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
In 2011, TheKnot.com surveyed almost 20,000 newlywed women. They found that only 8 percent kept their last names. Of the remaining 92 percent, 86 percent took their partner’s last name. Six percent hyphenated or created a new last name.
While I’ve seen other studies that show the percentage of women who keep their last names at closer to 20 percent, the fact remains: Changing your name after marriage is the “normal” thing to do.
Changing my name has never felt like the right move for me—my last name is the one on my degrees, it’s part of the name of my photography business, it’s the name I’ve written under, and, it’s the name I’ve used my entire life. I’ve given this some serious thought. I support a person’s right to choose the name that feels like the best fit for them, and I understand the idea that a unified last name presents a unified team.
But, for me, changing my name just doesn’t feel right.
(It also should be noted, that Justin isn’t up for changing his last name either. My last name is hard to spell, and he’s spent too long building his brand to change his name to something else. I don’t think this is a conversation only half of a couple should be having—if name changes are on the table, they should be on the table for everyone.)
It wasn’t until recently, when concepts like name changes shifted from hypothetical to reality, did something click for me. Changing my last name would mean separating my name from my family’s name—and taking a step away from my Jewish identity.
I know that marrying Justin, who isn’t Jewish, won’t make me any less Jewish.
It won’t make our home any less Jewish; it won’t invalidate the mezuzah hanging on the door, or make my observance of holidays any less meaningful.
It won’t make my work any less Jewish; it won’t tarnish my past community organizing, nor will it make my work with Keshet and commitment to full LGBTQ inclusion in the Jewish community less authentic.
Taking Justin’s last name wouldn’t make me any less Jewish… but it feels that way.
As an Ashkenazi Jew, with a very classically Ashkenazi Jewish last name, my name is a calling card. Rozensky, with its “rozen” and its “sky,” shouts Jewish. I can trace its Jewish history. My name comes with a connection to my people—not just in the sense of “the chosen people,” but also in the way it connects me to previous generations of Rozenskys. I’m not ready to step away from that tradition.
There will be plenty of compromises made in our marriage; after all, meeting each other halfway is an important part of keeping a relationship working. But when it comes to our names—which hold such important aspects of our identities—compromise doesn’t seem like the best bet.
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.
Here are some places that we quickly checked off the list:
– A rotating wedding with stops at each temple or church where a friend of ours works as a rabbi and/or spiritual leader: problematic mostly as this particular world wide wedding tour would probably require a month long commitment for any wedding participant.
– My very first truly Jewish home, the Smith College Kosher Kitchen: while the space is filled with amazing memories of learning how to braid challah, welcoming Shabbat, and being part of true community, it’s not exactly equipped for a wedding shindig.
– The churches that Justin attended growing up: a destination wedding wasn’t something we were 100% opposed to, but asking family to trek out to the winding trail of places he called home (from Ohio to South Dakota back to Ohio and on to Pennsylvania) as he grew up wasn’t exactly practical.
After all, as an interfaith couple with varied roots and no shared official physical spiritual home, there is no obvious, easy answer. And, as we look to bring together a diverse group of family and friends, we want to avoid the “eek” feeling that often accompanies being in someone else’s religions home base. (We’re introducing enough new things as it is!)
Our dramatic question of belonging (or a lack thereof) answered itself when we took a different tact to planning. When we rephrased the question from “where do you get married when you put religious tradition in the center” to “where do you get married when you put your own relationship in the center” the options started to reveal themselves.
A ceremony in a science museum? Why not? (Unless there are mummies—I have an irrational fear of mummies.)
A ceremony on a boat? Sure! (Weather permitting. And is one allowed to be both captain and bride?)
A ceremony in an abandoned theater with no lights, no running water, and a more than fine layer of dust? Yes. That’s the winner.
