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By Emily Baseman
Before my now-husband, Brandon, and I were engaged, I always assumed we would have a Jewish wedding. Brandon was raised in a Jewish home, attended Sunday School, studied the Torah for his bar mitzvah and journeyed to Israel with Birthright. Our apartment has had mezuzahs on its doors for years and we take turns saying prayers in Hebrew for Hanukkah, Rosh Hashanah and Passover.
But I wasnâ€™t raised with Judaism. I was raised in a Christian household with a family with strong Christian faiths. Both of my parents are very active in our Presbyterian church, my father recently completed a certificate in Christian Studies and my younger sister, initially planning a career in the ministry herself, married a man in the ministry in 2013. While I always aligned myself with the Christian faith, I didnâ€™t have the same zeal for the church that any of them did. One night on our apartment buildingâ€™s rooftop, I think I surprised Brandon and myself when I casually asked him if he would consider an interfaith wedding. His response? â€śOf course.â€ť If I wasnâ€™t already completely confident in marrying him before that moment, that sealed it. We got engaged shortly thereafter and began wedding planning.
Itâ€™s amazing what happens to people while planning a wedding. We all have our normal levels of emotion, and wedding planning takes these emotions, turns them on their heads, and dials them up to 11. Make that 12 if youâ€™re planning an interfaith wedding. With emotions running high, two things are very important to remember. First, remember youâ€™re getting married because you love your partner and youâ€™re ready to start a life together. Remember that through every moment that something causes you stress and every moment you become frustrated with planning. Second, keep a clear head. Donâ€™t let emotions get the better of you or in the way of open communication with your fiancĂ© and families.
There are a lot of aspects of wedding planning that are important to people in different ways. Iâ€™ll share some of those that were important to us and with which we had experiences. If there are other topics you are interested in hearing about, Iâ€™d love to hear from you in the comments.
In our initial conversation about planning an interfaith wedding, Brandon and I talked about who would marry us. It was very important to us that both a pastor and a rabbi be involved. Our wedding was in Chicago, where we met and I am from, and we were wedding planning from Washington, DC, where we live. I sought out a pastor from the church where I grew up and reached out to Reverend Roberta Dodds Ingersoll. Reverend Dodds Ingersoll is one of the warmest people I have ever met and she has a gift for making everyone she greets feel truly welcome when we visit the church. I was very upfront with her about how we envisioned the wedding working and she agreed to be one of our officiants. We were candid with each other from the beginning and explained what each of us was comfortable with and what we expected.
For our rabbi, we were fortunate to be referred to Rabbi Evan Moffic who is local to the Chicago area and married to InterfaithFamily/Chicagoâ€™s Director Rabbi Ari Moffic. Rabbi Moffic made us feel comfortable with planning an interfaith wedding and put us at ease about the entire process.
One of the best decisions Brandon and I made during wedding planning was to sign up for an interfaith coupleâ€™s workshop through the Interfaith Families Project (IFFP) in Kensington, Maryland. While the class was not written solely for engaged couples, all but one of the couples in the class were planning a wedding in the upcoming year. Co-taught by IFFPâ€™s rabbi and pastor, the class took us through the realities of interfaith relationships. Working directly with clergy living and breathing an interfaith practiceâ€”along with meeting and hearing the stories of other couplesâ€”taught us that an interfaith marriage was possible. It also showed us that we are not alone, we are one of many couples asking the same questions and grappling with the same answers every day. To find workshops in various cities led by InterfaithFamily, click here.
Family is such a special aspect of our lives and we wanted to be sure they were an important part of the wedding planning process and day. Of course, it is easy to say this now, nine months after we walked down the aisle. The reality is that weddings are stressful and emotional and we each have a different definition of a perfect day. To make sure both sets of our parents were comfortable going into the wedding day, we kept an open line of communication about our plans. We went through each piece of the ceremony with them and talked about what it meant and why it was important to us. We learned that they did have questions and we were able to address their concerns. These conversations led us both to grow stronger in our respective faiths and to understand each other more deeply.
Our ceremony was a joy to plan and one of our favorite parts of our wedding dayâ€”and itâ€™s difficult to pick just one when all of your favorite people are in the same room. Look out for a post in the future for more about the ceremony.
The following is a guest blog post by the groom’s father, Phil Goodman followed by some additional thoughts from officiant Rabbi Robyn Frisch who is the director of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia
Like many of you I have enjoyed Anne and Samâ€™s wedding blog, but I have a major bias, I am Samâ€™s father. By way of introduction, over thirty years ago I entered my own interfaith marriage. I was not overtly active in daily religious practice and neither was my wife. Raised as a Conservative Jew, in my twenties I had become the proverbial twice-a-year-Jew assuming I would become more involved once I had a family. Pennye, raised Catholic, practiced little of any Christian faith. Once engaged we attended many community programs addressing interfaith marriage issues as we knew they would continually be the elephant in the room and it was important for us to have a basis to lean about what we knew would be part of every family decision we would make as a couple. We found a rabbi to perform our wedding ceremony as the Jewish traditions included in our ceremony were important to me and many of our guests, and acceptable to Pennye.
