Full of helpful advice for families starting to think about their child's bat or bar mitzvah, Bar & Bat Mitzvah For The Interfaith Family will be a helpful primer to all families (not just interfaith!).
This booklet explains the history of Hanukkah, the symbolism and significance of lighting candles for eight nights, the blessings that accompany the lighting of the candles, the holiday's foods, the game of dreidels, and more!
Connecting Interfaith Families to Jewish Life in Greater Cleveland by providing programs and opportunities for interfaith families to experience Judaism in a variety of venues, meet other interfaith families, and to connect to other Jewish organizations that may serve their needs.
This is an interactive, fun, and low-key workshop for couples who are dating, engaged or recently married. The sessions will give you a chance to ask questions about faith, to think about where you are as an adult with your own spirituality and to talk through what's important to you and your partner.
A great way for Jewish professionals and volunteers who work with and provide programming for people in interfaith relationships to locate resources and trainings to build more welcome into their Jewish communities; connect with and learn from each other; and publicize and enhance their programs and services.
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!
Being 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.
Bottom 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.)
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!
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 SimchatTorah—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.
Together 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.
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.
When 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.
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!
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.
For 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!
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.
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 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.
Emily and Jose take a break from wedding planning to enjoy time outside
A rabbi, a puppy, a Catholic and a Jew walk into a bar… Sounds like the setup for a bad joke, right? Much the opposite. It was a brainstorming session for incorporating religious traditions and the things we love into our wedding ceremony.
Jose and I joined a reform synagogue last year—Rodeph Shalom on Broad Street. We joined not because I felt particularly religious at the time, and not because Jose is planning on converting, but because we felt a strong sense of community there. Jose accompanied me to a High Holiday service there a few years back and we noticed same-sex couples, multiracial couples and folks of all ages. It was eye-opening to me. Growing up in Baltimore, I had not seen that kind of diversity inside a synagogue. Jose and I instantly felt a welcoming and inclusive vibe and figured this synagogue must be doing something right. Jose even remarked that this was not the exclusive, “chosen” mentality he’s previously encountered with Judaism. I agreed.
We took a class with a young rabbi by the name of Eli, and it proved extremely beneficial for us in understanding each other’s spirituality. The class was called “Judaism 101,” but it was not designed to preach Judaism’s teachings. It was a discussion about the basic tenets of Judaism and whether we identify with those principles and ideas of god (little “g” and big “G”). With our classmates old and young, Jewish and not, religious and not, and of various racial and ethnic backgrounds, we discussed how each of our upbringings have influenced our thinking. Jose got to dip his toes further into the world of Judaism and I got a refresher course and some new information.
Rabbi Eli invited the class to his beautiful apartment in the city for Shabbat dinner and we loved the experience. We’ve since gone to a few other Shabbat/Hanukkah dinners through the synagogue and through InterfaithFamily, and we have kept in touch with events happening at the synagogue. Through the wedding contest that we recently won, the officiant was chosen for us. She is amazing (see my previous blog post!), but I wanted to incorporate a personal touch for the Jewish aspect of the wedding. The ketubah signing (Jewish marriage license) traditionally happens right before the ceremony and it is very important to me, so we reached out to Rabbi Eli to see if he would be interested in officiating it.
Rabbi Eli suggested we meet at a bar (how cool is that?) and we brought along our 7-month-old puppy and sat outside at one of the best bars in the city. If you had asked me at age 13 whether I’d be having drinks with a rabbi at a bar I would have slapped you and called you crazy. If you had even asked me whether I’d belong to a synagogue and have a rabbi that I called on, I might call you crazy for that. Needless to say, there we were.
