My First Yom Kippur

  
Laura & Zach on their honeymoon

Laura and Zach at Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal, enjoying their honeymoon

Zach and I were married on September 16! We were away having a blast on our honeymoon in Portugal, but before we had time to post our honeymoon pics to Facebook or look through our wedding photos, Yom Kippur was upon us.

I had decided a few days before we got back that I would be joining Zach in the fast for Yom Kippur. For most of the other years we’ve been together, Yom Kippur has fallen on a weekday and I’ve been working. I would usually meet him for the evening service, but I had never joined him for the whole day fast. I decided that now that we were married, it was important for me to join him in this observance, so that we could begin our faith life as a family, not just two individuals.

Zach at the cross at Pena Palace

How interfaith! Zach (pictured) and Laura hiked up to the high cross at Pena Palace on their honeymoon

You may say, well, Catholics fast, right? And my answer would be, sort of. For example, Catholics are supposed to fast on Good Friday, the day that Jesus died, but this “fasting” means one full meal and two smaller meals, as long as they do not add up to a single normal meal. Needless to say, the undisciplined can go downhill quickly, myself included. My Good Friday fast usually includes a meatless lunch, but I convince myself that I need to eat enough to continue working at my job. Therefore, the prospect of going all day without food on Yom Kippur seemed daunting.

Let me tell you, friends–my first Yom Kippur went surprisingly well. First of all, I was worried that my “hanger” (anger resulting from hungriness) would get the best of me. I saw that, throughout the day, I was able to take strength in my weakness, and knowing that others were experiencing the same weakness filled me with patience and love for the community. Zach and I attended a morning service with Interfaith Families Project of DC, and I was able to see for the first time how this Jewish and Christian community worked (Zach had attended another service of theirs before). I was inspired by the inclusivity and friendliness of the community, as well as the different backgrounds or spiritual paths of the community members. It was a wonderful and welcoming experience.

Second, I learned that napping can be key to a successful Yom Kippur. We came back from the morning service, and about an hour or so after we had been quietly unpacking from the wedding and the honeymoon, the hunger set in, and I felt more and more tired. Instead of pushing past it, which is my normal tendency, I let my body be tired. I stopped working, even though there was still plenty to do, and read through our wedding guestbook, and then took a nap. Friends, I never nap. I need earplugs and a facemask to fall asleep on a normal night, but I was asleep in 10 minutes. Thankfully we set an alarm to alert us to get ready for the evening service.

We went to Sixth & I Synagogue in Chinatown for the neilah evening service. I had attended this service at this location last year with Zach on Yom Kippur, but as I mentioned, this was my first year doing the fast, and I was nervous about not only staying focused but standing up and not getting sick.

The collective strength of that community kept me on my feet and singing for the whole hour plus of the service. What a beautiful, urgent way to plead with God for mercy and forgiveness! It was a prayer for which we had emptied ourselves all day, which actually sharpened my focus rather than dulled it.

All in all, for me it was a Yom Kippur in which I not only successfully fasted, but I gained meaning, prayed intensely, practiced patience, surveyed my faults and mistakes and grew closer to my spouse. Yom Kippur presented a beautiful opportunity after we had returned from our honeymoon to reflect on the past year and prepare for the next year, the first in our married lives. I’m so thankful for that opportunity–and my next post will fill you in on our actual wedding! Spoiler alert: Multiple friends and family members told us it was one of the most beautiful wedding ceremonies they had attended. So stay tuned.

Laura and Zach on their honeymoon

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Are You Keeping Your Guests in the Dark?

  

Recently, an amazing Jewish wedding program infographic was posted in our Facebook group for Jewish interfaith weddings (planning a wedding? Join us!), and we all flipped over how pretty and easy to follow it was. What a perfect way to help guests who aren’t familiar with Jewish weddings to understand what’s going on. Jewish weddings have many beautiful rituals, and I wanted to connect with the artist behind the program (Ling’s Design Studio) to see where she got the idea and how she helps couples create inclusive wedding ceremonies. Spoiler: She’s never been to a Jewish wedding! Who’s going to invite her so she can see it firsthand?