When we looked at locations that had significance to us, a vacant theater became the obvious choice. Justin has been a part of a community of urban explorers for far longer than I’ve known him, and I’ve come to appreciate the beauty that is found in a place paused in time. We are people who, individually and as a couple, value adventure, the offbeat, finding experiences that might not jive with the norms—and so this feels more like “us” than any church or synagogue we might find.
I wouldn’t go as far as saying that this is where we find our “sacred” … but, there is something holy about appreciating glamour where someone else might not look twice.
Taking a space, one that has been forgotten by its surroundings, and stepping back is a powerful experience. There’s beauty in seeing a place for what it once was, what it is now, and what it could be. (And, isn’t that the essence of a relationship? Appreciating all steps of the journey?) For us, the idea of transforming a quiet, slightly downtrodden theater into a site for a ceremony just makes sense. We’re adding the lights, we’re bringing in the huppah, but the magic of the building was already there.
Today’s blog post brings us well into wedding planning process—as well as to a few other relationship landmarks.
Last week we celebrated Justin’s birthday, which we do in a traditional (to him, not so much to me) way—with a King Cake. The King Cake is a Mardi Gras custom (Mardi Gras being part of the Carnival celebrations that occur immediately before the observance of Lent)—and Justin’s family has roots in the Bayou of Louisiana.
With his birthday falling so close to Mardi Gras each year, it’s become a tradition for his Grandparents (who live just over the Louisiana border in Mississippi) to send him a King Cake.
Before meeting Justin I’d never had a King Cake. Now it’s something I look forward to each year. This purple, green, and gold cake is topped with frosting and sugar, and from the time it arrives until we’ve eaten it all, every meal involves cake. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, mid-day, and midnight snacks all involve King Cake. (And, as we are adults, we have deemed it okay if one wants to have a slice of cake before dinner.)
The most important part of the King Cake—besides it being delicious and often arriving in the same box as Mardi Gras beads—is that it comes with a plastic baby Jesus hidden inside the cake. It’s good luck if you find the baby in your piece of cake.
And, every year that we’ve celebrated with a King Cake, I’ve always ended up Jesus-less.
Somehow that plastic baby is always in one of Justin’s slices of cake. (Perhaps there’s a secret to finding the King Cake baby that I’ve missed out on? My ability to always find the Afikoman at a Passover Seder does not seem to translate to the King Cake’s hidden Jesus.)
Justin’s Jesus finding skills did, however, set us up for a fantastically cheesy exchange this year about how he was the one with the luck—thus he gets to marry me—and I was the one without the luck—hence I was stuck marrying him.
This year, we’re hoping that little plastic baby Jesus is going to bring us some mutual luck—especially as we move from the theoretical planning into actually putting the plan into action.
I love telling our “how we met” story, because if you don’t know us, it’s pretty unexpected. And, if you do know us, well, our beginnings make a lot of sense.
We met three years ago in Guatemala City, both having traveled there for a photography workshop. My first impression of Justin was that he was a skinny hipster. (You’ll have to ask him what his first impression of me was.)
On (what we now realize was our first date) we climbed an active volcano just outside of Antigua. At the top we roasted marshmallows on the volcano’s natural heat sources and felt like we were on a completely new planet. On the way down, distracted by taking pictures and pausing to climb trees, we got momentarily separated from the group and started practicing, in our very limited Spanish vocabulary, the phrases we might need to get a ride back into town. Eventually, we found our bus back.
Afterwards, covered in dirt, we went out for dinner.
A few months later, on a camping trip in Pennsylvania, Justin broke his T-12 vertebrae and severed his spinal cord incompletely. After being life flighted to a hospital, a seven-hour surgery, and a week in the ICU, we both felt the intensity and realness of our relationship. (I’ve written previously for IFF about how I processed praying for Justin, when our faiths were so different.) The next few months I traveled back and forth between Boston and the rehabilitation hospital in Philadelphia where he was recovering.
