When Online Dating Went Off the Grid

  

online dating

When I was single, I spent a lot of time on OKCupid. But when I got Jean’s message, I’d never seen her profile before. My filter was set to see only women up to age 33. I was 37. Jean was 36.

I wasn’t ageist—at least that’s what I tell myself—but I want to have kids. When I did the math in my head—1 year minimum dating + 1 year minimum engagement + 1 year minimum to have a baby—the math got hard. There were other things to be wary of. She was a teacher. I had dated teachers before and was looking for something different. And then, under religion: “Catholic.”

When you’ve spent enough time on dating sites, you know what it means (or what you think it means) when someone who isn’t Jewish mentions their religion. It’s a big, almost political, statement. It means their religion means something to them. It means they knowingly are excluding a significant number of potential suitors who are actively anti-religious, non-religious or uncomfortable with the whole topic. And it probably excludes another not insignificant number of people who are wary of anyone being too serious about anything on OKCupid.

My profile said “Jewish.” But “Jewish” comes with a lot more useful flexibility than “Catholic.” When people write “Jewish,” they could be declaring an important part of their identity. Or, they could be sharing an interesting detail, a conversational topic for late in a good first date. They could be including “Jewish” for other Jews on the site who will only date Jews, as a way to make it through their filter. Occasionally, people write “Jewish” because they’re actually religious. Then again—most of those people are on JDate instead.

I wasn’t against dating someone who wasn’t Jewish. But I want to raise my kids Jewish. “Catholic” signaled a different intention.

But she was cute. She was rock-climbing in one picture. She held a (good) beer in another. There wasn’t a pink Red Sox hat or Macchu Picchu picture in sight. I liked her message to me: It was thoughtful. She had read my profile. She appreciated that I noted that I was aware that my job description sounded “douchy.” (I’m a business strategy consultant for the telecom industry. It does sound douchy.) I liked that. Also, I had recently broken up with somebody—a “perfect on paper” and Jewish, but not so perfect a match in reality, somebody—and was still kind of beat up about it. So I wasn’t looking for anything serious at this point. I figured we could have fun for a little while.

She was late for our first date. Not terribly late, only 15 minutes or so.

“I’m sorry, I’m a time optimist,” she said, a little out of breath. She didn’t seem sorry.

“It’s OK. I used to be a punctuality Nazi,” I said. “But I’ve mellowed.”

On our fourth date, she came over to my apartment.

By this point, I knew I liked her. She was smart. She was funny and self-deprecating but confident. She was a great listener. We always had something to talk about. But she didn’t fit my script. The age, the profession, the religion, a vegetarian to boot. It sounds shallow—and it is. But online dating’s greatest attraction (and no doubt its deepest flaw) is that it offers the promise of enough choice to find someone who actually fits your script. No settling necessary.

Liking her carried another danger, more significant than the risk of going off-script. Permanence. Permanence with somebody who cares enough about their religion that they include it on their online dating profile. Permanence with somebody who may feel strongly about raising her children Catholic, and will probably have better, clearer reasons for doing so than I do for wanting to raise my kids Jewish.

We were lying in bed, smiling at each other.

I asked her the question I knew could end things.

“Soooo…,” I said, turning toward the ceiling. “This Catholic thing. What does it mean for you, in terms of how your kids are raised?”

She sat up. She seemed intrigued, not anxious, about the serious turn the conversation had taken.

I wasn’t sure what answer I wanted to hear.

“Well. When a guy says they’re Jewish on their online profile, I know it usually means he wants to raise his children Jewish. I wouldn’t have sent you a message if I weren’t prepared to do that.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously!” she said. “I go to church because I was raised Catholic. But I would probably be Muslim if I were raised Muslim. Or be Jewish if I were raised Jewish. I just want my children to be raised in a religion. What religion that is is less important.”

This was someone to take seriously. What kind of person thinks a first message on OKCupid all the way through to child-rearing? Or rather, what kind of person actually makes a decision about a major life compromise they’d be willing to make before they hit Send? I knew she was thoughtful, but this was another level.

But this wasn’t just a hurdle cleared, or even just a deep source of potential future conflict addressed early on and head-on. It was a gift, yes—as it is for all Jewish people whose partners are willing to make this compromise. It was also a challenge.

When two Jewish people decide to have a family, this kind of conversation can be put on the backburner. Regardless of whether they send their kids to Hebrew school or whether they observe Shabbat, the parents can be confident their children will identify as Jewish. Two Jewish parents + bagels and lox + appreciation for Woody Allen movies = Jewish upbringing. But when your partner who puts “Catholic” on her OKCupid profile says, “I just want my children to be raised in a religion,” she is laying down a challenge: If you are making me sacrifice sharing my religion with my children, then you better be ready to share yours. Bagels and lox + Woody Allen movies ≠ Jewish upbringing. This means Hebrew school, bar mitzvahs, weekly Shabbat perhaps, talking to your children about God…

What had I gotten myself into?

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A Jewish Wedding for a Catholic Girl

  

I was raised Catholic. I have received sacraments in the Catholic Church including Baptism, Penance, Holy Communion and Confirmation. While spirituality has always been an important part of my life, it has been a part of me that I have kept more reserved. As I grew through adolescence and into adulthood, the thought of marrying someone of a different religious background never crossed my mind. But after meeting Jarrett and growing closer, our different faiths became a norm in our relationship. We continue to teach each other about our different religious backgrounds and continue to respect each other for these differences… and that is how our relationship works.

Jarrett has been my wedding date to 10 weddings in the last two years. We have watched some of our closest friends and family members marry their significant others in Catholic, Jewish, Christian and non-denominational ceremonies. As each wedding came and went, I found myself thinking about what kind of wedding ceremony I might someday have. It wasn’t until Jarrett and I got engaged in March of 2015 that I realized my thoughts would soon become actions as we prepared to plan our interfaith wedding.

Happy at a wedding

One of my first Jewish Wedding experiences!

