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.
Where do you get married when you don’t officially “belong” anywhere? This question, which seems rather dramatic, was the first hurdle of wedding planning.
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.
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.
Welcome back. If you remember from our introduction, our wedding date is November 8th of this year! It is 205 days away, but then again, who’s counting?
If you know anything about a wedding, you know it takes careful time and preparation. That is not unique to an inter-faith wedding, but some of the things on the check list are approached with a different perspective.
Let’s start with the reception venue. The reception space is always one of the biggest items on anyone’s wedding check list. We went with a re-done barn, known as The Centennial Barn, which was built in 1898, but renovated in 2010 in order to host events. What is great about this space is that not only is it affordable, but the money spent here actually has a higher purpose. The money goes into the work of the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor. A few examples of the Sisters’ community work are to provide haircuts for the homeless, bring art into poverty stricken parts of the city and help young women to make better lives for themselves by helping them to get off the street. Helping others is a big part of who Lisa and I are as individuals and as a couple. Lisa spends many of her hours volunteering as a Merchandise Director for an amateur sports team here in Cincinnati. I work in the nonprofit sector, but also do community outreach mentoring. No matter what faith we fall into, helping others is a tenet for everyone. We didn’t realize reception site picking would end up being a faith-based decision!
The reception choice was easy, but the wedding ceremony would involve a lot more conversation and lot more faith discussions.
One thing to know about Lisa is that she is a grounded individual. She balances my often imaginative personality. We all have our desires as human beings, but Lisa tends to keep it realistic and much more achievable. If she wants something she tends to have fear about putting it out in the world. On the grounds of the Centennial Barn, there is a beautiful chapel, the St. Clare Chapel. When Lisa saw the Chapel, she wanted to get married there. It was comforting to her faith and she knew it would mean a lot to her every-Sunday-church-going family as well. However, we had decided to have a Rabbi marry us… Would the nuns be OK with this decision? Would our Rabbi be OK with this decision? I had to ask myself if I was OK with this decision.
It didn’t take much meditation though. I knew I was OK with it. I always want to provide for Lisa, even if it is just happiness. I knew from some interfaith classes I had attended that it was important to encourage one another’s faith, and getting married in the chapel was a way in which I could support Lisa. Plus, she had agreed to have a Rabbi marry us, which was more important to me than the venue.
The Chapel is not as easy as writing a check either. We needed approval from the Arch Bishop of Cincinnati. So here I was, a Jew, writing a letter to the Arch Bishop and the Nuns trying to convince them to let us get married in a chapel. The letter was not far off from this entry, but I knew at the end of the day that I simply could not buy the space and had to trust in G-d to show us that this space was for our big day. When I got the approval, the Head Sister (Nun) sat me down and said that they prayed (and she admitted–cried) for us because they were so touched by our story and our trust in G-d. We had our wedding day venues!