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?
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.
Yes, yes indeed, the ketuba was ultimately not killed off and is going to be very much alive and present at our wedding ceremony. I was put off at the thought of a ketuba at the beginning. As stated in my previous post, Ketuba or Not to Ketuba, I relentlessly swayed back and forth on the idea. What changed my mind you ask? Well, it started with finally letting go of the traditional meaning of the ketuba and embracing it for what it could be.
Our ketuba won’t look like a ketuba at all. For one, it won’t be two-dimensional. It also is going to serve as a written document announcing and confirming our marriage as well as double as our vows. So instead of having a ketuba and separate vows, we’re going to make them one-in-the-same. The reading of the ketuba will be us saying our vows. Besides, that’s what the essence of a ketuba is anyways, right?
And to make it even more multi-functional, it will also serve as a sculpture and interesting conversational piece for years to come.
What is it you ask?
Plain and simple, it’ll be a tree. But not just any tree. A tree sculpted by us and embroidered with the wonder of our relationship. Each leaf signed by a loved one on our wedding day serving as witness to our union. My favorite part is that the tree will be hollow. Upon our wedding day, we will ask each person to write us well wishes, blessings, advice and wisdom. These will fill our tree just as our loved ones have filled our life with their warmth and caring.
It just goes to show that if one lets their mind and heart open up without bias, amazing things can happen.
Last night as we sat with Rabbi Berman, I was so exhausted that I was loopy. My new job at JPS is in my brain all the time and I was having a hard time turning my brain chatter down so that I could pay attention to the most important task at hand.
We were talking ritual.
Rabbi Berman is totally down with our questioning of rituals and our desire to make them our own. This is exactly why we knew she would be the right fit. We had so much to talk about and decide upon and I think in the end, we were left with more to ponder than we walked in the door with. You know. This is a good thing.
Something that came up, that Lu and I just love, is the idea of a Bedeken.
Now. Traditionally a Bedeken Ceremony in an Orthodox wedding takes place right before the actual wedding ceremony and is the unveiling of the Bride. The story here (traditionally speaking) is that the groom should see the bride’s face before the magic happens so that he doesn’t marry the wrong woman—Like how Jacob married Leah accidentally when he meant to marry Rachel in Genesis:29
So. Not only is this custom out of date and totally weird, but you wouldn’t even think that it could be a positive thing—a spiritual moment–the connotation that the woman would be trying to get over on the man, and that the man is so distrusting of his wife-to-be that he has to check to make sure that she is who she claims to be. Preposterous! Lu and I are just way too liberal for that!
So Rabbi Berman presented an alternative idea—Let me elaborate.
In the weeks leading up to the wedding, Lu and I will be hectic. Crazy, pull out your hair, yell at each other, and maybe even start drinking-hectic. We will be making last minute plans, gathering family, and working to make our wedding, a wedding. On the big day there will be getting dressed and taking pictures and decorating and flower arranging. We will be totally hectic right up until the moment when we stand there-under the huppah- and look into each other’s eyes.
So why not make THAT our bedeken?
As Lu and I meet, for the first time, under the huppah, on our nuptial day, we will take a moment. We will be silent and we will ground ourselves. We will be sure that we are there completely; leaving behind all of the hectic life that was the wedding-prep and we will unveil each other by taking a breath. By looking into each others eyes and be sure that we are there with each other and for each other.
We know that we can only remain in silent meditation for a few moments without causing our guests to stir. But with any hope, the moment will feel like an eternity. It will be the most calming, grounding, humbling moment that a couple could ask for.
I for one am looking forward to that little break.
As I sit here on the eve of our son, Raiden’s first birthday all that I can think about is how good Lu and I have it.
We met so long ago that I can’t actually imagine life without her in it. It’s amazing how quickly someone binds themselves to you and intertwines with every aspect of your life. It’s almost as if we have grown up together, which in essence, we have.
In our first year of parenting we have learned to really lean on and support each other. Our relationship has only grown and strengthened. We have come to terms with our differences and have learned to love the fact that we are in it together.
We are. In it together.
When we became pregnant, I was overcome with happiness that Lula was going to be a mother, and that she was going to be a mother to the same child that I would father. To this day, I couldn’t be happier.
All the time I find myself telling Lu: “I’m so glad it’s you.” I can’t think of anyone that I would rather take this journey with.
Lula: Thank you for being my stronghold. Thank you for being the best mother that I have ever met. That you for caring, and thank you for feeling, and thank you (most of all) for being born! Raiden is lucky. I am lucky. We are one lucky family.