When Jarrett and I sat down to begin wedding planning, he expressed to me how important it was to him to be married by a rabbi in a Jewish wedding ceremony. At this point in time, I had been to two Jewish weddings but felt they were truly unique and memorable. I liked that the Jewish ceremonies were personal and intimate with a strong focus on the bride and groom. While I have always felt that Catholic wedding ceremonies are beautiful and meaningful, I had never dreamed of getting married in a Catholic church and this was not a requirement I needed in order to marry my best friend. What mattered to me was what Jarrett felt to be important for our big day. It was special to hear him explain that his Jewish heritage was very important to him and that having a Jewish wedding was something he had always wanted. So it was settled. We would be married by a rabbi in an interfaith wedding ceremony with an emphasis on Jewish traditions. The only problems were, I did not know a lot about Jewish wedding traditions and had no idea where we would find an interfaith rabbi to marry us!

As fate would have it, while working in Philadelphia one day, I had a meeting with a pharmaceutical representative. At the end of the meeting, I asked her if she had plans for the upcoming holiday weekend (Easter). When she responded that she was Jewish and celebrates Passover, I found myself feeling somewhat embarrassed that I hadn’t considered this before asking the question. I apologized then explained that my fiancé is also Jewish and that I celebrate Passover with him and his family. She asked about wedding planning and I explained that we had plans to look for a rabbi to marry us. She excitedly responded that she has a very close friend who just so happens to be a rabbi and the director of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia. She gave me her friend’s contact information and I reached out to introduce myself. Jarrett and I met with Rabbi Robyn Frisch and knew our search for the right wedding officiant was over before it had really even begun. Rabbi Frisch was kind, easy-going and non-judgmental. We look forward to working with her over the next several months and having her as an essential part of our big day!

During our second meeting with Rabbi Frisch, she provided us with some information to guide our decision-making through the ceremony-planning process. I was relieved to have someone to teach us more about Jewish wedding traditions so I could expand my knowledge and understanding throughout the planning process. Over the next several months, Jarrett and I will be busy making important decisions including designing our chuppah, choosing a ketubah and determining which Jewish wedding traditions to incorporate into our ceremony. As we continue to move closer to our wedding date, we are also looking forward to the opportunity to participate in InterfaithFamily’s “Love and Religion” Workshop which will give Jarrett and I the opportunity to dive deeper into some challenging scenarios that may arise in our future as an interfaith couple. I feel this will help strengthen our bond and allow us to learn even more about each other as we approach marriage. I look forward to sharing our wedding planning experiences as we move closer to saying “I do” in eight short months!

wedding venue

Where we will tie the knot in an interfaith wedding ceremony 8 months from now!

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The Honeymoon is Over … and That’s Not a Bad Thing

  

Just married

The wedding was over a month ago, and we had a fantastic honeymoon in the Galapagos Islands and mainland Ecuador. It was an incredible mix of beautiful scenery, wildlife, laid back people and delicious food. It was insanely hard leaving behind 80-degree tropical weather with limitless ocean and volcano views to return to 10-degree gray and dreary weather in Philadelphia. But we did, and we are back with stories to tell.

I have been sick twice in the last two weeks since I got back (it’s been a bad winter) and I am working on making a complete career shift that is both scary and exciting. Back to reality. As it happens, the phrase “the honeymoon is over” feels pretty apropos, but luckily not regarding our relationship.

Over the last two weeks I have returned to my gratefulness practice where I can truly appreciate the unbelievable experiences we had and the opportunities we were given with the wedding.

There was something intangibly special about our wedding. Having everyone we loved in one place cheering us on and celebrating this milestone was a high I will carry with me forever. The photos we have and the trailer video from our videographer are mind blowing and awesome. They capture our love and admiration for each other, which is something I will cherish for many years to come.

First look

The first look

I look forward to watching my wedding video trailer (and the longer one still in progress) when we are at our highest and lowest moments, to remember how we felt on our wedding day. If you are planning a wedding and can splurge for a videographer in your wedding budget, do it. It is something you will have forever, long after the funny stories and fuzzy memories fade. It is something we would not have done because of cost, so having this included in the contest we won was such a blessing. But if I had to do it again, it is something I would spring for.

Our ceremony was exactly what we hoped it would be—intimate and meaningful—and it honored both of our religious backgrounds. Jose’s side loved seeing the Jewish traditions; his older relatives gave us feedback that they were glad they could witness them for the first time. My side adored the Filipino traditions, especially the arras, or exchanging of coins, and the cord and veil ritual, where Jose and I were clothed in a veil and a cord shaped in an infinity sign while we exchanged short promises.

Chord and veil ritual

We chose seven friends and relatives to recite seven blessings to us in English, as a nod to the Jewish tradition of a rabbi reciting the Sheva Brachot, or seven blessings, in Hebrew. We rewrote them to words that made sense for us and it was beautiful to have our loved ones say those words back to us.

We also did a candle lighting ceremony where our parents lit two candles and we used their flames to light our unity candle, as a nod to the Filipino tradition of the parents “lighting the way” for the new couple. We also incorporated the Jewish tradition of saying a blessing and drinking wine, and Jose broke the glass at the end of the ceremony, followed by a huge “Mazel tov!” from the crowd.

Candle lighting ceremony

Drinking the wine

The night before the wedding really set the tone for the weekend. We hosted a ketubah signing ceremony for our immediate families and the wedding party. This was something I thought long and hard about for months during wedding planning. Winning the contest was amazing in so many ways, but it was important to me to still have the intimate ceremony I always dreamed of. At the ketubah signing, we had our rabbi from our synagogue officiate by explaining what the document is and the meaning of it, and then leading us through signing it. We also lit Hanukkah candles for the sixth night of Hanukkah and Shabbat candles, since it was a Friday night.

Jose signing the ketubah

Jose wanted to write his name transliterated in Hebrew, so he used a note card provided by the rabbi!

