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
It has been a hard couple of weeks for the Global Jewish Community. From the kidnapping/murder of three Israeli teens to the full escalation of war in Israel, our hearts weigh heavy. The world also lost a great leader, and my rabbi’s teacher, Reb Zalman, the founder of ALEPHand the Jewish Renewal movement. When there is so much strife in the world, it is important to remember that we are surrounded by love. Conflicts, whether global in scale or in the own home are temporary, but love is truly enduring. Love is our future and our wedding is the ultimate public symbol of that love.
We have been very busy over the past week or so getting a lot of things done for the wedding and all are an expression of love if you have the right perspective.
We worked on our registry. Which meant going to stores, picking things out, talking about do we need, or is this something that would be really nice to have. Lisa and I actually both struggle with this process. It is hard for either of us to ask for anything and the registry is just that. I try to think I am provided for, but as I am writing this I remember a phrase Scott, who is a groomsman but also my spiritual mentor once told me: “When people want to buy you things, let them. That may be the best way they know how to express love. Just because this is not the love we so often crave, it is our responsibility to be accepting of all love and treat it as a gift.”
We emailed caterers. The old Jewish joke goes: What is this holiday about? Answer: We suffered. Let’s eat. Eating during Pesach (or Passover) is a sign of showing your love and thanks towards G-D for delivering us out of the land of Egypt. Or how about when G-D gave the people manna from the sky? Or even now, who does not visit home from time to time and have had their mother or grandmother make them their favorite dish or favorite cookie? Food is just one more symbol of love and emailing caters and thinking of how we can give everyone who comes to the wedding, warmed our hearts a little this week. Even if there was a little conflict of what type of food we should serve at our wedding.
I had a lot conversations with my groom’s party. We decided that the two women will wear dark red dresses to match my tie and shoes and the men will wear navy suits with gold ties to tie together the color theme we have going. I also asked my friend Erica in the party to deliver the “best person” speech. She is a professional sports announcer and seemed like a no brainer. I asked my friend Nick to officially be my best man. Mainly due to the fact it is his responsibility to get the groom to the venue. When I think about the car ride we will have listening to the music we bonded over in high school and singing at the top of our lungs on the way, I was instantly filled with love and excitement. Actually speaking to each member of my party (all four of them) this week made a rough week for me with all the time I was on the phone with them. Again, it boils down to the love I have for these people and that the wedding is just one reason to talk about it.
We did a lot of other things as well. Selected a photographer. Nearly finalized our invitation pattern. I selected someone to be my Ketubah witness (although he does not know yet).
It is best to come into the weekend and into Shabbat and remember weddings are a symbol in this world about love. Our wedding is the day we stand up and loudly exclaim it. With everything going on, it is an important message to hold up.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone currently caught in conflict.
On our wedding day, we are having more of a traditional Jewish Ceremony, but in a chapel. One of the main parts of the ceremony is having our Rabbi recite the Seven Blessings.
Here are the Seven Blessings (Traditional English):
To learn more about the blessings, I suggest checking out The InterfaithFamily Seven Blessings.
I originally was trying to think of a Top 7 Blessings We Wish We Heard At Our Wedding. Then I thought about the Top 7 Blessings Ryan Would Like, the Top 7 Blessings Lisa would like, etc. I still may post them as we still have awhile to go before the big day, but today I went with:
The Seven Blessings with a Modern Time Update for Our Inter-Faith Wedding:
1. Thank You God, for creating such wonderful food for our guests to enjoy. Indian Food, Holtman’s Doughnuts, and Drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic).
Sorry for the radio silence; throughout these last few weeks, I have been going on a series of vacations and experiences: adventures with Sam. He has taken me to Londonderry, NH, Grand Rapids, MI, Lambertville, NJ, and Allentown, PA. It’s been a busy month!
In the beginning of June, we visited Moonlight Meadery in Londonderry, New Hampshire. They gave us a tour of their facility and we tasted about 14 different meads (honey-wine). It is incredible how they can mimic the flavors of apple pie or mojito with fermented honey. While we were in Londonderry, we visited a local brewery (603 Brewery) and a winery (Zorvino Vineyards). We can now say that we have been to a meadery, winery, and brewery in 2 days.
Last weekend, we drove to Michigan for the National Homebrew Conference. This is Sam’s jam- three days of all you can drink homebrewed beer! About a hundred different homebrew clubs from all over the country brought their best beers, and vendors showcased brewing equipment and supplies, and poured us more beer. Besides drinking and talking to vendors, there were about 50 different seminars. These speakers, titans of the beer world—Mitch Steele, Brew Master at Stone Brewing Company and John Palmer, author of How to Brew, and many others—talked about how different yeast cultures react in different temperatures, how to improve fermentation, and the secrets of aging in bourbon barrels and, you guessed it, they served more beer.