Lula and Raiden—on your special day.
This post is for you.
Raiden: Baby boy, Dooker Butt, One-Sock-Block My son. My light. My life. I know that you are just learning to walk and to talk and to really show us who you are and “I’m so glad it’s you.” You are the best thing to ever happen to us. You amaze us everyday with your strength in body and mind. You make each moment precious and amazing. I’m glad that you are our teacher and am honored that we will be able to learn from you for years to come.
I’m so excited that the three of us are embarking on this life together. Our future is bright.
It’s a continuous cycle that doesn’t seem to have an end. It’s not Alx’s fault. It’s not my fault. It’s not anyone’s fault.
I just can’t get over that little twinge in the back of my conscience that’s irritated with the whole Jewish wedding thing. I mean, we have already established that the wedding isn’t strictly Jewish. We’ve established that every single minute aspect will be filled with the essence of us. So why is it still bothering me? Well, I think I figured it out. It’s a point that Rabbi Berman brought up in our last meeting but I didn’t put any thought into it at the time. She hit the nail on the head though. She said that milestone events such as weddings cause a plethora of emotions to surface that really have nothing to do with the event; however, the event serves as a platform for the issues to be brought forth. Okay, either she is psychic or just that damn good.
What are the issues you ask? Where do I even start. Well, you know that perfect family set-up, Leave It to Beaver style? That’s Alx’s family except much, much cooler. They are the most tight-knit family that I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Now this isn’t a bad thing. This is an absolutely fantastic thing. I love it. I love that our son, Raiden, will grow up with that.
So what’s the issue then? The issue is that my family is the opposite of that. We love each other but we are not close by any means. It isn’t for a lack of trying but we grew up with a tough love kind of dad. There wasn’t much hugging, pat-on-the-back kind of stuff going on. My mom grew-up in a traditional Japanese household where emotions and physical affections just aren’t a part of the family structure. To top it all off, my dad was in the military so we moved about every four years. Putting it bluntly, my brothers and I had no issues with packing-up, skipping town, and none of us have ever looked back. Until now.
Now, I’m looking back. I’m looking back at the missed opportunities of intimacy with my family. How does this pertain to the wedding you ask?
Well, it has everything to do with the wedding on an emotional level. I want what Alx has always had and always will have with his family. I am close with his family but let’s face it, it’s totally not the same. It doesn’t fill that longing void in the pit of my heart that bleeds because my family missed out on Rai’s first everything while Alx’s family has been there for all of it. Frankly, I’m down right jealous at times about Alx’s family intimacy and solid cultural background. It makes his aspects of our wedding pretty straight forward. I’m proud of my heritage, my diversity, even my complete fractured randomness but how do you make all of those pieces into something tangible and wedding ready?
This is my issue. This is why I’m going around and around and around with no end in sight. My pragmatic logical self tells me that it is an unwarranted fear and that all will be well. However, my somewhat schizophrenic emotional self obsesses over those fragmented pieces of me and worries that they won’t stack up. I’m thinking that Rabbi Berman has some work cut out for her. Thank the powers that be that she’s psychic and damn good.
Many people have asked us why we wanted a Rabbi instead of a justice of the peace or a non-denominational minister. And I think that I would like to try to answer the question:
Have you ever just felt inside that something needed to be a certain way? Maybe it was because of your upbringing or maybe it was because of your education. But you just knew in your heart of hearts that if it wasn’t done that way that it would not feel as complete as you needed it to be. Well. I have just always known that I would be married by a Rabbi. This put Lu in a tough spot and I think added to the depth of our quest. I’ve felt that a Rabbi would be most amenable to the soul searching and thought that we sensed should be present in our wedding ceremony. That is not to say that a non-denominational minister wouldn’t do just as good of a job. I mean. My own mother, Miki Young, is a non-denominational minister who often officiates at interfaith ceremonies. And she is AWESOME. I just feel better trusting this most important moment in our lives to a Rabbi. It’s just important to me.
Our search for her was not as easy as we would have liked and I think much of it had to do with us in the end:
First, my need to have a Rabbi didn’t make it easy for Lu. She was totally great in understanding why it was important to me, (and I think she often understood my need better than I did.) but I didn’t give her much of a choice in the matter. The best that we could do was totally agree, 100%, without question, who the Rabbi was.