We were able to accomplish a personal and meaningful feeling at our ceremony, thanks to our outstanding officiant who donated her services for the contest, Jill Magerman. I can’t recommend her highly enough. I feel like she is a part of our little family now.

But not everything went so easily. Two days before our wedding, Jose’s first cousin lost her courageous battle with cancer. It was devastating; she had her entire life before her and young children and a wonderful husband we all adore. We did our best to honor her life at our ceremony and to fill the hole left by her absence with happy memories from the evening. We were not able to be with Jose’s family at her funeral, but we said prayers for her while we were on our honeymoon.

Selfie at the yichudAfter the ceremony, Jose and I took a few moments alone for the Jewish tradition of yichud, or seclusion. It is a chance for us, as a newly married couple, to spend a few cherished moments alone before being showered with love by our family and friends at the reception. It was such a nice break in the day, and gave us a chance to take our first married selfie with our new rings.

The reception was the most fun I have ever had. We hired DJ Deejay, a nightlife and wedding deejay we go to see often, and he played non stop hits. (His slogan when he spins at Silk City Diner is “playing anything you can shake your hips to.”) I danced myself to exhaustion! It was glorious. I remember my face hurt so much from smiling and my voice was sore from singing.

We honored a bunch of traditions at the reception too: the hora (for the Jews), the money dance (for the Filipinos) and the anniversary dance. We did the cake cutting and I smashed cake in Jose’s face (sorry babe). But we did not do a bouquet or garter toss (sorry wedding party), although I did have some awesome friends recreate a bouquet toss of their own, which was hilarious.

The speeches by my parents, Jose’s mom and Uncle Jun, my sister (Maid of Honor) and Jose’s brother (Best Man) left me floored. I was seriously blown away by the power of their words and genuine joy that our families felt for us. And the craziest part was that my sister and Jose’s brother chose the exact same Dr. Seuss quote in their speeches, without planning it:

“We’re all a little weird. And life is a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness — and call it love — true love.”

Hold on, are we really that weird?

Ultimately nothing was better than Jose’s poetic vows. I knew he was sentimental and a great orator, but I had no idea he could tug at my heartstrings that hard. Jeez, he had me sobbing! And then smiling. And then laughing. His best line came off the cuff. He planned what he was going to say but then winged it to make it even better. He said, “Before I met you, I was singin’, I was dancin’, I was fine.” [Roar of laughter from the audience.] “Now you’re the music I dance to and the song that I sing.” [More sobbing from me!]

Our first dance was to Jason Mraz’s “I Won’t Give Up” which has a very special meaning to us. When we found ourselves playing it daily we knew it had to become our first dance song. Our favorite line is: “I won’t give up on us / Even if the skies get rough / I’m giving you all my love / I’m still looking up.” I can still hear the first few guitar chords playing in my head and it makes me tear up.

My father/daughter dance was also a highlight for me. We chose another Jason Mraz song, “93 Million Miles,” that holds a lot of meaning for me and my dad. Substitute the word “daughter” for “son” and the lyrics are basically a transcript of words he has said to me in the not so distant past. My parents have helped me out of difficult times, and to them I am so grateful. The song goes: “Oh, my my, how beautiful / oh my irrefutable father / He told me, ‘Son, sometimes it may seem dark, but the absence of the light is a necessary part.’” And for my mother who believes in me as I embark on a new career path: “Oh, my my, how beautiful / oh my beautiful mother / She told me, ‘Son, in life you’re gonna go far / If you do it right you’ll love where you are.’”

I think about the lessons my parents have taught me and those lyrics daily. They so beautifully capture the bond we have and the love and respect I have for how well they have raised me and my sister. I will have a lot to live up to when I become a parent!

I am not sure whether our guests noticed but Jose produced the wedding like a show, with acoustic versions of our first dance and other songs teased in at the ceremony and then played in full at the reception. He might have a second career in theater production.

As I settle back into real life, I find myself feeling my name change to my married surname to be very cool and very jarring. I am so happy to take Jose’s last name. Really giddy actually to be that solidly connected to him, but a name is such a huge part of anyone’s identity. And in my yoga teaching and writing I am Emily Golomb. It’s so weird to see my new name, Emily Sabalbaro, on Facebook and in print, and it will certainly take some getting used to. But my favorite part is that it marks the official start of a new chapter. As of December 12, 2015, I am beloved, and my beloved is mine.

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In Our Love Story, Timing Was Everything

  

Stephanie & JarrettIt has been said that timing is everything. This belief is especially true for the evolution of my relationship with Jarrett over the last six years.

I first met Jarrett in February of 2010. Our encounter was brief. I was a junior at Penn State University and out with a group of girlfriends one night. I ran into Jarrett and his friend on my way to the bar. They introduced themselves, we exchanged a few words then I continued on as usual with my evening. Just another night out in State College…or so I thought.

A few weeks later, I was out to dinner celebrating my roommate’s birthday. Toward the end of our meal, I received a text from a friend. She said they were at a bar around the corner and that I should meet them after dinner. Now, it was a Wednesday night. I had a tough course schedule that semester and didn’t love the idea of staying out late on a weeknight. I told her I was tired and didn’t think I was going to make it. She responded with, “but there is someone here that wants to see you.” Curiosity got the best of me and after all, it was Saint Patrick’s Day. Being a redhead of Irish descent, I couldn’t disappoint my ancestors on this holiday, right? So, I finished up dinner and headed to Café 210 West.

When I approached my friends, I noticed there were a few boys with them and right in the center of the group sat Jarrett….timing is everything, right? I learned that a few of his fraternity brothers were friends with a group of my girlfriends. I was still skeptical. I mean, he was a fraternity boy (which must mean trouble) and a senior getting ready to graduate. I thought he would have no interest in dating. But, as I sat with him that evening, I learned that he was funny, confident and kind. We talked and hung out in the weeks leading up to his graduation. He even asked me to be his date to his Senior Fraternity Formal! But we never talked about our status as a couple.

