Downton Abbey Portrays Reality of Interfaith RelationshipsBy Gerri Miller
Go inside Season 5 Episode 9 where the story line of Atticus and Rose's interfaith relationship comes to a head.Go To Pop Culture
Blessings have been on my mind lately. In the Jewish wedding ceremony there are seven blessings recited, and, for better or for worse, I’m finding them complicated. Which is why, when our house started to shake during a thunderstorm the other night, I was already awake turning blessing after blessing over and over in my mind.
The thunder rolled, the lightning flashed, and my mind immediately went to the damage that we’d seen this winter, wondering if this storm would re-expose those leaks. After a few minutes of almost deafening rain, my mind finally slowed past its catastrophic style thinking to an appreciation of all of the noises, smells, and feelings that accompany a thunderstorm.
I was thankful for the rain that we receive here in New England, as opposed the droughts that are impacting so much of our world. I was thankful that I was inside, and lucky enough to be safe from the elements. I was grateful to be cuddled up under my blanket next to my sleeping partner, with my sleeping cat in the nook behind my knees.
I noticed Justin stirring from his sleep. “Good thunderstorm,” he muttered to himself.
It might seem simplistic, but right there… that was a blessing.
One of the pieces of Jewish learning I’ve most taken to heart is the idea that a prayer should speak to what is truly in your heart—the trappings of the words matter a whole lot less. (This idea seems particularly relevant when coming at the idea of one religion’s prayer from a multi-faith lens.)
Which is why we’re going to take the seven blessings and take them from complicated ideas to a simple “good thunderstorm” style message. But we need your help.
We’re asking seven of our friends to craft their own blessings based on the meaning of the originals. They’ll then be recited in the original Hebrew by our rabbi. What matters to us is less of the traditional language (we’ll have our bases covered by our rabbi’s recitations), but the sentiments passed along by the friends reciting the blessings.
Here’s where we’re asking for your help: if you were to simplify the following prayers to one word, what would it be?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
In 2011, TheKnot.com surveyed almost 20,000 newlywed women. They found that only 8 percent kept their last names. Of the remaining 92 percent, 86 percent took their partner’s last name. Six percent hyphenated or created a new last name.
While I’ve seen other studies that show the percentage of women who keep their last names at closer to 20 percent, the fact remains: Changing your name after marriage is the “normal” thing to do.
Changing my name has never felt like the right move for me—my last name is the one on my degrees, it’s part of the name of my photography business, it’s the name I’ve written under, and, it’s the name I’ve used my entire life. I’ve given this some serious thought. I support a person’s right to choose the name that feels like the best fit for them, and I understand the idea that a unified last name presents a unified team.
But, for me, changing my name just doesn’t feel right.
(It also should be noted, that Justin isn’t up for changing his last name either. My last name is hard to spell, and he’s spent too long building his brand to change his name to something else. I don’t think this is a conversation only half of a couple should be having—if name changes are on the table, they should be on the table for everyone.)
It wasn’t until recently, when concepts like name changes shifted from hypothetical to reality, did something click for me. Changing my last name would mean separating my name from my family’s name—and taking a step away from my Jewish identity.
I know that marrying Justin, who isn’t Jewish, won’t make me any less Jewish.
It won’t make our home any less Jewish; it won’t invalidate the mezuzah hanging on the door, or make my observance of holidays any less meaningful.
It won’t make my work any less Jewish; it won’t tarnish my past community organizing, nor will it make my work with Keshet and commitment to full LGBTQ inclusion in the Jewish community less authentic.
Taking Justin’s last name wouldn’t make me any less Jewish… but it feels that way.
As an Ashkenazi Jew, with a very classically Ashkenazi Jewish last name, my name is a calling card. Rozensky, with its “rozen” and its “sky,” shouts Jewish. I can trace its Jewish history. My name comes with a connection to my people—not just in the sense of “the chosen people,” but also in the way it connects me to previous generations of Rozenskys. I’m not ready to step away from that tradition.
There will be plenty of compromises made in our marriage; after all, meeting each other halfway is an important part of keeping a relationship working. But when it comes to our names—which hold such important aspects of our identities—compromise doesn’t seem like the best bet.
