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By Sarah Martinez Roth Photos by Celia D. Luna Weddings
How We Met
Growing up Catholic, I knew I wanted to marry a man of faith; however, when I met Jonathan, I realized maybe things were not so black and white, and maybe faith in God was what I was searching for.
Jonathan and I met our freshman year at Colby College in Maine. While in college, we grew closer as friends and I got the chance to admire his commitment to his faith as a friend before we started dating. Even though Jonathan grew up in a Conservative Jewish household, he was very much aware of what being Catholic meant since his mother converted to Judaism from Catholicism before she got married. In addition to celebrating all of the Jewish holidays, Jonathan’s parents would celebrate the Christian holidays with his mother’s family. I think growing up in that background made Jonathan more open to dating me. Conversely, I grew up without the exposure to the same level of religious diversity, so I was not sure how my family would react.
Soon after we graduated, I remember having a conversation with my mother and asking her what she would think if I started dating Jonathan. She said: “Sarah, he believes in the same God. As long as you communicate and are open and honest about what you want, you will be just fine.” I took her advice, and we started our relationship soon after.
As we began to plan our wedding we knew we wanted to tie together our Jewish and Catholic faiths. Our situation was especially unique, since Jonathan is a Conservative Jew, I am Catholic and we were having an outdoor wedding ceremony. We needed clergy that would be accommodating to all three of those things. After many months of searching, we were honored to have my husband’s childhood rabbi and the priest that confirmed me marry us.
Our wedding weekend began with our aufruf, which technically translates to “calling up,” at Jonathan’s childhood synagogue. An aufruf is a custom where the bride and groom are called up in front of the congregation, usually during a Shabbat service, to be welcomed by the Jewish community. We invited both sides of our immediate family to our aufruf, where Jonathan and I were both asked to join the rabbi on the bimah and participate in the service by saying the blessings over the challah and wine.
The cantor sang “All of Me” by John Legend in Hebrew, which we thought was very meaningful because my family, who doesn’t understand Hebrew, was able to recognize the song. At the end of our aufruf, the congregation threw little candies at us, which represented sweet blessings for our marriage.
Signing Our Ketubah
Traditionally, it is two male non-family members who are Jewish that sign the ketubah, the Jewish marriage contract. Adhering to that rule would mean that no one on my side would be able to sign such an important document in my life.
I mustered up the courage to ask our rabbi if I could have someone from my side sign it, and he said of course; there is no rule that three people could not sign it. So in the end, our ketubah was signed by my husband’s best man, a close family friend of my husband’s family and my godmother.
One of the most memorable parts of our wedding to me was the circling tradition. In Judaism, when the bride circles the groom seven times it represents the creation of our new family circle and the intertwining of our lives together. This was a beautiful moment for me because as I circled Jonathan I felt our lives truly becoming one. Our rabbi suggested that my mother and mother-in-law help me with my veil and dress while I circled Jonathan. Even though that moment was supposed to be about the new home Jonathan and I were creating, it was reassuring to know that our families would always be right behind us to support us.
We wanted our wedding to be as traditional to both faiths as possible. Our rabbi kept the structure of the traditional Jewish wedding in its entirety until before the breaking of the glass, when our priest shared a reading from the New Testament, followed by a homily and blessing over our marriage. Then they both pronounced us husband and wife. Given that my family is bilingual, it was important to me to have the Spanish language included on our wedding day, and our priest was more than willing to conduct the reading and homily in both English and Spanish.
Our chuppah, or wedding canopy, was made from white birch wood, which reflected our roots from college in Maine, and the tallis (prayer shawl), which covered our chuppah, was my father-in-law’s and was handmade in Israel.
Our vows were a unique part of our wedding—we completed the traditional Jewish ring exchange in Hebrew and in English: “Behold, you are consecrated unto me with this ring in accordance with the Law of Moses and the People of Israel.” After that, we exchanged our own personal words.
At the end of our ceremony, the last prayer, called the Priestly Blessing, was sung by our rabbi in Hebrew and our priest in English. We were wrapped by both of them in my husband’s tallis from his bar mitzvah. At that moment it really felt like we became husband and wife.