And for those of you who have a wedding coming up and want to purchase these beautiful programs from Ling? Check out this interfaith-friendly, egalitarian, customizable design we love. Happy planning!

Why is it important for couples to have a wedding program—in particular couples who come from two different faith backgrounds?

Ling: Having a wedding program for a couple is more than just about what you’d like to inform your guests with in regards to the order of your wedding ceremony; it’s all about getting the “personal touch” to make it more fun nowadays. I have not been to a Jewish wedding before, but I’ve learned so much from creating the program from my clients. With two people coming from different faith backgrounds, it’s definitely helpful to have it to show your guests who are not Jewish what Jewish wedding customs are all about.

In this particular program, your guests will be learning Jewish wedding customs through the fun infographic. It’s a fun way to break away from the traditional wedding programs we used to have!

How did you start creating programs for weddings?

As I began to accept custom orders, I was asked to design a Jewish infographic design for a buyer. This particular Jewish program was how it all started. Since then, the item became very popular in the Jewish community.

Are there any other customs or traditions that couples can include in their program aside from what’s listed in the sample Jewish program?

Absolutely! Every wedding is different. Couple “A” may not have the same customs from their wedding as Couple “B”. I often have buyers ask to add or omit some items from the program. If the couple provides me the info, I’d be happy to modify the program. (Please note that there will be additional charges depending on the complexity of the requests.)

Do you ever have couples ask for a program that describes multiple religions or cultures?

I haven’t had that request yet but I do take any custom orders.

What are some other customizations people have asked for?

Some couples would ask to include “Hakafot,” “Kiddush Cup” and “Yichud.” One buyer also asked me to list out each blessing of “Sheva Brachot.” I also made a timeline, and added a thank you note.

What has been most interesting or surprising to you to learn about Jewish weddings while creating these programs?

I learned that Jewish weddings are very cultural with many beautiful meanings for a couple. Most of the customs are about the couple and their family. It really emphasizes the connection and union between the bride and groom. One of the interesting things is that I never knew that the right index finger has the closest bloodline to the heart before I created this program. I thought this was very special.

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How a Slightly Disorganized and Overwhelmed Interfaith Couple Organized a Jewish Wedding Ceremony

  

I tried incredibly hard to make the wedding planning process as organized as I could. I had spreadsheets upon spreadsheets of guest lists and vendors that I shared with my fiancé, Andy. I had folders with links saved and an extensive private Pinterest board of DIY wedding planning ideas that required far more creativity than anything I would ever be capable of and which, closer to the main event, I had completely forgotten about.

As our wedding date loomed ever closer, as our work lives became more hectic, and as we closed on our first home two weeks prior to the wedding, I realized that we were still missing vital last minute details and items.

It was two weeks before the wedding and I had forgotten to buy my shoes, to create the wedding programs, to give the music requests for the ceremony and reception to the DJ, and to top it off, the kiddush cup we had ordered still hadn’t arrived.

Oops.

But somehow, despite a few last-minute glitches, it all came together to be one of the most unforgettable, special, and happiest day of our lives.

As mentioned in my first InterfaithFamily blog post, we started our wedding planning journey with the book A New Jewish Wedding by Anita Diamant. Together, we carefully selected Jewish wedding traditions that were meaningful to us:

TenaimTenaim is the pre-wedding ceremony where the families of the bride and groom decide on the financial and logistical arrangements of the marriage. Our rabbi drew up a progressive tenaim document which we and our ketubah witnesses, our two sisters, signed. The document stipulated that we would bring a physical reminder of our love and our spiritual gifts for one another (in lieu of a traditional object of value/dowry) which in our case, was a kiddush cup from our wine fountain set. We had originally ordered a new kiddush cup but soon realized it was not going to arrive in time so we ended up using the cup that we regularly use for Shabbat.

Tenaim includes the pre-wedding tradition of the mother-in-laws breaking a plate together. Two nights prior to the wedding, Andy and I trudged to Pier One to buy the cheapest, most breakable looking plate we could find. The rabbi had warned us to break the plate beforehand and glue it back together but we figured the plate would break easily. Lo and behold, as our mothers, the rabbi and then Andy desperately tried to break the plate in various ways, it was clear that we should have followed instructions. No matter what we did, the plate would not break. I will never underestimate the strength of Pier One plates ever again. We all laughed, the rabbi called it a “symbolic breaking” of the plate and we agreed that our mothers would break it at our house warming in two months.

