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.
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.
July 10, 2012 is a day that I will never forget. I went in for surgery to correct my congenital scoliosis. The surgery was complicated, expected to last 3-4 hours with two weeks of recovery. I had everything planned out and handed everything over to my sister, Michelle, who was going to take care of me for 2 weeks.
Heading into surgery, Anne, as usual, had everything under control. She had compiled a massive binder with all the relevant information: surgeon’s name, health insurance, full medical policy, questions to ask the doctors at every step of the procedure, etc. After sharing a few jokes and prayers, she was taken to the operating room, around noon, and we headed to the waiting room. Hours passed. Around quarter after six an anesthesiologist updated us. After they had stabilized her spine’s curvature, but before they could straighten it, the sensors in her legs stopped receiving signals. As quickly as they could, they closed her up, woke her up, and tested her nervous response. She could neither move nor feel her legs.
I woke up with a breathing tube still down my throat. Michelle and Sam told me what was going on, but my brain didn’t register that I couldn’t move my legs. I was very tired, groggy, and my entire body hurt. For four days, I was kept in the surgical ICU while doctors and nurses poked me and ran test after test. Family and friends visited, and pretty soon I won the award on the floor for having the most visitors! I even had a doctor who looked like Ryan Gosling, who made the poking and prodding seem so much better. (Sorry, Sam.) After a week, I was transferred to an in-patient rehab facility because there was still no movement in my legs. They had a rigorous schedule lined up for me, with occupational therapy, physical therapy, art therapy, and even cooking therapy.
The first day of therapy was torture. My brain finally registered that I couldn’t move my legs. Sitting uncomfortably in a wheelchair in the middle of the therapy gym, I was terrified. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t get up and leave. I had to rely on someone to help me out of the chair, rely on someone to get me dressed, and I couldn’t even shower or go to the bathroom.
I drove up to the rehab center every day after work. At first, the doctors told us that they didn’t know when Anne’s legs would “wake up.” It could be a week, a year, or it could be never. However, it didn’t take long for Anne to start showing signs of progress. First her left leg began to feel sensation, then she could wiggle her left toes. There was still no feeling in her right leg, though.
The sign on my walker reads "I am able to walk independently"
The days at the rehab center got much better as I started to realize that I was not alone. There was an entire floor of patients who were going through similar traumas. Michelle and Sam pushed (okay, forced) me to have a positive attitude and make friends with my roommate, my therapists, and other patients. We played card game after card game, Bananagrams, Uno, Phase 10, Cards Against Humanity, and plenty of other games to pass the time. Heading into the surgery, I had registered to run the Long Branch half-marathon the following May. My therapists would use that as a motivational tool, saying “You can’t run the marathon unless you sit up,” or “You have to learn how to walk before you can run that marathon.”
I attended some of Anne’s physical therapy sessions. It was frustrating for the therapists to tell Anne to move her legs and Anne would conjure up all of her willpower and strength and nothing would happen. I’m sure it was more frustrating to Anne to not be able to do the simple things that she was able to do a week ago. It was also frustrating to not be able to see her for very long. I would come up to the rehab center straight from work and then have to leave about an hour or two later because visiting hours were over. I’d also spend a good chunk of my weekend with Anne and Michelle at the rehab center, playing games. We even started our own Saturday morning Torah study, reading and discussing the weekly parsha.
Anne’s improvement was slow, a lot slower than we wanted, but it exceeded her therapists’ expectations. One day Anne had enough strength to stand, then the therapists pushed her to walk. The day after her first wobbly steps, she walked the length of the gym, assisted only by a walker. I loved seeing the excitement on her face when she’d tell me about the progress she had made earlier in the day, and every day she seemed to grow ten times as strong as the day before.
Sam and my sister Michelle were there every day, and my immediate family drove 2 hours from Delaware every other day to visit. Sam even met some of my friends and extended family during visiting hours in the rehab center, including some cousins driving back to Minnesota from New York.
