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ByÂ DebraÂ Lynn Shelton
Apparently when she and her non-Jewish fiancĂ© scheduled their most special event, they had no idea the date coincided with the holiest days on the Jewish calendar. By the time they realized the conflict, it was too late. They werenât able to change the date of their wedding at the fancy country club where it was booked.
On a scale of religiousness, our family ranges from fairly religious to completely non-participating. So the fairly religious contingent now have a difficult decision to make.
The bride is my first cousin, the daughter of my momâs younger brother. For my immediate family (parents and sisters) the knee-jerk reaction was: reject the occasion altogether. Send a gift, but donât attend.
I mean, how disrespectful could you be to schedule your special day on such a somber and important holiday? What could the future bride and groom have been thinking? What could they expect? But the deeper we delved into the dilemma, the more complicated it became.
For my mom who is fairly religious, in her mid-70s, and lives across the country from her two brothers, the decision was especially difficult. She was choosing between sharing the joyous celebration including magnificent meals with her cherished brothers vs. observing the High Holidays by attending services and fasting.
Rather than asking the audience, she decided to âphone a friend.â That friend was her rabbi who happened to be in Israel on a trip with fellow congregants.
After explaining the situation, my mom asked: âWhat advice can you give our family regarding attending the wedding? I can hear my fatherâs voice saying, âfamily is family.âÂ How do I choose between my family and my faith?âÂ
His response was surprising. On a call from Jerusalem the rabbi advised:Â âDonât go, but do send a gift.Â Do not tell her why you are not going.â
This confused my mom even more, especially the last part. If she chose not to go, why not stand up and say why?
She called her brothers to discuss the situation, and their voices reminded her of the deep love they share. In the end, that love overpowered everything else. She and my dad booked their tickets and will be attending the wedding at the end of September.
The bride-to-be also showed some flexibility, changing the time of the rehearsal dinner so anyone who wishes may attend Kol Nidre services. She also researched nearby temples and their times for services on Friday night and Saturday.
Her Saturday evening wedding is, technically, after the holiday is over. I think she genuinely feels bad about the predicament this has put her observant family members in, and has done what she can to rectify the situation. (Iâm sure many of you will disagree with this.)
Personally, Iâve come full circle. At first I was ready to book my plane ticket. Then I thought, since it was so disrespectful of the bride and groom to put so many in such a challenging position, I wouldnât go. Then I considered what really matters: family. So Iâll be checking out flight and hotel information soon.
This isnât an uncommon dilemma in our world where so many levels of observance can be found in one family. Secular Jews may have weddings or birthday parties or even graduations or professional milestones that involve travel on Saturdays, for instanceâleaving their Sabbath-observant relatives torn.
After all is said and done, as inconsiderate as keeping the wedding date scheduled for Yom Kippur is, Iâm of the opinion that, as my grandfather said, âFamily is family.â
The High Holidays will occur again next year. My cousinâs wedding will not. So, Iâll be joining my parents to watch my cousin walk down the aisle (They plan on attending services near the wedding venue.) Iâm looking forward to spending time with relatives I donât get to see very often, and to celebrating this special milestone with them.
But it isnât an easy choice. Dear readers, I wonder: what would you do?
This article was reprinted with permission fromÂ Kveller.com, a fast-growing, award-winning website for parents raising Jewish and interfaith kids.Â Follow Kveller on FacebookÂ andÂ sign up for their newsletters here.
I recently joined a Facebook group that InterfaithFamily started to connect couples planning interfaith weddings (join here!). As Iâve mentioned in a few of my posts, Zach and I have our wedding pretty well planned already, and weâve been working with great officiants to create a beautiful, meaningful and inclusive ceremony. I joined the group because Iâve realized during this process that the choice we made with this wedding to include and celebrate both traditions–to make both families feel welcome and represented–is a challenge and opportunity that we will continue to face in our married life.
Iâve mentioned a book called Being Both by Susan Katz Miller that solidified our decision to marry. The book isnât about weddings; rather, itâs about what happens after. That was our biggest question in deciding to get married: What would we do if and when we decided to have children?
Meanwhile, what I had heard from clergy, both Jewish and Catholic, was that âbeing bothâ was not an option. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops claims that religious leaders agree that raising children of interfaith marriages exclusively in one religious tradition is best. While this may be true, I had a hard time finding studies on the alternative, save for Millerâs book. Additionally, both Zach and I felt that a piece of us would be missing from our future family if our future child or children was or were raised exclusively in one tradition. Being Both offers examples of families and congregations that enable families to participate in both traditions fully, rather than having one or more family members as a spectator to that tradition.