KetubahA ketubah is the Jewish wedding contract which conveyed our commitment to each other and to building a loving and supportive home together. It requires the signature of the bride and groom, the officiant and witnesses. We each have one sister and while traditionally, witnesses should not be related to the bride and groom, we decided that we truly wanted to honor them in this way. We had purchased the ketubah off of Ketubah.com and made some adjustments to the Hebrew spelling thanks in part to a rabbi friend’s review of the text. The ketubah.com team was more than willing to correct the text. It was a great experience and I highly recommend them. Our ketubah is beautiful and we look forward to putting it up in our new home.

ChuppahA chuppah is the wedding canopy which represents the home that the couple will create together that will be open to family and friends. To create ours, we purchased four 7-foot birch poles off of Amazon for around 60 dollars and large eye hooks for 10 dollars. Andy drilled a hole at the top of the birch poles and screwed in the eye hooks. Our rabbi brought in his large tallit, tied the corner fringes to the hooks at the top and voila! A chuppah was constructed cheaply and easily. We had also wanted to include and honor our friends and family and had decided to have chuppah bearers. Our chuppah was held up by my best friend, my sister, Andy’s brother-in-law and one of his best friends.

One of the most special moments for me was when my parents walked me to the chuppah. It was great being able to have that time with them before the ceremony.

Circling: Circling is the tradition where the bride circles the groom seven times (or the partners both circle each other). Seven is an auspicious number in Judaism and circling seven times can represent the seven days of creation, the seven blessings and other instances where something happens seven times in the Torah/Talmud. However, for us, the circling meant that we would make each other central to each other’s lives. We decided to keep it equal and circled each other three times.

Birkat ErusinThe Birkat Erusin is the betrothal blessing recited by the rabbi over a kiddush cup of wine. We then drank from the same kiddush cup that we had used in our tenaim ceremony to symbolize our commitment to sharing our lives with each other.

Ring Exchange: Traditionally, the ring ceremony in a Jewish wedding is where the groom gives the bride a ring, constituting the act of gifting an artifact of value to the bride and therefore making the marriage official. However, we decided to do a double ring ceremony where we used my maternal grandmother’s ring for my wedding band and Andy had his paternal grandfather’s ring for his. Neither of us have any living grandparents left so it felt like they were able to participate in our celebration in a way, making it even more special for us.

Sheva BrachotThe Sheva Brachot are the seven blessings which are recited for the bride and groom. Our rabbi read them in both Hebrew and English. We had no strong feelings about the Sheva Brachot and allowed the rabbi to select the wording.

Breaking the Glass: Breaking the glass marks the conclusion of the ceremony and has many interpretations but the ones we chose to add into our wedding programs were that it’s a reminder that there is still suffering in the world and that it represents the breaking of barriers between people of different cultures and faiths. After being regaled with stories of over-confident grooms going to the ER after stomping on the glass, I made sure to put the glass into a plastic bag and cover it with multiple cloth napkins prior to the wedding. I was relieved that Andy was able to break the glass without any issues but I’m also pretty sure our wedding pictures captured my anxiety-filled expression. We kept the broken glass and are now trying to decide what to do with it.

YichudAfter Andy broke the glass, and everyone yelled “Mazel tov” and we shared our first kiss as husband and wife, we then left for yichud, a time of seclusion for the bride and groom at the end of the marriage ceremony. We escaped to the bridal suite where we had water, Coca Cola and appetizers waiting for us. We also had a chance to practice our wedding dance one last time. It was an ultimate must-have for us and we are both glad we had those moments to be alone and decompress before heading out to our guests again.

Our wedding ceremony was perfect for us and set the tone for not only the rest of the wedding but for the rest of our lives. It opened our hearts in a way we could never have imagined. It was a celebration of love, of unity and of starting our marriage with our nearest and dearest close by.

Most of all, it was a celebration of us.

