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We’re Michele and Vanessa, and we’re 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), we’re also—like everyone else—planning our holiday celebrations. This is a pretty big year for us, as it’s our first Christmas in the U.S. For the last couple of years, we’ve gone to the U.K. and celebrated with Vanessa’s family; but this year we’re staying in Philly. For a while, I (Vanessa) was pretty sad: This is the first Christmas in 31 years that I won’t 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 I’ve 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 we’ll keep adding to each year, with a classy otter bauble from the Vancouver Aquarium on the first vacation we took together that didn’t involve either of our families. Our hope is that, in a few years’ 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, we’ve had to negotiate with family members what holiday events we’re going to, with Hanukkah brunches and parties surrounding Christmas church services and the first Christmas dinner hosted by us for Michele’s family (complete with British stuffing and Christmas cake, sent all the way from England by my mum). We’ve had to think about what’s 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 it’s important for me to hear a choir welcoming Christmas in with “Adeste Fidelis,” but I’m happy to let the cauliflower cheese go as we make the dinner kosher-style. Latkes are fairly high on Michele’s priority list, but being all together and visiting the various branches of her family is even higher.
It’s easy to get caught up in the mania of present-buying, tree-decorating, cookie-eating and playlist-curating, and to be honest I’m 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, I’ll still miss my family—but this December, I’ll be surrounded by the love of my new family, Michele and all the Zipkins, and I can’t wait. It’s a timely reminder that our wedding planning isn’t just about working toward a wedding, but a marriage. I feel incredibly lucky that we’re getting a head start on building our traditions for that marriage this year. Even if I’m covered in powdered sugar and my reindeer cookies look more like dogs.
In a million years, I never would have imagined that I would someday marry the sweet, funny, curly-haired freshman I met at a house party at Penn State 10 years ago. Yet, here we are.
Paul and I were friendly acquaintances at Penn State, but not much more. Despite our shared love of bad television and daiquiris, we only socialized a handful of times during our four years in State College.
After graduating from Penn State, Paul moved to Philadelphia to study medicine and I moved there to study law. Halfway through our second year of graduate school, we discovered we were both single. (Thanks, Facebook!) Paul asked me out. Unlike our chance encounters at Penn State, when Paul walked into our first date it was different. We talked for hours, laughed a lot and I had this overwhelming intuition that this was the beginning of something big.
We have been together since that first date. Our respective career paths have not always made it easy or even allowed us to live in the same city, but we both now work and live in Philadelphia. Nearly five years strong, we are still talking for hours, still laughing a lot and our relationship is the biggest thing in my life.
On a chilly Friday night this past December, Paul proposed in our living room, which was decorated at the time with our Star of David-topped Christmas tree, wax-covered hanukkiah (Hanukkah menorah) and a porcelain statue of Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus, recently gifted to me by my Catholic, Italian grandmother.
Surrounded by our blended holiday decorations, we excitedly agreed to blend our lives as husband and wife.
By way of background, I was raised Catholic. Paul is Jewish. Our proposal story is, undoubtedly, a beautiful snapshot of our interfaith relationship. However, in all candor, the interfaith aspect of our relationship has been a challenging (albeit, a rewarding) one. Communication and compromise have been instrumental to our process.
After one particularly difficult discussion, I turned to my best, most reliable resource in a time of uncertainty: Google. That night I found the InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia website. I began reading blogs by clergy and similarly-situated couples who have made interfaith relationships, weddings and parenthood work. Suddenly, Paul and I had options, resources and a network to help us figure this out. It was a game-changer and ultimately led us to our kind and open-minded officiant, Rabbi Robyn Frisch (director of IFF/Philadelphia).
Paul and I will be married in an interfaith ceremony on December 3, 2016 in Philadelphia. While I am still not entirely sure what that will entail, I look forward to figuring it out and sharing our experience with the InterfaithFamily community.
Our wedding is three-and-a-half months away (yay!) and we have a lot to do. We checked off the major items and now we must decide on the smaller pieces. Should we do those things ourselves or hire professionals? The invitations, the honeymoon, and more—these are things we could design, plan and book ourselves if we want to. But do we want to?
In a dream world, which one could argue I spend too much time in, my love of Pinterest and TLC shows would translate into the DIY wedding of my dreams with no stress and at a fraction of the cost. These details that we have to plan now are not covered by the wedding contest that we won, so we can choose how to handle them. Do we put our stamp on them and hopefully save money, or do we spend money and let professionals handle them, because most other vendors are covered by the contest?
Sometimes I get lost in thought envisioning an alternate universe without the contest where I am three and a half months out but have drowned in a treacherous sea of bad DIY art projects flooded with ribbon and lace. It’s not a pretty scene. Maybe winning the contest saved me from myself, and I should let trained professionals handle the rest. After all, it’s a predictable formula where David Tutera has to swoop in to save the day: Girl gets big ideas for DIY wedding. Girl gets in over her head. Girl pulls all her hair out. Girl ends up hiring professionals.