After three days of drinking really good beer, listening to famous beer people and talking with hundreds of other people about homebrewing, we have some really good ideas for our beer themed wedding.
Some of these Adventures with Sam have been “studying” for our wedding. This past week, our families met at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival to see Fiddler on the Roof. Throughout the show, I heard them whispering to each other, “Will Anne and Sam have this at their wedding?” My mom held her breath while the bride and groom were hoisted on chairs, and my little brother was amazed at the dancers balancing bottles on their hats.
A few weeks before seeing Fiddler on the Roof, we went to a wedding near Lambertville, New Jersey. Throughout the wedding, we took notes on what we would do similarly or differently. The ceremony and reception took place outside on a lovely farm with a small group of friends. It was a perfect setting for dancing under the tent or enjoying the bonfire with a cocktail. We loved how all of the aspects of their wedding reflected who they are as a couple and we hope that our wedding does the same, which is why we will have a beer themed wedding.
Whether it is beer related or “studying” for our wedding, the Adventures with Sam are always fun times with many stories to tell. Maybe I should start writing a book and title it:
Adventures with Sam: The Story of My Life.
This week, I was asked by a co-worker about my
I grew up in a non-religious household. Sure we celebrated Passover and Hanukkah, but along with Christmas and Easter. My formal Jewish education was the two years I spent before kindergarten in a Temple preschool.
Much like my upcoming wedding, my Bar Mitzvah was anything but traditional. Although I came to accept my Judaism fully when I was 13, my Bar Mitzvah was not until I was 20 years old. I was in Israel on my Birthright trip, which is a free trip for young Jews to connect with Israel. The Bar Mitzvah was scheduled to be on top of Masada, but we could not find a Rabbi willing to carry the Torah up the mountain. Therefore, I was rescheduled to do it in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, in the middle of an actual 13 year old’s Orthodox Bar Mitzvah. I would just come up, repeat something someone said to me, with my hand on the Torah, and officially become a Jewish Man. At the time, it meant a lot because my Grandfather also had his Bar Mitzvah in Israel later in life. However, looking back, I realized I did not have to study anything and I was just asked to show up.
Even with my current spiritual practices, it has been a non-traditional education. I spoke with Rabbis and other spiritual mentors. I have hung around people who practiced all religions. I read books sometimes of my own choosing and sometimes books that were recommended. The most formal part of my spiritual practices are taking time in the morning for prayer and meditation and my Friday nights I spend in Temple.
When it comes to this wedding, I have had to sit in classes with my Rabbi. She even gave Lisa and me a test. It measured our personalities and compatibility. I have had to read books that were recommended to me, whether it be Beyond the Breaking of the Glass or The New Jewish Wedding. I am trying to keep up to date with Jewish Wedding blogs, whether it be my co-contributors at InterfaithFamily or outside sources. I find myself throughout the week going through each part of the ceremony, researching its meaning, praying about it, spiritually evaluating its relevance to me. Much of the time, that is what this blog is about and how my process works. Diving deep into music and traditions.
What does this all mean? This is my most formal Jewish Education I have ever received, and I am going through it with my partner who is not Jewish. I think about this and have to laugh. A touch of irony, but this feels like I am moving from high school to college for my spiritual education. Ever since I started down this path of practice of Judaism, I have always wanted and wished for a formal education to happen, I just had no idea it would begin when I was not expecting it. Usually when you are educating yourself, you know because you enroll in class, but it looks like even my enrollment process into formal Jewish education was once again anything but traditional.
“You can’t walk away when it gets a little heavy now. “ With all the stress that has fallen onto Lisa and myself over the past couple weeks, Cody ChesnuTT could not be any more right when singing the tune, entitled, “Love is a More Than a Wedding Day.” Through the bad times and the good times music plays a big role in how we remember an event. We sing songs to mark events, like Happy Birthday, and to celebrate holidays like Christmas and Hanukkah. When thinking about the topic of music and weddings, I took to the Internet and just realized how much music happens at any wedding and how it reflects the whole day.
Looking at the songs during the ceremony, I found out there are songs played before and after the ceremony. There are songs throughout the ceremony. Songs for the bridge and groom and songs for the guests. Then the one I actually did think about was what song would Lisa like to come down the aisle to? I have got my homework cut out for me.
I think the most fun song(s) come at the reception. There will be lots of dancing as I am known to dance and dance well and enjoy it. Since this day is about Lisa and me, I can guarantee there will be some music everyone can dance along to. And according to one article I read, it is considering a mitzvah (a good deed) that friends come and dance with the bride and groom. (Any friends reading this, this means you.) However, those songs do not carry much weight and probably will be forgotten in time.