Now a week after the wedding, we’re excited to have started our marriage adventure and have mostly stopped accidentally referring to each other as ‘fiancé.’

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Making Time to Reflect Before the Big Day

  

We’re counting down the days—less than one month until the wedding! Plenty of friends and family have been asking us if we’re excited (of course) and if we’re ready (which is a tougher question). In the practical sense, yes, we are ready. The caterer has our menu, the DJ has our song list and we’re finished with all of our DIY projects. In a broader sense, I’ve been thinking a lot about the question: How do you know you’re ready to make such a monumental commitment to another person?

Since we’ve completed most of the wedding planning, we’ve been able to spend the past few weeks making sure we stay connected and grounded. Last Saturday, we biked to Yards Park in the Navy Yard area of DC, which is where Zach proposed over a year ago! We rode past one of our favorite breweries and sat in the park with our feet in the wading pool for a while, watching the kids run around and play. I thought about this lazy summer day that we were taking advantage of—that we were making the time to have fun and do something that wasn’t wedding-related, grocery shopping or watching TV together. I promised myself when we got engaged that we would make time for these things, and I haven’t been as good about that as I would have liked, but that day, we were.

We ran into our maid of honor and her family visiting from out of town, got ice cream with them and biked home in time to host some friends for a low-key game night. That’s one of the many things I love about Zach—that he gets me out of my head, and he challenges me to enjoy things like warm summer days and riverside parks without thinking about what I should be doing instead. Yards Park was a perfect reminder of that strength of his, at an exciting and busy time in our lives.

I’ve also been catching up with old friends, like my former roommate. We lived together for two years right after college and have kept in touch since both of us moved on. Last week, we met up for dinner at our favorite place in the old neighborhood. As we laughed and commiserated over wedding planning (and assured each other that the headaches would be worth it), I couldn’t help but think: Am I ready to get married? To leave my single life behind?

Zach and my dad came up with this genius display for our table assignments.

Those years of supporting each other through good and tough times over wine, lazy weekends and taco nights seem so rosy, and I’m a little sad to leave them behind. But then, I go home to my amazing fiancé, who has already unloaded the dishwasher, or left me Reese’s in the fridge, or asks me how my day was, and I know I’m ready to marry Zach. I’m ready to promise to be there for him in all of those ways and more. It’s still important, for me, to reflect on where this journey has taken me, and the other relationships I formed on the way. I’m a firm believer in the value of friendships outside of a relationship, even outside of your marriage, and the end of my “single life” in no way means the end of those friendships. But it does mark the beginning of a binding partnership—a promise to work through tough times and celebrate the good ones in new ways.

This past weekend, we went home to Pennsylvania to work on our seating chart. Putting it together was beautiful because, at each table, we see different groups of people from different times in our life, who have made us into the people we are today. We have friends from childhood, friends from high school and college, family friends who we’ve known since birth, current friends, work friends—they’ll all be there, with our loving families, to watch us commit to the rest of our lives together. We can’t wait for everyone to meet and mingle, and to represent for us on this momentous day who we have been and our hopes for who we are to become.

When I read about the Jewish tradition of the ketubah, I realized it was the perfect way to create a visual representation of this commitment we’re making to each other. Rather than a contract or agreement, it’s a perfect reminder of the promise we’re making—to constantly strive to live up to the ideal of love for each other. You can read the text we selected here. Different articles (like this one from InterfaithFamily and this one from America Magazine) and conversations with family and friends have forced me to acknowledge the uncertainty associated with marriage—the idea that people’s values, personalities and desires can shift over time, and marriage is a promise to work through those. Like many people, I personally struggle with uncertainty, but in thinking about these issues, I know that Zach is the person I want to take that leap of faith with. I can’t wait to see where we end up on this journey.

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Q&A with Anita Diamant on The Jewish Wedding Now

  

Anita Diamant and The Jewish Wedding Now

By InterfaithFamily

How is this version of your wedding book more inclusive of all who identify as Jewish or are marrying into a Jewish family?

