Downton Abbey Portrays Reality of Interfaith RelationshipsBy Gerri Miller
Go inside Season 5 Episode 9 where the story line of Atticus and Rose's interfaith relationship comes to a head.Go To Pop Culture
I don’t want anyone to panic, but we’re nearly at the six-month mark. Six months until….holy moly matrimony. Luckily, we’ve figured a few things out. Like that big question: who will officiate the ceremony?
One of the pieces of InterfaithFamily’s work that I’m most excited about is how they work with couples to find officiants for wedding ceremonies—my work at Keshet has put me in touch with couples who have found it easier to find officiants for a same-sex marriage ceremony than for an interfaith ceremony.
I have a soapbox I could stand on to discuss how bananas I think that is, but I’ll save that for another time—that’s more of an in-person rant.
I don’t think our situation is very unique—unless you have very active ties to a religious institution, finding an officiant means doing a little research and a little legwork. It means thinking about the type of person you want setting the tone for your ceremony—what readings will they recommend? What customs do you want in place? How much flexibility will there be with traditions? Will they be funny? Somber? Will they quote the Princess Bride? Will they be OK with the fact that your partner isn’t Jewish? The list goes on and on.
For us, we wanted someone who knows us well. We’re actually lucky in the fact that I count in my closest circle of friends not one, not two, but three rabbis. And, one of Justin’s best friends was at one point ordained in an online ceremony in order to perform weddings.
So, finding someone who knows us well enough to help tailor a ceremony to our inter-faith, egalitarian, not-so-traditional-social-norm needs wasn’t as big of a challenge as we first assumed.
All of these considerations led us to sit down with one of my friends from college, Rabbi Becky Silverstein, to discuss the idea of his performing the ceremony.
Working with Becky has a few obvious advantages: since he serves in the official role of “One of Jordyn’s Best Friends in the Whole Wide World,” he has already implicitly agreed to help field any pre (and post) wedding melt downs. So, on the trust level, we’re good. This is someone who knows us well.
And, Rabbi Silverstein is the type of rabbi we’d want to work with even if we didn’t know him personally—smart, kind, and actively working to make the Jewish world more inclusive for the queer community. Rabbi Silverstein is one of the very few openly transgender rabbis in America, and both Justin and I are inspired by his courage.
You’d think asking one of your best friends to be the rabbi at your wedding would mean you’d get a pass on the tough questions—but Rabbi Silverstein asked us to think about the same things he’d ask any couple.
The three of us spoke about what role Judaism played in our lives, how we would continue to support each other in our religious practices, and why we wanted to have a Jewish ceremony—all good questions to set the tone for planning your ceremony. Actually, and perhaps more importantly, these are all good questions for setting the tone for your life as a partners. Talking with Becky reminded us that no matter what, communicating with each other as we explore faith, religion and community is so incredibly important for a healthy and supportive relationship.
Now, with just over six months to go, we’re pulling together the little details and asking some of the bigger questions. We’ve got our officiant. We’ve got our ceremony location. Next weekend I’ll be marking the start of Passover and Easter by going dress-shopping with family. I think we’re going to pull this off.
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 Sam’s wedding blog, but I have a major bias, I am Sam’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 we’ve explored each other’s beliefs. I am a committed Reform Jew who, with my wife’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 “yes.” 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 I’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 Sam’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 family’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:
“Following 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.”
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 don’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 Sam’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 I’ve had the joy of getting to know you as a couple and of reading your blogs about your relationship. I’ve been so touched by the respect you have for one another. It’s rare to meet someone in their 20’s who has such a connection to both family and religion – such an awareness of their heritage – as each of you do. You’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. Anne, I know that you too respect this about Sam – just as he respects your bonds to Catholicism.
Rather than being scared of each other’s bonds to your religions, you both admire that in one another and you have let this draw you together. Rather than either of you trying to convince the other to believe or to worship the way that you do, you’ve explored each other’s religious traditions to learn what is meaningful to your partner. You’ve accompanied each other for family holidays and for worship – and your families have engaged in “Theology on Tap” 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 isn’t sincere; nor do you compromise your own practices or beliefs. Rather, you navigate your own unique path – together.”
Congratulations to Anne and Sam from everyone at InterfaithFamily!
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.
A question that all soon-to-be married couples must ask, who is going to officiate our wedding?
The most popular answer among weddings I have attended all seem to be: close friends who are ordained by the state. When dealing with an interfaith couple, the answers get a little more complicated. Do we ask our rabbi? Do we ask a priest?
As I spoke about in my last post, it was very important for Lisa to be married in the chapel. It was important to me to have a rabbi marry us. Without much thought it was a compromise that made this one step closer to a truly interfaith wedding ceremony.
