Symbols and Rituals and Traditions. Oh my.

These last few months have been busy with dress fittings, selecting the menu, arranging the seating chart, creating the invitations, ordering the suits, and other wedding plans. Sam and I continually remind ourselves that the wedding is only one day and we should focus on preparing for a marriage. This lifelong commitment to each other begins at the wedding ceremony. With that in mind, we are trying to combine the rituals and symbols of both Judaism and Catholicism in our ceremony.

            Sam’s parents (Pennye & Phil)                    on their wedding day

We specifically chose our priest and rabbi to not only co-officiate the ceremony, but also to guide us along this spiritual journey. The rabbi is someone very dear to Sam and the priest is the presider of my family’s parish. These two special people have been a part of various life cycle events in Sam’s and my life. They know us and our families very well, and we are honored that they will be officiating our marriage ceremony. The rabbi and priest continue to help us in the marriage preparations by proofing our ketubah language, assisting with Diocesan paperwork, and helping us with the order and symbols of the ceremony. In our first meeting with the priest, he gave us words of wisdom to keep in mind, throughout this entire process (and our lives): “Keep your own faith at heart, but do not minimize or trivialize the faith of the other.”

If I were converting to Judaism, or Sam to Catholicism, we would have chosen a specific house of worship for our ceremony, such as a synagogue or church. Because we are not, we decided to have our ceremony in a country club, a “neutral” location. This way, both faiths are equally visible and our guests won’t be uncomfortable in attending a wedding in another house of worship. By having our wedding on a Sunday afternoon, Sam and his family can still go to Shabbat services, and my family can go to early Sunday morning Mass.

Throughout the ceremony, we want to honor each other’s faiths, focusing on the similarities, rather than the differences. We have asked my brother, Chris, and Sam’s sister, Stacey, to help us explain the wedding rituals and symbols in each of our faiths at the start of the ceremony.

There are a few symbols that are used in both religions, such as bread, wine, rings, and most importantly, the vows. Sam and I will say the blessings over the bread and wine in our own respective religions.  The priest and rabbi will guide us in exchanging our vows and rings.

We have adapted some rituals and symbols to be more conducive to an interfaith wedding.  The chuppah is a symbol unfamiliar to my Catholic family, whereas the unity candle is a symbol unfamiliar to Sam’s Jewish family. We will sign our ketubah during the ceremony rather than before it, honoring the Catholic tradition of the bride and groom not seeing each other beforehand. The traditional Jewish Seven Blessings will be said, with both fathers participating.  At the end of the ceremony, we will break the glass. This has many meanings in the Jewish faith, but for the two of us, it will also symbolize the breaking down of barriers between people of different cultures and faiths as our families are now joined together.

By incorporating some Jewish and Catholic wedding rituals in our ceremony, we will signal to our friends and family our intent to continue practicing our religions.  We hope that this public declaration of faith will communicate our plans to remain strong in faith while supporting our partner’s religious practice.

Finding a Rabbi for Two

Lisa and I attending the New Members Dinner at Temple Sholom

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.

Our Last Vlog and Wedding Day Recap

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,
Yolanda and Arel

We found our Rabbi!

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.

Yep.

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 politicsHer 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.

And truthfully.

We couldn’t be happier.

-Alx

The Meet and Greet

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.

Will the Right Rabbi Please Stand Up!

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.

-Alx