AD: This edition of the book reflects the fact that the chuppah, the wedding canopy, has never been bigger or more inclusive. The Jewish Wedding Now addresses the advent of marriage equality, and the language throughout embraces people of all gender identities. I also discuss the diversity of people who are not Jewish but choose marry under a chuppah. Just as there is no generic Jewish wedding, there is no such thing as THE “interfaith wedding.” It’s all about making choices that are meaningful and authentic for the couple under the canopy.

How can the book be helpful for someone who is not Jewish or is not sure they want Jewish rituals at their wedding?

The book is intended to help people of any background decide which, if any, Jewish rituals, can help them create the wedding they want. I hope the tone and language of the book is clear, jargon-free and inclusive, so that the Jewish rituals described are doorways, never barriers. I hope that couples are surprised and delighted to learn about the varieties of joy that are woven through the customs and rituals of Jewish weddings.

What is your greatest hope for what a couple from different religious backgrounds would take away from this book?

I hope couples feel empowered by learning about Judaism’s wealth of customs, rituals, wisdom and insights, and I hope they feel encouraged to make use of what speaks to them. There are countless ways that Jewish tradition can enrich a wedding ceremony and I hope couples see Judaism as a source of joy and spiritual expression.

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When a Major Jewish Holiday Clashes With a Major Family Wedding

  

By Debra Lynn Shelton

When a major family wedding clashes with a major holiday

My cousin is getting married on Yom Kippur. And her dress rehearsal is on Kol Nidre. Yes, you read that right. So, what’s a good relative to do?

Apparently when she and her non-Jewish fiancé scheduled their most special event, they had no idea the date coincided with the holiest days on the Jewish calendar. By the time they realized the conflict, it was too late. They weren’t able to change the date of their wedding at the fancy country club where it was booked.

On a scale of religiousness, our family ranges from fairly religious to completely non-participating. So the fairly religious contingent now have a difficult decision to make.

The bride is my first cousin, the daughter of my mom’s younger brother. For my immediate family (parents and sisters) the knee-jerk reaction was: reject the occasion altogether. Send a gift, but don’t attend.

I mean, how disrespectful could you be to schedule your special day on such a somber and important holiday? What could the future bride and groom have been thinking? What could they expect? But the deeper we delved into the dilemma, the more complicated it became.

For my mom who is fairly religious, in her mid-70s, and lives across the country from her two brothers, the decision was especially difficult. She was choosing between sharing the joyous celebration including magnificent meals with her cherished brothers vs. observing the High Holidays by attending services and fasting.

Rather than asking the audience, she decided to “phone a friend.” That friend was her rabbi who happened to be in Israel on a trip with fellow congregants.

After explaining the situation, my mom asked: “What advice can you give our family regarding attending the wedding? I can hear my father’s voice saying, ‘family is family.’  How do I choose between my family and my faith?” 

His response was surprising. On a call from Jerusalem the rabbi advised: “Don’t go, but do send a gift. Do not tell her why you are not going.”

This confused my mom even more, especially the last part. If she chose not to go, why not stand up and say why?

She called her brothers to discuss the situation, and their voices reminded her of the deep love they share. In the end, that love overpowered everything else. She and my dad booked their tickets and will be attending the wedding at the end of September.

The bride-to-be also showed some flexibility, changing the time of the rehearsal dinner so anyone who wishes may attend Kol Nidre services. She also researched nearby temples and their times for services on Friday night and Saturday.

Her Saturday evening wedding is, technically, after the holiday is over. I think she genuinely feels bad about the predicament this has put her observant family members in, and has done what she can to rectify the situation. (I’m sure many of you will disagree with this.)

Personally, I’ve come full circle. At first I was ready to book my plane ticket. Then I thought, since it was so disrespectful of the bride and groom to put so many in such a challenging position, I wouldn’t go. Then I considered what really matters: family. So I’ll be checking out flight and hotel information soon.

This isn’t an uncommon dilemma in our world where so many levels of observance can be found in one family. Secular Jews may have weddings or birthday parties or even graduations or professional milestones that involve travel on Saturdays, for instance—leaving their Sabbath-observant relatives torn.

After all is said and done, as inconsiderate as keeping the wedding date scheduled for Yom Kippur is, I’m of the opinion that, as my grandfather said, “Family is family.”