The surgery and its fallout was a horribly traumatic experience, but with Sam’s support I was able to heal faster than my doctors’ and therapists’ expectations. Even two years later, I’m still not 100% healed. Sometimes I notice that one of the nerves in my right foot is still not functioning properly. However, going through this experience with Sam brought us closer together. I hope that Sam and I never have to experience that kind of trauma again, but I know now that we have the strength together to get through all of life’s difficulties.
Showing Support for Israel During the 2012 Conflict
It has been a hard couple of weeks for the Global Jewish Community. From the kidnapping/murder of three Israeli teens to the full escalation of war in Israel, our hearts weigh heavy. The world also lost a great leader, and my rabbi’s teacher, Reb Zalman, the founder of ALEPHand the Jewish Renewal movement. When there is so much strife in the world, it is important to remember that we are surrounded by love. Conflicts, whether global in scale or in the own home are temporary, but love is truly enduring. Love is our future and our wedding is the ultimate public symbol of that love.
We have been very busy over the past week or so getting a lot of things done for the wedding and all are an expression of love if you have the right perspective.
We worked on our registry. Which meant going to stores, picking things out, talking about do we need, or is this something that would be really nice to have. Lisa and I actually both struggle with this process. It is hard for either of us to ask for anything and the registry is just that. I try to think I am provided for, but as I am writing this I remember a phrase Scott, who is a groomsman but also my spiritual mentor once told me: “When people want to buy you things, let them. That may be the best way they know how to express love. Just because this is not the love we so often crave, it is our responsibility to be accepting of all love and treat it as a gift.”
We emailed caterers. The old Jewish joke goes: What is this holiday about? Answer: We suffered. Let’s eat. Eating during Pesach (or Passover) is a sign of showing your love and thanks towards G-D for delivering us out of the land of Egypt. Or how about when G-D gave the people manna from the sky? Or even now, who does not visit home from time to time and have had their mother or grandmother make them their favorite dish or favorite cookie? Food is just one more symbol of love and emailing caters and thinking of how we can give everyone who comes to the wedding, warmed our hearts a little this week. Even if there was a little conflict of what type of food we should serve at our wedding.
My friend Erica and me at a wedding. Erica is going to be giving the "best man" speech.
I had a lot conversations with my groom’s party. We decided that the two women will wear dark red dresses to match my tie and shoes and the men will wear navy suits with gold ties to tie together the color theme we have going. I also asked my friend Erica in the party to deliver the “best person” speech. She is a professional sports announcer and seemed like a no brainer. I asked my friend Nick to officially be my best man. Mainly due to the fact it is his responsibility to get the groom to the venue. When I think about the car ride we will have listening to the music we bonded over in high school and singing at the top of our lungs on the way, I was instantly filled with love and excitement. Actually speaking to each member of my party (all four of them) this week made a rough week for me with all the time I was on the phone with them. Again, it boils down to the love I have for these people and that the wedding is just one reason to talk about it.
We did a lot of other things as well. Selected a photographer. Nearly finalized our invitation pattern. I selected someone to be my Ketubah witness (although he does not know yet).
It is best to come into the weekend and into Shabbat and remember weddings are a symbol in this world about love. Our wedding is the day we stand up and loudly exclaim it. With everything going on, it is an important message to hold up.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone currently caught in conflict.
This past week was all about fun. Lisa and I decided to have one last getaway before we are putting all our energy and savings into our wedding. We booked a hotel deal on hotwire. We then purchased tickets for the Austrialian party band, The Griswolds. We bought tickets for one of our favorite podcaster/comedian Marc Maron. We then put some clothes in a bag and headed to Indiana. It was nice to just spend some time together, eat food, be entertained, and eat food. (We ate a lot) In keeping with the fun spirit from the weekend, I wanted to write a lighthearted piece while still being informative.
On our wedding day, we are having more of a traditional Jewish Ceremony, but in a chapel. One of the main parts of the ceremony is having our Rabbi recite the Seven Blessings.