Iâm not entirely sure what the right answer is for us, but reading that book made me realize that our family might not feel completely at home in either tradition, because of our desire to not just respect but incorporate both traditions into our one family. As a Catholic woman from a Catholic family, where we get together for baptisms and First Communions, that is a realization that, honestly, I still struggle with.
But I draw strength in my conviction that the benefits outweigh the negatives. Iâve already writtenÂ about how well Zach and I complement each other, and I also see a unique calling or mission in creating an interfaith family. I love celebrating Jewish holidays with Zach, and I canât wait to share those beliefs, prayers and family traditions with our children. Similarly, when I go to church on Sunday, I think about sharing with them my familyâs stories, beliefs and rituals. I think our overall desire is to raise children comfortable and familiar with both traditions, who see and appreciate God in all forms. Because, when it comes down to it, I see God in my relationship with Zach, and I refuse to be bound by the lines our religious communities have drawn around us. Our love is boundless, and our family will be too. Thatâs been the biggest realization for me in this process–weâre starting something new, that no one in either of our families has done before, but connecting to the larger interfaith community, with families who have years of experience before interfaith marriage became commonplace, is so valuable.
I recently decided to take the last name Drescher. I struggled with the decision for a while. I like my name as it is: Laura Rose Free. I like the connection that âFreeâ gives me to my family. I like the pun possibilities (bachelorette hashtag: #freeasilleverbe). But marriage signifies the start of something new–of two people coming together as one, acting as partners, and making decisions together. For me, taking the last name Drescher is a step in that direction; it’s an act that symbolizes that change for me. In addition to all of the practical reasons, this symbolism made me decide that I want to change my name. Iâm not saying itâs the right decision for all couples, but I feel itâs the right decision for us–itâs the first step toward the new family that weâre starting. Iâm thankful to have this community to support us and show us the ways they have chosen to create new families and traditions.
Over the July 4th weekend, Zach and I spent some time with my family in the Philadelphia area. As mentioned on my previous post, we got ambitious with some DIY projects, so we planned a few (three) weekends to go home and visit (work) with family to complete those projects. The first weekend in July was one of those weekends.
In thinking about blogging for InterfaithFamily, Iâve thought about what readers might be interested in, and family acceptance probably ranks pretty high. Itâs an obstacle many couples (including some of my friends) struggle with, but luckily, weÂ did notâmy family loves Zach. Loves him. This cannot be stressed enough. They ask about him all the time.
While it doesnât surprise me that everyone loves Zach (I do, after all), it did surprise me how that affected their reaction to us getting married. No one was disappointed that I wasnât marrying another Catholic, because they all knew and loved Zach. They knew how well we worked together, they knew how well he got along with the rest of the family, and they knew how well he complimented my strengths and weaknessesâand same for me to him. They got to know him as a person so that by the time we announced our engagement, everyone was on board. They knew I could not find anyone who complimented me better, challenged me more and treated me better than Zach.
Thatâs not to say that this path has been super easy. It took some time for my parents to understand that my family life probably wouldnât look like the one they had provided for meâwith private Catholic school and a strong rooting in Catholic parish life. I loved growing up with that setting, but it might not work for our family-to-be. Thatâs a struggle that Zach and I, along with our extended families, will have for the rest of our lives. But I feel that both families see the love that we have for each other and know that for us, the struggle will be worthwhile.
Readers, excuse the interruption, but Zach has something to add!
Hi, this is Zach. While Lauraâs been doing most of the heavy-lifting around here, I wanted to insert myself into this post to say that my family also loves Laura a ton. Weâre more of a secular bunch than her family, but there was still somewhat of an expectation that I would end up with a Jewish spouse. But theyâve been nothing but supportive of our relationship, and everyone can see how good we are for each other. So thereâs excitement on both sides for us as we begin this journey together.
Back to Laura:
One of the most fun parts of being an interfaith couple is learning, with your entire family, new things from your significant other. One year, Hannukah started while we were home with my family for Christmas. Zach led the family in prayer in lighting the menorah, and the next day my Grandma called to make sure that we had gotten home in time to light the menorah. Zach taught my family to playÂ dreidelÂ by the Christmas tree, and everyone had a great time (while he hustled us). Weâre taking the same fun, learning approach to our wedding. Below is a video of Zach explaining to the camera and my parents the significance of the tradition of breaking the glass after the wedding ceremony. We were testing out a glass to make sure it would actually break!