I don’t want anyone to panic, but we’re nearly at the six-month mark. Six months until….holy moly matrimony. Luckily, we’ve figured a few things out. Like that big question: who will officiate the ceremony?
One of the pieces of InterfaithFamily’s work that I’m most excited about is how they work with couples to find officiants for wedding ceremonies—my work at Keshet has put me in touch with couples who have found it easier to find officiants for a same-sex marriage ceremony than for an interfaith ceremony.
I have a soapbox I could stand on to discuss how bananas I think that is, but I’ll save that for another time—that’s more of an in-person rant.
I don’t think our situation is very unique—unless you have very active ties to a religious institution, finding an officiant means doing a little research and a little legwork. It means thinking about the type of person you want setting the tone for your ceremony—what readings will they recommend? What customs do you want in place? How much flexibility will there be with traditions? Will they be funny? Somber? Will they quote the Princess Bride? Will they be OK with the fact that your partner isn’t Jewish? The list goes on and on.
For us, we wanted someone who knows us well. We’re actually lucky in the fact that I count in my closest circle of friends not one, not two, but three rabbis. And, one of Justin’s best friends was at one point ordained in an online ceremony in order to perform weddings.
So, finding someone who knows us well enough to help tailor a ceremony to our inter-faith, egalitarian, not-so-traditional-social-norm needs wasn’t as big of a challenge as we first assumed.
All of these considerations led us to sit down with one of my friends from college, Rabbi Becky Silverstein, to discuss the idea of his performing the ceremony.
Working with Becky has a few obvious advantages: since he serves in the official role of “One of Jordyn’s Best Friends in the Whole Wide World,” he has already implicitly agreed to help field any pre (and post) wedding melt downs. So, on the trust level, we’re good. This is someone who knows us well.
And, Rabbi Silverstein is the type of rabbi we’d want to work with even if we didn’t know him personally—smart, kind, and actively working to make the Jewish world more inclusive for the queer community. Rabbi Silverstein is one of the very few openly transgender rabbis in America, and both Justin and I are inspired by his courage.
You’d think asking one of your best friends to be the rabbi at your wedding would mean you’d get a pass on the tough questions—but Rabbi Silverstein asked us to think about the same things he’d ask any couple.
The three of us spoke about what role Judaism played in our lives, how we would continue to support each other in our religious practices, and why we wanted to have a Jewish ceremony—all good questions to set the tone for planning your ceremony. Actually, and perhaps more importantly, these are all good questions for setting the tone for your life as a partners. Talking with Becky reminded us that no matter what, communicating with each other as we explore faith, religion and community is so incredibly important for a healthy and supportive relationship.
Now, with just over six months to go, we’re pulling together the little details and asking some of the bigger questions. We’ve got our officiant. We’ve got our ceremony location. Next weekend I’ll be marking the start of Passover and Easter by going dress-shopping with family. I think we’re going to pull this off.
Here are some places that we quickly checked off the list:
– A rotating wedding with stops at each temple or church where a friend of ours works as a rabbi and/or spiritual leader: problematic mostly as this particular world wide wedding tour would probably require a month long commitment for any wedding participant.
– My very first truly Jewish home, the Smith College Kosher Kitchen: while the space is filled with amazing memories of learning how to braid challah, welcoming Shabbat, and being part of true community, it’s not exactly equipped for a wedding shindig.
– The churches that Justin attended growing up: a destination wedding wasn’t something we were 100% opposed to, but asking family to trek out to the winding trail of places he called home (from Ohio to South Dakota back to Ohio and on to Pennsylvania) as he grew up wasn’t exactly practical.
After all, as an interfaith couple with varied roots and no shared official physical spiritual home, there is no obvious, easy answer. And, as we look to bring together a diverse group of family and friends, we want to avoid the “eek” feeling that often accompanies being in someone else’s religions home base. (We’re introducing enough new things as it is!)
Our dramatic question of belonging (or a lack thereof) answered itself when we took a different tact to planning. When we rephrased the question from “where do you get married when you put religious tradition in the center” to “where do you get married when you put your own relationship in the center” the options started to reveal themselves.