Here are the Seven Blessings (Traditional English):
1. Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.
2. Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, Who has created everything for your glory.
3. Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, Creator of Human Beings.
4. Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, Who has fashioned human beings in your image, according to your likeness and has fashioned from it a lasting mold. Blessed are You Adonai, Creator of Human Beings.
5. Bring intense joy and exultation through the in gathering of Her children (Jerusalem). Blessed are You, Adonai, are the One who gladdens Israel through Her children’s return.
6. Gladden the beloved companions as You gladdened Your creatures in the garden of Eden. Blessed are You, Adonai, Who gladdens this couple.
7. Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, Who created joy and gladness, loving couples, mirth, glad song, pleasure, delight, love, loving communities, peace, and companionship. Adonai, our God, let there soon be heard in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem the sound of joy and the sound of gladness, the voice of the loving couple, the sound of the their jubilance from their canopies and of the youths from their song-filled feasts. Blessed are You Who causes the couple to rejoice, one with the other.
I originally was trying to think of a Top 7 Blessings We Wish We Heard At Our Wedding. Then I thought about the Top 7 Blessings Ryan Would Like, the Top 7 Blessings Lisa would like, etc. I still may post them as we still have awhile to go before the big day, but today I went with:
The Seven Blessings with a Modern Time Update for Our Inter-Faith Wedding:
Letterman owns the top 10 list, but we have a special list of 7
1. Thank You God, for creating such wonderful food for our guests to enjoy. Indian Food, Holtman’s Doughnuts, and Drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic).
2. Thank You God, for creating our beautiful venue, who created the inspiration for the chapel and the inspiration for our ceremony.
3. Thank You God, who made the both of us just the way we are.
4. Thank You God, who made us able to fit into our fancy suit and wedding dress.
5. Thank You God, who brought Lisa and I together. Thank You for showing us that we are welcome in all Your Houses of worship. Thank You for welcoming us into Your Communities.
6. Thank You God, for all the happiness you have given us and continue to give. We know it comes with hard times as well, but we are thankful for the moments of happiness we are given with one another.
7. Thank You God, for getting us to our wedding day and through our wedding day, surrounded by love, family, friends, food, and music. Thank You for making this day happen.
Sorry for the radio silence; throughout these last few weeks, I have been going on a series of vacations and experiences: adventures with Sam. He has taken me to Londonderry, NH, Grand Rapids, MI, Lambertville, NJ, and Allentown, PA. It’s been a busy month!
Sam at Moonlight Meadery
In the beginning of June, we visited Moonlight Meadery in Londonderry, New Hampshire. They gave us a tour of their facility and we tasted about 14 different meads (honey-wine). It is incredible how they can mimic the flavors of apple pie or mojito with fermented honey. While we were in Londonderry, we visited a local brewery (603 Brewery) and a winery (Zorvino Vineyards). We can now say that we have been to a meadery, winery, and brewery in 2 days.
Last weekend, we drove to Michigan for the National Homebrew Conference. This is Sam’s jam- three days of all you can drink homebrewed beer! About a hundred different homebrew clubs from all over the country brought their best beers, and vendors showcased brewing equipment and supplies, and poured us more beer. Besides drinking and talking to vendors, there were about 50 different seminars. These speakers, titans of the beer world—Mitch Steele, Brew Master at Stone Brewing Company and John Palmer, author of How to Brew, and many others—talked about how different yeast cultures react in different temperatures, how to improve fermentation, and the secrets of aging in bourbon barrels and, you guessed it, they served more beer.
Members of Sam's homebrew club at the National Homebrew Competition
After three days of drinking really good beer, listening to famous beer people and talking with hundreds of other people about homebrewing, we have some really good ideas for our beer themed wedding.
Some of these Adventures with Sam have been “studying” for our wedding. This past week, our families met at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival to see Fiddler on the Roof. Throughout the show, I heard them whispering to each other, “Will Anne and Sam have this at their wedding?” My mom held her breath while the bride and groom were hoisted on chairs, and my little brother was amazed at the dancers balancing bottles on their hats.
