashion statement. I also was unsure of the â€śproperâ€ť way to wear the veil. Does the size and shape matter? Â Wanting to discover more, I did a little research in what the veil means, in both Judaism and Christianity.
Before the wedding veil was introduced, Christian brides wore a crown of twigs to symbolize the sacrifices in marriage. Jesus, the Ultimate Sacrifice, wore a crown of thorns on the cross. The moment Jesus died, the veil between the Holy of Holies and the Inner Sanctuary of the Temple was torn. A veil was used to shield sacred things, such as a chalice, tabernacle, or consecrated hosts, â€śfrom the eyes of sinful menâ€ť. When the Temple veil was torn, the separation between God and Man was removed, now anyone enter the Holy of Holies and come in direct communication with God. When the wedding veil is removed during the marriage ceremony, the Christian bride is entering in a direct communication with God through the sacrament of marriage.
During the wedding the bride and groom are in an elevated state and are closer to God, the veil gives them a little privacy and covers the light, which emanates from the bride. Wearing a veil to shield against Divine light is also referred to when Moses received the Commandments. He placed a veil over his face to talk to the people in order to filter the Divine glare. The veil is also a reminder of the Veil of the Virgin Mary and her meekness, humility, submission and obedience to God. The wedding veil acknowledges the brideâ€™s submission to her husband, as the head of the household.
Traditionally, a Jewish bride wears the veil until she meets the groom under the chuppah, thus displaying her complete willingness to enter into marriage and her absolute trust that she is marrying the right man. In arranged marriages, the bride wore a red or yellow veil to conceal her completely and the colors were thought to ward off the evil spirits. The veil covers her face completely until just before the end of the wedding ceremony, when they are legally married according to Jewish law, then the groom lifts the veil as a way of consummating the marriage. This act of unveiling is usually directly before â€śyou may kiss the brideâ€ť.
This unveiling of the bride has many reasons behind it. The most common reason is to make sure that the groom is marrying the right person. In Genesis, Jacobâ€™s father-in-law tricked him into marrying Leah instead of Rachel. When the groom lifts the veil, this is the first time, that he sees the bride and the veil symbolizes that the groom is marrying her for her inner beauty and her beauty is only reserved for the groom alone.
The shape and size of the veil has evolved over time. In the Victorian Era the weight, length and quality of the wedding veil was a sign of social status. Â The length of the veil also determined the location of marriage. A chapel veil was worn in smaller churches and the veil extended only two yards from the headpiece, where as a Cathedral veil flows for three and a half yards from the headpiece to be worn in a grand Cathedral. Modern veils are no longer a sign of social status, or purity but have become more of a fashion statement and a bridal accessory. Just like all of the other wedding decisions, modern brides can choose what they would like their veil to look like and symbolize.
To me, my veil represents the beauty of my mom, who I look up to and admire. It is also a symbol of my own Christianity and beginning my new life with a Jewish spouse.
As the Winter Olympics have been consuming our TV watching the past few weeks, Chris and I have been talking about our future children–particularly, our future children and sports. Will we raise a future Olympic athlete? Possibly, but probably not. We are both relatively athletic and played sports as children; Chris was an avid hockey player through high school and I took up rowing in high school and stuck with it through college.
I often ask myself how people get into sports in the first place (this came up often while watching many of the sliding events at the Olympics–how does one become a skeleton competitor?!) I imagine children are first exposed to the sports their parents’ were (or still are) involved with and then make choices from there. Of course, Chris is already talking about buying our future first child a pair of hockey skates, and I know I’d love my children to experience the lifelong friendships and physically active lifestyle I attribute to my years as a rower. Â We both enjoy skiing and would surely expose our children to that at an early age. But…the rest is really up to them.
This made us think about how in many respects, religion parallels athletics, or really any interest that can be passed on from a parent. A child’s first exposure to religion is through their parents and the religion(s) they practice. Clearly this is more complicated when parents practice different religions, as we do. Chris and I do not happen to be the type of believers who find Judaism and Catholicism mutually exclusive, but we know that there are many among both faith groups who would say that you must pick a side.
So what do we do? Try to expose our children equally to both faiths and wait and see which they choose? Will our children have Bar or Bat Mitzvahs or first communions and confirmations? Is it possible for them to choose to practice both? We do not really know the answer to these questions, and in fact think that our kids will be infinitely more qualified to address them. We do acknowledge that exposing our children to our faiths will require us to make some changes, but we can’t exactly foresee what this will mean. Ultimately the best we can hope for is to raise our children with the values our religions have taught us; kindness, caring, loyalty, honesty, and generosity. And if they end up competing at the Olympics one day, weâ€™ll be there to cheer them on.