By Lynda Barness
You are now engaged! NOW WHAT?
Here are five things to consider before jumping in, from a Master Wedding Planner:
1. Breathe. Iâm not kidding! Take some time to enjoy your engagementâand each other. And your families. And your friends.
2.Â Get to work. When you are ready to start working (and yes, it may feel like work, so now would be a good time to consider a wedding planner if you are thinking about hiring one), you and your partner will want to have a discussion about your wish list: time of year (and which year), which city, what type of officiant, what kind of venue and more. So often there are other voices in this discussion, but the couple can prioritize their wish list first and then discuss it with family and others.
3. Get your guest list in order. You canât possibly pick a place for a ceremony or reception without knowing how many people you will invite. A question that I am asked very often is about the drop-off rate. If you invite your whole guest list, how many can you figure wonât attend? You canât figure this at all, so please donât bother trying! I know of a wedding where 277 guests were invited and 275 attended. The moral of this story is to look for a venue that will hold everyone you have invited. Remember, you wouldnât be inviting these guests if you didnât want them to come, so they just might!
4. Choose an officiant. The officiant will need to be the first to be chosen/hired. You need that person to be available and willing to be with you on your wedding day, and youâll need to nail that day down before you can confirm with a venue. InterfaithFamilyâs clergy referral service is the perfect place to start! Next step is finding a venue…
5. Secure the reception venue and start hiring your wedding professionals. This looks very simple in the abstract. It is not! Especially if one partner has always imagined getting married in a synagogue and the other has a picture of an outdoor ceremony in mind. This is a big decision to figure out together and often requires compromiseâwhat better time than the present to work on that skill? If you are hiring a wedding planner, or are even thinking of hiring one, it will be helpful to have this person on-board at this point as well.
When it comes to the wedding day itself, there are four things that I think are essential to keep in mind:
1. Invitations and their wording. Do the names of both sets of parents appear on the invitation? Are only the hosts (the ones who are paying) listed? Hereâs some advice from a planner: It is lovely to include all the parents and have them all feel a part of this day, and it is a clear signal to everyone that the two families are joining together.
2. Ceremony logistics. Who sits on what side, who walks down the aisle with whom and who stands or sits where? This can get complicated, especially since different religions handle it differently. Itâs a matter of compromise and sensitivity. Do mom and dad walk down the aisle with their child as Jewish tradition dictates? Or has the bride who is not Jewish always imagined herself walking down the aisle with just her father? Do the parents stand, do they hold the chuppah or do they sit during the ceremony? These are great questions to discuss with your officiant and one of the reasons clergy can be so helpful.
3. Religious ritual objects. Do you want to have a chuppah? What about a ketubah? Which rituals from each of your faiths do you want to include? How can you best represent your individuality and your coming together as a new family? Again, your officiant can be a huge source of assistance here, and if you are having a Jewish wedding, a great place to learn about rituals and ritual objects is in Anita Diamantâs go-to book, The Jewish Wedding Now.
4. The Jewish tradition of yichud is one that seems to have become both modified and universal. After the ceremony, the couple has some private time (often with hors dâoeuvres and drinks) to simply share the first moments of their marriage alone with each other. This is such a special time and lovely tradition, and I always recommend it.
The best advice I have heard is to take some days off every week and donât even discuss wedding planning. It will be exhausting if you try to do wedding planning every single day from now until your wedding, so spend a little time with your honey without the stress of wedding or religion talk.
Lynda Barness launched I DO Wedding Consulting in 2005 after a successful and award-winning career as a real estate developer and homebuilder. Lynda earned the designation of Master Wedding Planner from the International Association of Wedding Consultants and also has a certificate in Wedding Planning and Consulting from Temple University.Â She combines education with years of experience as she helps navigate the complexities and challenges of planning the big day–with consulting services, day-of services, customized and full service planningâin the Greater Philadelphia area and beyond. Her background and experience are varied, and she has been both a participant and leader in a variety of civic, philanthropic and political activities.
âSo, howâs the wedding planning?â These days, this question excites and exasperates me at the same time. I have a lot of energy and excitement about the wedding, but it varies day by day whether that excitement is greater or less than my stress about âgetting it all done.â To explain that, I need to go back to the beginning of the process and explain a few things.
From the beginning, weâve been fairly flexible about what this wedding will look like. I donât have a crystal-clear vision of what I want, so I have invited and taken suggestions from family and close friends. I was breezing along for the first nine months, checking things off my list, thinking, this is easy! Sure, thereâs a lot to do, but Iâm organized! Iâm on top of it! We can do this!