The Bottle Dance. Photo by Lee A. Butz. Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival. Fiddler on the Roof.
A few weeks before seeing Fiddler on the Roof, we went to a wedding near Lambertville, New Jersey. Throughout the wedding, we took notes on what we would do similarly or differently. The ceremony and reception took place outside on a lovely farm with a small group of friends. It was a perfect setting for dancing under the tent or enjoying the bonfire with a cocktail. We loved how all of the aspects of their wedding reflected who they are as a couple and we hope that our wedding does the same, which is why we will have a beer themed wedding.
Whether it is beer related or “studying” for our wedding, the Adventures with Sam are always fun times with many stories to tell. Maybe I should start writing a book and title it:
This week, I was asked by a co-worker about my Bar Mitzvah. She is part of a team that is putting together a presentation of the life cycle events that a Jewish individual will go through in their life from birth to death. The reason for this presentation is to give a brief outline for all the staff who are not Jewish who have had so many questions about the customs and traditions. (I work at the Jewish Federation.)
I grew up in a non-religious household. Sure we celebrated Passover and Hanukkah, but along with Christmas and Easter. My formal Jewish education was the two years I spent before kindergarten in a Temple preschool.
Much like my upcoming wedding, my Bar Mitzvah was anything but traditional. Although I came to accept my Judaism fully when I was 13, my Bar Mitzvah was not until I was 20 years old. I was in Israel on my Birthright trip, which is a free trip for young Jews to connect with Israel. The Bar Mitzvah was scheduled to be on top of Masada, but we could not find a Rabbi willing to carry the Torah up the mountain. Therefore, I was rescheduled to do it in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, in the middle of an actual 13 year old’s Orthodox Bar Mitzvah. I would just come up, repeat something someone said to me, with my hand on the Torah, and officially become a Jewish Man. At the time, it meant a lot because my Grandfather also had his Bar Mitzvah in Israel later in life. However, looking back, I realized I did not have to study anything and I was just asked to show up.
Even with my current spiritual practices, it has been a non-traditional education. I spoke with Rabbis and other spiritual mentors. I have hung around people who practiced all religions. I read books sometimes of my own choosing and sometimes books that were recommended. The most formal part of my spiritual practices are taking time in the morning for prayer and meditation and my Friday nights I spend in Temple.
When it comes to this wedding, I have had to sit in classes with my Rabbi. She even gave Lisa and me a test. It measured our personalities and compatibility. I have had to read books that were recommended to me, whether it be Beyond the Breaking of the Glass or The New Jewish Wedding. I am trying to keep up to date with Jewish Wedding blogs, whether it be my co-contributors at InterfaithFamily or outside sources. I find myself throughout the week going through each part of the ceremony, researching its meaning, praying about it, spiritually evaluating its relevance to me. Much of the time, that is what this blog is about and how my process works. Diving deep into music and traditions.
What does this all mean? This is my most formal Jewish Education I have ever received, and I am going through it with my partner who is not Jewish. I think about this and have to laugh. A touch of irony, but this feels like I am moving from high school to college for my spiritual education. Ever since I started down this path of practice of Judaism, I have always wanted and wished for a formal education to happen, I just had no idea it would begin when I was not expecting it. Usually when you are educating yourself, you know because you enroll in class, but it looks like even my enrollment process into formal Jewish education was once again anything but traditional.
The countdown is on! As of today we have officially two weeks until we tie the knot in front of our friends and family. To say we are excited and counting down the days would be an understatement.
Preparations are moving along smoothly. RSVPs are in (201!) and even our “I work best under pressure” friends have booked hotel rooms. Tomorrow morning we are having a final tasting of the cupcakes and sampling the appetizers for the rehearsal dinner. Songs have been selected, the ceremony is (mostly) organized, and we got our Pinterest on making some pretty cool homespun table numbers out of stained wood, nails and twine.