After he graduated, we went our separate ways. I moved back in with my parents for the summer in Gilbertsville, PA, and he moved back in with his mom in Cherry Hill, NJ.  I thought for sure we would fall out of touch. But one summer day, he asked if I wanted to go on a date. We saw each other every few weeks after that and officially started dating! As we got to know each other more, he learned that I was raised Catholic and I learned that he was raised Jewish. This wasn’t anything new for me as I had a Jewish roommate in college who taught me the basics of Jewish traditions. Also, while I would say I’m a spiritual person, my Catholic faith background wasn’t the only thing that defined me. Plus, I liked this boy! And who knew where our relationship would go? I was only 21 years old at the time and wasn’t planning for marriage.

The following three years meant long distance for our relationship. I finished my senior year at Penn State, graduated and moved to Maryland to complete a dietetic internship to become a Registered Dietitian. He started his career in sales in New Jersey. Throughout the long distance, we strengthened our relationship through milestones such as meeting extended families and celebrating different holidays together for the first time including Passover, Easter, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Hanukkah and Christmas!

Engaged!

Proposal at the Nittany Lion Shrine

In the summer of 2013, we decided it was time to fix the distance between us. We started talking more about our future together and had some of the “tougher” conversations about things like where we should live, finances, marriage (more about that later) and children. In September of 2013, we made an offer on our first home in Cherry Hill, NJ.  I was offered a new job in Philadelphia (a short drive away) on the same day that our offer was accepted…they say timing is everything!

Just in case we didn’t have enough responsibility as new homeowners, we decided to adopt a golden retriever puppy in September 2014. We named him Nittany after our beloved alma mater.  On March 20, 2015, Jarrett, Nittany and I took a road trip back to Penn State for a mini-getaway. Upon our arrival, we stopped for a quick family photo-op at the Nittany Lion Shrine and to my surprise; Jarrett got down on one knee with Nittany as his witness and proposed in the place we had met almost five years to the day…timing is everything!

We will tie the knot in an interfaith ceremony in October 2016. I look forward to sharing our interfaith wedding planning journey!

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The Day is Almost Here!

  
Wedding invitation

The front of Emily and Jose’s handmade wedding invitation

With days left until my wedding, I started reflecting on the planning process and how my life has changed in the year since we got engaged. Many changes large and small, good and bad, have defined my last year, and I have grown from it all. Most important, I am going into the wedding day with a new perspective on happiness and an eagerness to celebrate that joy with my best friend.

Happiness is not always some grand gesture, and it is not about being positive all the time. It is not about having only good things happen to you. The bad things that happened in my life taught me that happiness is in the subtleties. It is smiling at a stranger on the street and having them smile back. It is noticing how bright the sky is. It is watching the beads of water that collect on your partner’s skin in the shower, the tiny twitch above his eyebrow when he is thinking and the edge of his dimple curl as he tells a joke to cheer you up.

Happiness is finding balance. It is going to the edge of your comfort zone, balancing there, and trying not to fall long enough for that to become your new equilibrium. After all, that is what I teach my yoga students, so why can’t it be a life philosophy, too? To find your balance, you do not hold your breath and stay still. You breathe, you adjust, you waiver, and you may even fall. But the fall lets you know definitively where the edge of your balance is, and that is often a quicker and more poignant lesson than standing still.

In the spirit of learning and growing, I’m going to share my insight on my own Wedding Planning Process. I’m debating whether to even type this, but I think it may be funny for folks to read, and it may even be comforting. When we are in a good place, we often gloss over the bad, but I want to share my comedic take on where I have been with wedding planning the last year, because it has not all been pretty! I have gone through three distinct phases:

Stage 1 – Lust

This was my “Everything is Perfect” phase. Ohmigod we just got engaged, we are so happy, we are perfect together, I’m on top of the world! Ahh!!!! My face hurts from smiling! Oh you want to hear my proposal story? GLADLY!  But sit down, it’ll take me 30 minutes, because I want to tell every single detail. I was the Blushing Bride, and I thrived off of how happy it made me and the people around me. Throw a wedding contest into the mix that we won, and this lust stage lasted far longer than it may have otherwise. I was on cloud nine and nothing could bring me down.

Stage 2 – Screw This

This was my “Everything Sucks” phase. It was impossible to be the Blushing Bride forever. The bubble had to burst, and life helped it burst by adding some extra crap into the mix. Lots of extra crap. Thanks Life, now I am the Depressed Bride. (Really.) Oh I’m supposed to plan all these tiny details I care nothing about? Great, well I don’t care anyway. That makes it better to not care, right? I’ll go through the motions, or I’ll procrastinate and nothing will get done. Ugh, that just made it even worse. I could have avoided going to the opposite extreme of the lust stage, but I do think a lot of people in my shoes would have done the same.

Stage 3 – Let’s Do This

This is my “Everything Just Is” phase, and by that, I mean that it is perfect to us. Everything just is, for better or worse. Everything is how it is for a reason, and I accept and am grateful for that. Accepting the good with the bad, both in the wedding planning, in myself and in Jose, and knowing the decisions that were made will be amazing. That turned everything around for me. Maybe others would not struggle with oscillating between extremes in the way that I did, but that is part of what makes me who I am. That is why I devote extra attention to incorporating a daily mindfulness practice to stay balanced. Our best teachers in life often struggle from the problems they try to fix, and I hope that my personal experience working to stay balanced can inspire and lead others.

I am working hard to be the Balanced Bride and it feels great. I am eagerly anticipating the wedding day and the happiness I will feel looking into Jose’s eyes. My engagement photos already showed me how happy I can be while some not-so-happy things were going on. There are things that will give Jose and I heavy hearts on our wedding day, but we must remember to feel grateful for the good things we do have in life. I can’t wait until I get to marry my best friend!

invitation suppliesBeing this reflective in this third stage, I am incredibly proud of myself for accomplishing the feat of making my own invitations from scratch while I was in the second stage. I started the project to prove something to myself, and I surely did. While I wish that I did the project not to counter the crap going on in my life but to be fully devoted to the project, I no longer look at it that way. I proved to myself that I could learn an entirely new skill—making a wedding invitation.