The High Holidays will occur again next year. My cousin’s wedding will not. So, I’ll be joining my parents to watch my cousin walk down the aisle (They plan on attending services near the wedding venue.) I’m looking forward to spending time with relatives I don’t get to see very often, and to celebrating this special milestone with them.

But it isn’t an easy choice. Dear readers, I wonder: what would you do?

This article was reprinted with permission from Kveller.com, a fast-growing, award-winning website for parents raising Jewish and interfaith kids. Follow Kveller on Facebook and sign up for their newsletters here.

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Being Interfaith in the Face of Hatred

  

DIY welcome display

This post was written by my fiancé Zach Drescher, who is Jewish and whose work often intersects with issues important to the American Jewish community.

~~~

When you live in Washington, vacations can be a good opportunity to get away from the news cycle and conversations dominated by politics. While our trips home to plan the wedding could only be loosely termed as “vacations,” it has been nice to focus on something happier than what’s going on in our adopted home city.

That was impossible this weekend. Try as we might to avoid the paper and cable news, it was impossible to ignore what was happening in Charlottesville. The imagery and vitriol stemming from the white nationalist march saturated social media, and it was hard to think about anything else in between our appointments and errands. Reading the word “nazi” showing up so many times on what was supposed to be a quiet and enjoyable weekend was startling enough, especially for me (Zach), whose family history is in many ways shaped by the Holocaust.

The contrast between the wedding planning and the horror story playing out in our Facebook feeds was especially jarring to witness as an interfaith couple. While not as outwardly obvious as the color of one’s skin, there are certainly stigmas attached to marrying outside of your religion. As friends and newsmakers quickly spread the faces of angry, tiki-torch-wielding crowds, it was easy to picture them yelling directly at us, vowing to take back their religion from those who are in interfaith marriages. Those who oppose interfaith marriage often espouse a similar combination of fear and traditionalism to what came across in the message of white nationalist marchers. With everything we’ve seen happen in the last year, and given the fact that we’ve even discussed moving to Charlottesville in the future, it was easy to imagine a torchlit mob showing up at our doorstep one day.

A thick gold men's ring in a ring box next to a thinner silver women's band in a ring box

Our wedding bands, displayed side-by-side, which symbolize the unbreakable bond between us. Both have a similar cross-hatching pattern engraved in the metal, which speaks to the intersection of our faiths and cultures.

It’s worth reiterating that we have felt extremely accepted as an interfaith couple. We’re blessed to have friends and family that are nothing but happy for us, and are excited for us to embark on a journey of religious discovery together. And living in a liberal bubble helps—it’s hard to imagine our neighbors in Washington getting too worked up over our dual-faith identity. But the events of this weekend were an unsettling reminder of the ignorance and anger that is out there.

The more conversations we have as the big day approaches, and the more we delve into the communities other interfaith families have already built, the more encouraged we are that tired stereotypes are being washed away by tolerance. We hope that the events of this weekend are but a speed bump on our society’s path toward acceptance and open-mindedness.

And we pray for those hurt or killed in Charlottesville, and for those all over the world who are afraid to be themselves in their daily lives. Let us strive for a day when we do not fear our differences, but celebrate them instead.

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Two Faiths Becoming One Family

  
Zach cooking latkes

Zach making curried latkes for Hanukkah

I recently joined a Facebook group that InterfaithFamily started to connect couples planning interfaith weddings (join here!). As I’ve mentioned in a few of my posts, Zach and I have our wedding pretty well planned already, and we’ve been working with great officiants to create a beautiful, meaningful and inclusive ceremony. I joined the group because I’ve realized during this process that the choice we made with this wedding to include and celebrate both traditions–to make both families feel welcome and represented–is a challenge and opportunity that we will continue to face in our married life.

I’ve mentioned a book called Being Both by Susan Katz Miller that solidified our decision to marry. The book isn’t about weddings; rather, it’s about what happens after. That was our biggest question in deciding to get married: What would we do if and when we decided to have children?