FIrst Graders do give the best advice
Friday night we attended a party with some of Chris’s co-workers, and they revealed something they’ve been working on: a book of marriage advice from Chris’s first grade students. They were absolutely precious, and here are some of the highlights:
Roberta, age 7: “How to be a good husband: You can kiss her! Spend time with her! Take her dancing! Take care of the kids! Love her and the kids”
Asia, age 6, has some fashion tips: “I’ll give you advice: You need handsome clothing, like a black tuxedo, and you need shiny black shoes”
Kofi, age 7: “Show love to her by giving her flowers and chocolate ice cream and chocolate hearts and take her on special vacations, like to California.”
Takyus, age 7: “Take her on a date and make her dinner before she gets home. And do your laundry…and hers too.”
Devon, age 6: “Be kind to the wife. Do what the wife says. Have fun with the wife”
Do your laundry...and hers, too!
It goes on like this for pages and pages, advice from 100 first graders many of whom recommend buying things like dresses, roses, and rings–who can argue with that wisdom? There was funny advice, silly advice, and a lot of poignant advice about being kind, patient and honest with one another.
We believe that our plan for the ceremony so far reflects our willingness to be patient and honest with one another, and our commitment to include elements of both religious faiths in our lives as we move forward. Here’s the rundown so far:
The reception will be in Dana’s backyard and the ceremony will be in the front. A good friend of ours has agreed to serve as our Justice of the Peace, and we will stand with him, Chris’s brother and Dana’s sister on a small platform in the front yard. Most guests will stand during the short ceremony.
As we’ve mentioned, we will be married beneath a Chuppah, although we are not sure if we are going to need Chuppah bearers or not. The Chuppah was quilted by Dana’s mom, Kathy, out of significant articles of clothing donated from many family members. Those of you familiar with Patricia Polacco’s story The Keeping Quilt will know how meaningful this quilt will be to us throughout our lives.
We will sign a Ketubah, which Chris is busy designing. It will have an image of a tree with silhouettes of birds on it, reflecting a favorite quote of Chris’ mom’s: “There are only two lasting bequeaths we can hope to give our children: one of these is roots, the other wings.”
Chris’s uncle, a Jesuit priest, will read from St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians (“Love is patient, love is kind…”) and his sister will read the beautiful poem “Love” attributed to Roy Croft.
We have seven groups of friends and family members who will read our version of the Seven Blessings.
And…Chris is stomping on a glass, of course. I think he may be more excited for that than any other part of the wedding.
Following the ceremony and a brief Yichud (mostly to allow us time to breathe and enjoy the fabulous food) we will have cocktails in the backyard and then a reception until around midnight!
Dana’s grandfather will perform a Motzi and give a brief speech and many other favorite wedding traditions will follow: the Horah, the mother/son and father/daughter dances, a non-messy cake cutting, and speeches by the best man and maid of honor. We’re skipping things like the bouquet and garter toss, as they’re not really our style.
Then it will be over! We can’t believe it is all happening so fast. It is an event that has been a long time in the making and we anticipate it like we’ve never looked forward to anything in our lives. We can only hope that everyone has as much fun as we know we will.
We’ll try to post again in the next few weeks as everything comes together! Thank you for reading and going through this wonderful process with us.
“You can’t walk away when it gets a little heavy now. “ With all the stress that has fallen onto Lisa and myself over the past couple weeks, Cody ChesnuTT could not be any more right when singing the tune, entitled, “Love is a More Than a Wedding Day.” Through the bad times and the good times music plays a big role in how we remember an event. We sing songs to mark events, like Happy Birthday, and to celebrate holidays like Christmas and Hanukkah. When thinking about the topic of music and weddings, I took to the Internet and just realized how much music happens at any wedding and how it reflects the whole day.
Looking at the songs during the ceremony, I found out there are songs played before and after the ceremony. There are songs throughout the ceremony. Songs for the bridge and groom and songs for the guests. Then the one I actually did think about was what song would Lisa like to come down the aisle to? I have got my homework cut out for me.