In May I started to feel the pressure. And it was all because of Pinterest.
In the winter, we visited Lansdale and started thinking about decorations–again, an area where I didnât have preconceived ideas about what I wanted. My parents own a beautiful old house, and my dad has completed a lot of home improvement projects. Back in the wintertime, we discovered some old doors and windows he had saved that sparked some crafty neurons in my brain. I thought, these things will be perfect for signage, table assignments, whatever! And itâs all free! Perfect.
Itâs true that nothing in life is ever really free. I did not factor in how much effort it would take to polish all of those things. Washing, sanding and painting. Re-glazing some of the old window panes. Building stands for the doors so they arenât a hazard. We spent a full day cleaning some of these pieces and drawing out multiple iterations of plans for how we would use all the pieces. Luckily my family (and fiancĂ©) dove into the projects with gusto, each contributing their own talents to different pieces.
I went into that weekend excited, but I came out feeling overwhelmed. We had so many different ideas for how to use each piece. Plus, there were so many steps to bringing it all together–for example, to use one window we would need to wash it, sand the frame, repaint the frame, re-glaze the panes in the window and then write table assignments on it! I was having a hard time figuring out how we would get it all done, even with all the helping hands we had.
I did two things in response to this overwhelmed feeling. First, I sat down in my cone of silence and came up with a plan. I laid out all the steps, determined the critical path, and wrote out which tasks we could complete on which weekends we would be coming to Lansdale from Washington, DC. I had it all figured out, but I still felt tense.
Then I did the second thing: I envisioned what our wedding would look like if these projects didnât all come together. Surprise–everything was still beautiful. And we were still getting married! There would be officiants, food and a DJ. Somehow people would be welcomed, know where the bathroom was, and find their seat, even if it didnât look like the way we had envisioned it.
I realized that I was, to some degree, in control of how much pressure I was feeling to âget it all done.â If I decided that some things, like the signs for the bathroom, were more important than others, I could give myself (and everyone else) permission to not get those other things done, if we ran out of time.
Sure, an old window with a quote from Song of Solomon would make a beautiful addition to our ceremony space–but it wasnât as high on the list as, say, the table assignments. I needed to let some of these things go if I was going to enjoy the rest of this process. The time between engagement and marriage feels so special–youâre giddy and excited and hopeful, all leading up to this one day that will be over before you know it. The wedding day starts a blessed and fulfilled lifetime of marriage, but thereâs something special about this expectant time, where youâre waiting for that next step, and I donât want to miss that. I want to savor it.
So, when I start to think about all that I âhave to do,â I think about all the people around to help me. I think about what the âbare bonesâ of the event will look like, and Iâm still happy. I think about standing in front of friends and family and promising to love Zach for the rest of our lives, and I know it doesnât matter if we get the photo booth just right.
Iâm choosing to use this time to prepare for a lifetime with my best friend, where the little things donât shake our happiness together. And I make that choice anew every day. Some days are better than others, but I, like most of us, am a work in progress.
After my latest blog post on finding officiants for our Jewish-Catholic interfaith wedding, I got questions from both friends and fans about what the actual ceremony would look like. We had started a draft but needed to tie up some details, so we werenât ready to share. I didnât really think about it much in the past week, because we went to Cancun, Mexico, with my sisters and my parents to celebrate myÂ parentsâ 30th wedding anniversary. As much as I love how our wedding is coming together, and as much as Iâm excited for us to get married and start our married life together, I cannot emphasize enough how beneficial this time off was. No cell service meant no emails to vendors, no looking online for wedding bands and no Facebook monitoring of friendsâ wedding photos and measuring up our plans against theirs. I was barely on my phone all week and it felt amazing.
Brides and grooms, do this for yourselves. Give your partners the opportunity to do this for themselves. You don’t have to go anywhere, but take some time (an afternoon, a day, a weekend) and do something you love with people you love. It really helped me to regain a sense of mindfulness and a desire to be present in the moment and it will continue to help me make sure I donât miss a moment of this exciting yearâor what our wedding is really about: two people starting a new life together;Â two becoming one.
After this time off, we’re now ready to share the details of our ceremony. This custom wedding ceremony is a beautiful blend of ourÂ respective traditions. It was crafted using the years of interfaith experience of our rabbi, Rabbi Bleefeld, and several resources I found. I talked in my last post about using a book by Rabbi Devon A. Lerner: Celebrating Interfaith Marriages: Creating Your Jewish/Christian Ceremonyâwe borrowed heavily from the suggested ceremony components and order. If youâre not sure where to start, this book will not only give you sample ceremonies, but will also explain the importance of the different components of a wedding ceremony.
