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By Hila Ratzabi
When José and I first started dating, my Jewish parents were not pleased. Though my mom is fairly liberal, some instinct flared up in her that has roots in centuries of Jewish fear of disappearance. Though that fear has lessened over the decades for many Jewish families, particularly in the U.S., it still rises up for many people, sometimes unexpectedly. What if my daughter loses her Jewish identity?, some parents wonder. What if the grandchildren aren’t raised Jewish? Is this the end of the line?
For me and many other Jews like me, this fear is unfounded. I went to Jewish day school from kindergarten through high school, and even went on to get a degree in Jewish philosophy. While my Jewish practices have changed over the years, I have always been a proud and engaged Jewish woman. I was, and remain, confident that my connection to Judaism is strong enough to share with my husband who is not Jewish and our future children.
The road to acceptance took a few years, but by the time we were ready to get engaged my parents had thankfully come around. They gave us their blessing, and we set out to create a wedding that reflected my Jewish heritage and José’s Mexican culture.
We had it fairly easy in that José does not identify with a particular religious tradition. He is a scientist and committed atheist; as a child he briefly attended a Baptist religious school in the small town in Baja where he was raised, but he definitively broke off with religion when he awakened to his atheism. While being an atheist, José has always supported and joined in with my Jewish practices. I’m not a believer either, but I love Jewish holidays, attending services and grappling with the big questions in life. Judaism is the lens through which I consider ethical dilemmas and the source of my commitment to social and environmental justice. These are things we’re able to share.
We found an amazing Reconstructionist rabbi, Rachel Weiss, of Congregation Beit
Together with Rabbi Weiss, we designed a ceremony that honored the dual heritage we were bringing together. We included traditional Jewish elements, including the chuppah (wedding canopy), the seven blessings, the circling of bride and groom, the ketubah (marriage contract) and the ring exchange. We wrote our own ketubah text instead of using the traditional text, and changed the language of the ring exchange and seven blessings to be more inclusive and universal. The witnesses who signed our ketubah included two of our close friends who happen to be another interfaith/intercultural couple—Jewish and Indian. We had watched them create a beautiful marriage that included both of their cultures, and were inspired by their example.
José’s grandmother was central to his upbringing, often standing in as a second parent since he didn’t have a father in his life, so we wanted to make sure she was included and would understand what was going on at the wedding. Since his grandmother doesn’t speak English, Rabbi Weiss explained each part of the ceremony before it was performed in both English and Spanish. José’s grandmother found the customs fascinating and listened intently as they were described. We also had traditional Mexican paper cutouts (papel picado) created for our wedding, which served as decoration at the entrance of the garden where the ceremony took place.
My own Jewish background is somewhat mixed, in that my mother is Ashkenazi and my father is Yemenite on his father’s side and Sephardic on his mother’s side. To honor my late grandmother, Rabbi Weiss sang a Jewish song in Ladino, the Judeo-Spanish language that my grandmother had spoken. This was another way to bridge our cultures, having a taste of the Spanish language woven into an ancient Jewish song.
When it came to the reception, we just wanted to throw an awesome party. The raucous klezmer band Golem was essential to making that happen. The wedding took place in an art museum on Long Island, and since both José and I dabble in visual art, we made mini-paintings on mini-easels as souvenirs for our (very impressed) guests. We also brought a giant blank canvas and paints for guests to create a piece of collective artwork for us. The painting now hangs in our living room, reminding us of that incredible day.
During the reception, my mom gave a speech that chronicled her and my dad’s evolution in coming to accept and share the joy in our relationship. They had truly done a “180,” realizing over time that they had nothing to fear in my marrying “outside” the Jewish faith, and that I had found the life partner who was exactly right for me, and who they loved like a son. Now, three years later, I am pregnant, and we all can’t wait to bring another person into our crazy, mixed family. Among our plans for the baby: teaching it Hebrew, Spanish… and if there’s time, maybe even English.
By Courtney Dunne
An “interfaith wedding.” What does that mean? I, after all should know what that means. My partner of 10 years and soon-to-be spouse is the CEO of InterfaithFamily. But understanding what it means to be in an interfaith relationship and putting it on display for all of your family and friends to witness…well, those are two different things.
Our families knew we would eventually tie the knot. After all, when we made the decision to move to Massachusetts, the ability to legally wed was a strong pull for us. Yet, life so to say, got in the way. Jodi was working full time in preparation for the transition in leadership at IFF and I was a first-time full-time stay at home mama for our active, inquisitive and adorable twin boys.