What about the music that says who we truly are? We are already having a nice mix of inter-faith practices during the ceremony, but what about during the reception? Lisa admits the chair dance also officially known as the Hora terrifies her, but we have not officially ruled it out. Mainly because I Iove Harry Belafonte’s “Hava Nageela” and it is a tune that I loved to listen to with my grandmother and one of the records we would bond over towards the end of her life. We may actually look for a way to update the Hora, starting a new tradition to honor my grandmother and still make Lisa feel comfortable. More details to come…
Lisa and I are 99% sure we have our song because it was on the first mix tape (CD) that I ever gave to her. It is simple and actually does wrap us up in the nutshell. Instead of gushing about it, you can just listen to it here.
I began to think about the parent/child dances. Lisa and I are not sure whether we should select the songs or have our parents select the songs. I actually am enjoying the inner dialogue I’m having about selecting the song for the mother and son dance. It is a time to reflect on our definitions of family and what is most important. The Torah (Old Testament) talks about honoring your parents and it is one of the tenets we hear the most. It is applicable to both our faiths as a couple and generally some good advice. This is just one instance in which we get to honor the commandment during the day and in our lives with some extra weight tacked on.
Clearly, music has a big effect on the day. Sometimes it is a spiritual decision. Sometimes it is about who we are every day. Sometimes it is about having fun. This topic will continue to unfold and hopefully closer to the wedding, I will have an update and perhaps a full playlist to go with it all.
While trying to find my inspiration for this week’s post, I just realized how important and how surrounded we are by glass and all the symbols it represents when it comes to weddings. Our chapel is filled with wonderful stained glass. I am reading a book called, Beyond Breaking the Glass: A Spiritual Guide to Your Jewish Wedding. Glass is a big deal. Sometimes it is obvious. Sometimes it is hidden.
With most Jewish-inspired ceremonies, the tradition is for the groom to break glass under his foot at the end of the marriage ceremony. One reason according to The Jewish Book of Why, “the noise is a warning to man that he must temper life’s joyous moments (such as the occasion of a wedding) with sober thoughts: that life is not all joy; that the happiness of the wedding day will not continue indefinitely; that the young couple ought to prepare itself for all life’s eventualities. “
This week has been a tough one for Lisa and me. We have not gotten a single thing done. No wedding planning. No cleaning for my parents visit. We have just been so stressed due to my unexpected leaving of playing and coaching roller derby. (Which is where we met.) It has even been a struggle to get out this post. Reading the above passage just reminded me that being married starts before the day you say, “I do.” It continues long after that day as well. It is going to be a journey or ups and downs. Although we are both struggling with the new reality, a couple things we are immediately grateful for is that we will be able to spend more time together and I will have some extra time to plan the wedding.
We are all familiar with the “toast” done with glasses known as flutes at the wedding. At one point in my life it the classic scene from Fiddler on the Roof. However, by the time Lisa and I are married, it will nearly mark five years since I quit drinking and decided to walk a more spiritual path. I remember that one of the first bits of advice I received was that I was going to have to throw out lifelong conceptions in order to grow. They told me that, “It is not about the champagne in the glass, but it is about the person you are marrying.” What seemed like an impossible concept to grasp at the time is now becoming true. The toast for that very reason holds a special place in my heart, as a spiritual sign of growth, and that transcends all religions being celebrated that day.
This week has just been filled with reflection, and although it’s a metaphor, clearly this entire blog is a giant mirror for my journey as we march towards our wedding day and spending the rest of our lives together. This week we re-discovered how much we need to be there and support one another at a moment’s notice. How that takes precedent over all other matters. I also took some time and got more involved in my community work, to get away from reflection at first, but ended up reflecting more, but in a positive way.
I know this post is a bit disjointed, but not everything is going to fit into a box. Not everything is going to go as planned now, the wedding day, and beyond. The important thing is to reflect and appreciate how the light shines through all this glass.
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.
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.
What to wear? What to wear?
This week Lisa has been busy trying on wedding dresses she has ordered online. She has had a lot of success! While I was drafting this blog, she actually settled on one. Lisa selected a dazzling dress from Vera Wang that she ordered from David’s Bridal.
The other choice was a simple and elegant design from J. Crew we found off eBay. Although Lisa did not pick this dress, I cannot stress what a pleasant experience it was to work with eBay user “paisleypetunia.” Buying a dress off eBay was scary for Lisa and me; even though the dress was less expensive than a store, it was still a lot of money to try something on. However, Paisley made the experience like walking into a mom and pop store built on customer service. I highly recommend going this route based on our experience and interactions. (And if you are on a tight budget like us.) You can find her store here.
My suit shopping seemed much simpler. When visiting in Philadelphia, I got to spend some time with my Dad and look for a suit. I admit I am a bit of a nerd, but it is still important to look great, especially on the big day. Lisa and I are both big fans of the television series Doctor Who, so I decided to look for a navy (one of our wedding colors) pin-striped suit similar to David Tennant’s. My Dad and I noticed a suit as we walked in to Macy’s and picked it up and took it to the counter, to ask them to find something similar. The salesman took my measurements and then asked if I had tried on that suit. The thought had not crossed my mind… it was not a perfect fit, but I kept going back to it. With little debate, the suit was purchased and now I just need to lose a couple pounds and find a good tailor.