I also read blog posts such as this one from InterfaithFamily to get a sense of what others had done. As Iâve alluded to in earlier posts, it was really important for us to have both traditions not only represented but celebrated during our wedding ceremony. We both made compromises and sacrifices on the venueâme on my dream of being married in a Catholic church, and Zach on the familiarity and beauty of being married in his native California (some of our East Coast relatives would not have been able to make the flight). It was important that the wedding ceremony, like the outdoor space, feel like a reflection of us, because we were both in otherwise unfamiliar territory.
Our rabbi has done several interfaith weddings and our first meeting with him was aÂ great orientation to all we had to think about in the next year. He offered a suggested ceremony outline and explained the different parts and how he would handle explaining the significance of each to guestsâhe suggested printing explanations in the program, so we wouldnât interrupt the flow and beauty of the ceremony with too many teaching moments. We built on that initial outline, got some input from the priest officiating, added some special touches and voila! AnÂ interfaith wedding. Hereâs what it will look like:
After the procession (where there will be oodles of happy tears), Rabbi Bleefeld willÂ open with a statement remembering Zachâs mother Roberta, who passed away four years ago from breast cancer and my grandfather Tom, who lost his battle with bone marrow cancer a year ago. These people were so important to us and we will miss them so much on our special day. We want everyone to know that we feel their absence on this momentous occasion.
In explaining the subsequent different components of the ceremony, the insight we got from Rabbi Bleefeld and Fr. Mike was consistent: The consenting and the vows is paramount in a Catholic wedding ceremony, while the exchange of rings is theÂ high point of a Jewish ceremony. To that end, weâre asking my mother and Zachâs aunt to read from the New and Old Testament, respectively, to introduce each of those components. Weâre getting the dads involved tooâtheyâll say the Seven Blessings, alternating in Hebrew (Zachâs dad) and English (my dad). Weâll mark the last blessing by drinking a cup of wine from a goblet that Roberta made for Zach, one of the many uniquely beautiful pieces of hers that we have in our home. My godparents will then read the General Intercessions, which are not required in a Catholic ceremony, but Zach says theyâre his favorite part of the Catholic mass. (You can find an explanation for this part of the mass here, at paragraph 69. ItÂ is also called the Prayer of the Faithful or the Universal Prayer.)Â Weâre writing our own prayer that reflects our hopes and values, as well as our desire for health and happiness as we start our marriage surrounded by the family and friends we love.Â
Throughout the service, we sought opportunities to involve our parents and close family in the wedding ceremony because these individuals helped us form our sense of faith, tradition and family. It was important to us that they be intimately involved in the ceremony that would mark the start of our own new family with its own faith tradition.
Iâm adding an outline of the ceremony below, for those who would likeÂ more details.
Our Wedding Ceremony
Remembrance Statement – Rabbi Bleefeld
Opening words of welcome and blessing – Fr. Mike and Rabbi Bleefeld
New Testament Reading – Mother of the Bride
Introduction to and recitation of vows – Fr. Mike
Old Testament Reading – Aunt of the Groom
Introduction to and exchange of rings – Rabbi Bleefeld
7 Blessings – Dads, alternating in Hebrew and English
General Intercessions – Godparents of the Bride
Pronouncement and Marriage blessing (Hebrew and English) – Rabbi Bleefeld and Fr. Mike
Stepping on glass – Rabbi Bleefeld
Kiss and Processional
Recently weâve been thinking about what it means to be planning a religious wedding as a same-sex couple. Until the Supreme Courtâs ruling on same-sex marriage less than two years ago, marriage was simply not an option for many couples like us. Although weâre now able to participate in the tradition of marriage, things still remain far from clear-cut when it comes to religious attitudes toward our relationship.
We feel very lucky that our family and friends have wholeheartedly supported our relationship. Our wedding will be officiated by a rabbi and a priest who have been nothing but immensely kind and supportive. But we know that for many conservative proponents of both Judaism and Christianity, our relationship is not a sanctioned one. The Church of England bishops voted to maintain their opposition to same-sex marriage a little over two weeks ago. If we were to get married in the U.K., where Vanessa is from, we would not be able to getÂ married within the religious tradition thatÂ she grew up with, and in which her mother is a priest. In the U.S., some rabbis and priests would also refuse to marry us. Googling âreligion and gay marriageâ brings up pages of sites, many of which are not in support of same-sex marriage.