I think the most fun song(s) come at the reception. There will be lots of dancing as I am known to dance and dance well and enjoy it. Since this day is about Lisa and me, I can guarantee there will be some music everyone can dance along to. And according to one article I read, it is considering a mitzvah (a good deed) that friends come and dance with the bride and groom. (Any friends reading this, this means you.) However, those songs do not carry much weight and probably will be forgotten in time.
What about the music that says who we truly are? We are already having a nice mix of inter-faith practices during the ceremony, but what about during the reception? Lisa admits the chair dance also officially known as the Hora terrifies her, but we have not officially ruled it out. Mainly because I Iove Harry Belafonte’s “Hava Nageela” and it is a tune that I loved to listen to with my grandmother and one of the records we would bond over towards the end of her life. We may actually look for a way to update the Hora, starting a new tradition to honor my grandmother and still make Lisa feel comfortable. More details to come…
Lisa and I are 99% sure we have our song because it was on the first mix tape (CD) that I ever gave to her. It is simple and actually does wrap us up in the nutshell. Instead of gushing about it, you can just listen to it here.
I began to think about the parent/child dances. Lisa and I are not sure whether we should select the songs or have our parents select the songs. I actually am enjoying the inner dialogue I’m having about selecting the song for the mother and son dance. It is a time to reflect on our definitions of family and what is most important. The Torah (Old Testament) talks about honoring your parents and it is one of the tenets we hear the most. It is applicable to both our faiths as a couple and generally some good advice. This is just one instance in which we get to honor the commandment during the day and in our lives with some extra weight tacked on.
Clearly, music has a big effect on the day. Sometimes it is a spiritual decision. Sometimes it is about who we are every day. Sometimes it is about having fun. This topic will continue to unfold and hopefully closer to the wedding, I will have an update and perhaps a full playlist to go with it all.
While trying to find my inspiration for this week’s post, I just realized how important and how surrounded we are by glass and all the symbols it represents when it comes to weddings. Our chapel is filled with wonderful stained glass. I am reading a book called, Beyond Breaking the Glass: A Spiritual Guide to Your Jewish Wedding. Glass is a big deal. Sometimes it is obvious. Sometimes it is hidden.
With most Jewish-inspired ceremonies, the tradition is for the groom to break glass under his foot at the end of the marriage ceremony. One reason according to The Jewish Book of Why, “the noise is a warning to man that he must temper life’s joyous moments (such as the occasion of a wedding) with sober thoughts: that life is not all joy; that the happiness of the wedding day will not continue indefinitely; that the young couple ought to prepare itself for all life’s eventualities. “
This week has been a tough one for Lisa and me. We have not gotten a single thing done. No wedding planning. No cleaning for my parents visit. We have just been so stressed due to my unexpected leaving of playing and coaching roller derby. (Which is where we met.) It has even been a struggle to get out this post. Reading the above passage just reminded me that being married starts before the day you say, “I do.” It continues long after that day as well. It is going to be a journey or ups and downs. Although we are both struggling with the new reality, a couple things we are immediately grateful for is that we will be able to spend more time together and I will have some extra time to plan the wedding.
We are all familiar with the “toast” done with glasses known as flutes at the wedding. At one point in my life it the classic scene from Fiddler on the Roof. However, by the time Lisa and I are married, it will nearly mark five years since I quit drinking and decided to walk a more spiritual path. I remember that one of the first bits of advice I received was that I was going to have to throw out lifelong conceptions in order to grow. They told me that, “It is not about the champagne in the glass, but it is about the person you are marrying.” What seemed like an impossible concept to grasp at the time is now becoming true. The toast for that very reason holds a special place in my heart, as a spiritual sign of growth, and that transcends all religions being celebrated that day.
This week has just been filled with reflection, and although it’s a metaphor, clearly this entire blog is a giant mirror for my journey as we march towards our wedding day and spending the rest of our lives together. This week we re-discovered how much we need to be there and support one another at a moment’s notice. How that takes precedent over all other matters. I also took some time and got more involved in my community work, to get away from reflection at first, but ended up reflecting more, but in a positive way.