Yet, living in Massachusetts and not being married felt strangely different than living in Pennsylvania and not being married. No one, at the time, expected a same-sex couple to be married in PA. Yet, in MA people sort of looked at us in bewilderment when they found out we weren’t married. It almost felt like we were “living in sin” and as a Catholic school graduate, I knew what that felt like. Alas, new friends of ours gave us the added push of encouragement we needed to tie the knot.
So, 10 years. A house. A cat. A dog. Two kids. A BIG move to Massachusetts. And, finally…wait for it…marriage. I think we’re ready. Now, to share the news with our family and friends—this brought the expected excitement. The details—everyone wants to know the details. When? Where? Who? Most important, I’ve been asked by numerous people in an almost huffy and emphatic way, “Well, it will be interfaith, RIGHT?” Well, yes. Um, sort of.
Growing up Catholic, going to Catholic school and a Catholic university, I have always held very strong beliefs about humanity that did not always coincide with doctrine. When Jodi and I met, we connected very deeply on a spiritual level. We found commonality in our differences and took a humanistic approach to seeing how her Judaism influenced her existence and my Catholicism influenced mine.
A lot of thought went into raising our children Jewish, a decision I did not come to quickly or easily. Ultimately, it was a decision made out of love for them. About wanting my children to belong to a faith community; to believe in God; to participate in community service. And most important—at least to me—was to belong. I mean, truly belong.
That said, planning this wedding has forced me to really unpack the meaning behind what an interfaith wedding would mean for me. We made the decision to hold our ceremony in our synagogue, Kerem Shalom. We also made the decision to have our rabbi and friend, Darby Leigh officiate our ceremony. And here comes the line of questioning from my Catholic family members: “So, the rabbi is marrying you? And you’re getting married in the synagogue?” I can hear my mother’s Long Island accent: “I told her (my aunt) that you’re getting married in the synagogue but it IS and will be interfaith.”
Yes, mom. It is. But what does that mean? I might mention that my mother is also in an interfaith relationship—she’s Catholic and my stepfather is Jewish. But that’s a story for another time. So, how do you plan an interfaith wedding when some tenets of the Catholic faith (i.e. Christ-centered beliefs; Eucharist) contradict principles of Judaism? I found myself really questioning what an interfaith wedding would look like.
Luckily, we knew where to look for just the resources that would help answer some of our questions. Several helpful tips came out of the Guide to Wedding Ceremonies for Interfaith Couples. We also used the Tips for Inclusive Weddings to answer questions about involving friends and family (our parents will write personalized sheva b’rachot (seven blessings), choosing readings, creating an interfaith ketubah and more.
What I ultimately came up with was a Courtney-Jodi wedding that embraces our different faith traditions. Our interfaith wedding will include the pieces of our lives that that celebrate who we are; the spirituality that weaves in and out to create a bond and a tapestry. Our wedding will be in the synagogue and will have some of the traditional rituals present in Jewish weddings, such as the chuppah, the reading of the seven blessings and the breaking of the glass. However, it will also include blessings from our parents, who come from both Catholic and Jewish traditions. It will include family and friends that have been raised Catholic and family and friends who were raised Jewish. We have chosen to have our siblings, my two sisters and Jodi’s two brothers, be our chuppah holders, and the chuppah will have a Celtic web of life design. My sisters (Catholic) and Jodi’s brothers (Jewish) will provide the support for the canopy representing God’s presence in our lives and in our new life together.
Most important, our wedding will include two lives coming together in God’s presence—two lives who find commonality in spirituality. To me, that is an interfaith wedding. It may not include a priest. It doesn’t need to. What it needs to be is inclusive. Our lives and the choices we’ve made as a couple and as parents center around celebrating difference and inclusivity. Our interfaith wedding may not be your interfaith wedding. That’s the beauty of it.
Being interfaith is about noticing the differences and looking for the thread that ties you together but maintains individuality. Jodi and I found that thread 10 years ago. It has just taken 10 years to become a tapestry.
“I am excited to let you know that you and Jose have been selected as the winners for the wedding at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel!”
Wait, what? Let me read that again. We won a wedding?
Jose and I let out squeals of joy, called our families and started to hold on tight for what would inevitably be a wild ride.