For the save the dates, I did do them myself, and it was a DIY project that I’m very proud of. I hired a designer and friend of mine whose work I am fond of and we designed the font, colors and style that felt right for me and Jose. We designed them as postcards to save time and money, and I hand-cut each one with a ruler and X-Acto knife, which took a few hours on a Friday night. Jose and I even added our own touch with a cute hashtag (thanks Melanie!).
For the invitations, I’m at a crossroads now. Do I design them from scratch and source the paper and printer to live out my wildest fantasy of a very unique invitation, or do I go to an invitation shop, pick what we like most and call it a day? It’s a black hole once you start Googling what past brides have done and what they’ve learned from the experience. There is good advice, but mostly there is just too much advice. Sometimes you gotta try it for yourself. Sometimes you gotta get dirt on your hands (or in the case of paper, blood!). But that’s a very scary proposition and could end up taking more time and money than we want it to. Regardless, I visited Paper Source in Center City to look at paper, and I’m feeling very inspired to do them myself! I think I can pull it off.
For the honeymoon, we met a fantastic and inspiring “travel designer” who builds dream honeymoons from scratch. She was a riot and we loved her personality and approach. She has traveled the world and specializes in unique accommodations in cities around the globe. Things like treetop hotels and hard-to-find vacation rentals and scheduled itineraries. Ultimately, Jose and I decided that we love doing the research that goes into booking a trip and it feels more rewarding to book our own activities and places to stay, so we are going it alone without a travel agent. We booked our flight and are thrilled to say that our honeymoon will be in the Galapagos over the winter holidays! (That’s literally all we’ve planned for the trip, though. Phew, we better get on that!)
For the rehearsal dinner, there are elements we might make DIY, too. I am gluten-free by necessity since I have Celiac disease, so I want to find a place that has options for me. My future sister-in-law has a severe seafood allergy, so we also need to find a place that can accommodate her. We are currently looking at unique spaces to rent where we can bring in a caterer of our choice instead of renting out a restaurant, but there are so many challenges (and costs!) to doing that.
Our dream would be to serve food that incorporates Jewish elements, since our rehearsal dinner and wedding are during Hanukkah, and Filipino elements to honor Jose’s background (and because the food is delicious!). My dream on top of that dream is to have gluten-free jelly donuts (sufganiyot) for a traditional Hanukkah treat, but I may need to focus on the bigger picture and just plan the rehearsal dinner before I get too excited about dessert! It may be simpler and better to find the right restaurant with a price-fixed menu, so we could always end up going that route, but for this one we are exploring what DIY options may be out there.
Ultimately, the process of making these decisions is exciting and enjoyable for me, since I’m decisive about what I want and Jose is an active and involved partner. I won’t look back and wonder “what if” I chose the wrong thing, because I know that no bride can go wrong with what she chooses. It’s her wedding (and it’s just a wedding) so if someone judges you for choosing differently than they would, so be it. You are doing it your way and making it your own. That is never wrong.
Keep following my blog for more updates on our wedding planning. I can only imagine (or hope) how much further along we’ll be a month from now!
Jose and I met six years ago in Washington, DC, on a co-ed soccer team. After a few weeks and a carefully worded Facebook message, Jose invited me to a DC United soccer game with his friends, and I did not realize it was a date until he called and offered to pick me up. He showed up at my door smiling, looking relaxed and confident, like he had been waiting for me all along. I felt the same, and I could not wait to see where this went.
We were serious from the start, so when Jose told me he was applying to law school, I told him I would move with him wherever he went. After a year of dating, we moved to Philadelphia and he started law school at Temple University. We were excited to start our life together in Philly.
Because our relationship was intense early on and we were moving to a different city, we had to confront our religious and cultural differences right away. Jose is Filipino and Catholic, and I am Jewish. I remember a few times in the first few months when I cried, convinced that our relationship wouldn’t work and that our differences would break us up. Jose and I would always talk about it and we would arrive at a place knowing we could work it out no matter the issue.
In six years together, Jose and I have lit Hanukkah candles, celebrated Easter, taken interfaith classes, witnessed a First Communion, hosted Shabbat dinner, talked about how we will raise our kids, bought a Christmas tree and ornaments, joined a Reform synagogue, and so much more. We are a team, and we talk often about how our team will support and honor both of our backgrounds.
This past December, Jose got down on one knee in Rittenhouse Square, on the seventh night of Hanukkah. And this coming December, exactly one Hebrew calendar year later, we will get married at the Loews Hotel in Philadelphia.
Stay tuned for more details about our wedding planning over the next few months!
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One of my favorite holidays is Hanukkah, and for that, I give a lot of the credit to the Beerorah. The Beerorah is something that my fiancé Derek and I came up with the first Hanukkah we were dating – well, really it’s a gift pack from He’Brew brewing company (a division of Schmaltz brewing) that his best friend had given him when the friend found out he was dating me.