Meanwhile, what I had heard from clergy, both Jewish and Catholic, was that “being both” was not an option. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops claims that religious leaders agree that raising children of interfaith marriages exclusively in one religious tradition is best. While this may be true, I had a hard time finding studies on the alternative, save for Miller’s book. Additionally, both Zach and I felt that a piece of us would be missing from our future family if our future child or children was or were raised exclusively in one tradition. Being Both offers examples of families and congregations that enable families to participate in both traditions fully, rather than having one or more family members as a spectator to that tradition.

couple standing in front of a lit-up Christmas tree

Laura and Zach by her parents’ Christmas tree, 2015

I’m not entirely sure what the right answer is for us, but reading that book made me realize that our family might not feel completely at home in either tradition, because of our desire to not just respect but incorporate both traditions into our one family. As a Catholic woman from a Catholic family, where we get together for baptisms and First Communions, that is a realization that, honestly, I still struggle with.

But I draw strength in my conviction that the benefits outweigh the negatives. I’ve already written about how well Zach and I complement each other, and I also see a unique calling or mission in creating an interfaith family. I love celebrating Jewish holidays with Zach, and I can’t wait to share those beliefs, prayers and family traditions with our children. Similarly, when I go to church on Sunday, I think about sharing with them my family’s stories, beliefs and rituals. I think our overall desire is to raise children comfortable and familiar with both traditions, who see and appreciate God in all forms. Because, when it comes down to it, I see God in my relationship with Zach, and I refuse to be bound by the lines our religious communities have drawn around us. Our love is boundless, and our family will be too. That’s been the biggest realization for me in this process–we’re starting something new, that no one in either of our families has done before, but connecting to the larger interfaith community, with families who have years of experience before interfaith marriage became commonplace, is so valuable.

I recently decided to take the last name Drescher. I struggled with the decision for a while. I like my name as it is: Laura Rose Free. I like the connection that “Free” gives me to my family. I like the pun possibilities (bachelorette hashtag: #freeasilleverbe). But marriage signifies the start of something new–of two people coming together as one, acting as partners, and making decisions together. For me, taking the last name Drescher is a step in that direction; it’s an act that symbolizes that change for me. In addition to all of the practical reasons, this symbolism made me decide that I want to change my name. I’m not saying it’s the right decision for all couples, but I feel it’s the right decision for us–it’s the first step toward the new family that we’re starting. I’m thankful to have this community to support us and show us the ways they have chosen to create new families and traditions.

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A Tale of Two Kitchens

  

Nataliya and her fiance

“We’re not doing this!” Andy was visibly upset. “I won’t do it!”

It was a year into our relationship and we were in his car heading to his dad’s house in the middle of nowhere.

Driving

On the drive to Andy’s dad’s house

The topic that inspired this reaction was none other than kashrut, a set of Jewish dietary laws that I happen to follow. While I am not incredibly strict and will go out to non-kosher restaurants, I will only eat vegetarian, dairy and halakhically (by the law) approved fish.

Andy knew that I kept kosher from the very beginning of our relationship but because I still went out to restaurants, he never thought much about it. As we became more serious and talked about moving in together, he finally began to understand how dating a traditional Jew would affect him. I had explained to him that if we were to move in together, our kitchen, and everything in it, would need to be kashered.

Kashering is the rather intensive process of making a kitchen kosher and it was not up for negotiation. Andy was not particularly pleased when I explained to him what it would involve, and in particular, what he would have to sacrifice.

His protests were valid and I completely understood where he was coming from.

Food is a significant part of life and kashrut not only dictates the kind of food we can eat, but also its preparation, storage, separation of dishes, utensils and pretty much anything in the kitchen that touches food.

For a Catholic-raised atheist who is not Jewish and was not used to food restrictions, it was quite jarring for him to suddenly be told that he would have to abide by them.

Thankfully, a year later as we were preparing to move in together, we were able to talk it out and eventually, negotiations were made where we agreed to set up two ‘kitchens’ in our apartment.

We dubbed them: Kosher Kitchen and Catholic Corner.

Kosher Kitchen is the main kitchen in our home. It’s where the majority of the cooking is done. The dishes in our apartment are all his. We rekashered his dishes in a local mikveh so that they could become our dishes. He even participated in reciting the prayers and dunking all of his utensils, pots, pans and well, pretty much everything kitchen related, into the mikveh pool.