I ordered paper online after careful research, did meticulous math to figure out the right sizes for making a tri-fold folder enclosure, invitation and additional inserts, and designed and printed the invitation and inserts with the help of my graphic designer friend. I cut, scored, folded, taped, corner rounded, aligned, belly banded and sealed all the invitations from scratch. I even took them to be hand stamped at the original Philadelphia post office (great call if you are deciding between that and regular mail). I pushed myself to do everything and I am grateful that I did. If you want any tips on how to make invitations, please ask! I don’t want to bore everyone with the details here.

making the invitationsBottom line is, remember in an earlier post where I wondered whether I could make the invitations from scratch or whether it would be a DIY disaster? Well it was far from a disaster, and the fact that most people did not even know they were handmade was the best part for me. Thanks guys!

But I would be remiss not to mention this for future brides: What seems fun doing one or two is not as fun when you do 100. Be prepared for blood, sweat and tears. (Really.) I did have an army of helpers on hand. Thank you to all of the family and friends who helped. You saved me from pulling my hair out and I could not have done it without you.

Here are some more photos of the process. If I ever decide to open at Etsy shop for invitations, at least I have all the supplies now! (But that will never happen.)

assembling invite

wedding invitations

addressed invitation

handstamped invitation

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The Mindful Bride

  
Engagement shoot

Emily and Jose at their engagement shoot in Philadelphia

Jose and I have recently incorporated a new practice into our lives to help prepare for our marriage. We have a daily mindfulness practice that helps us stop and appreciate each other and what we have. We take time to communicate what we are grateful for—both the good and bad things that happen in life—because all of that helps us evolve together. We practice being grateful for the present moment and appreciating the time we have together.

We recently had our engagement photo shoot, and it was amazing. To spend an hour looking into Jose’s eyes, hugging and kissing him, was exactly what I needed to take my mind off things. I am grateful for the photos, since I can always look back on them and remember the wild ride that wedding planning has been, and the fact that in the midst of it all we look truly happy. The photos captured our love in a way that I can never put into words (and believe me, I am trying to find the words as I attempt to write my own vows), but it is evident in the way we look at each other and in our smiles.

I have always kept a journal, and I recently read a journal entry of mine from two months after Jose and I started dating, on the evening of my birthday on June 30, 2009. Jose was in the Philippines for a family reunion, and I was at my house alone. It was clear that our love was strong from the start, with all the times I wrote “I miss him” and “I want to spend my life with him.” But what I truly enjoyed reading is something I am grateful for now.

I wrote about the serious doubts I had for our interfaith relationship. I questioned every aspect: how we’d raise kids, how our kids would self-identify, what I would think if my kids “chose” Jose’s Catholic religion, what values are important to our families and how we would navigate those desires and balance them with our own. Would I acquiesce on incorporating Jewish traditions into my home, or would I even care five, 10, 15 years down the road? Would I become more or less Jewish as I got older? Would I want a Christmas tree in my house? Would I sing Christmas carols? Would Jose accept if my opinions on religion changed over the years? Finally, should religion be a deal-breaker?

From the start of our relationship, I was honest and communicated my concerns with Jose, and we worked on it together. I read that entry now with a huge smile on my face. I am grateful that we grew together from the experience and tackled the challenge, to the point where it’s no longer an issue. Of course, religion will still present challenges throughout our lives but we have built a solid foundation of love and acceptance to face those challenges.

After thoughtful discussions and honest answers, Jose and I decided that we would only look at our religions as an asset to our relationship, not as an impediment. Our backgrounds are a means for us to see the world through a different lens and to become more empathetic and compassionate human beings. We have been a team from the start, and we have taken a true interest in and respect for each other’s cultures. I didn’t fully realize until now, re-reading that entry, just how far we have come.

Our new daily mindfulness practice begins with the idea of being grateful. Jose and I reflect on three things we are grateful for that happened during the day. Because we are vocalizing these things and giving them careful consideration, they usually end up being bigger picture things. Often just stepping back from the minutiae of our lives to reflect on the positive is enough to pull our minds out of the rut that can drag us down. We started doing this at the suggestion of a life coach we met (her name is Pax Tandon if you’re inclined to look her up and work with her) and we try to do it every night before dinner.

Because it is a practice and nobody is perfect, it’s freaking hard. It’s a challenge just to shell out the time to have a mindful dinner, meaning clearing off the table and putting things in serving bowls (instead of eating out of whatever containers the to-go food came in or right off the pan), and talking to each other instead of watching TV. After a long day, we just want to wind down and sit on the couch. Sometimes that is what we need, so we do that, but mostly it feels more satisfying to challenge ourselves to do the gratefulness practice. We have made huge strides in our positivity and stress management from just a few short weeks of this.

Whether you are planning a wedding or just going about your daily life, practicing mindfulness can have an immense benefit on your life. But it is a practice, and it doesn’t just happen in one day. There are ample articles popping up on the benefits of mindfulness, and as a yoga teacher, I am a firm believer in the practice. Mindfulness means letting go of the past and not worrying about the future, replacing all of those thoughts with an awareness of and appreciation for the present. If that sounds impossible to you, you’re mostly right. No human can entirely live in the present moment, because we carry our past experiences with us at all times. But the practice means we take simple, measurable steps each day to expand our ability to live in the present, and it really does open our eyes to the subtleties in life we would have otherwise ignored.

Mindfulness can mean you incorporate meditation (even a short, comfortable seated five-minute meditation) or set intentions for your day (a to-do list that you check off), or maybe even make reminders to take deep breaths. It means working on belly breathing: breathing diaphragmatically, not into your upper chest. It means considering and being grateful for the food you eat, where it came from and how many steps it took to get to you. Gratefulness is a part of mindful living, and taking that step alone to incorporate thoughts into your day of what you are grateful for, instead of what you don’t have, can have a huge impact.