A ceremony in a science museum? Why not? (Unless there are mummies—I have an irrational fear of mummies.)
A ceremony on a boat? Sure! (Weather permitting. And is one allowed to be both captain and bride?)
A ceremony in an abandoned theater with no lights, no running water, and a more than fine layer of dust? Yes. That’s the winner.
When we looked at locations that had significance to us, a vacant theater became the obvious choice. Justin has been a part of a community of urban explorers for far longer than I’ve known him, and I’ve come to appreciate the beauty that is found in a place paused in time. We are people who, individually and as a couple, value adventure, the offbeat, finding experiences that might not jive with the norms—and so this feels more like “us” than any church or synagogue we might find.
I wouldn’t go as far as saying that this is where we find our “sacred” … but, there is something holy about appreciating glamour where someone else might not look twice.
Taking a space, one that has been forgotten by its surroundings, and stepping back is a powerful experience. There’s beauty in seeing a place for what it once was, what it is now, and what it could be. (And, isn’t that the essence of a relationship? Appreciating all steps of the journey?) For us, the idea of transforming a quiet, slightly downtrodden theater into a site for a ceremony just makes sense. We’re adding the lights, we’re bringing in the huppah, but the magic of the building was already there.
Today’s blog post brings us well into wedding planning process—as well as to a few other relationship landmarks.
Last week we celebrated Justin’s birthday, which we do in a traditional (to him, not so much to me) way—with a King Cake. The King Cake is a Mardi Gras custom (Mardi Gras being part of the Carnival celebrations that occur immediately before the observance of Lent)—and Justin’s family has roots in the Bayou of Louisiana.
With his birthday falling so close to Mardi Gras each year, it’s become a tradition for his Grandparents (who live just over the Louisiana border in Mississippi) to send him a King Cake.
Before meeting Justin I’d never had a King Cake. Now it’s something I look forward to each year. This purple, green, and gold cake is topped with frosting and sugar, and from the time it arrives until we’ve eaten it all, every meal involves cake. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, mid-day, and midnight snacks all involve King Cake. (And, as we are adults, we have deemed it okay if one wants to have a slice of cake before dinner.)
The most important part of the King Cake—besides it being delicious and often arriving in the same box as Mardi Gras beads—is that it comes with a plastic baby Jesus hidden inside the cake. It’s good luck if you find the baby in your piece of cake.
And, every year that we’ve celebrated with a King Cake, I’ve always ended up Jesus-less.
Somehow that plastic baby is always in one of Justin’s slices of cake. (Perhaps there’s a secret to finding the King Cake baby that I’ve missed out on? My ability to always find the Afikoman at a Passover Seder does not seem to translate to the King Cake’s hidden Jesus.)
Justin’s Jesus finding skills did, however, set us up for a fantastically cheesy exchange this year about how he was the one with the luck—thus he gets to marry me—and I was the one without the luck—hence I was stuck marrying him.
This year, we’re hoping that little plastic baby Jesus is going to bring us some mutual luck—especially as we move from the theoretical planning into actually putting the plan into action.
I love telling our “how we met” story, because if you don’t know us, it’s pretty unexpected. And, if you do know us, well, our beginnings make a lot of sense.
We met three years ago in Guatemala City, both having traveled there for a photography workshop. My first impression of Justin was that he was a skinny hipster. (You’ll have to ask him what his first impression of me was.)
On (what we now realize was our first date) we climbed an active volcano just outside of Antigua. At the top we roasted marshmallows on the volcano’s natural heat sources and felt like we were on a completely new planet. On the way down, distracted by taking pictures and pausing to climb trees, we got momentarily separated from the group and started practicing, in our very limited Spanish vocabulary, the phrases we might need to get a ride back into town. Eventually, we found our bus back.
Afterwards, covered in dirt, we went out for dinner.
A few months later, on a camping trip in Pennsylvania, Justin broke his T-12 vertebrae and severed his spinal cord incompletely. After being life flighted to a hospital, a seven-hour surgery, and a week in the ICU, we both felt the intensity and realness of our relationship. (I’ve written previously for IFF about how I processed praying for Justin, when our faiths were so different.) The next few months I traveled back and forth between Boston and the rehabilitation hospital in Philadelphia where he was recovering.