And second,we really felt that we needed someone who would help us to create a ceremony that was totally ours. Someone that we really felt would go through each step of the process, piece by very piece, to help us discover how we could own the ceremony. We were looking for someone who could make me feel like I was having a meaningful Jewish ceremony and allow Lu to have a ceremony that suited her and wasn’t too bogged down with customs that she couldn’t relate to. Well. We found her.
You read right. We found her!
Rabbi Marjorie Berman just stepped into our life with a bang and we couldn’t be happier. Our quest was long, but it was totally worth it. It took some persistence and some real thought, but I am positive that we couldn’t have made a better choice. She is thoughtful and smart and nice and really knows how to get down into it; deep inside. She asks questions that really make you think about who you are both as an individual and in the relationship. She is energetic and funny and she cares as much as we do about current politics. Her library is bigger than ours and you can tell in the first minute of conversation the reason that she pursued the rabbinate.
Rabbi Berman couldn’t be better suited to us. We have only had two meetings with her and we already feel like we are on the path to making our day more meaningful for us. We are closer to creating a template on which to base our home and our life together.
Now that we’ve decided to go forth with the amazing Rabbi that we recently had the honor of meeting, the details of the ceremony come into play. The tug of war has begun with the give and take of specific aspects to be put in, left out and transformed. I’m cool with the Chuppah. I’m down with the breaking of the glass. Mostly because I like to yell “Mazeltov!”. It just rolls so nicely off the tongue, how can one resist? However, there are a few aspects that I really get hung-up on like the Ketubah.
The Ketubah or marriage contract is one of the more significant components within a Jewish wedding. Back in the day the Ketubah basically was a guarantee in writing that the man would provide for the woman’s needs and if he divorced her then he had to pay a specified sum of money to ensure her well being. In other words, it’s just like a modern day government issued marriage license but with a bit of a sexist edge. That’s a whole ‘nother post so we’ll just ignore that little piece…
Here in lies my dilemma. We weren’t going to get legally married on principle because we believe that everyone has the right to love who they want and in-turn should be able to marry who they want. In representation of our beliefs, we had decided not to marry until our friends could marry. Having our son Raiden enter our lives completely changed that ideology on a strictly legal level.
Either way, we were going to have a wedding to celebrate our love for one another and our life together. The legal representation of it was not important to us. That is until we found out that there is a ton of red tape to cut through just to ensure full legal rights to one another without it. Even if we somehow figured out a way around not getting officially married, it wouldn’t actually guarantee anything. So, we could go that route or we could just get legally married and have it done in one easy step. With the future of our son at stake, we weren’t willing to take any chances. So, hello marriage license goodbye good intentions. We had to choose our battles and unfortunately lost this one.
This brings us to the Ketubah. It holds no legal significance other than in Jewish Law. For me, Jewish Law has no bearing other than in respect for Alx and his family. For Alx, Jewish Law is circumstantial. So, Alx wouldn’t mind having a Ketubah. I’m not sure if I mind. I mean it’s just another contract, right? So what is my hesitance? I think it stems from that fact that a piece of paper means nothing when it comes to my love for Alx. We have already confessed our love and commitment to each other. We have been calling ourselves husband and wife for years, frankly because we have been living in matrimony. We don’t see our son as being born out of wedlock at all. The commitment was and is already there. The rest is just formality.
Our Rabbi has suggested that we have a Ketubah because it would be a great place to bring together all that is us. It can be as creative and unique as we want it to be. It can encompass all aspects of our culture, selves and family. Whether it be two-dimensional, three-dimensional, in English, Hebrew or Japanese, it could be the embodiment of everything of importance to us.
Streets of Desire by Micah Parker
Well, when you put it that way, why NOT have a Ketubah? I mean really, it sounds right up my alley but I still have this little itch in the back of my brain that just doesn’t want it. I’m not sure what’s causing the itch or even if it’s significant, but it is really annoying. I’m confident that our Rabbi can help me scratch it but do I want to? This must be the nature of weddings or any other major event for that matter.
Maybe I’ll give a bit of slack or maybe I’ll tug a bit towards my end. Either way, I’m sure we’ll figure it out but there’s no one I’d rather be playing with than Alx. That’s the most important aspect to me.
I feel like Lu and I are hitting our stride on all things wedding related and I couldn’t feel better about it. We have just finished the last of our meetings with some amazing rabbis, we have our tasting with Diverse Catering next week, and we have decided that I will be wearing a tux. Check. Check. And Check.
There has been something that has come up many times in our rabbi meetings that I have just been itching to call attention to.