So we asked ourselves if we should stillÂ have a religious ceremony, given the discrimination that many LGBTQ people face from their religious communities.
Our answer concluded in a yes. We choose to stand alongside those in our religious communities who welcome and support people who have historically been marginalized and alienated. We, and our families, try to have conversations with people who find it more difficult to accept our relationship. Sometimes, simply showing up as gay people in a religious context is enough to start making change.
We strive toward understanding how our religions can inspire such a range of opinions, not just about LGBTQ people but also about people of other faiths, colors and economic circumstances, and we stand up against people who use their religions as an excuse to hurt and vilify other human beings. So yes, we #ChooseLove by proudly celebrating our interfaith same-sex wedding with the support of 150 family and friends, and we will base our marriage on our shared religious principles of love and acceptance.
Weâre Michele and Vanessa, and weâre getting married on April 30, 2017. Michele is Jewish and grew up just outside Philadelphia; Vanessa was raised in the Church of England (more or less equivalent to the Episcopal Church) a little outside London in the U.K. We got engaged in May 2015, and are thrilled to be counting down to the big day and our interfaith celebration.
Amidst our wedding planning (more on that another time), weâre alsoâlike everyone elseâplanning our holiday celebrations. This is a pretty big year for us, as itâs our first Christmas in the U.S. For the last couple of years, weâve gone to the U.K. and celebrated with Vanessaâs family; but this year weâre staying in Philly. For a while, I (Vanessa) was pretty sad: This is the first Christmas in 31 years that I wonât be with my family, watching my sister stare with trepidation through the oven door at the cauliflower cheese and roast potatoes and listening to my mum attempt the descants to Christmas carols on TV. But talking this over with Michele, and planning the holidays with her has brought me a lot of joy, as Iâve realized that this is actually a really exciting opportunity: We get to figure out how we can create our own traditions, and not just do whatever our families do, as we celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah.
This has led me to seek out cookie cutters in the shapes of dreidels and reindeer, menorahs and Christmas trees, and a variety of stars, both five- and six-pointed. I did a dance of delight in the Dollar Plus when I found Hanukkah garlands next to the Christmas tinsel. We started our own collection of tree ornaments that weâll keep adding to each year, with a classy otter bauble from the Vancouver Aquarium on the first vacation we took together that didnât involve either of our families. Our hope is that, in a few yearsâ time, our tree will be covered in ornaments that represent memories from our lives together. These things might sound frivolous, but for us, they symbolize the joining of our lives and our traditions; albeit in sparkly and (hopefully) delicious forms.
More seriously, weâve had to negotiate with family members what holiday events weâre going to, with Hanukkah brunches and parties surrounding Christmas church services and the first Christmas dinner hosted by us for Micheleâs family (complete with British stuffing and Christmas cake, sent all the way from England by my mum). Weâve had to think about whatâs really important to us in terms of our own traditions, and about what elements we want to share with each other. I want to go to Christmas services because itâs important for me to hear a choir welcoming Christmas in with âAdeste Fidelis,â but Iâm happy to let the cauliflower cheese go as we make the dinner kosher-style. Latkes are fairly high on Micheleâs priority list, but being all together and visiting the various branches of her family is even higher.
Itâs easy to get caught up in the mania of present-buying, tree-decorating, cookie-eating and playlist-curating, and to be honest Iâm definitely enjoying all those parts. But Michele and I are able to use those things to have conversations about what the holidays mean to us, how our families traditionally celebrate them, and what we want them to be like in our married life together. Of course, Iâll still miss my familyâbut this December, Iâll be surrounded by the love of my new family, Michele and all the Zipkins, and I canât wait. Itâs a timely reminder that our wedding planning isnât just about working toward a wedding, but a marriage. I feel incredibly lucky that weâre getting a head start on building our traditions for that marriage this year. Even if Iâm covered in powdered sugar and my reindeer cookies look more like dogs.
It has been two months since Jarrett and I tied the knot and there are times I still catch myself daydreaming about our wedding day. While it was not the easiest task to plan our big day, the reward was better than I could have imagined! In the weeks leading up to the wedding, I tried to remain cool and collected while tackling an intimidating to-do list but I remained motivated knowing every check off the list was one step closer to marrying my best friend.