If you choose to incorporate this practice into your life, allow yourself space to think about the negatives, even to complain about them, but don’t let them consume you. You may try to think of the things that are not going how you thought they would, what you wish to change, and what hurts you, and then immediately follow those thoughts with positives to counter it. Or you may try to start with a positive and find that the negative seems so slight in comparison. When there are really big negatives in your life and they seem insurmountable (believe me I can relate) you might try to break down each day into parts and find a small bit of positivity and gratefulness in a few moments. If you’re interested in incorporating mindfulness practices into your life, I would be happy to help steer you in the right direction for resources, and if you’re in Philly, I will absolutely drag you to a yoga class with me!

Most of all, what Jose and I have found in the last few weeks of incorporating a mindfulness practice is that we are so thankful that we are still here together, supporting each other and preparing for our marriage. Looking back on how far we have come and expressing gratitude for it, especially regarding our different religions, is so rewarding. Every relationship takes work and practice, and we are mindful that we need to consistently work to be the best we can be for each other. I encourage anyone reading to try this, because just knowing that your partner is showing up each day with as much care and effort as you are, even if your practice together that day sucks or if you half-ass it, is a game-changer. It has been a rock for us. The richness in overcoming the challenges that life gives us and growing stronger for it has gotten us to this point—a month and half until our wedding day, and I absolutely can’t wait! Let’s do this!

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How to Include Everyone in Our Jewish-Mexican Wedding

  

By Hila Ratzabi
Photos by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Wedding ceremony

When José and I first started dating, my Jewish parents were not pleased. Though my mom is fairly liberal, some instinct flared up in her that has roots in centuries of Jewish fear of disappearance. Though that fear has lessened over the decades for many Jewish families, particularly in the U.S., it still rises up for many people, sometimes unexpectedly. What if my daughter loses her Jewish identity?, some parents wonder. What if the grandchildren aren’t raised Jewish? Is this the end of the line?

For me and many other Jews like me, this fear is unfounded. I went to Jewish day school from kindergarten through high school, and even went on to get a degree in Jewish philosophy. While my Jewish practices have changed over the years, I have always been a proud and engaged Jewish woman. I was, and remain, confident that my connection to Judaism is strong enough to share with my husband who is not Jewish and our future children.

The road to acceptance took a few years, but by the time we were ready to get engaged my parents had thankfully come around. They gave us their blessing, and we set out to create a wedding that reflected my Jewish heritage and José’s Mexican culture.

We had it fairly easy in that José does not identify with a particular religious tradition. He is a scientist and committed atheist; as a child he briefly attended a Baptist religious school in the small town in Baja where he was raised, but he definitively broke off with religion when he awakened to his atheism. While being an atheist, José has always supported and joined in with my Jewish practices. I’m not a believer either, but I love Jewish holidays, attending services and grappling with the big questions in life. Judaism is the lens through which I consider ethical dilemmas and the source of my commitment to social and environmental justice. These are things we’re able to share.

We found an amazing Reconstructionist rabbi, Rachel Weiss, of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah—the gay/lesbian synagogue in New York City—to officiate at our wedding. Aside from being open-minded and accepting, Rabbi Weiss also had the added bonus of being fluent in Spanish. She had previously worked with Mexican immigrants, and we felt she understood both of our backgrounds.

Reading the ketubahTogether with Rabbi Weiss, we designed a ceremony that honored the dual heritage we were bringing together. We included traditional Jewish elements, including the chuppah (wedding canopy), the seven blessings, the circling of bride and groom, the ketubah (marriage contract) and the ring exchange. We wrote our own ketubah text instead of using the traditional text, and changed the language of the ring exchange and seven blessings to be more inclusive and universal. The witnesses who signed our ketubah included two of our close friends who happen to be another interfaith/intercultural couple—Jewish and Indian. We had watched them create a beautiful marriage that included both of their cultures, and were inspired by their example.

José’s grandmother was central to his upbringing, often standing in as a second parent since he didn’t have a father in his life, so we wanted to make sure she was included and would understand what was going on at the wedding. Since his grandmother doesn’t speak English, Rabbi Weiss explained each part of the ceremony before it was performed in both English and Spanish. José’s grandmother found the customs fascinating and listened intently as they were described. We also had traditional Mexican paper cutouts (papel picado) created for our wedding, which served as decoration at the entrance of the garden where the ceremony took place.

Papel picado

My own Jewish background is somewhat mixed, in that my mother is Ashkenazi and my father is Yemenite on his father’s side and Sephardic on his mother’s side. To honor my late grandmother, Rabbi Weiss sang a Jewish song in Ladino, the Judeo-Spanish language that my grandmother had spoken. This was another way to bridge our cultures, having a taste of the Spanish language woven into an ancient Jewish song.

The horaWhen it came to the reception, we just wanted to throw an awesome party. The raucous klezmer band Golem was essential to making that happen. The wedding took place in an art museum on Long Island, and since both José and I dabble in visual art, we made mini-paintings on mini-easels as souvenirs for our (very impressed) guests. We also brought a giant blank canvas and paints for guests to create a piece of collective artwork for us. The painting now hangs in our living room, reminding us of that incredible day.

During the reception, my mom gave a speech that chronicled her and my dad’s evolution in coming to accept and share the joy in our relationship. They had truly done a “180,” realizing over time that they had nothing to fear in my marrying “outside” the Jewish faith, and that I had found the life partner who was exactly right for me, and who they loved like a son. Now, three years later, I am pregnant, and we all can’t wait to bring another person into our crazy, mixed family. Among our plans for the baby: teaching it Hebrew, Spanish… and if there’s time, maybe even English.

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When S**t Got Real

  
Jose & Emily

Jose & Emily at a wedding over Labor Day

All the wedding planning up until now was smooth. It felt like a dream, somewhere between a fairytale type of dream and the feeling of being separated from reality. Like those moments when you first fall asleep and can’t decide whether you are awake. At some point, I should have pinched myself to see if I was awake. Instead, life took care of that for me.

