Israel

Sorry for the long period of radio silence, but wedding preparations have been intensifying. Less than a month now!! We are beyond excited as everything is starting to become real. But more on that later…

Eating Falafal in Tel Aviv

This post is all about a very special trip Dana and I took in April. Dana’s sister, Julie, lives in Tel Aviv and works as a JDC fellow for CIMI, the Center for International Migration and Integration. She has been in Israel for about four years, and while Dana has been to visit her and seen Israel several times, I had never been before. We finally decided to take her up on the offer to visit, and the result was the best trip we have ever been on together. From the mountains of her extended family’s home on a Moshav in the north to the desert splendor of the Dead Sea in the south, from the bustle and beaches of Tel Aviv to the ancient labyrinth of the Old City of Jerusalem, I was in constant awe of the country.

We drove to New York City on a rainy Thursday night for a midnight flight direct to Tel Aviv, and despite Dana’s warnings about the complications of boarding a flight to Israel we found ourselves airborne without much trouble. Upon arrival we took a cab to Julie’s apartment, a flat she shares with two roommates and a hot water heater named “The Dude,” which overlooks a courtyard filled with cats and is steps from the Nahalat Binyamin and a short walk to the beach.

Friday night we were lucky enough to attend a Shabbos dinner at Julie’s friends’ beautiful rooftop apartment. I realized that Shabbos dinner epitomizes everything that I like best about religion: a time to slow down, reflect, and more importantly to spend time with friends and family. We decided that, like Dana’s family growing up, we are definitely going to make Shabbos dinner a part of our weekly family routine when we finally do have children. Some of Julie’s friends also exposed us to a unique way of observing Shabbat; they would leave their phones off or at home for the whole day. A seemingly small sacrifice, in today’s world cutting yourself off from your devices is unthinkable to some, and seems to be a very good way of devoting some of your Saturday to a more contemplative life.

Spending time with family

After spending Saturday at the beach watching kite surfers and then going to a few bars with Julie’s friends that night, we rented a car early Sunday morning and drove up to Karmiel (near Haifa) to visit Dana and Julie’s Aunt Harriet and her extended family, who live on a Moshav called Yodefat. We spent a very relaxing couple of days with Harriet, her five children and their spouses and kids. What struck me most about this visit was the closeness of the extended family. The cousins, though young, knew each other very well, and everyone took collective responsibility over the cooking, cleaning and looking after the children. And they had so much fun! There were so many smiles, lots of jokes in Hebrew that I couldn’t understand, and a lot of laughter and love.

The trip was filled with highlights and moments like these, but I realize that I am characteristically rambling and will give the rest of my high points as bullets:

  •  Monday night we went to a Mimuna party (the Moroccan celebration for the end of Passover) in a warehouse in West Tel Aviv. It was by far the hippest thing Dana and I have ever done.
  • Our Tuesday trip to the Dead Sea was absolutely breathtaking. I was so blown away by the desolation of the scenery and the awesome, bizarre production that was swimming in that painfully salty body of water, coating ourselves in mud and trying to remember not to swallow any water.
  • The Old City in Jerusalem: I could devote pages and pages to the thoughts and emotions that filled me as we toured the seat of three of the world’s major religions. We walked the Via Dolorosa (I got what I consider to be justifiably angry at a shopkeeper who tried to block me from taking a picture of the 8th Station of The Cross, saying I had to buy a guide book from him in order to take photographs. Does he own that particular historical landmark?!), saw the frenzied Church of the Holy Sepulcher, took a very scenic hike around the ramparts, visited the Western Wall, and allowed ourselves to get lost and wander through the city’s ancient stairs and passageways. It was an experience like no other, and we boarded the bus home with weary legs and full hearts.

    In front of the Kotel (Western Wall)

  • Getting hummus in Jaffa: I can now agree with Julie in saying that I hadn’t tasted hummus before this trip. It was an entirely different experience eating it warm from a bowl with slices of raw onion and fresh-baked pita on a gorgeous sunny Friday morning. Wandering around Jaffa afterwards was an unexpected bonus, as was making friends with the young boys who were jumping off of the docks into the water.
  • Spending time with Julie was a blessing for both Dana and I. Dana has always been close with her family and her sister in particular, and I know that it has been hard for them to be apart for all these years. I was constantly smiling at the two of them as they interacted in the beautifully silly and mildly antagonistic way that only sisters can.

