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After our first pre-wedding meeting with Rabbi Frisch, we were giddy with excitement. We walked the 10 blocks home reviewing all the things we had talked about. (Check out my last blog post to see how we chose Rabbi Frisch to officiate.) One detail that stood out was when Rabbi Frisch asked us if we were going to have a ketubah. Amma said something like, “Oh is that the canopy thing that you stand under?” and I said, “No, no, that’s a chuppah!” I thought I was so smart for half a second, until I realized I didn’t know what a ketubah was either.
We learned that the purpose and meaning of the ketubah, like many traditions, has changed over time and still varies from one Jewish community to another. Currently, within our particular community, it is basically a written and signed statement of love and commitment between the couple getting married. You can read InterfaithFamily’s kutabah explanation here.
You should have heard all the ketubah mispronunciations we came up with in the days following our meeting as we discussed whether or not we were going to have one. That week we went to our friends’ house for dinner and brought up the subject with them. They were married two years ago in a Jewish ceremony. They showed us their ketubah and told us the story of searching for just the right one. Not satisfied with anything they could find in the area, or online, their rabbi put them in touch with an Israeli scribe. The result was a stunning, sacred document with thick black Hebrew lettering and gold accents. As an artist and a bride-to-be, I was inspired.
Knowing I am an artist, Rabbi Frisch mentioned that if we did decide to go for it, I could make our ketubah myself, so I set to work researching the various versions and styles and decided it was definitely something I wanted to try my hand at. I loved the circular designs I was finding in my searches. Knowing I was bound to take a lot of liberties adjusting the meaning and language to suit our needs, I wanted to use more traditional colors and motifs to balance out the inevitable modern flair.
As I was familiarizing myself with ketubah art, one particular image made its way into the forefront of my mind; a small painting my grandparents have had hanging in their house for as long as I can remember. The combination of shapes and colors (and the fact that it had a line of Hebrew text below it) was just the inspiration I needed. I also loved that I would be drawing my inspiration from something that tied back to my family, giving the whole project a deeper foundation. I found a photo of the painting I had taken last year, while documenting some of the art and tchotchkes around my grandparents’ house. I collected my paints and inks and began designing our ketubah.
I continued to use the original painting as a reference throughout the composition of the piece. In the original, a strange bird sits atop a large golden egg and the whole image is framed by a circle. It occurred to me that a bird sits on an egg to protect and nurture it, so perhaps it could do the same for our promises to each other.
I found a ketubah text that suited us beautifully, and painted it in black ink within a gold circle, meant to represent the egg from the original painting. Among decorative shapes, I painted the same strange bird from my grandparents’ painting, sitting on top of our promises, keeping them safe. I regretted not knowing how to write in Hebrew, but knew I could at least copy a few words. I searched online for a morsel of Jewish wisdom that would add value to our ketubah.
Within seconds, I came across the perfect words: “Shalom Bayit,” or “Peace in the Home,” a Jewish concept referring to domestic harmony. I did my best to copy the words letter for letter, bringing my creative journey to an end. I presented the finished piece to Amma, and we were both excited to welcome it into our ever-evolving vision of our wedding, and our marriage.
In the middle of the grueling Intro to Judaism class, I decided to devote yet more time to the synagogue and take the Beginner Hebrew class, taught by the Rabbi’s wife. We met on Sunday mornings, which meant I could go to the synagogue directly after the earliest Mass. The beginner class focused on the letters, pronunciation, and meanings of some basic root words and the intermediate class focused on the Hebrew in some of the common prayers. I ended up taking both Hebrew classes. For the last session, before summer hiatus, I read the Avot to both the Rabbi and his wife. The Rabbi would fix my pronunciation without even looking up and I would have to repeat the word until it was perfect. At the end of what seemed to be the longest hour of my life, the Rabbi asked me why I am taking all of these classes.
Without even thinking, I responded, “I’m not doing it for Sam. I’m doing it for me.” No one had ever asked me this question before and I hadn’t really thought about it, so I was shocked at the automatic response. It’s true; Sam was not pressuring me into taking any of these classes. He didn’t even ask me to take any of the classes. I took the initiative and signed up for the classes on my own, did all the reading, and practiced all the Hebrew, (and sometimes even refused Sam’s assistance).
“I’m doing it for me.” I want to learn about Judaism because it’s such a big part of Sam’s life. He devotes his Friday nights, Saturday mornings, and his life to Judaism and I want to understand why. I want to understand him better. I want to help Sam choose the Hebrew text for our Ketubah, and then be able to read and understand it. And, if we do decide to raise our children in the Jewish faith, I would like to be able to help them.
Throughout this quest of understanding why Sam is so devoted to Judaism, I am finding the religion, culture, and the language to be fascinating. The prayers, songs, and rituals of Friday night service are incredibly rich and deeply rooted in history. I find Sam’s synagogue to be a very peaceful and comforting place. Going to services regularly is spiritually fulfilling (to an extent). I feel a sense of belonging in his congregational community, and I also play on the temple’s softball team. I enjoy the home rituals, especially the challenge of finding Kosher for Passover recipes. However, in learning about the Jewish faith, I am reminded that it is not the religion for me.
As Sam and I plan our lives together, I will continue learning about what makes him tick. I will take my time and go at my own pace to find where I belong in the religion aspect of his life. (Religion is one of those things where you have to find it at your own speed and enjoy it.) I do not plan to convert to Judaism, but I plan to continue learning about Sam’s religion, for myself.
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Sam and I were discussing our ketubah (marriage contract) artwork and after much thought, we decided to ask Michelle to paint it for us. We looked at hundreds of designs online and most of the ketubot used trees because the Torah is referred to as the tree of life. We are comfortable using this imagery and would also like to incorporate the four seasons. After talking with Michelle she is combining these ideas into two trees of Spring and Summer reflecting the two trees of Fall and Winter to represent the years gone by and the years to come. We asked her to use chalk pastels in bright, bold colors to exude life and energy. Sam and I took what we liked from a lot of different designs and Michelle is combining all of our ideas together to create something uniquely for us.
Finding a scribe that would write interfaith text on a piece of someone else’s art took some research. We found a scribe who belongs to the New York Society of Scribes and happened to be visiting Boston, near where Michelle lives. Michelle met with this scribe and together they picked out the paper that would be conducive for both her chalk pastels and his calligraphy ink. After much discussion, we realized that it would be better logistically for Michelle to do her artwork after he wrote both the Hebrew and English text.
Finding the text for the ketubah was more difficult. We looked at several texts and it was a lot easier to pick out the language we didn’t like, than find something we both agreed upon. Sam wants the language to be more formal, in honoring the traditions of the past, whereas I would like the language to represent us both as equals. After going back and forth on text, nitpicking every word, we think we have finally agreed on some language but would like to get approval from our parents and Rabbi before the scribe begins his work.
Our goal is to get the text to the scribe by the end of this month, so he can create his calligraphy so Michelle has enough time to create her artwork. Our ketubah will be the most valuable piece of artwork in our home; therefore, we are being very diligent in crafting the language and design.