At this point, you may be wondering what this post is doing on an interfaith wedding blog. There is a lot of focus on the dress and suit, but when it comes to an interfaith wedding, what’s relevant is the traditional religious/spiritual/cultural attire.
For the bride, whether it be a Christian or Jewish wedding, it is customary to wear a veil at the ceremony. Lisa is unsure about wearing a veil, and we are both open to the idea of altering the ceremony if she chooses not to wear one. The important thing here is that even though this is a service rooted in the Jewish customs, it is not my place as a partner to tell her what to and what not to wear. We are there to encourage personal spiritual decisions, not force our own views onto the other person. As I write this, it serves as a reminder that this lesson goes much deeper than even that of faith-based decisions. It should translate into our wedding day and every day that we spend together, for the rest of our lives.
The tallit is important for the High Holy Days, but for the wedding, seem less important. There also needs to be a balance during the ceremony of both faiths and wearing all the traditional garb seems too much leaning one way. Ultimately, I have decided not to wear it. Asking what is important to my faith is a daily exercise and extends beyond just what to wear at the wedding.
The kippah is important to me, and I have worn one for years whether attending a Friday night service, a bar/
I also think wearing a head covering holds a special place in my heart. My grandparents, who were most responsible for my push into Judaism as a child and teenager, have both passed on. My grandparents not being there physically is still a struggle for me, and Lisa has been extremely supportive as I still come to terms with it, and speak with my spiritual mentors to come to peace with it before the ceremony. When my grandparents were married back in 1952 they had a Jewish ceremony with a twist. Instead of asking everyone to wear a kippah, they just asked that all men come wearing a hat. Some men came in bowler hats. Some men came in New York Yankees baseball caps. Top Hats. And kippot. It was something I had wanted growing up as a child, hearing about their wedding. However, I have grown since then and really do not feel that it is my place to tell people they must have their heads covered.
And since this is an interfaith wedding, in a chapel, some people may find it inappropriate to cover their heads in a chapel. I had an experience with a mentor who took me to his Catholic Sunday Mass and I was asked to remove my hat (it was a hat, not a kippah). It made me uncomfortable the entire time to be in a religious setting and not be covered. I do not wish that same feeling on anyone and therefore, headwear for all is optional, expect for me. In honor of my grandparents and in honor of my faith, I choose to wear a kippah.
We hear so often that it is the man who makes the clothes, not the clothes who make the man. However, when I wear a kippah that represents my grandparents and my devotion to G-D, it is really Them who shaped me. With each clothing decision we make for this day, it is our clothes that set us apart from our guests and who make us a truly unique interfaith couple.
There are the fun details like our cake tasting or suit shopping with my dad. There are some details which are just checks on the to-do list, like renting a dance floor and linens. Then, there are the other details. The other details like making the guest list which take away focus from the larger picture. Details so stressful, they make you forget what the big day is all about. Those details seem unavoidable in this day and age, but this is about returning to what is important.
When putting together the guest list, we just both began to stress about how other people who would feel. Whether it be about the catering we chose or something more, it weighed heavily on the both of us. I was so stressed about the details that when I showed up to my new spiritual men’s group, I really needed to be told that this day was about us. Being able to be open and honest in a group of men, searching for spiritual solutions to everyday life, they told me to let go of the details. They told me that this day is about being surrounded by the people you love and the loved ones who want to celebrate that love. I felt this deep knot of stress begin to unwind. I had known the truth, but I finally began to accept it. It took hearing that from others, in a spiritual safe space, and being honest. A weight had been lifted and I began to feel excited once more for our big day.
Returning to what is important, Lisa and I hold the belief that our wedding day is a very spiritual day. If we did not view it as such, we would have chosen to elope instead of hosting a wedding. Our relationship really forming and maintaining, has a lot to do with my own connection with G-D. We hold the belief that we are fully committing ourselves to one another in the eyes of G-D. November 8th is the biggest magnification of that held belief. Perhaps it is because of the sacred rituals like signing of the Ketubah. Perhaps it is the chapel with the awe-inspiring Christian glass work and icons. These details that make our day unique to all other days in our lives. These details make this a Holy Day. There are the details I need to be reminded of day in and day out.
Up until this past week, it was the little details. The necessary but less significant details had (and sometimes still continue) to bog us down. However, we need to be reminded what this day is truly about. Those details. It is about our love. Those who support that love. And G-D. AND FUN. They are reinforced by spiritual mentors and in morning meditation. And most importantly, it is our job as a couple to remember those and try not to get lost in all the other details.
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.