Sam and I couldnâ€™t be more different. Sam enjoys heavy metal rock music. I like classic rock, jazz, folk and NPR. Sam gets lost in each musical component- the percussion, the vocals, the guitar etc, whereas my music puts Sam to sleep. I use my music to cheer me up, get me going, and to keep me company at work.
I work in the event industry and my background is in arts management. Sam, on the other hand, works in pharmaceuticals and his background in engineering, physics, and computer science. Our backgrounds and training have taught us to think differently about problems, situations, and the world around us. Sam is very logical, he concludes that the fastest way from point A to B is a straight line and A plus B always equals C. My brain doesnâ€™t function that way. The fastest way from point A to B may not be the best way and A plus B may equal purple or square or dog.
Sam likes sleeping in; I am an early bird. Sam was born in Pennsylvania; I was born in Minnesota. Sam has 2 siblings; I have 9.Â Sam is Jewish; I am Catholic. I could go on and on listing the ways that Sam and I are different. Through all of these differences, we both understand that we love each other for the whole package.
I love Sam for his rock music, Pharmaceuticals, physics, logic, Judaism and all. Sam loves me for my NPR, arts background, Catholicism and everything.Â We both understand that it is all of these elements combined that make up who we are.Â If you were to take out any one of these elements Sam would be totally different and not the man that I love. If you were to take out the element of my religion, or family, I would be totally different and not the woman that Sam loves. You canâ€™t say, â€śI love you except_________ (fill in the blank)â€ť or â€śI would love you more if ___________â€ť, because then you would be taking out little pieces of that person.
We love each other because of these differences. As we plan our wedding and our future together, we are learning that we can use our differences to balance out each other. I can help Sam see things from an arts management perspective; he can help me appreciate heavy metal rock music. I can learn about his Judaism and he can learn about my Catholicism. It is in learning, understanding, and loving ALL of these aspects of each other that will help us with our lives together and raising a family. I can just imagine, our future three year old reading the Wall Street Journal and teaching me about physics.
In order for my marriage to Sam to be recognized in the Catholic Church, I have to request permission from the Diocese for a special dispensation in order to marry a non-Catholic who was never baptized.
This document also requires my signature under this statement: â€śI reaffirm my faith in Jesus Christ and with Godâ€™s help intend to continue living that faith in the Catholic Church. I promise to do all in my power to share the faith I have received with our children by having them baptized and raised as Catholics.â€ť
Crap! While we have discussed it on numerous occasions, Sam and I have yet to decide in which faith to raise our children.
With that in mind, we arranged to meet with Monsignor Hopkins, the priest at my familyâ€™s parish, to talk about this special dispensation. We also wanted to discuss Pre-Cana, a Catholic pre-marriage course that discusses spirituality/faith, conflict resolution, careers, finances, intimacy/cohabitation, children, and commitment. In addition, we were looking for advice on how to incorporate both religions into our ceremony.
A few months ago, we had met with Father Hopkins to start talking about these issues. He advised us to hold the ceremony in a â€śneutral siteâ€ť, neither a synagogue nor a church. As a result of this discussion, we arranged to hold our ceremony at the country club where our reception will take place.
Last Saturday, we met with Father Hopkins to discuss the dispensation in further details. He gave us some really great advice that I would like to share with you:
– Deciding which religion to raise our children in is a very large, important decision that does not have to be decided right now, as long as we are seriously talking about it.
– Even if we are currently leaning more towards raising our children in one faith or the other, that may change once there is a baby in the picture.
– In talking about children, faith and our lives together, we should not â€śminimize or trivializeâ€ť the otherâ€™s religion or beliefs.
– â€śEverything will be fine as long as your family loves and accepts Sam and his family loves and accepts you.â€ť
We talked about Pre-Cana. I have heard the amazing revelations (and some horror stories) of going through these Pre-Cana classes. I also feared the number of miles that we would put on our cars if we drove down to Delaware every weekend for 6 months to attend these classes. We floated the idea of taking Pre-Cana in New Jersey; however, I wanted to take the courses with a priest that I was comfortable with. Father mentioned that the class is mainly about communication and because our communication with each other is strong and we have started to incorporate the families into our decision making process, he is not requiring us to attend Pre-Cana.