Lu and I decided a few years ago that we would not be married until ALL of our friends could be married. It was a conscious decision to wait until all was fair in the world and equal opportunity existed. Well. Fast forward to the “age of Raiden” and we find ourselves more willing to make a legal commitment to each other. The truth is that we don’t want to pass on the benefits that are available for married couples, especially where the little dude is involved. So instead of feeling guilty about it, we are just going to except the fact that we are hetero-sexual-enough to be legally married. And do it.
So why, may I ask, may we be married?
The reality is that I don’t have the answer. I mean. We are two people who have built our lives together. Started a family. Have a few pets. We have fun, we laugh, we cry. We live together as life partners, for better—for worse. Ready for every up and down that a relationship might bring. We are the perfect gay couple—we just happen to not be gay. We are so non-gay in fact that our relationship can be made legally binding. What a world!
This twisted idea that a state sanctioned legitimacy of a relationship has anything to do with sexual orientation is just nutty. Nutty I say. My heart sank when California voted yes on Prop 8 and I will continue to push for equality when it comes to a person’s right to make their own decisions. If a couple wants to marry they should be able to do so no matter how they are born or how they identify.
This is just some food for thought.
So we have decided that we will make this a part of our ceremony. We will pour out a few drops of wine to symbolize the loss that we feel for those who cannot be married. We all need to speak up and eventually, hopefully sooner, rather than later, but eventually–we will be heard.
As you’ve learned from Alx’s last post, we have been on a difficult journey in our quest to find our perfect rabbi. Therefore, even though I try to always keep an open mind, I went into our meeting with Rabbi Yitzhak Nates with a small level of skepticism.
Rabbi Nates greeted us kindly and warmly at his front stoop with his lovely dog, Buster. One point for Rabbi Nates, I love dogs. The first thing he said when he saw Alx, me, and our son Raiden was “how wonderful! The whole family is here! This is great!”. Two points for Rabbi Nates, I loved that he loved that my son was in attendance. Okay I know what your thinking, I hadn’t planned on having any sort of point system but when your sole purpose to meeting someone is to essentially judge them it’s kind of inevitable.
We were welcomed into Rabbi Nates home with open arms. We met his lovely wife and absolutely adorable daughter. Rabbi Nates was very laid-back and matter-of-fact which made me feel completely at ease. He started out the conversation by asking us to talk a little bit about ourselves and then reciprocated with his own background. Topics broached were wedding plans, my cultural background, Alx’s ties to Judaism, raising our son, diversifying the ceremony, and so on.
The meeting lasted about two and a half hours but it felt like fifteen minutes. Alx and I both felt that we could of just sat and chatted with Rabbi Nates all day. On our trek home, I realized that this is what I loved about him most. The fact that I didn’t feel as if it were any sort of interview or interrogation. It just felt like a nice, calm, Saturday afternoon visit with a friend. The experience just felt right.
Rabbi Nates gave me hope again. After months of no matches, I was starting to feel like an eHarmony reject. January is booked full of meeting after meeting with rabbis amongst several other wedding appointments (I’m totally looking forward to the tasting!). My outlook is much more positive towards this aspect of our wedding now. We don’t know if Rabbi Nates is The One yet, but he is the one that restored our confidence in finding The One.
Our search for the right rabbi is making me nutty. It seems to be this detailed and intricate journey where each turn has its own set of rules to navigate. Each rabbi that I speak to turns our trajectory in a new direction and makes me think about what we are REALLY after. I still haven’t found the answer.
Our lives are so simple, and this seems so complicated. I’m Jewish. Lu is not.
We want a wedding that embraces that Judaism but isn’t ALL about it. I mean, as a couple, we’re not ALL Jew. We want to pay tribute to the fact that there are two of us entering into this commitment. Two people–with two belief systems, and two culturally distinct backgrounds. Yes. We have a Jewish son, who will have Jewish education and eat his mother’s matzah ball soup with a smile on (and, in our family, with chopsticks!)
But does that mean that we can’t show him what Christmas is? Does he have to live in a house that is ONLY Jewish, when his parents aren’t only Jewish?
No. Guys. The answer is no.
Raiden will know the culture of both of his parents. He will grow up experiencing the same feelings that we felt as children. Lula when she found that Easter egg and me when I found that afikomen. How great were those moments!?
So here is my thought process on the whole ordeal. Interfaith marriage puts the couple into a game of statistics. The 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey says that only 1/3 of intermarried couples will raise Jewish Children. And the truth is that, as Jews, we want to see our faith carried on for generations to come. We want to continue for as long as the human race. So would a Rabbi marry a couple from two faiths with those numbers stacked against them?