Things in my life changed. Some things were bad. Things started happening in the lives of those very close to me. Everything collided simultaneously. No matter what was happening, it wasn’t raining—it was pouring, and I didn’t have an umbrella. S**t got real.

I get angry thinking about earlier Emily in her previous posts. Why was she so darn cheery? Why was everything such a breeze for her? Screw her! When serious things started to happen in my life, I didn’t think I could plan a wedding anymore. I did a lot of thinking and that thinking led to doubt. Were we making decisions without thinking about budget? What is our budget anyway? Did we research things enough to make informed decisions? Was this was the type of wedding I wanted? Were the things that were chosen for us as uniquely and appropriately “me” as I wanted them to be?

Yes, we won a wedding contest, and most of the vendors were chosen for us and are free, but other things are covered at a base price that we will end up upgrading. Still, other things are not covered at all. That may add up to a considerable amount of money in the long run. Since s**t had recently gotten real in my life, I started to get insanely frustrated when people said, “Well you won a free wedding so there’s not much to complain or worry about.” OK, maybe it was my fault for telling everyone it was free, but I was suddenly wrestling with my gratitude for winning and the reality of what the final bill would be. And I certainly did have a lot to complain and worry about aside from the wedding.

I am eternally appreciative of what we are receiving, and I hate saying anything that sounds less than grateful. After all, instead of being a free wedding, it’s probably more like the sale-of-a-lifetime on a wedding, which no one really gets, and that’s nothing to take lightly.

Things have started to come around for me. I think about where I was mentally in the last month, and I’m glad everything is evening out. I am excited to plan our wedding and I’m so excited to look into Jose’s eyes as I say my vows. I realize that’s what really matters, not all the silly decisions. He’s been my rock through this adversity, and I’m weirdly grateful for everything that’s happened, since this tough time has served to strengthen our partnership. It has reinforced that Jose is the man I want to spend my life with. He always has a way of making me laugh and bringing me back to what’s important in life. He’s my best friend and my soul mate.

I’ve turned the corner mentally, aided by the contemplative and introspective time of the Jewish “Days of Awe;” the time between the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). This time offers the chance to right your wrongs from the last year and reflect on how you’d like to improve in the next year. It’s an interesting task to contemplate the sins you’ve made against yourself, your loved ones and your community. This offers a chance to connect deeper with family members and those close to you, and to reach out for support.

With plenty of time to think, I arrived at a place of happiness and contentment with our wedding choices and with what we have been given. The wedding will be incredible, and not because it’s some magical fairytale, but because it’s real. Because it isn’t perfect. Because real s**t can happen in our lives and Jose and I can get through it together. Because we are better together than we are apart and I want to scream that from the top of the Loews Hotel Philadelphia in December!

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The DIY Conundrum

  

Save the Dates

Our wedding is three-and-a-half months away (yay!) and we have a lot to do. We checked off the major items and now we must decide on the smaller pieces. Should we do those things ourselves or hire professionals? The invitations, the honeymoon, and more—these are things we could design, plan and book ourselves if we want to. But do we want to?

In a dream world, which one could argue I spend too much time in, my love of Pinterest and TLC shows would translate into the DIY wedding of my dreams with no stress and at a fraction of the cost. These details that we have to plan now are not covered by the wedding contest that we won, so we can choose how to handle them. Do we put our stamp on them and hopefully save money, or do we spend money and let professionals handle them, because most other vendors are covered by the contest?

Sometimes I get lost in thought envisioning an alternate universe without the contest where I am three and a half months out but have drowned in a treacherous sea of bad DIY art projects flooded with ribbon and lace. It’s not a pretty scene. Maybe winning the contest saved me from myself, and I should let trained professionals handle the rest. After all, it’s a predictable formula where David Tutera has to swoop in to save the day: Girl gets big ideas for DIY wedding. Girl gets in over her head. Girl pulls all her hair out. Girl ends up hiring professionals.

save the datesFor the save the dates, I did do them myself, and it was a DIY project that I’m very proud of. I hired a designer and friend of mine whose work I am fond of and we designed the font, colors and style that felt right for me and Jose. We designed them as postcards to save time and money, and I hand-cut each one with a ruler and X-Acto knife, which took a few hours on a Friday night. Jose and I even added our own touch with a cute hashtag (thanks Melanie!).

For the invitations, I’m at a crossroads now. Do I design them from scratch and source the paper and printer to live out my wildest fantasy of a very unique invitation, or do I go to an invitation shop, pick what we like most and call it a day? It’s a black hole once you start Googling what past brides have done and what they’ve learned from the experience. There is good advice, but mostly there is just too much advice. Sometimes you gotta try it for yourself. Sometimes you gotta get dirt on your hands (or in the case of paper, blood!). But that’s a very scary proposition and could end up taking more time and money than we want it to. Regardless, I visited Paper Source in Center City to look at paper, and I’m feeling very inspired to do them myself! I think I can pull it off.

For the honeymoon, we met a fantastic and inspiring “travel designer” who builds dream honeymoons from scratch. She was a riot and we loved her personality and approach. She has traveled the world and specializes in unique accommodations in cities around the globe. Things like treetop hotels and hard-to-find vacation rentals and scheduled itineraries. Ultimately, Jose and I decided that we love doing the research that goes into booking a trip and it feels more rewarding to book our own activities and places to stay, so we are going it alone without a travel agent. We booked our flight and are thrilled to say that our honeymoon will be in the Galapagos over the winter holidays! (That’s literally all we’ve planned for the trip, though. Phew, we better get on that!)

For the rehearsal dinner, there are elements we might make DIY, too. I am gluten-free by necessity since I have Celiac disease, so I want to find a place that has options for me. My future sister-in-law has a severe seafood allergy, so we also need to find a place that can accommodate her. We are currently looking at unique spaces to rent where we can bring in a caterer of our choice instead of renting out a restaurant, but there are so many challenges (and costs!) to doing that.