Religion remains an extremely important part of both of our lives. Jointly weâ€™ve explored each otherâ€™s beliefs. I am a committed Reform Jew who, with my wifeâ€™s full support, has been very active in our large suburban congregation and held many leadership positions. Pennye is a committed Presbyterian with similar leadership positions in her church community. We are very lucky to have found two faith communities that accept both of us and consider both of us as resources when figuring out how interfaith issues affect their congregations. The key is mutual respect.
I frequently find myself in conversations concerning the increase in interfaith marriage in current society. I always ask the naysayers whether they practice their religion the way their parents do. Rarely is the answer â€śyes.â€ť I then ask why they have any expectation that their children should be any different. When Sam brought Anne into my life I could not be happier for them as a couple. Individually they will figure out how their beliefs and practices will be part of their lives. InterfaithFamily certainly provides resources that were not as readily available to us thirty years ago. Over the past three years Iâ€™ve seen how Anne seems to complete Sam and visa versa. Their happiness is all that really matters to me.
Incorporating religious tradition, both Jewish and Catholic, in their ceremony was important to Sam and Anne. I expect that Samâ€™s upbringing made him cognizant that the beauty of his wedding day would partially rely on the comfort of the clergy participating in an interfaith ceremony. Knowing that our familyâ€™s rabbi did not perform interfaith ceremonies, his participation was never considered. (This rabbi was their guest at the wedding and in the following week he extended a congregational membership to Sam and Anne.) Sam and Anne were lucky to have relationships with other clergy who have known them individually since their childhoods, who took the time to get to know both of them over the past year, and who were willing to co-officiate. These personal relationships added to the beauty of the ceremony that seamlessly wove in two religious traditions.
I was honored when Sam and Anne asked that I toast them at their reception. Assuming that the maid of honor and best man would probably offer lighter remarks about the couple, I wanted to be more solemn and personal so I included the following in my speech:
â€śFollowing the priestly benediction over our children on Shabbat after we light the candles we ask that God make our sons like Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons, not so ironically for us here today, of Joseph and his Egyptian wife brought from an interfaith Diaspora into the fold by their grandfather, Jacob, becoming the namesakes of two of the tribes of Israel. Sam, wherever life may lead you, may you be like Ephraim and Manasseh, earning and deserving the respect of your peers and prospering by your continued good deeds.
We also ask that God make our daughters like the matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. Anne, may you be like our matriarchs, the diligent manager of your household and strong protector of your family.â€ť
At the end of the day, the oldest biblical history of our separate religions is the same. The past two thousand years may have led us down different paths, but the desire to make our world a better place and dreams for our children are the same. The reverence and respect that Sam and Anne have shown to their different religious faiths offers us all hope as it has provided us opportunities to learn from and about each other. I donâ€™t deny that our uniqueness is important, but finding a way to weave our separate threads into a tapestry of new traditions that can envelop us all should be our goal.
Rabbi Robyn Frisch shares a few more personal words:
I met Sam and his family 13 years ago when I came to work at the congregation where Sam grew up. The Goodmans have been good family friends since then, and I have always admired the way that Samâ€™s parents navigated their own interfaith marriage. It has been a true pleasure for me to get to know Sam and Anne together as a couple for the past year. When Lindsey Silken mentioned many months ago that she was looking for a new couple to be wedding bloggers for InterfaithFamily, I knew that Sam and Anne would be perfect! Here is a piece of what I said to them at their wedding ceremony.
“Over the last year Iâ€™ve had the joy of getting to know you as a couple and of reading your blogs about your relationship.Â Iâ€™ve been so touched by the respect you have for one another.Â Itâ€™s rare to meet someone in their 20â€™s who has such a connection to both family and religion â€“ such an awareness of their heritage â€“ as each of you do.Â Youâ€™ve probably both heard me say many times that I hope that when my kids grow up they have as deep a connection to their Judaism as the three Goodman kids (Sam and his sisters) do.Â Anne, I know that you too respect this about Sam â€“ just as he respects your bonds to Catholicism.
Rather than being scared of each otherâ€™s bonds to your religions, you both admire that in one another and you have let this draw you together.Â Rather than either of you trying to convince the other to believe or to worship the way that you do, youâ€™ve explored each otherâ€™s religious traditions to learn what is meaningful to your partner.Â Youâ€™ve accompanied each other for family holidays and for worship â€“ and your families have engaged in â€śTheology on Tapâ€ť sessions, combining both of your loves for learning, for holy scripture, and for a good beer.
Neither of you expects the other to compromise in a way that isnâ€™t sincere; nor do you compromise your own practices or beliefs.Â Rather, you navigate your own unique path â€“ together.”
Congratulations to Anne and Sam from everyone at InterfaithFamily!