My Advice to Couples
My biggest piece of advice for couples planning their interfaith wedding is to not give up. Whatever your vision is, there will be someone who will help make it come true. Just have faith and don’t get discouraged. Planning a wedding can be very stressful, and at times overwhelming. When also trying to balance and manage the interfaith component to your wedding, it can get increasingly complex.
Create your vision for what you and your future spouse want, and I promise this will be the happiest day of your life. When you are standing next to your partner as you are committing yourselves to each other in holy matrimony during your unique and special ceremony, your different backgrounds and faiths will fuse together in the most beautiful moment of your life.
Are you planning a wedding? Find clergy from InterfaithFamily here.
I have fond memories of going to services as a youngster and looking forward to the weeks in which I could pelt young adults, the clergy, and innocent bystanders with tiny packages of hard candy. Not wanting to miss being on the receiving end of such a deluge, a few months back I mentioned to the Cantor at my synagogue, Monmouth Reform Temple (MRT), that Anne and I would like to have an aufruf. This is a custom during which the bride and groom – or, in more traditional synagogues, just the groom – are called up for an Aliyah, and the Torah is read in their honor.
Scheduling our aufruf posed a bit of a challenge. Traditionally, the aufruf takes place during Shabbat services prior to the wedding. However, our rehearsal dinner takes place on that Friday, outside of Philadelphia. The Shabbat prior to that coincides with Yom Kippur, and celebrating with candy is not the best way to observe a solemn fast.
We also wanted to make sure our aufruf date aligned with an appropriate Torah portion. Our wedding occurs the week prior to Simchat Torah, the holiday during which the Torah is “rewound” and we begin reading from the book of Genesis. Unlike the numerous beautiful, wedding-appropriate readings in the beginning of the Torah – the creation of Eve and man and wife becoming “one flesh,” the rainbow at the culmination of the flood, Abraham’s covenant with God to become a great nation – the final book of the Torah is not quite so generous. We made a decision to avoid the passage containing material ill-suited for beginning our wedding celebration, such as the Biblical proscription for when “a man takes a wife and, after sleeping with her, dislikes her” (Deut. 22:13, NIV translation). Luckily, nestled within Deuteronomy is a passage describing the blessings that will be rained upon Israel should they choose to keep God’s laws (Deut. 28:1-14). That coincided with the weekend of September 12th, which was free for both sets of parents. Hooray!
However, we hadn’t cleared all hurdles yet. A significant proportion of the families at MRT are interfaith, and over the past year, the Rituals & Practices Committee has discussed what activities on the bimah are permitted to the members of the congregation who are not Jewish. Also, they are charged with awarding honors for aliyot, lighting candles, and Kiddush on Friday nights. I happen to sit on this committee. A few weeks ago, the person responsible for managing these honors for the month of September asked if anyone would be interested. I asked if my parents could do the candle and Kiddush blessings for the night of our aufruf. My mother is a practicing Christian, and some congregations do not permit those who are not Jewish to say the blessings over the candles. Also, neither of my parents are members of MRT, though they do belong to a Reform synagogue in the Philadelphia area. Finally, Anne is not Jewish, and the committee had discussed in the past whether it was permissible for members of the congregation who are not Jewish to be called to Torah for an aliyah. After raising these concerns, I opened the topic for discussion to the members of the Rituals & Practices Committee.
This kicked off a lively discussion. Our Cantor sent around a link to the recent article on Interfaith Family about how different synagogues approach candle lighting by with interfaith families. Ultimately, the committee agreed that my parents could light the candles and recite Kiddush, and that as long as I was with her and saying the Torah blessings, Anne could join me for the aliyah.
With this final hurdle cleared, it looks like September 12th will be a very Keefe/Goodman Shabbat at Monmouth Reform Temple! In case you have an itching to bean some soon-to-be newlyweds with candy, services start at 7PM.
A friend of mine led the Torah study that preceded services. We read from the haftarah, Hosea, in which the prophet addresses his unfaithful wife, Gomer. Their troubled marriage is really a metaphor for the relationship between Israel and God.