These days we live just outside of Boston in Salem, Massachusetts. We’re both photographers, and I’m part of the communications team at Keshet. Our day-to-day life of marathoning TV shows, looking for photography work, and teaching ourselves how to cook is punctuated by weekend adventures—it’s not abnormal for me to go into work on a Monday and answer the question of “what did you do this weekend” with “we ended up in the middle of New Hampshire and met some people who were ice fishing in the middle of a frozen lake…”
Our proposal story is the flip side of how we met—but, much like our first date, it makes complete sense if you know us.
There was no big romantic moment, but a long discussion. After several years of dating we knew how we felt about each other—the question was more how we felt about marriage. In many ways, deciding to get married made a lot of sense. In other ways, it was more of a stretch. We went back and forth about wedding hypotheticals and what would be important to each other. For me, having a Jewish ceremony was the most meaningful part of taking our commitment to the next level. For him, having a large gathering where all of our family and friends could be part of a celebration was essential.
Our decision to get married was just that—a joint, mutual decision. We both asked each other, we both agreed. We kept the news to ourselves for a while, just to see how it felt. A few weeks later we got a ring from my family, and we made it official. And, we’ve set a date: 9.26.15.
We’re pretty excited to share our story with IFF’s Wedding Blog. Storytelling—with photos and with words—is a big part of who we are. We’ll be navigating how to put together a ceremony that feels comfortable and right for my Judaism, appropriate to Justin’s secular belief, and understandable for all of our guests. We’re trying to plan something on a modest budget, and we’re hoping to do so without going crazy. I’m sure there will be some surprises along the way, but right now we’re looking forward to our next adventure.
After all of the plans and preparations, the big day came and went without a hitch! We had glorious weather, the ceremony was everything that we wanted it to be, and the reception was an absolute blast. We had people from both sides tearing up the dance floor until midnight. We ended the night exhausted, our sides and cheeks hurting from a day spent laughing and grinning ear-to-ear.
We arrived in Worcester on Tuesday night, which really allowed us to take a more relaxed approach to last-minute preparations. There were the table numbers to finish up, the seating chart to arrange, welcome bags to assemble, and yard work to be done, not to mention being here for the tent and bathroom installation. Things went quite smoothly for the most part.
On Wednesday morning Dana’s mom, Kathy, wanted to reveal the Chuppah. All along we knew it would include articles of clothing from both families but we had no idea what the finished product would look like. Kathy settled on a tree design using the clothing donations as the leaves of the tree. We must have sat for almost a full hour and looked at it, recognizing the articles and locating other items on the Chuppah. It was truly a spectacular final product that we will keep in our family for many many years.
We were bursting with excitement when Friday evening came around and the out-of-town guest began to arrive. The rehearsal went well and afterwards we gathered at a local restaurant for drinks and appetizers—a chance for our families to mingle and get to know each other before the big day. And—much to our surprise—an a cappella group had been hired to sing to us and Dana’s grandparents, who are celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary in July.
On Saturday morning we woke up to a gorgeous sunny day. The ladies got their hair and make up done while the men slept in and spent the morning lounging. By 5 o’clock everything was in place and we were ready to start the show.
Dana walked down the aisle around 5:30 and the ceremony began. We started with a traditional Jewish blessing over the children given by both of our parents. Then we had a reading by Chris’s uncle (a Jesuit priest), followed by our own version of the seven blessings read by friends and a poem read by Chris’s sister. Afterwards we exchanged vows and rings, Chris stomped on the glass (twice—since he wasn’t sure he had broken it the first time), we kissed, and then it was on to the party!
Now, three-weeks later, it’s hard to remember all of the details from the reception but it truly was a magical day. Many people commented on how personal the ceremony was and how much they learned about both religions. The Horah may have been one of our favorite moments, when family and friends from both sides joined on the dance floor to dance around us and lift us in chairs. The joy that we were able to share with our friends and family was palpable during those few minutes, and everyone had a great time.