We spoke with Rabbi Eli about the most meaningful thing to us in the wedding—the ceremony. Although we were there to discuss the ketubah signing, he became an amazing sounding board for all of our questions about the ceremony. We discussed what religious traditions we could incorporate and how the choices would be significant to our families and friends. We talked about how to involve our families in the ceremony. We disclosed that while we enjoy sharing our love publicly (if you are friends with us on Facebook you know), I am private about things that are important to me and I want the ceremony to feel intimate. Most of all, we expressed how we are using our engagement as a time for reflection about our relationship. We are honest about what we each want from our marriage and we recognize that this is the time in our lives to speak openly about it. (Sidenote: It’s a lot less scary to ask your partner direct questions than to wonder what they think, and it’s a lot easier to do it now than in 10 or 20 years.) Plus, we want to build a solid foundation for the rest of our lives together and we want to be prepared for any challenges that may arise.
One of the biggest challenges in planning a wedding is to avoid getting wrapped up in the minutiae. I am eternally grateful to have won a wedding contest, because it has, for the most part, allowed us to remain relatively free of financial woes and family drama that is usually inherent in planning a wedding. Surely, the time will come when those challenges appear, but for now we are able to keep our focus on the marriage, not on the wedding, and we can focus on the foundation we’re building together.
After our meeting at the bar, Rabbi Eli shipped us a book he recommended we read, called Meeting at the Well: A Jewish Spiritual Guide to Being Engaged. I’m about halfway through it, and it’s great. The focus of the book is on using the engagement period, however long it may be, to work through how you both feel about certain issues, religious and otherwise. While some of it can be cheesy, it does have exercises and discussion points on topics ranging from raising kids to intimacy to finances to how you spend your free time. It’s a great resource for us to discuss things we never thought would be important. I learned some new things about Jose in the process, which truly surprised me after six years of dating and five years of living together.
Over the next few months, I’m looking forward to the fun stuff: bachelor and bachelorette parties, the tastings, the engagement photo shoot, working with the DJ on what songs to include and planning our honeymoon (no that’s not included!). Stay tuned for more updates on our wedding planning!
Jose and I let out squeals of joy, called our families and started to hold on tight for what would inevitably be a wild ride.
We found out about the contest through Jose’s coworker back in January, and we took our time to write a thoughtful statement, answering the prompt of how we volunteer and give back to our community. Jose and I both volunteer, so we thought we had a pretty good shot, but to actually win seemed totally crazy.
We had not done any wedding planning until that point and we were taking our time, planning on a long engagement. I wanted to enjoy being engaged and I didn’t want to start researching and choosing vendors. I was also having a hard time accepting how much an average wedding costs.
When we won the wedding it changed everything (how could it not?). Our venue and food plus vendors including the florist, photographer/videographer, gown, officiant, life coaching and more would be mostly free. The stress and financial worries of planning a wedding were diminished and we could instead focus on the fun stuff and enjoy the process. It was such a blessing.
I decided to approach the entire experience differently from the start. For my wedding gown shopping, I invited my mom, sister and a few bridesmaids to join. Since my gown was included in the prize package and it was from one of the best shops in Philly, Lovely Bride, I knew I wouldn’t be shopping around. So I asked one of my bridesmaids to bring a bottle of champagne to make the shopping experience a celebration!
As I tried on dress number three, and we were all gathered in the room together, my bridesmaid Madison, a certified sommelier who knows how to properly open a bottle, popped the champagne. And, because anything that can happen will, it EXPLODED all over the dressing room. It went on the ceiling, the walls, the floor, in her eyes and on all of the women in the room. It kept dripping from the ceiling onto me in a wedding dress. It left no area untouched. The entire bottle exploded. It was like something out of a movie. We later found out that the wine shop had kept the bottle in the freezer (Why? Who knows!).
My sister smartly took a photo while the situation unfolded!
The silence that filled the room was palpable, seemingly so thick you could touch it. A record started playing on repeat in my head: You now have to pay for this free dress. You now have to pay for this free dress.