As October 8Â inched closer, I grew more and more anxious knowing our closest friends and family members would soon be traveling from near and far to celebrate with us and my hope was that everything would run smoothly day-of. When I woke up the morning of our wedding day, I knew every item on the checklist had been completed except one: Get Married. In that moment, the advice from many close friends who had gotten married months or years prior to us popped into my headâŠ âBe present,â âDonât sweat the small stuffâ and âEnjoy every moment because the day will go by in the blink of an eye.â In that moment, I put every worry behind me and was ready to walk down the aisle.
The day began on a relaxing note with breakfast and movies at home with my mom and bridesmaids while we had our hair and makeup done. The limo arrived to take us to the wedding venue. Once at the venue, time moved faster than ever before. We began photos right away, then it was time for the first look with my soon-to-be husband. We chose to do a non-traditional first look because it allowed us to take all photos before the wedding ceremony so that we could be present at our cocktail hour to have more time with our friends and family. As I walked out onto the patio toward Jarrett standing with his back to me, I smiled knowing we were about to see each other for the first time on our wedding day. The photographer instructed Jarrett to keep his eyes closed while she arranged us back to back for a few photos. My mind raced with memories from our relationship over the last six years that brought us to this point and my smile grew even wider as the photographer instructed us to turn around to see each other for the first time. We cried happy tears as we exchanged notes we had written to each other the night before the wedding.
After our first look, we headed upstairs for our ketubah (marriage contract) signing ceremony. I was raised Catholic and never experienced a ketubah signing ceremony until my own wedding day. But after Jarrett and I spent weeks designing ourÂ ownÂ Interfaith ketubah, I was excited for this event to be part of our big day. Our wedding venue, The Bradford Estate, recently completed upstairs renovations which provided us with a perfect space for a private ceremony. Rabbi Robyn Frisch (Director of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia) led a beautiful and intimate ketubah-signing ceremony for Jarrett and me along with my parents and sister, Jarrettâs mom and two close friends we chose as our witnesses. The ketubah-signing ceremony will forever be one of my favorite parts of our wedding day. It was such a special time with the closest people in our lives and a way to spend a short time together before the chaos of the reception began. The ketubah ceremony even calmed some nerves before the wedding ceremony because technically, we were already married once our ketubah was signed!
Following our ketubah signing was our wedding ceremony (chuppah ceremony) officiated by Rabbi Robyn Frisch. Jarrett was raised Jewish and it was his request to be married by a rabbi in a ceremony incorporating Jewish traditions. I was happy to agree to his request as I understood how important this was to him and I did not need to be married in a Catholic church or by a priest for our wedding day to feel special to me. We chose to be married under a chuppah and it was so special to have our parents and my sister standing under the chuppah with us during our ceremony. I love the sentiment of the chuppah representing the home we will build together and how it is open on all sides to represent the welcoming of others.
We also chose to incorporate the Kiddush/Blessing over the wine utilizing a kiddush cup given to us by Jarrettâs aunt from a trip to Israel earlier this year. During our wedding ceremony planning, Robyn provided us with different verses for the exchange of the rings and Sheva B’rachot/Seven Wedding Blessings. Jarrett and I took time together to read through the different verses and chose verbiage that we connected with for use in our ceremony.
We were so thankful to have chosen Robyn as our officiant as she was so helpful during the ceremony planning (especially as a resource to someone who was not raised Jewish). She also took the time to get to know us as a couple and shared stories about us that truly made for a personal and unforgettable wedding ceremony. She even provided explanations during each part of the ceremony for those in the audience who were not from a Jewish faith background so they too could connect and understand the ceremony. Our ceremony ended with the Priestly Benediction and Jarrett breaking the glass with all of our loved ones yelling âMazel Tov!â
Following our wedding ceremony, our cocktail hour and reception commenced complete with the hora and cutting of the cake. We ate, drank and danced the night away with our closest friends and family members who helped make the day so special. Two months later, we continue to receive compliments about how beautiful and personal our wedding ceremony was and we feel very lucky to have had such a memorable experience. We are thankful for the memories from our wedding day that we will cherish for a lifetime and look forward to what the future holds as we embark on our interfaith marriage together.
By Emily Baseman
Our interfaith ceremony was the best and most meaningful part of our wedding day. It was really important to my husband, Brandon, and me that the ceremony be both very personal to us as a couple and truly interfaith. This meant we looked at wedding traditions from both Christianity and Judaism, and discussed which would fit into our ceremony. It also meant working closely with both a rabbi and a pastor to select readings and determine what would be said by each of them. I took a very hands-on role in planning our ceremonyâmaybe more than most brides doâbecause we had very specific ideas of what we wanted to be included. Hereâs a look at what we chose to do, and where we made it work for ourselves and our families. (We also had a Ketubah ceremony, which Iâll write about in an upcoming post.)