The morning after the wedding there was a brunch at the Pulda house, which was a great opportunity to catch up with our guests and spend time with those people we weren’t able to see for long during the reception. It’s funny, before the wedding everyone warned us how quickly the night would go, but I guess it’s one of those things that you have to experience to believe. It truly flew by!
All in all, the wedding was a wonderful time and we considered it to be a beautiful fusion of both of our faiths. Our families and friends came together to celebrate us, our love, and the future we have before us. We consider it to be a bright future, and look forward to the joys and challenges of being an inter-faith couple and raising children with an appreciation for the rich heritage of both of our faith backgrounds.
The countdown is on! As of today we have officially two weeks until we tie the knot in front of our friends and family. To say we are excited and counting down the days would be an understatement.
Preparations are moving along smoothly. RSVPs are in (201!) and even our “I work best under pressure” friends have booked hotel rooms. Tomorrow morning we are having a final tasting of the cupcakes and sampling the appetizers for the rehearsal dinner. Songs have been selected, the ceremony is (mostly) organized, and we got our Pinterest on making some pretty cool homespun table numbers out of stained wood, nails and twine.
Friday night we attended a party with some of Chris’s co-workers, and they revealed something they’ve been working on: a book of marriage advice from Chris’s first grade students. They were absolutely precious, and here are some of the highlights:
Roberta, age 7: “How to be a good husband: You can kiss her! Spend time with her! Take her dancing! Take care of the kids! Love her and the kids”
Asia, age 6, has some fashion tips: “I’ll give you advice: You need handsome clothing, like a black tuxedo, and you need shiny black shoes”
Kofi, age 7: “Show love to her by giving her flowers and chocolate ice cream and chocolate hearts and take her on special vacations, like to California.”
Takyus, age 7: “Take her on a date and make her dinner before she gets home. And do your laundry…and hers too.”
Devon, age 6: “Be kind to the wife. Do what the wife says. Have fun with the wife”
It goes on like this for pages and pages, advice from 100 first graders many of whom recommend buying things like dresses, roses, and rings–who can argue with that wisdom? There was funny advice, silly advice, and a lot of poignant advice about being kind, patient and honest with one another.
We believe that our plan for the ceremony so far reflects our willingness to be patient and honest with one another, and our commitment to include elements of both religious faiths in our lives as we move forward. Here’s the rundown so far:
Then it will be over! We can’t believe it is all happening so fast. It is an event that has been a long time in the making and we anticipate it like we’ve never looked forward to anything in our lives. We can only hope that everyone has as much fun as we know we will.
We’ll try to post again in the next few weeks as everything comes together! Thank you for reading and going through this wonderful process with us.
Since Chris and I have been planning our wedding for so long, it’s strange to think that it will actually happen–and soon! This weekend really put it into perspective how close it is as my bridal shower was this past Sunday. It was held in my hometown, at the home of a very good family friend. Four of my mom’s friends hosted the shower and it was amazing. They truly thought of every detail and made sure the women from both sides of our families felt included.As we’ve mentioned many times before, both of our families are large. So, as one may imagine, the shower was quite crowded with about 50 in all of family and friends–most of whom were meeting for the first time. The event began with lunch and schmoozing. After we ate everyone gathered in the living room to embarrass me (in the most loving way possible) with a quiz about Chris.
Then, some members from both families stood up and spoke. This part was so touching. My aunt Liz spoke about my grandmother, who passed 5 years ago, and how much she would have loved Chris. A few of Chris’ aunts read poems or blessings. My sister, who lives in Israel, sent something for my mom to read for her, and Chris’ sister, who lives in England, sent something for Chris’ mom, Judi, to read. Then, for the big finale, both my mom and Judi said a few words, both of which brought me to tears. Chris’ mom read the following poem:
A Mother’s Prayer
I prayed for you
There was something about you
You were the answer to the prayer
I prayed for your health
And now I know just who you are
I have put together this little poem
Now…if that doesn’t bring you to tears, I don’t know what will! My mom also brought the place to tears, but mostly through laughter. She teased about how the key to a successful marriage is BreatheRight Strips and how it’s best to bake goodies when your children aren’t home so you can lick the batter, ha! Now I know why there was always banana bread and brownies around when I got home from school!