So. Ok. It’s a gamble. How would the rabbi who marries us KNOW that we will raise a Jewish family? I mean. She could take our word for it.
Here is the part that is problematic in our situation. We have a child. We have a JEWISH child. So wouldn’t the continuation of Judaism in our family be a given? Wouldn’t that then make our marriage secondary—since we have already fulfilled the pre-requisite for a Jewish future?
We have hope that we will find the right rabbi for us. She is out there and we will work as hard and look as far as we have to, to find her. She is waiting for our little family to tell us that our love for each other is paramount and that we are on the path to one long and happy life together.
So I know what you’re thinking…she’s a graphic designer so her wedding is going to look FABULOUS. Well, that is what I was thinking too, however, reality set-in as we started trying to plan this beast of an event. Planning an event of this magnitude is a painful, tedious process in itself. We not only have the daunting task of planning it but also incorporating the right balance of, well, of us.
The essence of our relationship lies in a fine balance of tolerance, respect, and admiration for the others’ culture and beliefs. Wedding planning is the type of situation in which that balance is often pushed, pulled, and challenged in every way possible. As a conservative Jew, Alx has very specific things that are a must for his big day: a rabbi, a chuppah, the breaking of the glass, the horah, to name a few. You would think that this wouldn’t bother me since I actually don’t subscribe to any organized religion; however, that is very far from the truth. The issue isn’t that I don’t want these rituals in our nuptials. The issue is how to embrace and incorporate all of them without it becoming strictly a Jewish wedding.
We found out quite quickly that it all comes down to a lot of long, hard discussions. I truly believe our saving grace is our bond of love and respect for each other. We disagree, we fight, we cry, we make-up and ultimately we work it out. One of the harder aspects has been the quest for a rabbi. It can’t just be any rabbi. It has to be a rabbi that is comfortable doing interfaith weddings who we are comfortable with. This is no easy task. In fact, we are still in the midst of that journey.
I’m also having a bit of trouble pinning down rituals that I want to include from my culture. Since I come from such a diverse background, it isn’t so easy for me. This type of thing is very black & white for Alx. I have to admit that it is a point of frustration to not be able to just rattle off a list of rituals and be done with it. I’m sure it’s as equally frustrating for Alx when he asks what I want to incorporate and doesn’t really get an answer. All I know is that I don’t want it to be a strictly Jewish wedding because it’s my wedding too and frankly, I’m not Jewish.
To top off all of the challenges that we already face, I’m just not into being a bridezilla. I am not the type of woman who had her wedding planned since she was a little girl. Just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about, my wedding dress is the first dress I tried on from the first store I walked into. My wedding shoes are the first pair of shoes that my Maid of Honor stuck in front of my face and said “these are cute”. I don’t like tulle, lace, pink, frilly stuff, or even most flowers.
I am the ultimate anti-bride.
This does not make wedding planning easy. Although in my defense, Alx knew what he was getting into. Our first Valentine’s Day he got me a paper shredder. That’s when I knew he was The One. So after months of feeling like I’ve been drowning in all things girlie, I decided to approach the situation like I would any of my design projects. I made concept boards.
Concept Board 1: Visualization of table decor
Concept Board 2: Diagram of garden for ceremony
I’ve found that this approach has helped immensely. I’ve also created spreadsheets for tasks, timelines, vendors, and our invitation list. The “project” has definitely morphed into something completely different than when we started planning a few months ago. We began with a very laid back approach to the whole wedding but it has since become a bit more upscale. It’s not super fancy but is also isn’t the laid back B-B-Q idea that we originally started with.
Decor That Died: My first attempt at wedding decor. I was trying to stick with our ideals of “reduce, reuse, recycle” so I reused Raiden’s baby food jars for tea light candle holders. That got recycled…
In keeping with my approach as a designer, I’ve come-up with a main concept or theme for our wedding. It’s basically, all the things we love: my favorite colors, his commitment to Judaism, my love of minimalism, our love of books, our love of nature, our love of just having a good time. Our love of nature is what led us to agree on a centerpiece.
Our Minimalist Artsy Centerpiece: The pic doesn’t do it justice. It’s willow branches with little insects, birds, and bright yellow beads on the branches. The vase is filled with iridescent, glass marbles mixed with miniature seashells (my hometown is a beach town).
Centerpiece Concept Board: Of course I had a concept board for the centerpiece!
The process is coming along slowly but we are well on our way to a wedding! Now we just need to work out all of those kinks with the rituals but I’ll save that for the next post.