We found out about the contest through Jose’s coworker back in January, and we took our time to write a thoughtful statement, answering the prompt of how we volunteer and give back to our community. Jose and I both volunteer, so we thought we had a pretty good shot, but to actually win seemed totally crazy.
We had not done any wedding planning until that point and we were taking our time, planning on a long engagement. I wanted to enjoy being engaged and I didn’t want to start researching and choosing vendors. I was also having a hard time accepting how much an average wedding costs.
When we won the wedding it changed everything (how could it not?). Our venue and food plus vendors including the florist, photographer/videographer, gown, officiant, life coaching and more would be mostly free. The stress and financial worries of planning a wedding were diminished and we could instead focus on the fun stuff and enjoy the process. It was such a blessing.
I decided to approach the entire experience differently from the start. For my wedding gown shopping, I invited my mom, sister and a few bridesmaids to join. Since my gown was included in the prize package and it was from one of the best shops in Philly, Lovely Bride, I knew I wouldn’t be shopping around. So I asked one of my bridesmaids to bring a bottle of champagne to make the shopping experience a celebration!
As I tried on dress number three, and we were all gathered in the room together, my bridesmaid Madison, a certified sommelier who knows how to properly open a bottle, popped the champagne. And, because anything that can happen will, it EXPLODED all over the dressing room. It went on the ceiling, the walls, the floor, in her eyes and on all of the women in the room. It kept dripping from the ceiling onto me in a wedding dress. It left no area untouched. The entire bottle exploded. It was like something out of a movie. We later found out that the wine shop had kept the bottle in the freezer (Why? Who knows!).
The silence that filled the room was palpable, seemingly so thick you could touch it. A record started playing on repeat in my head: You now have to pay for this free dress. You now have to pay for this free dress.
A few frightening minutes passed, and my mom blurted out, “I have to clean something. Give me SOMETHING to clean.” At which point the owner of the shop, the lovely Ivy Kaplin, started hysterically laughing. It was just too funny to not laugh. A sales associate was Swiffering the ceiling as I stood motionless and drenched in a wedding dress, and what else could we do but bask in the complete absurdity of the situation? Ivy and her associates were the coolest people I have ever met and didn’t charge us for the mishap. They took it in stride and we were all laughing about it moments after it happened. Not only do I have quite a story to tell, but I also found the wedding dress of my dreams and it was not covered in champagne!
We’ve had an amazing time meeting with our vendors and thanking them for their services. We are thrilled to have the fantastic Jill Magerman, a certified Life Cycle Celebrant who happens to specialize in interfaith weddings, as our officiant. She invited us over for a Mother’s Day brunch at her house (how cool is that?) and we talked for hours about what traditions we will incorporate from each of our religious and cultural backgrounds. We talked about Jewish traditions like standing under a chuppah (a four-post structure meant to symbolize the home), signing a ketubah (the Jewish marriage contract), breaking the glass (meant to symbolize the fragility of marriage, among many other things) and reading the sheva brachot (seven blessings for the couple’s marriage).
We talked about Filipino and Catholic traditions, like being wrapped in a cord and veil (symbolizing the union of the couple, the bond they share and the purity of their love), presenting arras (coins that symbolize prosperity and the couple’s commitment to mutually contributing to their relationship, their children and their community), and incorporating a unity ceremony, the details of which we have yet to determine. We also plan on incorporating Filipino traditions throughout the ceremony and reception, but I can’t give away all the good details!
We’ve also met with the fabulous Vito Russo, VP at Carl Alan Designs, who is providing intricate and beautiful floral arrangements for the ceremony and reception. We are absolutely in love with his work, and we couldn’t have asked for a better florist. It’s uncanny how closely his style aligns with ours, and we didn’t even choose him! It must be beshert (Yiddish for “meant to be”)! This adventure is sure to bring on more excitement, funny stories, challenging obstacles and plenty to discuss and for which to be grateful. If you keep reading, hold on, it is going to be a wild ride!
Sam and I were sitting at breakfast this morning reflecting on our wedding, which was a week ago yesterday. We were exchanging our favorite moments and stating what we enjoyed about that special day.
Everything about the day was beautiful. Although the weather on the days before and after was cold and rain-drenched, the day of the wedding had clear, blue skies and temperatures in the low 70’s, which allowed us to take photos outside among the gorgeous fall leaves. Friends and family members from across the country traveled without difficulty, and shared in our joy. Everyone was dressed to the nines and looked stunning. The ceremony was so beautiful that I cried through most of it. Thankfully, Sam was prepared and surreptitiously slipped me a tissue a few minutes into the ceremony.