I know this post is a bit disjointed, but not everything is going to fit into a box. Not everything is going to go as planned now, the wedding day, and beyond. The important thing is to reflect and appreciate how the light shines through all this glass.
Sorry for the long period of radio silence, but wedding preparations have been intensifying. Less than a month now!! We are beyond excited as everything is starting to become real. But more on that later…
Eating Falafal in Tel Aviv
This post is all about a very special trip Dana and I took in April. Dana’s sister, Julie, lives in Tel Aviv and works as a JDC fellow for CIMI, the Center for International Migration and Integration. She has been in Israel for about four years, and while Dana has been to visit her and seen Israel several times, I had never been before. We finally decided to take her up on the offer to visit, and the result was the best trip we have ever been on together. From the mountains of her extended family’s home on a Moshav in the north to the desert splendor of the Dead Sea in the south, from the bustle and beaches of Tel Aviv to the ancient labyrinth of the Old City of Jerusalem, I was in constant awe of the country.
We drove to New York City on a rainy Thursday night for a midnight flight direct to Tel Aviv, and despite Dana’s warnings about the complications of boarding a flight to Israel we found ourselves airborne without much trouble. Upon arrival we took a cab to Julie’s apartment, a flat she shares with two roommates and a hot water heater named “The Dude,” which overlooks a courtyard filled with cats and is steps from the Nahalat Binyamin and a short walk to the beach.
Friday night we were lucky enough to attend a Shabbos dinner at Julie’s friends’ beautiful rooftop apartment. I realized that Shabbos dinner epitomizes everything that I like best about religion: a time to slow down, reflect, and more importantly to spend time with friends and family. We decided that, like Dana’s family growing up, we are definitely going to make Shabbos dinner a part of our weekly family routine when we finally do have children. Some of Julie’s friends also exposed us to a unique way of observing Shabbat; they would leave their phones off or at home for the whole day. A seemingly small sacrifice, in today’s world cutting yourself off from your devices is unthinkable to some, and seems to be a very good way of devoting some of your Saturday to a more contemplative life.
Spending time with family
After spending Saturday at the beach watching kite surfers and then going to a few bars with Julie’s friends that night, we rented a car early Sunday morning and drove up to Karmiel (near Haifa) to visit Dana and Julie’s Aunt Harriet and her extended family, who live on a Moshav called Yodefat. We spent a very relaxing couple of days with Harriet, her five children and their spouses and kids. What struck me most about this visit was the closeness of the extended family. The cousins, though young, knew each other very well, and everyone took collective responsibility over the cooking, cleaning and looking after the children. And they had so much fun! There were so many smiles, lots of jokes in Hebrew that I couldn’t understand, and a lot of laughter and love.
The trip was filled with highlights and moments like these, but I realize that I am characteristically rambling and will give the rest of my high points as bullets:
Monday night we went to a Mimuna party (the Moroccan celebration for the end of Passover) in a warehouse in West Tel Aviv. It was by far the hippest thing Dana and I have ever done.
Our Tuesday trip to the Dead Sea was absolutely breathtaking. I was so blown away by the desolation of the scenery and the awesome, bizarre production that was swimming in that painfully salty body of water, coating ourselves in mud and trying to remember not to swallow any water.
The Old City in Jerusalem: I could devote pages and pages to the thoughts and emotions that filled me as we toured the seat of three of the world’s major religions. We walked the Via Dolorosa (I got what I consider to be justifiably angry at a shopkeeper who tried to block me from taking a picture of the 8th Station of The Cross, saying I had to buy a guide book from him in order to take photographs. Does he own that particular historical landmark?!), saw the frenzied Church of the Holy Sepulcher, took a very scenic hike around the ramparts, visited the Western Wall, and allowed ourselves to get lost and wander through the city’s ancient stairs and passageways. It was an experience like no other, and we boarded the bus home with weary legs and full hearts.