Processional & Affirmation of Families
It is traditional in Judaism for both parents of the bride and both parents of the groom to walk their respective child down the aisle. In Christianity, it is much more typical for only a brideâs father to walk her down the aisle. For this tradition, Brandon and I went with what we were comfortable with and had imagined growing upâboth his parents with Brandon, and just my dad with me. My feminist heart hated the notion of my father âgiving me away,â and so I chose to look at the experience as an incredibly special moment between my father and me, and Iâm glad I did not miss out on that. Early in the ceremony, our pastor led an Affirmation of Families that included blessings from both sets of parents.
We loved the symbolism of our new home under the chuppah and were excited to include this in our ceremony. We decided that only Brandon and I, and our officiants, would stand under the chuppah, with our parents in the front row and our attendants off to the side. We made this choice because we wanted our parents to experience the ceremony without feeling like they were on display, and we also wanted it to be a more intimate moment between ourselves and our officiants.
My mother and I designed our chuppah with our amazing florist. Our wedding was outside in Washington Square Park in Chicago and we wanted to ensure that our chuppah felt natural. The flowers and birch poles the florist used were beautiful and the best part of the chuppah was a white lace tablecloth that belonged to my late maternal grandmother. During the ceremony, I glanced up at the chuppah and loved feeling my grandmotherâs presence in that moment. We now have the tablecloth at home and I hope to have it made into baby blankets for future children.
Acknowledgement of Different Faiths
Our pastor began the ceremony with an acknowledgement of our two faiths and talked about how the ceremony was uniquely created for Brandon and me, with traditions and beliefs adopted from both Christianity and Judaism. He closed with a Bible passage, God is love, and those who abide in love, abide in God, and God abides in them. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (1 John 4:16)
Our rabbi led three blessings: Shehecheyanu, blessing over the wine and blessing over the chuppah. We saw these blessings as essential to our ceremony and wanted to include both Hebrew and English. Our rabbi also provided background for each so that everyone understood their meaning. For the blessing over the wine, we asked our rabbi to recite it in Hebrew and our pastor to recite it in English. We also used the Kiddush cup from Brandonâs bar mitzvah, which added special meaning.
In our initial conversation with our pastor, we agreed that we wanted to include Jesus throughout the ceremony. It is possible to have a Christian-Jewish ceremony that only references God, but it was more comfortable for us to also include Jesus in name. During our ceremony, our pastor explained with grace how we would be including aspects from both faiths, which could be perceived differently from person to person. We selected both Tanakh and New Testament readings for the ceremony, both of which offered blessings and a charge for our marriage. For the Tanakh, we heard Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, and for the New Testament, Colossians 3:12-17.
We were also blessed with homilies from both officiants, a statement on the gift of marriage, âI Carry Your Heartâ by E.E. Cummings and the singing of âWhat a Wonderful Worldâ by Louis Armstrong, arranged by my brother-in-law, our pianist for the day, and performed by him and my sister.
Vows & Exchange of Rings
Inspired by my sister and brother-in-law, Brandon and I wrote our vows together and each said the same words to one another, which was our personal way of making promises to each other about our commitment.
Brandon and I were also eager to find a way to incorporate each of us speaking in Hebrew in the ceremony. We found this opportunity in our ring exchange. Our pastor led Brandon and the rabbi led me in reciting our own words and words borrowed from Songs of Solomon, âWith this ring, I thee wed. Wear me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is infinitely strong. Many waters cannot quench love, no flood can sweep it away.â We closed with these words in English, âI am my belovedâs and my beloved is mineâ and in Hebrew, âAni le’dodi ve’dodi li.
Sheva Brachot and Benediction
Before we were pronounced married, our rabbi recited the Sheva Brachot, or âSeven Blessings,â which are traditional in a Jewish wedding. Our pastor also read a benediction, Numbers 6:24-26, âThe Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord be kind and gracious to you. The Lord look upon you with favor And give you peace.â Later at our reception, our first dance was Bob Dylanâs âForever Young,â which we loved dancing to because the lyrics also echoed these words.
Breaking of the Glass
There was no questionâhow could we not include this fun tradition?
To learn more about interfaith weddings and for a full list of resources, click HERE.
To read more about Emily and Brandonâs interfaith wedding planning, read her first post HERE.