Planning a Japanese, American & Jewish Wedding

  

As a fourth generation Japanese-American, I’ve often felt my heritage was slipping away from me. I grew up feeling in between the two: not quite Japanese enough or American enough, not really belonging in either category. There have been phases of my life when I’ve embraced being just American or just Japanese. It wasn’t until my conversion and our wedding that I came to realize that there is space for both.

Old family wedding photos

1,001 origami cranes, which we folded with friends and family. They are arranged in the shape of my Mom’s Japanese family crest by Linda Mihara, a San Francisco Japantown origami artist

Historic Congregation Emanu-el, our synagogue and where we held our wedding ceremony

When Bryan and I started dating, I became interested in his Jewish heritage. As things started getting serious, I felt that if we were to spend our lives together I had a responsibility to learn about his heritage too. In many ways, in Judaism I found the sense of belonging, spirituality and sense of community I had been searching for my whole life.

As we embarked on the wedding planning process together, we did what we had just learned to do in my Intro to Judaism class: Question everything! We had decided to marry in the main sanctuary in our synagogue: Did we really need florals in such a grand space? Did we really want to have the traditional bridal party? How did we want to honor the side of my family who grew up in Hawaii? If we were having a Jewish ceremony, how could we incorporate parts of my Japanese heritage in ways that actually felt relevant and authentic to who we are?

Many, many hours were spent on the internet searching for “Japanese and Jewish wedding” ideas. What I discovered was that there were very few examples out there. The other challenge was that no one in my family had ever had a traditional Japanese wedding, so all of the “traditional” elements felt totally foreign to me. When we committed to having a Japanese and Jewish wedding, I don’t think we realized what we were about to take on.

Our beautiful, minimalist watercolor ketubah, by artist Stephanie Kaplan

Bryan smashing the glass

We’ve been married for over a year now, and I cry tears of gratitude every time I look through our wedding album. Though it was at times a laborious process that required a lot more soul-searching than I had expected, it forced us to define our narrative as a Japanese and Jewish American couple. Unintentionally, it helped us create a solid foundation and made our bond even stronger than I could have ever imagined.

Gathering of our closest friends and immediate families to sign our ketubah

One thing I greatly admire about Bryan is his courage to be vulnerable and share his experience with others, especially if it means it will help them. It’s something that inspires me every day, since I usually prefer to keep things (especially private and sacred moments like our wedding) within my community. I have spent the last year working up the courage to add our wedding to those search results on the internet. My hope is that other mixed race couples might be inspired to incorporate elements of their heritages into their wedding day in ways that may not necessarily be “traditional”, yet feel authentic and true to who they are as a couple.

We asked everyone to join us on the dance floor for our first dance, which led right into the hora

Click here to read more about Kristin and Bryan’s Japanese-Jewish wedding on smashingtheglass.com.

How to Include Everyone in Our Jewish-Mexican Wedding

  

By Hila Ratzabi
Photos by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Wedding ceremony

When José and I first started dating, my Jewish parents were not pleased. Though my mom is fairly liberal, some instinct flared up in her that has roots in centuries of Jewish fear of disappearance. Though that fear has lessened over the decades for many Jewish families, particularly in the U.S., it still rises up for many people, sometimes unexpectedly. What if my daughter loses her Jewish identity?, some parents wonder. What if the grandchildren aren’t raised Jewish? Is this the end of the line?

For me and many other Jews like me, this fear is unfounded. I went to Jewish day school from kindergarten through high school, and even went on to get a degree in Jewish philosophy. While my Jewish practices have changed over the years, I have always been a proud and engaged Jewish woman. I was, and remain, confident that my connection to Judaism is strong enough to share with my husband who is not Jewish and our future children.

The road to acceptance took a few years, but by the time we were ready to get engaged my parents had thankfully come around. They gave us their blessing, and we set out to create a wedding that reflected my Jewish heritage and José’s Mexican culture.

We had it fairly easy in that José does not identify with a particular religious tradition. He is a scientist and committed atheist; as a child he briefly attended a Baptist religious school in the small town in Baja where he was raised, but he definitively broke off with religion when he awakened to his atheism. While being an atheist, José has always supported and joined in with my Jewish practices. I’m not a believer either, but I love Jewish holidays, attending services and grappling with the big questions in life. Judaism is the lens through which I consider ethical dilemmas and the source of my commitment to social and environmental justice. These are things we’re able to share.

We found an amazing Reconstructionist rabbi, Rachel Weiss, of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah—the gay/lesbian synagogue in New York City—to officiate at our wedding. Aside from being open-minded and accepting, Rabbi Weiss also had the added bonus of being fluent in Spanish. She had previously worked with Mexican immigrants, and we felt she understood both of our backgrounds.

Reading the ketubahTogether with Rabbi Weiss, we designed a ceremony that honored the dual heritage we were bringing together. We included traditional Jewish elements, including the chuppah (wedding canopy), the seven blessings, the circling of bride and groom, the ketubah (marriage contract) and the ring exchange. We wrote our own ketubah text instead of using the traditional text, and changed the language of the ring exchange and seven blessings to be more inclusive and universal. The witnesses who signed our ketubah included two of our close friends who happen to be another interfaith/intercultural couple—Jewish and Indian. We had watched them create a beautiful marriage that included both of their cultures, and were inspired by their example.

José’s grandmother was central to his upbringing, often standing in as a second parent since he didn’t have a father in his life, so we wanted to make sure she was included and would understand what was going on at the wedding. Since his grandmother doesn’t speak English, Rabbi Weiss explained each part of the ceremony before it was performed in both English and Spanish. José’s grandmother found the customs fascinating and listened intently as they were described. We also had traditional Mexican paper cutouts (papel picado) created for our wedding, which served as decoration at the entrance of the garden where the ceremony took place.

Papel picado

My own Jewish background is somewhat mixed, in that my mother is Ashkenazi and my father is Yemenite on his father’s side and Sephardic on his mother’s side. To honor my late grandmother, Rabbi Weiss sang a Jewish song in Ladino, the Judeo-Spanish language that my grandmother had spoken. This was another way to bridge our cultures, having a taste of the Spanish language woven into an ancient Jewish song.

The horaWhen it came to the reception, we just wanted to throw an awesome party. The raucous klezmer band Golem was essential to making that happen. The wedding took place in an art museum on Long Island, and since both José and I dabble in visual art, we made mini-paintings on mini-easels as souvenirs for our (very impressed) guests. We also brought a giant blank canvas and paints for guests to create a piece of collective artwork for us. The painting now hangs in our living room, reminding us of that incredible day.

During the reception, my mom gave a speech that chronicled her and my dad’s evolution in coming to accept and share the joy in our relationship. They had truly done a “180,” realizing over time that they had nothing to fear in my marrying “outside” the Jewish faith, and that I had found the life partner who was exactly right for me, and who they loved like a son. Now, three years later, I am pregnant, and we all can’t wait to bring another person into our crazy, mixed family. Among our plans for the baby: teaching it Hebrew, Spanish… and if there’s time, maybe even English.