These days we live just outside of Boston in Salem, Massachusetts. We’re both photographers, and I’m part of the communications team at Keshet. Our day-to-day life of marathoning TV shows, looking for photography work, and teaching ourselves how to cook is punctuated by weekend adventures—it’s not abnormal for me to go into work on a Monday and answer the question of “what did you do this weekend” with “we ended up in the middle of New Hampshire and met some people who were ice fishing in the middle of a frozen lake…”
Our proposal story is the flip side of how we met—but, much like our first date, it makes complete sense if you know us.
There was no big romantic moment, but a long discussion. After several years of dating we knew how we felt about each other—the question was more how we felt about marriage. In many ways, deciding to get married made a lot of sense. In other ways, it was more of a stretch. We went back and forth about wedding hypotheticals and what would be important to each other. For me, having a Jewish ceremony was the most meaningful part of taking our commitment to the next level. For him, having a large gathering where all of our family and friends could be part of a celebration was essential.
Our decision to get married was just that—a joint, mutual decision. We both asked each other, we both agreed. We kept the news to ourselves for a while, just to see how it felt. A few weeks later we got a ring from my family, and we made it official. And, we’ve set a date: 9.26.15.
We’re pretty excited to share our story with IFF’s Wedding Blog. Storytelling—with photos and with words—is a big part of who we are. We’ll be navigating how to put together a ceremony that feels comfortable and right for my Judaism, appropriate to Justin’s secular belief, and understandable for all of our guests. We’re trying to plan something on a modest budget, and we’re hoping to do so without going crazy. I’m sure there will be some surprises along the way, but right now we’re looking forward to our next adventure.
After all of the plans and preparations, the big day came and went without a hitch! We had glorious weather, the ceremony was everything that we wanted it to be, and the reception was an absolute blast. We had people from both sides tearing up the dance floor until midnight. We ended the night exhausted, our sides and cheeks hurting from a day spent laughing and grinning ear-to-ear.
We arrived in Worcester on Tuesday night, which really allowed us to take a more relaxed approach to last-minute preparations. There were the table numbers to finish up, the seating chart to arrange, welcome bags to assemble, and yard work to be done, not to mention being here for the tent and bathroom installation. Things went quite smoothly for the most part.
On Wednesday morning Dana’s mom, Kathy, wanted to reveal the Chuppah. All along we knew it would include articles of clothing from both families but we had no idea what the finished product would look like. Kathy settled on a tree design using the clothing donations as the leaves of the tree. We must have sat for almost a full hour and looked at it, recognizing the articles and locating other items on the Chuppah. It was truly a spectacular final product that we will keep in our family for many many years.
We were bursting with excitement when Friday evening came around and the out-of-town guest began to arrive. The rehearsal went well and afterwards we gathered at a local restaurant for drinks and appetizers—a chance for our families to mingle and get to know each other before the big day. And—much to our surprise—an a cappella group had been hired to sing to us and Dana’s grandparents, who are celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary in July.
On Saturday morning we woke up to a gorgeous sunny day. The ladies got their hair and make up done while the men slept in and spent the morning lounging. By 5 o’clock everything was in place and we were ready to start the show.
Dana walked down the aisle around 5:30 and the ceremony began. We started with a traditional Jewish blessing over the children given by both of our parents. Then we had a reading by Chris’s uncle (a Jesuit priest), followed by our own version of the seven blessings read by friends and a poem read by Chris’s sister. Afterwards we exchanged vows and rings, Chris stomped on the glass (twice—since he wasn’t sure he had broken it the first time), we kissed, and then it was on to the party!
Now, three-weeks later, it’s hard to remember all of the details from the reception but it truly was a magical day. Many people commented on how personal the ceremony was and how much they learned about both religions. The Horah may have been one of our favorite moments, when family and friends from both sides joined on the dance floor to dance around us and lift us in chairs. The joy that we were able to share with our friends and family was palpable during those few minutes, and everyone had a great time.