Our dream would be to serve food that incorporates Jewish elements, since our rehearsal dinner and wedding are during Hanukkah, and Filipino elements to honor Jose’s background (and because the food is delicious!). My dream on top of that dream is to have gluten-free jelly donuts (sufganiyot) for a traditional Hanukkah treat, but I may need to focus on the bigger picture and just plan the rehearsal dinner before I get too excited about dessert! It may be simpler and better to find the right restaurant with a price-fixed menu, so we could always end up going that route, but for this one we are exploring what DIY options may be out there.

Ultimately, the process of making these decisions is exciting and enjoyable for me, since I’m decisive about what I want and Jose is an active and involved partner. I won’t look back and wonder “what if” I chose the wrong thing, because I know that no bride can go wrong with what she chooses. It’s her wedding (and it’s just a wedding) so if someone judges you for choosing differently than they would, so be it. You are doing it your way and making it your own. That is never wrong.

Keep following my blog for more updates on our wedding planning. I can only imagine (or hope) how much further along we’ll be a month from now!

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So You Want to Plan an Interfaith Wedding

  

By Courtney Dunne

Courtney and family

Courtney (left) with Jodi and their kids

An “interfaith wedding.” What does that mean? I, after all should know what that means. My partner of 10 years and soon-to-be spouse is the CEO of InterfaithFamily. But understanding what it means to be in an interfaith relationship and putting it on display for all of your family and friends to witness…well, those are two different things.

Our families knew we would eventually tie the knot. After all, when we made the decision to move to Massachusetts, the ability to legally wed was a strong pull for us. Yet, life so to say, got in the way. Jodi was working full time in preparation for the transition in leadership at IFF and I was a first-time full-time stay at home mama for our active, inquisitive and adorable twin boys.

Life happened.

Yet, living in Massachusetts and not being married felt strangely different than living in Pennsylvania and not being married. No one, at the time, expected a same-sex couple to be married in PA. Yet, in MA people sort of looked at us in bewilderment when they found out we weren’t married. It almost felt like we were “living in sin” and as a Catholic school graduate, I knew what that felt like. Alas, new friends of ours gave us the added push of encouragement we needed to tie the knot.

So, 10 years. A house. A cat. A dog. Two kids. A BIG move to Massachusetts. And, finally…wait for it…marriage. I think we’re ready. Now, to share the news with our family and friends—this brought the expected excitement. The details—everyone wants to know the details. When? Where? Who? Most important, I’ve been asked by numerous people in an almost huffy and emphatic way, “Well, it will be interfaith, RIGHT?” Well, yes.  Um, sort of.

Growing up Catholic, going to Catholic school and a Catholic university, I have always held very strong beliefs about humanity that did not always coincide with doctrine. When Jodi and I met, we connected very deeply on a spiritual level. We found commonality in our differences and took a humanistic approach to seeing how her Judaism influenced her existence and my Catholicism influenced mine.

A lot of thought went into raising our children Jewish, a decision I did not come to quickly or easily. Ultimately, it was a decision made out of love for them. About wanting my children to belong to a faith community; to believe in God; to participate in community service. And most important—at least to me—was to belong. I mean, truly belong.

Courtney & Jodi

Courtney and Jodi at Boston Pride with InterfaithFamily and Keshet

That said, planning this wedding has forced me to really unpack the meaning behind what an interfaith wedding would mean for me. We made the decision to hold our ceremony in our synagogue, Kerem Shalom. We also made the decision to have our rabbi and friend, Darby Leigh officiate our ceremony. And here comes the line of questioning from my Catholic family members: “So, the rabbi is marrying you? And you’re getting married in the synagogue?” I can hear my mother’s Long Island accent: “I told her (my aunt) that you’re getting married in the synagogue but it IS and will be interfaith.”

Yes, mom. It is. But what does that mean? I might mention that my mother is also in an interfaith relationship—she’s Catholic and my stepfather is Jewish. But that’s a story for another time. So, how do you plan an interfaith wedding when some tenets of the Catholic faith (i.e. Christ-centered beliefs; Eucharist) contradict principles of Judaism? I found myself really questioning what an interfaith wedding would look like.

Luckily, we knew where to look for just the resources that would help answer some of our questions. Several helpful tips came out of the Guide to Wedding Ceremonies for Interfaith Couples. We also used the Tips for Inclusive Weddings to answer questions about involving friends and family (our parents will write personalized sheva b’rachot (seven blessings), choosing readings, creating an interfaith ketubah and more.

What I ultimately came up with was a Courtney-Jodi wedding that embraces our different faith traditions. Our interfaith wedding will include the pieces of our lives that that celebrate who we are; the spirituality that weaves in and out to create a bond and a tapestry. Our wedding will be in the synagogue and will have some of the traditional rituals present in Jewish weddings, such as the chuppah, the reading of the seven blessings and the breaking of the glass. However, it will also include blessings from our parents, who come from both Catholic and Jewish traditions. It will include family and friends that have been raised Catholic and family and friends who were raised Jewish. We have chosen to have our siblings, my two sisters and Jodi’s two brothers, be our chuppah holders, and the chuppah will have a Celtic web of life design. My sisters (Catholic) and Jodi’s brothers (Jewish) will provide the support for the canopy representing God’s presence in our lives and in our new life together.

Most important, our wedding will include two lives coming together in God’s presence—two lives who find commonality in spirituality. To me, that is an interfaith wedding. It may not include a priest. It doesn’t need to. What it needs to be is inclusive. Our lives and the choices we’ve made as a couple and as parents center around celebrating difference and inclusivity. Our interfaith wedding may not be your interfaith wedding. That’s the beauty of it.

Being interfaith is about noticing the differences and looking for the thread that ties you together but maintains individuality. Jodi and I found that thread 10 years ago. It has just taken 10 years to become a tapestry.

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