We joke that the Beerorah combines our two loves: “My love of God with his love of beer.” And Derek really does love beer – it’s his hobby in a true aficionado’s way. I have learned more about craft beer in the four-and-a-half years we’ve been together than most people learn in a lifetime, and we love to visit beer bars and breweries just to try new and rare beers. Also he and his best friend have a collection of over 500 bottles of (craft) beer, carefully inventoried in their “beerventory.”
As for me though, the love of God part is apt too. A Conservative Jew, Judaism has always been a large part of my identity. Growing up, I attended synagogue every Saturday because I wanted to – not only to gain guidance from the Rabbi’s sermons or to enjoy the serene satisfaction of the silent Amidah (one of my favorite prayers), but because it was the center of the social circle for my friends and I. Go on a date? Having family drama? Meet at synagogue and we can discuss it.
But going to synagogue and practicing Judaism were also integral to my identity in part because of the climate in which I grew up. I am from Riverdale, NY – home of eight or nine different synagogues and many many Jews. Nonetheless, my synagogue was swatstikaed one weekend when I was in Hebrew School. On the night before Kol Nidre (the holiest night of the year) a year or two after September 11th, our synagogue was firebombed with Molotov cocktails. We attended services while eager news crews waited outside to interview us and have gone through metal detectors and pat downs with varying regularity ever since. So my Judaism and its essentialness to my identity came in part from the fears to my safety that came with it – and the way those fears bound my group of close friends and I together to the community and to each other.
That said, it was never essential to me to date a Jewish guy. I greatly enjoyed learning about different religions and cultures and watching people experience aspects of Judaism for the first time. I always had a strong opinion about how I wanted to observe Judaism and had my own relationship with God. I knew that my kids will be Jewish, that I am Jewish, that my family is Jewish, that I will never be anything but Jewish. And honestly, I knew I needed a laid back low-maintenance sports fan kind of guy – I wasn’t sure I would necessarily find that within the Jewish community.
You can say “Oh, but traditions! But continuity! But faith!” but I have also found that Derek has been much more respectful of my faith and practice than the Jewish guys I’ve dated. One got mad at me for not answering the phone while I was at a Friday night Shabbat dinner. I got in a heated argument with another who asked, “But WHY do you believe? WHY do you have faith? Where’s the rational proof that God exists?” Both were the moments when I knew the relationships wouldn’t work out. The Beerorah was one of the first examples of Derek’s openness and respect of my faith. And when we light it together each Hanukkah (this year was its fifth iteration), it reminds me of that – that we can meld what matters to us together to create something just as wonderful (or more wonderful) than the original. I haven’t compromised anything – I’m still Jewish, and I still have my love of God and my observance. He still has his love of beer. And we both have each other.
I have always known December as a time to prepare for Christmas. Now that I am in an interfaith relationship, December is a time for many holiday celebrations. Sam grew up in an interfaith household celebrating Christmas with his mom’s family and Hanukkah with his dad’s family.
Growing up, Sam’s family all picked one day to give their Hanukkah gifts. For example, on the first night his dad gave his gifts, and then on the second night his mom gave out her gifts and so on, as to make the excitement of Hanukkah last. I think I like this idea of gift-giving and would like to continue this tradition as Sam and I start having a family of our own.
This year, we were able to exchange all of our gifts with each other on the first night of Hanukkah. Each night thereafter we gathered on Google Hangouts. The image above is his parents (who live in Pennsylvania), his sister, Diana, on the right (at the University of Maryland), his other sister, Stacey, (in Brooklyn) and Sam and I (in New Jersey).
This holiday is unlike all other holidays that I know. All the holidays that I grew up with, we got together as a family for a day or two, but we were hardly ever together celebrating a holiday for many consecutive days. There are 12 days of Christmas and 3 days in the Easter Triduum, but we are never all together celebrating during all of these days. During Hanukkah, each evening, for 8 days, we gathered together to celebrate, by chanting the blessings over our respective menorot. For these consecutive days, we are in touch with each other on a daily basis: wishing Sam’s sister well on her exams and then hearing how well she did on them, hearing of his parent’s quest to find a nice December movie, or his other sister who always has several stories about living above a modeling agency. It is comforting to know that even as adults, my
Two weekends ago, Sam’s extended family had their Hanukkah party at his aunt’s house and exchanged gifts with everyone in a Pollyanna. In my family, we do a Secret Santa on Christmas Eve. I’m not sure which one I enjoy better, the element of surprise in the Secret Santa is always fun, but then again, there is less stress in knowing who has who in Sam’s family. I love hanging out and talking with his family. The conversations at this year’s Hanukkah party seemed to always circle back to wedding planning. It was so much fun hearing the different proposal stories and how his aunts and uncles met each other!
It’s still a little strange to me, to go into someone’s house during December and not see a Christmas tree. It’s also a little strange having a Nativity scene and a menorah as decorations. I guess I am still getting used to the differences in the December Holidays. Sam and I will have to figure out these holiday traditions when we start having a family of our own, but until then- it’s Christmas with my family and his mom’s family and Hanukkah with this dad’s family!