I truly felt like the luckiest person in the world, not only for the amazing gifts we got (!!!) but also for the immense amount of love that surrounded Chris and I. We are truly blessed.
110 days to the wedding!
As the Winter Olympics have been consuming our TV watching the past few weeks, Chris and I have been talking about our future children–particularly, our future children and sports. Will we raise a future Olympic athlete? Possibly, but probably not. We are both relatively athletic and played sports as children; Chris was an avid hockey player through high school and I took up rowing in high school and stuck with it through college.
I often ask myself how people get into sports in the first place (this came up often while watching many of the sliding events at the Olympics–how does one become a skeleton competitor?!) I imagine children are first exposed to the sports their parents’ were (or still are) involved with and then make choices from there. Of course, Chris is already talking about buying our future first child a pair of hockey skates, and I know I’d love my children to experience the lifelong friendships and physically active lifestyle I attribute to my years as a rower. We both enjoy skiing and would surely expose our children to that at an early age. But…the rest is really up to them.
This made us think about how in many respects, religion parallels athletics, or really any interest that can be passed on from a parent. A child’s first exposure to religion is through their parents and the religion(s) they practice. Clearly this is more complicated when parents practice different religions, as we do. Chris and I do not happen to be the type of believers who find Judaism and Catholicism mutually exclusive, but we know that there are many among both faith groups who would say that you must pick a side.
So what do we do? Try to expose our children equally to both faiths and wait and see which they choose? Will our children have Bar or Bat Mitzvahs or first communions and confirmations? Is it possible for them to choose to practice both? We do not really know the answer to these questions, and in fact think that our kids will be infinitely more qualified to address them. We do acknowledge that exposing our children to our faiths will require us to make some changes, but we can’t exactly foresee what this will mean. Ultimately the best we can hope for is to raise our children with the values our religions have taught us; kindness, caring, loyalty, honesty, and generosity. And if they end up competing at the Olympics one day, we’ll be there to cheer them on.
Hi–it’s Chris here. Following a Facebook link early last week, I reach this article which discusses a “Jewish” style of conversation which the author of the study refers to as “cooperative overlapping,” and which I and many other people who are not Jewish–and, I’m sure, a lot of Jews who don’t practice this conversational style–would call interrupting. [Note: I used the quotations because, as the author notes, “Jewish conversational style” is not a very precise term, and it seems to refer more to Eastern European Jews from the general New York area. In fact, I might go as far as to call this harried conversational style more typical of New Yorkers in general than Jews specifically, but I digress.]
Reading this article got me to thinking about our often unthought-of cultural heritage, the unspoken set of assumptions and standard operating procedures that all of us walk around with. In my education classes this is referred to as your “cultural knapsack” to emphasize how pervasive it is; we carry it with us everywhere. I remember the first family Channukah party I attended, and while I would not accuse any member of Dana’s family of practicing the not-so-delicate art of cooperative overlapping, I do recall being overwhelmed by the constant conversation, trying very hard to keep pace–and I thought my large Irish-Italian family could talk!
Conversational style is just one of perhaps a million things that we are coming to learn about one another and our families. Little did I know, for example, that it was “a gentile thing” to eat dinner early! Or that Jews are the true masters of ordering Chinese, and that, at least in Dana’s family your Chinese food is always shared. These small things, whether they are cultural or merely family traditions, are part of what makes this union so exciting. Dana and I are constantly learning new things about one another and our culture and background, and have learned to be more sensitive about insisting that our way is the right way or the only way. In addition to just learning about how the other half lives, we’ve both expanded our horizons by attending multiple religious services of the other person’s faith. But I suppose that’s a blog entry for another time…