“Can you kasher our kitchen every day?!” he had said incredulously as he watched me pour boiling water all over our counters, making them especially clean.

I had separated out everything into meat and milk items and he has been doing a decent job keeping up the separation, with a mishap every once in a while. It’s hard to be mad at him when it happens because of the guilty and horrified look on his face when he realizes that the fork that he has been using to eat his chicken is actually for dairy.

However, when he wants to avoid these situations, he always has the option of using his own kitchen space.

Catholic Corner is a corner by our front window which has a convection oven and a hot plate. Andy has a separate set of pots, dishes and utensils and even a separate sponge at our shared sink for those times when he eats non-kosher food.

Originally, he had a separate fridge as well but I felt like that was overkill. As long he wrapped everything up and it was well contained within its packaging, there would not be a problem about cross contamination and in the two-and-a-half years that we have been living together, it has never been an issue for me.

It may seem unfair that Andy cannot cook non-kosher food in the main kitchen, but I am the one that does the majority of the cooking for both of us. I am also the one who brought my beliefs to the table from the very beginning.

Andy realizes how important my religious and cultural traditions are to me and since that fateful conversation in the car four years ago, he is my number one supporter and now practically an expert on kashrut.

Keeping kosher is not always easy but not because Andy isn’t Jewish. It’s because we have a fairly small kitchen and having two of everything means our space is extremely limited.

Thankfully, together, we make it work.

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Family Acceptance & Testing the Breaking of the Glass

  
two men stand ready to sand some wood

Zach works with my dad to build a stand for our photo booth

Over the July 4th weekend, Zach and I spent some time with my family in the Philadelphia area. As mentioned on my previous post, we got ambitious with some DIY projects, so we planned a few (three) weekends to go home and visit (work) with family to complete those projects. The first weekend in July was one of those weekends.

In thinking about blogging for InterfaithFamily, I’ve thought about what readers might be interested in, and family acceptance probably ranks pretty high. It’s an obstacle many couples (including some of my friends) struggle with, but luckily, we did not—my family loves Zach. Loves him. This cannot be stressed enough. They ask about him all the time.

While it doesn’t surprise me that everyone loves Zach (I do, after all), it did surprise me how that affected their reaction to us getting married. No one was disappointed that I wasn’t marrying another Catholic, because they all knew and loved Zach. They knew how well we worked together, they knew how well he got along with the rest of the family, and they knew how well he complimented my strengths and weaknesses—and same for me to him. They got to know him as a person so that by the time we announced our engagement, everyone was on board. They knew I could not find anyone who complimented me better, challenged me more and treated me better than Zach.

That’s not to say that this path has been super easy. It took some time for my parents to understand that my family life probably wouldn’t look like the one they had provided for me—with private Catholic school and a strong rooting in Catholic parish life. I loved growing up with that setting, but it might not work for our family-to-be. That’s a struggle that Zach and I, along with our extended families, will have for the rest of our lives. But I feel that both families see the love that we have for each other and know that for us, the struggle will be worthwhile.

Readers, excuse the interruption, but Zach has something to add!

Hi, this is Zach. While Laura’s been doing most of the heavy-lifting around here, I wanted to insert myself into this post to say that my family also loves Laura a ton. We’re more of a secular bunch than her family, but there was still somewhat of an expectation that I would end up with a Jewish spouse. But they’ve been nothing but supportive of our relationship, and everyone can see how good we are for each other. So there’s excitement on both sides for us as we begin this journey together.

Back to Laura:

One of the most fun parts of being an interfaith couple is learning, with your entire family, new things from your significant other. One year, Hannukah started while we were home with my family for Christmas. Zach led the family in prayer in lighting the menorah, and the next day my Grandma called to make sure that we had gotten home in time to light the menorah. Zach taught my family to play dreidel by the Christmas tree, and everyone had a great time (while he hustled us). We’re taking the same fun, learning approach to our wedding. Below is a video of Zach explaining to the camera and my parents the significance of the tradition of breaking the glass after the wedding ceremony. We were testing out a glass to make sure it would actually break!

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