We then discussed how to blend the different Jewish/Catholic symbols and rituals into the ceremony without offending anyone. Father Hopkins gave us some examples of programs from Catholic/Jewish ceremonies in which he officiated, and a list of readings and blessings to consider.
We still have a lot of decisions to make, and we are just about to hit the 8-month mark!
I signed up to take an Intro to Judaism class at Sam’s synagogue. When I went to (what I thought was) the first class, I sat amongst a classroom filled with 20 other adults. Everyone was taking the class for various reasons: to re-affirm their faith, learn the basics, teach their children who were going through Hebrew school. Then there was me — I was just curious to learn about Judaism.
Class began and I soon realized that this wasnâ€™t the first class session. The class was trying to come up with a concrete definition of a Jew. Is it oneâ€™s actions or faith or name? Are you born a Jew? Are there specific qualities that make someone Jewish? Everyone was referring to specific Torah passages, famous historical rabbis and different articles and writings. Not having read any of the material, I quickly got lost in the conversation, and became more and more frustrated as the class continued.
I talked with the rabbi after that first class to see if he could offer me some guidance. He gave me the syllabus, book list, and articles to read for the next class. He told me that this class could be used to convert to Judaism if I wanted to take that step.Â In that moment, I felt under attack.Â I only wanted to feed my curiosity about the religion.Â I was insulted that the rabbi seemed to take my expression of interest as a chance to proselytize.
I got home that evening and stress-ate an entire 1lb bag of M&Ms. I didnâ€™t want to continue the class because I didnâ€™t feel spiritually ready to have my religious beliefs criticized. Â After some careful prodding by Sam, I drudgingly forced myself to go to class the following week.
Fast-forward 12 weeks and I love the class!Â Over the course of the class, Iâ€™ve gotten to know the rabbi and his mannerisms, and I now recognize that that first comment was not meant to be demeaning, but only to offer an opportunity to convert if I was so interested.Â I have made it clear that I do not intend to convert to Judaism, but have used this class to reaffirm my own faith.
There is another Catholic in the class, which I am grateful for, although his mannerisms and occasional off-topic meanderings remind me of my grandfather.Â The class has dwindled down to a core group of 7 people: 3 who were born and raised Jewish, 2 who converted to Judaism in their adult lives (including the rabbiâ€™s wife), and 2 Catholics. It has been really interesting hearing the different stories and interpretations that everyone brings to the class.
A few class sessions ago, we talked about the different Jewish life cycle events, discussing the symbols and meanings behind the brit milah/baby naming, bar/bat mitzvah, and marriage. The marriage segment of the class turned into a Q&A about our upcoming wedding. The class was curious as to whether we plan to have the standard Jewish symbols and customs at our wedding, such as the chuppah, smashing the glass, etc. Those were easy yes and no questions that Sam and I had previously discussed.Â Then they asked the why questions. Why are having those specific traditions and customs and how did we come to those conclusions. My answer was to read this blog!
We are about half way finished the course.Â So far, we have had in-depth conversations about a number of topics, including the afterlife, order of the Shabbat service, Torah, holidays, and history of Judaism.Â The second half of the class is delving into the history of Judaism. Â I am consistently doing the weekly readings (sometimes over 300 pages!), answering the study questions and always bringing my own set of questions. This prep work has made class a lot less frustrating and a lot more fascinating!
To follow up with Chris’ philosophical post last week, I thought I would lighten it up a bit and do a post about our wedding plans thus far. It’s funny, we’ve been engaged for a year and a half now so plans have been moving pretty gradually (this has been nice!) and now we’re coming up on 5 months till the big day and everything’s coming together nicely.
As we mentioned in our first post, the wedding is in late June and will be held in my parents’ backyard. My sister had her Bat Mitzvah party in the backyard under a tent and since then (I was 14 at the time) I’ve wanted to get married in the backyard. Since the ceremony will be non-denominational, we figured the front yard would be the perfect ceremony venue and in the back we will have a tent for the reception (Chris likes to refer it as the ‘Mullet Wedding’–business in the front, party in the back). The front will be set up simply, with a small platform under the chuppah for the ceremony and chairs for about half the guests and the backyard will have long, farm-style tables for dinner and a modest dance floor (which we anticipate will be full throughout the night).
People often ask me if there is a theme and the simple answer is…no. The theme is ‘Backyard Wedding’. We will decorate with rustic decor, homemade decorations, handmade table numbers, and other such items. Dinner will be served family style (and kosher styleâ€”meaning no pork or shellfish), to go with the ‘laid-back’ theme. Chris and I decided long ago that we wouldn’t have a large wedding party; my sister, Julie, is the maid-of-honor and Chris’s brother, Patrick, the best man. Our niece Ava will be the flower girl and will likely be accompanied by Chris’s sister Erin (Ava’s mom) because Ava will be just shy of 2 years old.
The biggest stress so far in the planning process has been the guest list. We both come from massive families; my dad is one of six children and Chris’s parents’ are one of four and one of five. Between both sides we have about 160 family members to invite, and that’s after doing some serious guest list shaving. Including friends, our final invite list was close to 250. We can fit 220 under the tents, so we’ll have to wait and see!
With love,Â Dana
Before meeting Samâ€™s extended family, I had met his parents very briefly for a slice of mid-afternoon pie.Â I was very nervous about meeting his parentsâ€”I think it took me over an hour that day to figure out what to wear!Â This meeting was so brief, that we didnâ€™t get a chance to talk about much, therefore the topic of faith didnâ€™t come up. I was (and still am) very amazed at how sweet and genuinely nice his parents are! I donâ€™t remember when the topic of faith first came up around his parents, but they knew that I wasnâ€™t Jewish when I attended the Passover Seder.
Sam first invited me to join his family Seder a few months after we started dating.Â I had only been to one other Seder before, five years prior. The meal was slightly awkward and uncomfortable.Â I didnâ€™t understand what was being said, nor did I understand the traditions around what was being done. Also, because I was the youngest person there, I had to say some of the prayers, find the Afikomen and open the door for Elijah. Â I was nervous that the Seder with Samâ€™s family would be equally awkward and uncomfortable. Sam reassured me that most of his familyâ€™s Seder would be in English and that I wouldnâ€™t be the youngest person there.
In the weeks leading up to the Seder, Sam re-emphasized that the youngest people there would be his cousins, who were growing up in interfaith households.Â Both of his dadâ€™s siblings were in interfaith marriages and their children (Samâ€™s cousins) celebrate both sets of holidays. This calmed my fears a little, but I still thought it would be awkward and uncomfortable.
The awkwardness started when I arrived empty handed because I was told not to bring anything. Whenever I go to a fancy dinner party, I try to always bring a dish or something. I asked Sam what I should bring. His answer was, â€śNothing. There are very specific foods and everyone has a specific dish that they always bring.â€ť This didnâ€™t satisfy me, so I asked Sam repeatedly only to receive the same answer over and over.
On the day of the Seder, I put on my fancy clothes, my best behavior and attended the Seder empty-handed.Â There were 13 people there (a normal crowd for me), and the topic of my faith wasnâ€™t brought up.Â We talked a lot about my family and what dish I could eventually bring to future family dinner parties. There was no awkwardness nor discomfort, only really nice people with a lot of funny stories to tell.
We began the prayers and rituals surrounding the meal. After getting used to the way the Haggadah was read (from right to left), I sat back and listened to his Poppop tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. During his story, his little cousin, Jason, started singing and the escape to freedom became a musical!Â We even Skyped Samâ€™s sister Diana, living in Israel at the time, so she could chant the Four Questions. After the prayers were said, it was time for the holiday meal.
This particular Seder fell on Good Friday. It is a Catholic ritual to fast and not eat meat on Good Friday. Catholic fasting means eating only one full meal during the course of a day. I had refrained from eating all day, which would allow me to eat the Seder meal.Â While I was helping to serve the Matzah ball soup, with Samâ€™s aunts and female cousins, Sam made up a plate of food for me. When I got back to my seat, he had served me a little bit of everything- including the beef brisket.Â This was the biggest internal conflict of the night: do I eat the meat because itâ€™s on my plate, or should I put it back, risk being rude and interrupting the flow of the meal? I saved the beef brisket for the last thing to eat to prolong my decision-making. I ended up eating the meat, justifying to myself that this was the right thing to do in this particular case.
This Seder meal was not like the one that I had experienced five years prior. It was neither awkward nor uncomfortable. Everything seemed natural and everything somehow magically â€śfitâ€ť.Â Although this was the first time that I had met his extended family, I remember his Mommom telling me that I fit very well into their family. I think that my response was telling her that my cheeks hurt from laughing & smiling too much!
I still donâ€™t fully understand the symbols and rituals behind the Seder meal, but I have the rest of my life to learn about all of the Jewish customs.