We had decided to ask a rabbi to marry us, but it was not that simple. Still in today’s age it is rather unpopular to marry interfaith couples, or at least that is my perception. It was not an option to use the rabbis who shaped me until this point. The rabbi I had as a child has passed on. My most recent rabbi is 600 miles away. We are on a budget and just could not afford to bring him to Cincinnati. Since moving in February of 2013, I was still in search of a temple where I felt comfortable, and where Lisa would be welcome.
Back on the east coast, I had a small, 150 family congregation. Three out of four weeks, the services were done in a Conservative style I really gravitated toward. It was small and welcoming and socially liberal. It was filled with several interfaith families, LGBT couples, and a lot of other groups that made it a welcome place. It truly was unique. It was much different than the Reform services I attended in my youth.
I came to Cincinnati to find that, but Cincinnati is a small city and I was left with two very different choices. On the one hand, I attended regular services at a Conservative temple, but there was no formal rabbi. The community was great, but the lack of a rabbi did bother me. However, I liked the services which felt a lot like I those back on the east coast. At the Reform congregations, I felt as though I had outgrown the style of services, but there were plenty of rabbis to go around. I found myself uncomfortable with musical accompaniments for a lot of the services. I found myself connecting less during those services. However, I knew Lisa may be more welcome there.
It was tough. I had to talk to my spiritual advisors. I emailed with my old rabbi. I sat in prayer. I spoke with Lisa almost after every Friday night.
We kept coming back to Temple Sholom. It was a smaller community than some other locations, so that fit with both of our sensibilities. Lisa had never been to any sort of Jewish religious service, so it was great to be able to sit down on a Friday night at home and stream in services as an introduction. It meant Lisa wouldn’t be overwhelmed and it alleviated my irrational fear that Lisa would hate attending services.
Temple Sholom also has a wonderful spiritual leader, Rabbi Miriam Terlinchamp. We knew she was one of the few area rabbis who performed interfaith marriages. She had moved from Conservative to Reform and I felt I would be making that same transition. She had also spent time working with inmates and if you remember from my introduction post, I spend my free time every Monday offering guidance at a local correctional facility. It was also easier for Lisa to connect with a female Rabbi.
After one last sign, we made the appointment with Rabbi Terlinchamp. After one session, we filled out the membership paperwork and scheduled our marriage class appointments. I may not have the same rabbi for guidance as the rabbi I have grown used to, but WE have a rabbi that will officiate our marriage and help us both grow spiritually.
Please note: I’ve posted this for Yolanda, who wrote the following post.
Hey there IFF,
So here we are, two months past our actual wedding date and we’re both enjoying the married life. Before we head off into wedded bliss, Arel and I are leaving you with a farewell video and some extra goodies to take a look at. We never talked about our actual wedding day so this is the video that finally covers how our day went and Arel included some pics for you guys to see how our wedding progressed that day.
We loved vlogging for InterfaithFamily.com and hoped that you enjoyed viewing our journey as much as we enjoyed documenting it for you guys. We wish you all a blessed life and for those of you getting married, good luck and enjoy the process. We welcome the next wedding bloggers, Jess and Erik, and wish them an awesome wedding and life thereafter.
Enjoy our last videos. We have video recapping our actual wedding, the video below that is a glimpse of the ceremony, and the third video showcases our unusual wedding dance. Let us know what you think.
Until we meet again,
Many people have asked us why we wanted a Rabbi instead of a justice of the peace or a non-denominational minister. And I think that I would like to try to answer the question:
Have you ever just felt inside that something needed to be a certain way? Maybe it was because of your upbringing or maybe it was because of your education. But you just knew in your heart of hearts that if it wasn’t done that way that it would not feel as complete as you needed it to be. Well. I have just always known that I would be married by a Rabbi. This put Lu in a tough spot and I think added to the depth of our quest. I’ve felt that a Rabbi would be most amenable to the soul searching and thought that we sensed should be present in our wedding ceremony. That is not to say that a non-denominational minister wouldn’t do just as good of a job. I mean. My own mother, Miki Young, is a non-denominational minister who often officiates at interfaith ceremonies. And she is AWESOME. I just feel better trusting this most important moment in our lives to a Rabbi. It’s just important to me.
Our search for her was not as easy as we would have liked and I think much of it had to do with us in the end:
First, my need to have a Rabbi didn’t make it easy for Lu. She was totally great in understanding why it was important to me, (and I think she often understood my need better than I did.) but I didn’t give her much of a choice in the matter. The best that we could do was totally agree, 100%, without question, who the Rabbi was.
And second, we really felt that we needed someone who would help us to create a ceremony that was totally ours. Someone that we really felt would go through each step of the process, piece by very piece, to help us discover how we could own the ceremony. We were looking for someone who could make me feel like I was having a meaningful Jewish ceremony and allow Lu to have a ceremony that suited her and wasn’t too bogged down with customs that she couldn’t relate to. Well. We found her.