A few frightening minutes passed, and my mom blurted out, “I have to clean something. Give me SOMETHING to clean.” At which point the owner of the shop, the lovely Ivy Kaplin, started hysterically laughing. It was just too funny to not laugh. A sales associate was Swiffering the ceiling as I stood motionless and drenched in a wedding dress, and what else could we do but bask in the complete absurdity of the situation? Ivy and her associates were the coolest people I have ever met and didn’t charge us for the mishap. They took it in stride and we were all laughing about it moments after it happened. Not only do I have quite a story to tell, but I also found the wedding dress of my dreams and it was not covered in champagne!
We’ve had an amazing time meeting with our vendors and thanking them for their services. We are thrilled to have the fantastic Jill Magerman, a certified Life Cycle Celebrant who happens to specialize in interfaith weddings, as our officiant. She invited us over for a Mother’s Day brunch at her house (how cool is that?) and we talked for hours about what traditions we will incorporate from each of our religious and cultural backgrounds. We talked about Jewish traditions like standing under a chuppah (a four-post structure meant to symbolize the home), signing a ketubah (the Jewish marriage contract), breaking the glass (meant to symbolize the fragility of marriage, among many other things) and reading the sheva brachot (seven blessings for the couple’s marriage).
We talked about Filipino and Catholic traditions, like being wrapped in a cord and veil (symbolizing the union of the couple, the bond they share and the purity of their love), presenting arras (coins that symbolize prosperity and the couple’s commitment to mutually contributing to their relationship, their children and their community), and incorporating a unity ceremony, the details of which we have yet to determine. We also plan on incorporating Filipino traditions throughout the ceremony and reception, but I can’t give away all the good details!
We’ve also met with the fabulous Vito Russo, VP at Carl Alan Designs, who is providing intricate and beautiful floral arrangements for the ceremony and reception. We are absolutely in love with his work, and we couldn’t have asked for a better florist. It’s uncanny how closely his style aligns with ours, and we didn’t even choose him! It must be beshert (Yiddish for “meant to be”)! This adventure is sure to bring on more excitement, funny stories, challenging obstacles and plenty to discuss and for which to be grateful. If you keep reading, hold on, it is going to be a wild ride!
Steven and I were married in an outdoor Catholic and Jewish celebration on May 23, 2015. The ceremony itself was the biggest black box for us when planning our wedding and we hope sharing how we brought our two faiths together into an interfaith ceremony helps anyone else trying to decode this process.
Steven was raised Jewish and I’m a born and raised and practicing Catholic. We wanted faith as part of our ceremony and we also wanted to make sure it represented us and was welcoming and inclusive for our families and friends in attendance.
With some work, the help of great people and some luck, we pulled it off.
Steven’s parents are really involved in their Jewish community and through those connections found us a local rabbi, Lev Baesh that they thought we would like. It just so happens that Lev has a long history with InterfaithFamily and continues to work as a consultant with the organization. Steven and I both really value sustainability, so when we found out that Lev has solar panels on his house and chickens in his backyard, we felt like things would work out. The first time we met him for coffee (and to “interview” him) he said two things that stuck with us through the planning process:
1. Many of the major religious milestones (or sacraments in the Catholic world) recognize things that have already happened—baptism/ naming ceremonies (the baby is already born), funerals (the person is already dead) and in the case of marriage, two people have already made the decision to be together and the ceremony is to officially recognize it. Knowing this took some pressure off of us—we’d already been through the hard part of finding each other and figuring out that we wanted to be together forever. The ceremony was the cherry on top.
2. The ceremony is the first real opportunity to set the tone for how religion is going to look in your newly formed two-person family. That observation actually added a little more pressure, but also helped us find a framework as we came to decision points when planning the ceremony. For example, while I had written a word-by-word ceremony, our officiants both wanted the opportunity to speak in their own words, reflecting the sentiment we put forth in the draft. When we looked at our framework, we decided we wanted our faith journey to have room for flexibility and to be genuine and personal, so we agreed to let our officiants speak from the heart (that ended up being a GREAT decision—more on that later).
We found our priest through the recommendation of a friend who served on the Board of Directors for the Interfaith Action of Central Texas. I like the priest at my longtime Catholic parish, but I wasn’t sure he had the personality we needed for an interfaith ceremony. It can also be challenging to have the Bishop recognize an interfaith, outdoor marriage. Luckily, Father Larry Covington knew how the system worked and helped guide us through the process which included the required paperwork as well as Pre-Cana, multiple pre-marriage preparation meetings a Catholic couple goes through. He also made us feel at ease about an interfaith ceremony and marriage. Oh, and he speaks some Hebrew, which came in handy (see list below).
We decided on a mix of Catholic and Jewish traditions as well as things we just thought would be cool. Here’s what we ended up doing:
Both of my parents walked me in; both of Steven’s parents walked in with him (Jewish tradition)
Our dog was in the wedding party, holding the rings on her collar
We got married under a chuppah (the canopy structure present in traditional Jewish weddings). My father made it for us and personalized it by using Longhorn and Duke bed sheets as the canopy covering, paying homage to our alma maters
The priest and rabbi each gave a welcome and a blessing
We invited seven friends to give a blessing of their choosing, a twist on the traditional
The priest said the traditional vows, the rabbi did the exchange of rings
Steven and I wrote and said our own additional vows to each other
We did the Jewish stomping of the glass at the end of the ceremony
The singing of a prayer in Hebrew: We lucked out—our priest did this part and wow’d everyone!
Katie & Steven’s wedding ceremony with Rabbi Lev Baesh and Father Larry Covington co-officiating. Photo by Elizabeth McGuire
Here are a few additional resources and things we did that were helpful:
Lots of communication with our guests: We emailed all of those attending the wedding to give them the heads up that our wedding would have a rabbi, priest and a dog. It really helped people know what to expect.
Lots of communication with our parents: We especially wanted to make sure our parents felt good about the ceremony since we were the first interfaith couple in our immediate families. We gave the opportunity in the beginning of planning to share anything they really wanted in the ceremony. We also shared the ceremony document with our parents in advance and they appreciated it.
Ceremony: It wasn’t easy to find more than an outline of a ceremony, but we did find one from InterfaithFamily that we really liked. Here it is.
Vows: In addition to the traditional vow exchange, we also wanted to say our own words to each other. We worked off of this listand made the vows our own.
I’ve been absent from the IFF blog for the past month or so, dealing with some health issues that kept me a bit too busy for wedding planning—or reflecting.
While I’ve dealt with doctor’s appointments and missed deadlines at work, I’ve had a mental image of a calendar with pages flying by—each representing a day of wedding planning that we’ve missed. But, honestly, none of that really matters. What matters is the fact that, with the support of family and friends, we’ll make it there together—the details of what the wedding day will look like are substantially less important. After all, that’s what it means when you choose love.
At a recent doctor’s appointment a nurse smiled at Justin, as she said to me, “you’ve got a good one sticking by you through this.” Justin’s response was instantaneous: “well, she’s sure had her share of being by my side in similar situations.”
It’s true. Only four months after we met I was by Justin’s side, calling 911 when he was injured, holding his hand as he came to after a 7 hour surgery, and traveling almost every other week between Boston and Philadelphia as he spent three months in a rehabilitation hospital relearning how to walk.
We’ve been testing the traditional marriage vow of “in sickness and in health” through the course of our relationship.
We haven’t actually made it to the point of planning where we are addressing vows (which, as we’ve learned, are traditional in Christian ceremonies but not in Jewish ceremonies), but we both know that this concept isn’t new to us. We’ve committed to holding up our relationship through adventures and health, and through the lows of sickness and injuries.
So, the countdown is on. We need to order rings. We need to design our invites. We need to pick out a ketubah. Finalize our huppah design. We need to pick out food. And figure out what to wear. And how to light our venue. And order flowers. And learn how to dance. The list is long, but we’ll get it done.
After all, those are just details. We’ve already worked out the important things.
How do you #ChooseLove?Show us through InterfaithFamily’s fun new campaign! Watch this video to see how other people #ChooseLove.