The ceremony carried additional emotional weight as a result of the items that were owned or created by our relatives. Sam’s tallis was on top of the chuppah, so he wore his deceased Uncle Morrie’s tallis. My brother Dave made the paper for the ceremony programs using some fabric from my maternal grandmother’s wedding dress. My sister Stephanie did the graphic design for the ceremony programs (and all other printed materials). Sam’s sister Diana crocheted all the kippot that the Jewish men wore during the ceremony, and our ketubah was painted by my sister Michelle, as we mentioned in an earlier post.
Sam and I worked really hard to combine both Judaism and Catholicism into the ceremony. Two close family friends, a rabbi and a priest, co-officiated the wedding, and both did a phenomenal job of partnering together and taking the lead on our ceremony. At the beginning of the ceremony, Sam’s sister Stacey explained the Jewish rituals and symbols, and my brother, Chris, explained the Catholic ones. The fathers recited the seven blessings together, and the mothers took part in the unity candle. A cantor friend of ours chanted the shehecheyanu and my sister Laura read from the book of Genesis. Afterwards, many of our family and friends came up to us and said, “I really enjoyed how you blended both religions in the ceremony.”
Anne’s favorite moment fell during the ceremony, when our dads split up the Seven Blessings. Sam’s dad said them in Hebrew, and my dad said the translations in English. My dad is a professor at the local university and his diction is very clear and precise, so he over-enunciated every syllable in each of the blessings. In a very emotional ceremony, these blessings broke the tension and made me laugh.
Aside from watching my parents walk me down the aisle, Sam’s favorite moment was during the hora. After Sam and I went up on the chairs, our parents were also hoisted up on the chairs. Now, we had warned my parents about this dance when we first started planning our wedding. My mom was still scared when four men lifted the legs of her chair up and down, while my dad’s expression was the complete opposite. He had a blast! Every time they hoisted him up, his hands went up, as if he was on a roller coaster. It was a lot of fun to see that much excitement and joy on my dad’s face.
“You guys clearly had thought of every little detail, and I really enjoyed how everything tied together.” Yes, we did have a beer themed wedding. The place cards were beer bottles, the centerpieces were made out of beer bottles, the favors were bottle openers, and we even made our own beer to serve during the reception. My sister Stephanie created a logo for us which was made out of a sheaf of barley, bottle cap, and a hop cone that resembled a heart. This logo was on the invitations, ceremony program, signage, beer labels, and all of the printed material. The logo was even incorporated into a tile mosaic, crafted by my sister Carolyn, which functioned as our guest book. My youngest sister Theresa took this logo and made tags for everything in the hospitality bags for the guests to enjoy at the brunch afterwards. The guests at the brunch also enjoyed oversized Jenga and Kerplunk games built by my brother Andrew. All of the wedding details went off without a hitch thanks to Nicole, another sister, who was the day-of-wedding-coordinator.
“I have been to several weddings before and never have I heard the Best Man or the Maid of Honor’s toast so clearly and so well thought out.” The credit is all theirs. The Maid of Honor went to school for theater management, so speaking clearly in front of a large group of people is second nature to her. The Best Man’s occupation is planning long term medical treatments, so it is quite understandable that his speech had a very distinct beginning, middle, and end.
“Even though I just met you, I feel like I have known you for years.” In some cases, family or friends from one side of the family had gotten to know our “other half” through this blog. In others, it was a reflection of how strangely similar our families are. When I was putting together a slideshow of Sam and I growing up, for the brunch following the wedding, there are some images of my family doing a goofy face and I found images of Sam’s family doing that same goofy face. Our siblings and cousins had a ball dancing with each other, especially to songs such as Wagon Wheel by Old Crow Medicine Show, and “Cotton Eyed Joe”. It was great seeing everyone on the dance floor having such a good time.
“Keep on blogging.” Many of our guests have been following this blog. There were a few people that I met in person for the first time at the wedding who knew me only through these blogs. Sam and I are both very grateful to Interfaith Family for providing us with this forum for communicating with the world our love for each other in our different faiths. Best of luck to the other couples on this wedding blog; I hope your weddings are as joyous, loving, and fun as ours.
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.
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.
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.