Three silly kids floating in the Dead Sea

 

It truly was a once-in-a-lifetime trip for us, an invigorating and re-energizing experience as well as a bit of a pilgrimage for both of us. It was wonderful to realize the traditions that we want to pass on to our children, to see that both of our faiths have their roots in the same two square-mile radius, and to spend quality time with Dana’s sister and with one another.

More to come on wedding preparations next week! The countdown is truly on, and everything is going well.

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Symbols and Rituals and Traditions. Oh my.

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.

            Sam’s parents (Pennye & Phil)                    on their wedding day

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.

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What to Wear? What to Wear?

What to wear? What to wear?

This week Lisa has been busy trying on wedding dresses she has ordered online. She has had a lot of success! While I was drafting this blog, she actually settled on one. Lisa selected a dazzling dress from Vera Wang that she ordered from David’s Bridal.

The other choice was a simple and elegant design from J. Crew we found off eBay. Although Lisa did not pick this dress, I cannot stress what a pleasant experience it was to work with eBay user “paisleypetunia.” Buying a dress off eBay was scary for Lisa and me; even though the dress was less expensive than a store, it was still a lot of money to try something on. However, Paisley made the experience like walking into a mom and pop store built on customer service. I highly recommend going this route based on our experience and interactions. (And if you are on a tight budget like us.) You can find her store here.

My suit shopping seemed much simpler. When visiting in Philadelphia, I got to spend some time with my Dad and look for a suit. I admit I am a bit of a nerd, but it is still important to look great, especially on the big day. Lisa and I are both big fans of the television series Doctor Who, so I decided to look for a navy (one of our wedding colors) pin-striped suit similar to David Tennant’s. My Dad and I noticed a suit as we walked in to Macy’s and picked it up and took it to the counter, to ask them to find something similar. The salesman took my measurements and then asked if I had tried on that suit. The thought had not crossed my mind… it was not a perfect fit, but I kept going back to it. With little debate, the suit was purchased and now I just need to lose a couple pounds and find a good tailor.

At this point, you may be wondering what this post is doing on an interfaith wedding blog. There is a lot of focus on the dress and suit, but when it comes to an interfaith wedding, what’s relevant is the traditional religious/spiritual/cultural attire.

For the bride, whether it be a Christian or Jewish wedding, it is customary to wear a veil at the ceremony. Lisa is unsure about wearing a veil, and we are both open to the idea of altering the ceremony if she chooses not to wear one. The important thing here is that even though this is a service rooted in the Jewish customs, it is not my place as a partner to tell her what to and what not to wear. We are there to encourage personal spiritual decisions, not force our own views onto the other person. As I write this, it serves as a reminder that this lesson goes much deeper than even that of faith-based decisions. It should translate into our wedding day and every day that we spend together, for the rest of our lives.
For myself, being Jewish, there’s the decision of whether to wear a tallit and kippah. I have to ask myself are these important to me?

The tallit is important for the High Holy Days, but for the wedding, seem less important. There also needs to be a balance during the ceremony of both faiths and wearing all the traditional garb seems too much leaning one way. Ultimately, I have decided not to wear it. Asking what is important to my faith is a daily exercise and extends beyond just what to wear at the wedding.

The kippah is important to me, and I have worn one for years whether attending a Friday night service, a bar/bat mitzvah or being in the company of Orthodox Jews for work.

wedding ritualsI also think wearing a head covering holds a special place in my heart. My grandparents, who were most responsible for my push into Judaism as a child and teenager, have both passed on. My grandparents not being there physically is still a struggle for me, and Lisa has been extremely supportive as I still come to terms with it, and speak with my spiritual mentors to come to peace with it before the ceremony. When my grandparents were married back in 1952 they had a Jewish ceremony with a twist. Instead of asking everyone to wear a kippah, they just asked that all men come wearing a hat. Some men came in bowler hats. Some men came in New York Yankees baseball caps. Top Hats. And kippot. It was something I had wanted growing up as a child, hearing about their wedding. However, I have grown since then and really do not feel that it is my place to tell people they must have their heads covered.

And since this is an interfaith wedding, in a chapel, some people may find it inappropriate to cover their heads in a chapel. I had an experience with a mentor who took me to his Catholic Sunday Mass and I was asked to remove my hat (it was a hat, not a kippah). It made me uncomfortable the entire time to be in a religious setting and not be covered. I do not wish that same feeling on anyone and therefore, headwear for all is optional, expect for me. In honor of my grandparents and in honor of my faith, I choose to wear a kippah.

We hear so often that it is the man who makes the clothes, not the clothes who make the man. However, when I wear a kippah that represents my grandparents and my devotion to G-D, it is really Them who shaped me. With each clothing decision we make for this day, it is our clothes that set us apart from our guests and who make us a truly unique interfaith couple.

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Getting Lost and Remembing Important Details of Wedding Planning

With so much planning even a wedding of our size, it is easy to get lost in the details.

There are the fun details like our cake tasting or suit shopping with my dad. There are some details which are just checks on the to-do list, like renting a dance floor and linens. Then, there are the other details. The other details like making the guest list which take away focus from the larger picture. Details so stressful, they make you forget what the big day is all about. Those details seem unavoidable in this day and age, but this is about returning to what is important.

When putting together the guest list, we just both began to stress about how other people who would feel. Whether it be about the catering we chose or something more, it weighed heavily on the both of us. I was so stressed about the details that when I showed up to my new spiritual men’s group, I really needed to be told that this day was about us. Being able to be open and honest in a group of men, searching for spiritual solutions to everyday life, they told me to let go of the details. They told me that this day is about being surrounded by the people you love and the loved ones who want to celebrate that love. I felt this deep knot of stress begin to unwind. I had known the truth, but I finally began to accept it. It took hearing that from others, in a spiritual safe space, and being honest. A weight had been lifted and I began to feel excited once more for our big day.

Returning to what is important, Lisa and I hold the belief that our wedding day is a very spiritual day. If we did not view it as such, we would have chosen to elope instead of hosting a wedding. Our relationship really forming and maintaining, has a lot to do with my own connection with G-D. We hold the belief that we are fully committing ourselves to one another in the eyes of G-D. November 8th is the biggest magnification of that held belief. Perhaps it is because of the sacred rituals like signing of the Ketubah. Perhaps it is the chapel with the awe-inspiring Christian glass work and icons. These details that make our day unique to all other days in our lives. These details make this a Holy Day. There are the details I need to be reminded of day in and day out.

Up until this past week, it was the little details. The necessary but less significant details had (and sometimes still continue) to bog us down. However, we need to be reminded what this day is truly about. Those details. It is about our love. Those who support that love. And G-D. AND FUN. They are reinforced by spiritual mentors and in morning meditation. And most importantly, it is our job as a couple to remember those and try not to get lost in all the other details.

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Ketubah

My sisters, Michelle (far right) and Carolyn (in blue), with a portrait Michelle painted for our High School

I come from a family of artists. My mom’s grandfather was an amazing painter. My dad’s brother is the cartoonist for Sally Forth. Dave, my brother, runs the Combat Paper Program from the Printmaking Center of NJ. Carolyn, my sister won the 2010 Congressional Art Award and had her artwork displayed in the Nation’s Capitol. And, my other sister, Michelle, has created dozens of pastels, charcoals, and paintings, which are hung in galleries and homes throughout Delaware.  My family is very artistically gifted, with each member having his or her own unique style and preferred medium.

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.

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Finding a Rabbi for Two

Lisa and I attending the New Members Dinner at Temple Sholom

A question that all soon-to-be married couples must ask, who is going to officiate our wedding?

The most popular answer among weddings I have attended all seem to be: close friends who are ordained by the state. When dealing with an interfaith couple, the answers get a little more complicated. Do we ask our rabbi? Do we ask a priest?

As I spoke about in my last post, it was very important for Lisa to be married in the chapel. It was important to me to have a rabbi marry us. Without much thought it was a compromise that made this one step closer to a truly interfaith wedding ceremony.

We had decided to ask a rabbi to marry us, but it was not that simple. Still in today’s age it is rather unpopular to marry interfaith couples, or at least that is my perception. It was not an option to use the rabbis who shaped me until this point. The rabbi I had as a child has passed on. My most recent rabbi is 600 miles away. We are on a budget and just could not afford to bring him to Cincinnati. Since moving in February of 2013, I was still in search of a temple where I felt comfortable, and where Lisa would be welcome.

Back on the east coast, I had a small, 150 family congregation. Three out of four weeks, the services were done in a Conservative style I really gravitated toward. It was small and welcoming and socially liberal. It was filled with several interfaith families, LGBT couples, and a lot of other groups that made it a welcome place. It truly was unique. It was much different than the Reform services I attended in my youth.

I came to Cincinnati to find that, but Cincinnati is a small city and I was left with two very different choices. On the one hand, I attended regular services at a Conservative temple, but there was no formal rabbi. The community was great, but the lack of a rabbi did bother me. However, I liked the services which felt a lot like I those back on the east coast. At the Reform congregations, I felt as though I had outgrown the style of services, but there were plenty of rabbis to go around. I found myself uncomfortable with musical accompaniments for a lot of the services. I found myself connecting less during those services. However, I knew Lisa may be more welcome there.

It was tough. I had to talk to my spiritual advisors. I emailed with my old rabbi. I sat in prayer. I spoke with Lisa almost after every Friday night.

We kept coming back to Temple Sholom. It was a smaller community than some other locations, so that fit with both of our sensibilities. Lisa had never been to any sort of Jewish religious service, so it was great to be able to sit down on a Friday night at home and stream in services as an introduction. It meant Lisa wouldn’t be overwhelmed and it alleviated my irrational fear that Lisa would hate attending services.

Temple Sholom also has a wonderful spiritual leader, Rabbi Miriam Terlinchamp. We knew she was one of the few area rabbis who performed interfaith marriages. She had moved from Conservative to Reform and I felt I would be making that same transition. She had also spent time working with inmates and if you remember from my introduction post, I spend my free time every Monday offering guidance at a local correctional facility. It was also easier for Lisa to connect with a female Rabbi.

After one last sign, we made the appointment with Rabbi Terlinchamp. After one session, we filled out the membership paperwork and scheduled our marriage class appointments. I may not have the same rabbi for guidance as the rabbi I have grown used to, but WE have a rabbi that will officiate our marriage and help us both grow spiritually.

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Passover and Beyond

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.

Our humble and joyous 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!

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A Keefe Easter

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.

My youngest sister, Theresa, on Easter

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!

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Passover Seder with Both Families

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.

won't you help me sing these songs of freedom?

Passover Seder with Both Families

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.

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Under God, In a Chapel, With a Rabbi

Welcome back. If you remember from our introduction, our wedding date is November 8th of this year! It is 205 days away, but then again, who’s counting? ;)

If you know anything about a wedding, you know it takes careful time and preparation. That is not unique to an inter-faith wedding, but some of the things on the check list are approached with a different perspective.

Let’s start with the reception venue. The reception space is always one of the biggest items on anyone’s wedding check list. We went with a re-done barn, known as The Centennial Barn, which was built in 1898, but renovated in 2010 in order to host events. What is great about this space is that not only is it affordable, but the money spent here actually has a higher purpose. The money goes into the work of the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor. A few examples of the Sisters’ community work are to provide haircuts for the homeless, bring art into poverty stricken parts of the city and help young women to make better lives for themselves by helping them to get off the street. Helping others is a big part of who Lisa and I are as individuals and as a couple. Lisa spends many of her hours volunteering as a Merchandise Director for an amateur sports team here in Cincinnati. I work in the nonprofit sector, but also do community outreach mentoring. No matter what faith we fall into, helping others is a tenet for everyone. We didn’t realize reception site picking would end up being a faith-based decision!

The reception choice was easy, but the wedding ceremony would involve a lot more conversation and lot more faith discussions.

One thing to know about Lisa is that she is a grounded individual. She balances my often imaginative personality. We all have our desires as human beings, but Lisa tends to keep it realistic and much more achievable. If she wants something she tends to have fear about putting it out in the world. On the grounds of the Centennial Barn, there is a beautiful chapel, the St. Clare Chapel. When Lisa saw the Chapel, she wanted to get married there. It was comforting to her faith and she knew it would mean a lot to her every-Sunday-church-going family as well. However, we had decided to have a Rabbi marry us… Would the nuns be OK with this decision? Would our Rabbi be OK with this decision? I had to ask myself if I was OK with this decision.

It didn’t take much meditation though. I knew I was OK with it. I always want to provide for Lisa, even if it is just happiness. I knew from some interfaith classes I had attended that it was important to encourage one another’s faith, and getting married in the chapel was a way in which I could support Lisa. Plus, she had agreed to have a Rabbi marry us, which was more important to me than the venue.

The Chapel is not as easy as writing a check either. We needed approval from the Arch Bishop of Cincinnati. So here I was, a Jew, writing a letter to the Arch Bishop and the Nuns trying to convince them to let us get married in a chapel. The letter was not far off from this entry, but I knew at the end of the day that I simply could not buy the space and had to trust in G-d to show us that this space was for our big day. When I got the approval, the Head Sister (Nun) sat me down and said that they prayed (and she admitted–cried) for us because they were so touched by our story and our trust in G-d. We had our wedding day venues!

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