You read right. We found her!
Rabbi Marjorie Berman just stepped into our life with a bang and we couldn’t be happier. Our quest was long, but it was totally worth it. It took some persistence and some real thought, but I am positive that we couldn’t have made a better choice. She is thoughtful and smart and nice and really knows how to get down into it; deep inside. She asks questions that really make you think about who you are both as an individual and in the relationship. She is energetic and funny and she cares as much as we do about current politics. Her library is bigger than ours and you can tell in the first minute of conversation the reason that she pursued the rabbinate.
Rabbi Berman couldn’t be better suited to us. We have only had two meetings with her and we already feel like we are on the path to making our day more meaningful for us. We are closer to creating a template on which to base our home and our life together.
We couldn’t be happier.
As you’ve learned from Alx’s last post, we have been on a difficult journey in our quest to find our perfect rabbi. Therefore, even though I try to always keep an open mind, I went into our meeting with Rabbi Yitzhak Nates with a small level of skepticism.
Rabbi Nates greeted us kindly and warmly at his front stoop with his lovely dog, Buster. One point for Rabbi Nates, I love dogs. The first thing he said when he saw Alx, me, and our son Raiden was “how wonderful! The whole family is here! This is great!”. Two points for Rabbi Nates, I loved that he loved that my son was in attendance. Okay I know what your thinking, I hadn’t planned on having any sort of point system but when your sole purpose to meeting someone is to essentially judge them it’s kind of inevitable.
We were welcomed into Rabbi Nates home with open arms. We met his lovely wife and absolutely adorable daughter. Rabbi Nates was very laid-back and matter-of-fact which made me feel completely at ease. He started out the conversation by asking us to talk a little bit about ourselves and then reciprocated with his own background. Topics broached were wedding plans, my cultural background, Alx’s ties to Judaism, raising our son, diversifying the ceremony, and so on.
The meeting lasted about two and a half hours but it felt like fifteen minutes. Alx and I both felt that we could of just sat and chatted with Rabbi Nates all day. On our trek home, I realized that this is what I loved about him most. The fact that I didn’t feel as if it were any sort of interview or interrogation. It just felt like a nice, calm, Saturday afternoon visit with a friend. The experience just felt right.
Rabbi Nates gave me hope again. After months of no matches, I was starting to feel like an eHarmony reject. January is booked full of meeting after meeting with rabbis amongst several other wedding appointments (I’m totally looking forward to the tasting!). My outlook is much more positive towards this aspect of our wedding now. We don’t know if Rabbi Nates is The One yet, but he is the one that restored our confidence in finding The One.
Our search for the right rabbi is making me nutty. It seems to be this detailed and intricate journey where each turn has its own set of rules to navigate. Each rabbi that I speak to turns our trajectory in a new direction and makes me think about what we are REALLY after. I still haven’t found the answer.
Our lives are so simple, and this seems so complicated. I’m Jewish. Lu is not.
We want a wedding that embraces that Judaism but isn’t ALL about it. I mean, as a couple, we’re not ALL Jew. We want to pay tribute to the fact that there are two of us entering into this commitment. Two people–with two belief systems, and two culturally distinct backgrounds. Yes. We have a Jewish son, who will have Jewish education and eat his mother’s matzah ball soup with a smile on (and, in our family, with chopsticks!)
But does that mean that we can’t show him what Christmas is? Does he have to live in a house that is ONLY Jewish, when his parents aren’t only Jewish?
No. Guys. The answer is no.
Raiden will know the culture of both of his parents. He will grow up experiencing the same feelings that we felt as children. Lula when she found that Easter egg and me when I found that afikomen. How great were those moments!?
So here is my thought process on the whole ordeal. Interfaith marriage puts the couple into a game of statistics. The 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey says that only 1/3 of intermarried couples will raise Jewish Children. And the truth is that, as Jews, we want to see our faith carried on for generations to come. We want to continue for as long as the human race. So would a Rabbi marry a couple from two faiths with those numbers stacked against them?
So. Ok. It’s a gamble. How would the rabbi who marries us KNOW that we will raise a Jewish family? I mean. She could take our word for it.
Here is the part that is problematic in our situation. We have a child. We have a JEWISH child. So wouldn’t the continuation of Judaism in our family be a given? Wouldn’t that then make our marriage secondary—since we have already fulfilled the pre-requisite for a Jewish future?
We have hope that we will find the right rabbi for us. She is out there and we will work as hard and look as far as we have to, to find her. She is waiting for our little family to tell us that our love for each other is paramount and that we are on the path to one long and happy life together.
Thanks for letting me rant.