The morning after the wedding there was a brunch at the Pulda house, which was a great opportunity to catch up with our guests and spend time with those people we weren’t able to see for long during the reception. It’s funny, before the wedding everyone warned us how quickly the night would go, but I guess it’s one of those things that you have to experience to believe. It truly flew by!
All in all, the wedding was a wonderful time and we considered it to be a beautiful fusion of both of our faiths. Our families and friends came together to celebrate us, our love, and the future we have before us. We consider it to be a bright future, and look forward to the joys and challenges of being an inter-faith couple and raising children with an appreciation for the rich heritage of both of our faith backgrounds.
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.
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”
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:
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.
Sam and I were discussing our ketubah (marriage contract) artwork and after much thought, we decided to ask Michelle to paint it for us. We looked at hundreds of designs online and most of the ketubot used trees because the Torah is referred to as the tree of life. We are comfortable using this imagery and would also like to incorporate the four seasons. After talking with Michelle she is combining these ideas into two trees of Spring and Summer reflecting the two trees of Fall and Winter to represent the years gone by and the years to come. We asked her to use chalk pastels in bright, bold colors to exude life and energy. Sam and I took what we liked from a lot of different designs and Michelle is combining all of our ideas together to create something uniquely for us.
Finding a scribe that would write interfaith text on a piece of someone else’s art took some research. We found a scribe who belongs to the New York Society of Scribes and happened to be visiting Boston, near where Michelle lives. Michelle met with this scribe and together they picked out the paper that would be conducive for both her chalk pastels and his calligraphy ink. After much discussion, we realized that it would be better logistically for Michelle to do her artwork after he wrote both the Hebrew and English text.
Finding the text for the ketubah was more difficult. We looked at several texts and it was a lot easier to pick out the language we didn’t like, than find something we both agreed upon. Sam wants the language to be more formal, in honoring the traditions of the past, whereas I would like the language to represent us both as equals. After going back and forth on text, nitpicking every word, we think we have finally agreed on some language but would like to get approval from our parents and Rabbi before the scribe begins his work.
Our goal is to get the text to the scribe by the end of this month, so he can create his calligraphy so Michelle has enough time to create her artwork. Our ketubah will be the most valuable piece of artwork in our home; therefore, we are being very diligent in crafting the language and design.
Just like all beginning relationships, I had plenty of questions. “Will he still like me if I eat three burgers for dinner?” “Will my parents and siblings like him?” “Will his parents and siblings like me?” “Will we get along with each other’s friends?” “Will he be ok with my Catholicism?” At first, these questions bugged me. I had doubts that the relationship wouldn’t last because we are so different. However, after talking it over with my friends, something clicked. Instead of focusing on the fact that we were different, I began to embrace it.
I started sharing my hobbies with Sam. When I was with Sam, I experienced things differently than when I was with my other friends. After going to the theater with my girlfriends, we would talk about the rehearsal process, technical elements, and cast and crew. Seeing the exact same show with Sam, we would talk about how we related to the characters and how the acting moved the story along. Sam also started sharing his love of concerts and brewing with me, and introduced me to Judaism.
I began going to synagogue with Sam a few months into our relationship, and it was confusing at first. The service was completely different from the Catholic Mass, and it didn’t help that I didn’t understand Hebrew. After attending a few more services with Sam, I started researching the holidays and cultures and began to find joy in the ways that the Jewish holidays could benefit me personally or spiritually. Creating a menu for Passover became an exciting search, between my friends and I, to experiment with different ingredients within the dietary restrictions mandated during the holiday.
Sam and I started turning activities into exciting adventures. Over the past two years we have attended numerous family holiday celebrations; the National Homebrew Conference, several beer festivals, numerous Synagogue events, Philadelphia Folk Festival, and other concerts; stewarded a mead (honey wine) competition; road tripped to Chicago (twice), Boston, and Minnesota; held a game marathon during the two-week black out of Super Storm Sandy; and celebrated a handful of friends’ interfaith/intercultural weddings.
So when did I know that Sam was the “one”? The answer is three-fold: