When my husband read an early draft of this essay, he asked, "Why doesn't her partner have to support our daughter? After all, they agreed to raise children as Jews." What does it mean to raise a Jewish child?
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Check out me (Yolanda) and my fiance Arel as we introduce ourselves via our first vlog (video blog) and hear a little bit about your story and upcoming wedding plans. We’re very excited about this journey and look forward to learning more about Judaism as we figure out how to have a Jewish wedding with a mostly interfaith guest list.
We would love to hear from all of you out there. Please comment and show us some love or give your opinion. This wedding is a work in progress and we are eager to hear from y’all.
We made it through an absolutely amazing weekend of festivities, had a beautiful ceremony and shared in so much love and joy that we are positively bursting.
Now that it is all over I am reflecting on some of the choices we made as a couple and myself as an individual regarding kashrut, Jewish dietary law.
A significant portion of my friends and family keep kosher to one extent or another, so we knew from the start that we had to accommodate that for all meals. We made the simple choice for the reception to go vegetarian because our venue had non-kosher in-house catering. This turned out great since they had superb chefs who were able to come up with three unique, creative and tasty entree options for guests to choose from.
I, however, am a meat lover so we managed to get a kosher caterer for both a Shabbat dinner (for the family that doesn’t travel on the Sabbath) and the rehearsal dinner on Saturday night. It wasn’t easy to find one that was affordable because kosher is such a rare and expensive commodity, but in the end we were very happy with the results and Mia was always willing to accommodate these needs and take on these costs without hesitation or objection. Did I land a good one or what?
This is all by way of leading into the longer term thought processes about what to do as we move forward sharing a home where one of us was brought up keeping kosher and the other most definitely was not.
I have long internally debated how kosher I want to be. Many people over the years have been asked by me about their practices and their reasoning behind it. And in general the most compelling of reasons I’ve received for the practice in the modern era is the tying together of a community. This is important to me, but my community isn’t just Jewish. If I keep too strictly to the rules I start excluding people from my community since I won’t be able to eat in their homes and they won’t be able to bring food into mine. Three quarters of our wedding party would be excluded if I kept to the extremes of kashrut. That’s way further than I could ever go. I want to maintain my identity, but also my flexibility.
It has been years since I’ve kept separate dishes for meat and dairy (though I separate for Passover), since that, to me, is just a silly anachronism. But the other limitations are harder for me to let go, so I’m starting an experiment to see what happens and maybe in a few weeks I’ll have more to say. I decided that for our honeymoon (in France, conveniently enough) I am taking an official kashrut hiatus.
This adventure has already begun as we marked the start of honeymoon with a pre-mini-moon for a night in Phoenix before returning to Boston for a week before leaving for France. That night, at dinner, we were given a pair of complimentary seared scallops (with pancetta in the sauce too). I hadn’t planned on starting yet, but we had declared this night part of the honeymoon so I sat and agonized for a minute or two. And then, for the first time in my life (barring the accidental ham and cheese once when I was 5), I consciously and deliberately chose to eat the flesh of not one, but two un-kosher animals.
I’m not dead yet, but I’m still figuring out how I feel and how this will affect the life Mia and I are now building together. WIsh me luck as the experiment continues.
The people Ethan would playfully refer to as “punks” would say “J-E-W-I-S-H…” but that’s not what we’re talking about here.
One thing we noticed while on our whirlwind trip through Phoenix last week, talking to florists, planners, event location managers, caterers, and other sundry people involved in The Wedding Day, was that we just couldn’t come to agreement on how to spell Huppah. There are just so many choices, Chuppah, Hupah, Huppah, Huppa, Chuppa…. Though some would probably argue that there is only one right way to do it, they better not be using the Roman alphabet. Because there just isn’t standardization in transliteration. Oh sure, some people have tried, and large groups of Jews choose to use one standard or another, but there just isn’t a universal.
This can cause a bit of a problem when dealing with people not familiar with all the variance. If you use a spelling they’re not used to, then they might not understand what you’re talking about. Certainly this problem is more prevalent in the modern age when so much is done via email and the internet, but trying to make arrangements from 2000 miles away doesn’t help either.
Fortunately we haven’t run into any major snafus because of the joys of transliteration, but there has been occasional minor confusion.
All that being said, we’re happy to report success in making major progress from our trip, and invitations are going out tomorrow.
On a related note, when we drafted our invitations we had included the Hebrew date, and had spelled out the English year “Two thousand and eleven,” as is often traditional in formal invitations. We had kept the Hebrew date as a numeral and got a near universal reaction from people who reviewed it that that looked weird. In the end we chose uniformity in numerals because spelling out “Fifty seven and seventy one” in addition to the above just took up way too much space. So be on the lookout and keep it in mind for your big day. It’s a minor detail, but one worth looking good.
This week, Ethan was freed from the bonds of the academic calendar (boy, finals are fun) and we near instantly picked up and flew out to Phoenix for a long weekend to taste, meet vendors and walk through venues for the upcoming wedding and associated events.
Our first stop (a mere hour and a half after our plane landed) was at Temple Chai in Scottsdale, where we had the pleasure of seeing where our Shabbat and rehearsal dinners will be. It took a little imagination to picture our events taking place in Room Gimel (I believe named for being vaguely shaped like the Hebrew letter), given that it was set up for a blue and white, sports-themed bar mitzvah party. But nonetheless the facilities were looking quite good and we’re confident that they will be treating us very well. (Ethan has family who are members.)
Mia had an interesting revelation as she walked with Ethan and her parents into the hall: her folks were very concerned about whether they were dressed appropriately for this visit, and what the dress code would be for the actual dinners. This reminded Mia of when she first started attending services with Ethan and was really worried about fitting in and not being “offensive” somehow (not that she wears cutoffs and bustiers, of course!). She noted how relaxed she was as she encouraged her parents to trust Ethan’s assurances that they were just fine. (What a difference 2.5 years make: now she’s reassuring her parents rather than being reassured by Ethan.)
Meanwhile, back to the caterer… conveniently enough, the event we were watching get set up was being catered by the same company we were hoping to use for the dinners, and they were kind enough to let us sample some of their hors d’oeuvres to get a sense of their cooking. It is pretty important for Ethan that we get a kosher caterer for the Shabbat dinner because he simply likes his meat and with a significant number of guests who keep kosher the rest of the weekend will have to be milchig (dairy). So who could be more happy when the first waiter to come by brings out the traditional pigs in a blanket? Mia found the concept of the non-dairy pastry wrapper to be quite novel too. (Perhaps yet another indication of how she’s becoming accustomed to thinking about the kosher/non-kosher dynamic whenever she’s eating.)
So thus our weekend begins, tune in next week for more thrilling adventures from the desert.
Wow, has time flown or what?!?!? Ethan has been working full time plus taking classes toward a grad degree at night, which is like a second job, while Mia recently changed jobs and has been wedding planning at night….which is like a second job also!
Among many developments are the successful and laughter-filled meetings we have been having with our two officiants. One is the cantor at Ethan’s family’s shul who we love, the other is a long-time family friend of Mia’s. We have been very pleased by how naturally everything is coming together for our interfaith ceremony which will honor both of our heritages. (For those of you just starting to think about your interfaith ceremonies, we respectfully recommend checking out the options provided here on InterfaithFamily.com – what a resource! And we’re not just sayin’ that cuz we’re bloggin’ here – it’s true! We looked elsewhere!)
The other notable development (more exciting than cake and DJ selection and wedding gown fittings) is that we recently contracted a local jeweler to design and make our wedding bands. Supporting local businesses whenever possible, versus buying from chains, has been a major goal for us for all aspects of the wedding. We are thrilled to know that our rings won’t be mass produced in another country, and that we are supporting a local craftswoman.
When Ethan proposed to Mia, he surprised her with a vintage-style art deco ring that has marvelous elements in it that attract the admiration of everyone who sees them. We decided to mirror some of these elements in our wedding band for unity, artfully interspersed among the Hebrew lettering of the beautiful phrase, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”
In the interest of full disclosure, since this is a space dedicated to sharing some of the trials and tribulations of interfaith relationships, Mia confesses that she had pause about having Hebrew lettering on her wedding band since, well, she’s not Jewish and she questioned whether that would be a true reflection of her. But then she realized that the sentiment in the expression transcends languages, religions and heritages and that the Hebrew lettering would be a daily reminder of the leap of faith Ethan is taking with her as well.
We were thrilled that the jeweler had created rings before with that phrase and was so supportive of it, and we know our rings will be unique, a constant reminder of our love for each other. We can’t wait to see them and to see people marvel over them, and their significance, like they do with Mia’s engagement ring!
It’s us again, and Daisy (our cat) says hi too. (Have you ever tried using a laptop while a cat is also trying to occupy said lap?)
We’re continuing to move along with wedding planning, with just under four months until W Day! Slowly things seem to be shaping up. This of course has entailed the usual back and forth with our respective matriarchs, calls to DJs and florists, menu planning and continuing the ongoing odyssey of discovering how we actually want the day to look and feel. All of this while Ethan juggles full-time work plus two grad classes, and Mia transitions between jobs. Suffice to say we got a lot goin’ on, and practically have to book appointments with each other to ensure dedicated planning time. But it works, and that’s the important thing!
So far we have been fortunate in many things. For instance, one of the DJs we contacted said it would be no problem to have a period of traditional Jewish dancing. He even threw down with some Yiddish. Mia is confident a traditional Indian wedding vase can be easily procured (she says “Indian” because, as the residents on the reservation close to her parents’ house note, they aren’t Native Americans because this wasn’t always America…but we digress…)
Technology has definitely made living in Boston while planning an Arizona wedding much more feasible. Emails help bridge the time zones, and our “wed site” has kept friends and family members from across the country informed about logistics and what to expect. The Internet also played a large role in selecting vendors. Our wedding consultant had sent us a few links for photographers she highly recommended, and because photography is, well, visual, as is the Internet, we felt very confident when we clicked on one of the links and found ourselves staring at an album that matched our vision. But how to connect with this person who would memorialize moments of our most special day? We’d heard horror stories about photographers who looked good on paper but were wet blankets on the day of. Skype to the rescue!
We were particularly excited this past week when we Skyped with Christine, our photographer, so that we could “meet.” We felt like goofy kids, all three of us giggling and exclaiming how cool it was that we could see each other! It’s not like we’re new to Skype, but it is still neat to have a chance to have a face-to-face interview from 2,000 miles away. (Mia has noted lately how it’s hard to feel like a bride sometimes when she can’t physically be there to meet vendors or go shopping for dresses with her interstate brides maids…but she digresses…) We hope to Skype with the DJ and florist as well. We’ll have to fly to AZ to do our menu and cake tastings…no food replicator similar to that in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” has hit the market yet. Unless you know something we don’t know…;)
Has Skype played a valuable role in YOUR wedding planning or relationship building?
Mia stole the show last time, so now you’re all stuck with me — Ethan.
This week we had our first serious sit down with one of our two officiants. One is a close family friend of Mia’s who lives in Arizona, he’ll be representing… Well, I don’t know exactly, we haven’t worked out the details entirely, but he’ll be important in the non-Jewish aspects of the ceremony. The other officiant is a cantor out here in Massachusetts who is a great, soulful, spiritual and all around fabulous woman.
We met with her over Korean Bibimbap after work this week. A lot of the discussion was background on our spiritual, personal and family histories so we could build a common language as a basis for the ceremony. When we did start getting into specifics, I found it was important for me to have much of the basic Jewish liturgy included, while Mia wanted a variety of blessings and ceremonial touches from her diverse background. (Did we mention that her people hail from over half a dozen European countries and the Western Hemisphere and has no overlap with my 4 European countries of decent?)
So we’re looking into unity candles, wine drinking/glass breaking, hand fasting, and native American wedding vases, among other things. In thinking about all this though, we still want to keep the ceremony to a reasonable time. Clearly there are going to have to be some compromises to keep it under 2 hours. And that’s when it hit me! Often when doing the Seven Blessings, you’ll have people read them in both Hebrew and English. Sometimes it’s the same person, sometimes different. But what if we do it differently? We’re now looking into writing/stealing our own unique set of seven blessings. Some of the traditional ones are sure to be there, but there will definitely be others as well.
We’ve still not really worked out the details of course, but at least we have a direction for some of this insanity. And it’ll keep things moving if we do it right. Winners all around.
Mia here…Ethan is at a meeting and our cat Daisy is curled up next to me. This rare quiet time inspired contemplative thoughts about my upcoming marriage to Ethan in an interfaith context. The theme of “in between” came to mind on three different levels, so I thought I would share. If anyone has had any positive experience with them, I welcome your feedback!
Level 1: Kinda sorta a “member of the Tribe” but not really ~
As previously shared, I have been overcome by the love and joy Ethan’s family and friends have exhibited as our relationship progressed, and especially when we became engaged. I have also been similarly touched by and grateful for their acceptance of me as a non-Jewish person, as well as their appreciation of my efforts to learn all I can about Judaism, and my participation in high holidays, Shabbat dinners, etc. I have been dubbed something of a budding resource about Judaism among my non-Jewish friends and coworkers. But beneath it all is the truth that I am not Jewish, and at this time, I don’t intend to convert in the near future. Respect, yes. Participate, yes. Continue to learn, of course. It’s just that I have had a very complicated relationship with organized religion since an early age. I was not raised in a religion because my parents wanted my brother and me to choose our own paths, and that process has been met with a lot of confusion and hostility over the years from many camps (not from anyone in Ethan’s family, thankfully!). I need to get to a place where I can find a good middle ground and not feel in limbo, nor feel defensive about my position (although Ethan keeps reminding me there’s no reason to feel that way ~ I hope he’s right!).
Level 2: What’s in a name?
Despite having issues with patriarchal societies, I decided to take Ethan’s last name when we marry. This decision has made me think about heritage a lot. “My people” were Irish, Scottish, Welsh, German, and French (among a handful of others), with a spectrum of heritage associated with them, whereas Ethan’s family name is Russian and Lithuanian with Jewish heritage. We both gravitate toward the unity a shared name implies, as well as the sense of connection we will have with our children. I can just picture my children’s responses to the ancestry question: “Well, we are (in no particular order) English, Irish, Russian, Welsh, Scottish, Lithuanian, Polish, French, German, Spanish, and Native American. Seriously.” I think I may be one of a very small handful of family members in many recent generations of my family to introduce Jewish heritage to the family tree, and this has made me marvel at the amazing webs we all are weaving for future generations of our families in this age of greater tolerance.
And finally (thank goodness, you say!) Level 3: What’s in a Seder and an Easter Egg?
Ethan and I are looking forward to celebrating our third Passover and Easter together. The former is celebrated to the fullest extent; the latter consists of my display of bunnies, painted eggs, and flowers around the house (nothing about Jesus) and the consumption of jelly beans and Cadbury Cream Eggs (drool…). Last year we hosted a Seder, and I asked Ethan in advance if his family would be startled to see Easter decorations. Instead, they were really interested and asked me what the decorations’ meaning is for me. The answer is the thrill of approaching spring and the renewal and fresh start that implies, and memories of savory brunches on the holiday with my family, with me in a new frilly pastel frock and white Mary Janes. Last year, friends and coworkers asked if I was fully participating in Passover since it was Ethan’s and my first under a shared roof, and I replied that I was except for attending every service and observing the restricted eating because I’m hypoglycemic. Again, I find myself in an “in-between” land where I’m partially blending two traditions that have different meanings for me than they do for people who observe them to the letter. But as I write this, I realize that it’s fun! Ethan makes THE best brisket in the world, and I have come to look forward to the bond that exists around the Seder table, while also counting the days until I can transform our home into a springtime display and honor the cycle of the seasons. Don’t worry, I don’t let the Cadbury eggs get anywhere near the brisket.
Welcome to all of our readers and thank you Benjamin for giving us this opportunity to share a little window into our lives with you.
So where to begin…well, if you read Mia’s post from last spring, you know that we established open and honest communication about our different religious/spiritual beliefs from Day 1. Mia continued to learn more about Ethan’s beliefs and attended more high holiday services with his family, and Ethan joined Mia at another Christmas celebration, this time fully prepared!
We are positive that such honesty helped bring us to where we are today: preparing to celebrate our decision to spend the rest of our lives together! (As Mia would say “forever and Ever and EVER!” in a children-of-the-corn type voice.)
Usually these conversations have been hopeful and thoughtful, but sometimes they have been somewhat emotional. For example, a few months into our relationship, there was a misunderstanding about Mia’s involvement in a family event that prompted her to ‘fess up to some ongoing concerns she had been harboring without realizing how deeply they were affecting her. This lead to a sudden outburst of “but what if…” questions on Mia’s part, accompanied by tears and sniffles. One such question was, “but what if we get married, (sniffle) and have kids, (sniffle) and our kids go to Jewish day school, (sniffle sniffle) and the other kids know our kids’ mother isn’t Jewish. (Deep breath leading into high pitched voice) Will our kids get beaten up in the playground?”
Ethan chuckled as he pulled Mia into a hug. “First of all,” he said, “we Jews are not known for our physical aggressiveness, Israelis not withstanding. Second, given how tall we both are (6′ and 5′ 11″), our children will be the local giants.”
All joking aside, we both acknowledge that there are some communities that won’t accept us or our children. This is quite sad, but we have been overwhelmed by the support and love of our friends, families, and communities.
It was clear early in our discussions of our wedding that the ceremony itself would be a blending of our traditions.
On the Jew hand, it is important to Ethan to have the Seven Blessings, a huppah and ketubah, and of course the breaking of the glass (I mean really, how often do you get to smash things in public?). On the more diverse hand, Mia wants influences from her myriad backgrounds, including Celtic and Native American blessings.
To accommodate ourselves we’ve agreed to have co-officiants, the cantor from Ethan’s step-father’s shul and a longtime and well-spoken dear family friend of Mia’s. We’re still working on a lot of the specifics of who will do which readings and if there will be songs, etc… But it’s a start. And we look forward to sharing the process with all of you as we continue on this wild ride!
Most of the time, we plan to blog together, but occasionally you might get one of us who was suddenly caught up by the muse! Look out! Thank you for reading and helping us create another special community! Talk soon!