In front of the Kotel (Western Wall)
Getting hummus in Jaffa: I can now agree with Julie in saying that I hadn’t tasted hummus before this trip. It was an entirely different experience eating it warm from a bowl with slices of raw onion and fresh-baked pita on a gorgeous sunny Friday morning. Wandering around Jaffa afterwards was an unexpected bonus, as was making friends with the young boys who were jumping off of the docks into the water.
Spending time with Julie was a blessing for both Dana and I. Dana has always been close with her family and her sister in particular, and I know that it has been hard for them to be apart for all these years. I was constantly smiling at the two of them as they interacted in the beautifully silly and mildly antagonistic way that only sisters can.
Three silly kids floating in the Dead Sea
It truly was a once-in-a-lifetime trip for us, an invigorating and re-energizing experience as well as a bit of a pilgrimage for both of us. It was wonderful to realize the traditions that we want to pass on to our children, to see that both of our faiths have their roots in the same two square-mile radius, and to spend quality time with Dana’s sister and with one another.
More to come on wedding preparations next week! The countdown is truly on, and everything is going well.
These last few months have been busy with dress fittings, selecting the menu, arranging the seating chart, creating the invitations, ordering the suits, and other wedding plans. Sam and I continually remind ourselves that the wedding is only one day and we should focus on preparing for a marriage. This lifelong commitment to each other begins at the wedding ceremony. With that in mind, we are trying to combine the rituals and symbols of both Judaism and Catholicism in our ceremony.
Sam’s parents (Pennye & Phil) on their wedding day
We specifically chose our priest and rabbi to not only co-officiate the ceremony, but also to guide us along this spiritual journey. The rabbi is someone very dear to Sam and the priest is the presider of my family’s parish. These two special people have been a part of various life cycle events in Sam’s and my life. They know us and our families very well, and we are honored that they will be officiating our marriage ceremony. The rabbi and priest continue to help us in the marriage preparations by proofing our ketubah language, assisting with Diocesan paperwork, and helping us with the order and symbols of the ceremony. In our first meeting with the priest, he gave us words of wisdom to keep in mind, throughout this entire process (and our lives): “Keep your own faith at heart, but do not minimize or trivialize the faith of the other.”
If I were converting to Judaism, or Sam to Catholicism, we would have chosen a specific house of worship for our ceremony, such as a synagogue or church. Because we are not, we decided to have our ceremony in a country club, a “neutral” location. This way, both faiths are equally visible and our guests won’t be uncomfortable in attending a wedding in another house of worship. By having our wedding on a Sunday afternoon, Sam and his family can still go to Shabbat services, and my family can go to early Sunday morning Mass.
Throughout the ceremony, we want to honor each other’s faiths, focusing on the similarities, rather than the differences. We have asked my brother, Chris, and Sam’s sister, Stacey, to help us explain the wedding rituals and symbols in each of our faiths at the start of the ceremony.
There are a few symbols that are used in both religions, such as bread, wine, rings, and most importantly, the vows. Sam and I will say the blessings over the bread and wine in our own respective religions. The priest and rabbi will guide us in exchanging our vows and rings.
We have adapted some rituals and symbols to be more conducive to an interfaith wedding. The chuppah is a symbol unfamiliar to my Catholic family, whereas the unity candle is a symbol unfamiliar to Sam’s Jewish family. We will sign our ketubah during the ceremony rather than before it, honoring the Catholic tradition of the bride and groom not seeing each other beforehand. The traditional Jewish Seven Blessings will be said, with both fathers participating. At the end of the ceremony, we will break the glass. This has many meanings in the Jewish faith, but for the two of us, it will also symbolize the breaking down of barriers between people of different cultures and faiths as our families are now joined together.
By incorporating some Jewish and Catholic wedding rituals in our ceremony, we will signal to our friends and family our intent to continue practicing our religions. We hope that this public declaration of faith will communicate our plans to remain strong in faith while supporting our partner’s religious practice.