Here’s a sample of what Hosea says: “Assuredly, / I will take back My new grain in its time / And My new wine in its season, / And I will snatch away My wool and My linen / That serve to cover her nakedness. / Now will I uncover her shame / In the very sight of her lovers, / And none shall save her from Me.” (Hosea 2:11-12, JPS Tanakh.) Hosea goes on to assure Gomer that he will take her back and shower her with love. (So too with God and Israel.)
Grim stuff. It reminded our modern sensibilities of an abusive husband addressing his battered wife. “Okay,” our teacher said, “we understand the psychology of it. So how do we reconstruct this?”
I think about that Torah lesson every time I encounter a practice with which I’m uncomfortable: How do we reconstruct this? How do we maintain the integrity of the tradition while also making it relevant and meaningful? The ketubah, or Jewish wedding contract, is a good case-in-point.
Traditionally, the ketubah was a legal document. It was a contract that stated the obligations of the husband to his bride. The husband promised to work and support his wife, to provide her with food and other necessities, and even to fulfill her conjugal needs. Should the husband prove remiss in his duties, he was required to financially compensate his wife. And that’s it.
The ketubah was a significant development in Jewish marital relations. It was written in Aramaic, the lingua franca at the time it was codified, and thus comprehensible to the parties entering into it. It attempted to provide some security for women, too, by assuring them some material support. But there is no doubting that it is a pre-modern artifact. A traditional ketubah insures a bride for the dowry that she brings to the marriage, “whether in silver, gold, jewelry, clothing, furnishings or bedding” plus an additional amount agreed to by the groom’s family. The insurance is calculated in zuzim, the Jewish currency used in Roman Palestine.
There is power in the age of certain Jewish traditions. Consider the ancient sound of the shofar calling us to repent, or the lighting of the menorah, a reminder of the survival of the Jewish people throughout the ages. But there are some things liberal Jews have trouble connecting with, and the traditional ketubah is one of them. That Shannon and I can’t imagine celebrating our union with a traditional ketubah is only partly related to our status as outsiders in terms of halakha. We know we’re outside the Law. Rather, we find the spirit of the ancient ketubah lacking, too.
So what to do? How do we reconstruct this?
An example of a modern ketubah, courtesy of Gene B., Once Upon a Paper
Shannon and I chose to have a custom ketubah. We reviewed possibilities we found on the Internet and settled (appropriately) on a Reconstructionist-inspired ketubah. We chose the text we did because of its emphasis on community, social justice and tradition. “We promise to honor our community by offering and accepting support, love, and friendship,” it reads. “Our home will be a place of openness and generosity, enriched by Jewish tradition. Together, we will work for peace and justice with empathy and hope, taking action to help heal the world.”
We liked the text so much that we made only one change, adding to the ketubah, after the first sentence quoted above, “We will honor Shabbat, the Jewish holidays, and other family customs. If we are blessed as children, we will raise them as Jews.” Shannon and I have agreed to keep a Jewish home, but we want to make sure that she never feels out of place or excluded, hence “other family customs,” which covers a range of potentialities. (For instance, it is not Shannon’s custom to fast on Yom Kippur.) We engage in reconstruction to bring modern meaning to ancient ways.
The service I attended at Mishkan Shalom included an aufruf, or blessing over the Torah, by a couple soon to be married. (My friend, who led Torah study, and his fiancee.) After that, we threw candy at the couple. As the rabbi prepared to return the Torah to the Ark, she discovered a Hershey’s Kiss in the scroll. (To which there was no damage, I promise.) “There is much sweetness in Torah,” she quipped.
That is what Shannon and I have aimed for in our nontraditional Jewish wedding: to capture the sweetness of custom by actively reconstructing it.
(Special thanks to Gene B., the artist who is designing our ketubah and gave me permission to use an example of his artwork in my post. You can find more of Gene’s work at his shop on Etsy, Once Upon a Paper.)
Here we go with another video where Arel and I talk about the Aufruf before our wedding and the prepping required to ensure it went smoothly. We also discuss music for the ceremony and why that was challenging for us. On a side note: Arel sharpened his video editing skills with imovie to make this particular clip more interesting. Check it out!