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By Courtney Dunne
An “interfaith wedding.” What does that mean? I, after all should know what that means. My partner of 10 years and soon-to-be spouse is the CEO of InterfaithFamily. But understanding what it means to be in an interfaith relationship and putting it on display for all of your family and friends to witness…well, those are two different things.
Our families knew we would eventually tie the knot. After all, when we made the decision to move to Massachusetts, the ability to legally wed was a strong pull for us. Yet, life so to say, got in the way. Jodi was working full time in preparation for the transition in leadership at IFF and I was a first-time full-time stay at home mama for our active, inquisitive and adorable twin boys.
Yet, living in Massachusetts and not being married felt strangely different than living in Pennsylvania and not being married. No one, at the time, expected a same-sex couple to be married in PA. Yet, in MA people sort of looked at us in bewilderment when they found out we weren’t married. It almost felt like we were “living in sin” and as a Catholic school graduate, I knew what that felt like. Alas, new friends of ours gave us the added push of encouragement we needed to tie the knot.
So, 10 years. A house. A cat. A dog. Two kids. A BIG move to Massachusetts. And, finally…wait for it…marriage. I think we’re ready. Now, to share the news with our family and friends—this brought the expected excitement. The details—everyone wants to know the details. When? Where? Who? Most important, I’ve been asked by numerous people in an almost huffy and emphatic way, “Well, it will be interfaith, RIGHT?” Well, yes. Um, sort of.
Growing up Catholic, going to Catholic school and a Catholic university, I have always held very strong beliefs about humanity that did not always coincide with doctrine. When Jodi and I met, we connected very deeply on a spiritual level. We found commonality in our differences and took a humanistic approach to seeing how her Judaism influenced her existence and my Catholicism influenced mine.
A lot of thought went into raising our children Jewish, a decision I did not come to quickly or easily. Ultimately, it was a decision made out of love for them. About wanting my children to belong to a faith community; to believe in God; to participate in community service. And most important—at least to me—was to belong. I mean, truly belong.
That said, planning this wedding has forced me to really unpack the meaning behind what an interfaith wedding would mean for me. We made the decision to hold our ceremony in our synagogue, Kerem Shalom. We also made the decision to have our rabbi and friend, Darby Leigh officiate our ceremony. And here comes the line of questioning from my Catholic family members: “So, the rabbi is marrying you? And you’re getting married in the synagogue?” I can hear my mother’s Long Island accent: “I told her (my aunt) that you’re getting married in the synagogue but it IS and will be interfaith.”
Yes, mom. It is. But what does that mean? I might mention that my mother is also in an interfaith relationship—she’s Catholic and my stepfather is Jewish. But that’s a story for another time. So, how do you plan an interfaith wedding when some tenets of the Catholic faith (i.e. Christ-centered beliefs; Eucharist) contradict principles of Judaism? I found myself really questioning what an interfaith wedding would look like.
Luckily, we knew where to look for just the resources that would help answer some of our questions. Several helpful tips came out of the Guide to Wedding Ceremonies for Interfaith Couples. We also used the Tips for Inclusive Weddings to answer questions about involving friends and family (our parents will write personalized sheva b’rachot (seven blessings), choosing readings, creating an interfaith ketubah and more.
What I ultimately came up with was a Courtney-Jodi wedding that embraces our different faith traditions. Our interfaith wedding will include the pieces of our lives that that celebrate who we are; the spirituality that weaves in and out to create a bond and a tapestry. Our wedding will be in the synagogue and will have some of the traditional rituals present in Jewish weddings, such as the chuppah, the reading of the seven blessings and the breaking of the glass. However, it will also include blessings from our parents, who come from both Catholic and Jewish traditions. It will include family and friends that have been raised Catholic and family and friends who were raised Jewish. We have chosen to have our siblings, my two sisters and Jodi’s two brothers, be our chuppah holders, and the chuppah will have a Celtic web of life design. My sisters (Catholic) and Jodi’s brothers (Jewish) will provide the support for the canopy representing God’s presence in our lives and in our new life together.
Most important, our wedding will include two lives coming together in God’s presence—two lives who find commonality in spirituality. To me, that is an interfaith wedding. It may not include a priest. It doesn’t need to. What it needs to be is inclusive. Our lives and the choices we’ve made as a couple and as parents center around celebrating difference and inclusivity. Our interfaith wedding may not be your interfaith wedding. That’s the beauty of it.
Being interfaith is about noticing the differences and looking for the thread that ties you together but maintains individuality. Jodi and I found that thread 10 years ago. It has just taken 10 years to become a tapestry.
Blessings have been on my mind lately. In the Jewish wedding ceremony there are seven blessings recited, and, for better or for worse, I’m finding them complicated. Which is why, when our house started to shake during a thunderstorm the other night, I was already awake turning blessing after blessing over and over in my mind.
The thunder rolled, the lightning flashed, and my mind immediately went to the damage that we’d seen this winter, wondering if this storm would re-expose those leaks. After a few minutes of almost deafening rain, my mind finally slowed past its catastrophic style thinking to an appreciation of all of the noises, smells, and feelings that accompany a thunderstorm.
I was thankful for the rain that we receive here in New England, as opposed the droughts that are impacting so much of our world. I was thankful that I was inside, and lucky enough to be safe from the elements. I was grateful to be cuddled up under my blanket next to my sleeping partner, with my sleeping cat in the nook behind my knees.
I noticed Justin stirring from his sleep. “Good thunderstorm,” he muttered to himself.
It might seem simplistic, but right there… that was a blessing.
One of the pieces of Jewish learning I’ve most taken to heart is the idea that a prayer should speak to what is truly in your heart—the trappings of the words matter a whole lot less. (This idea seems particularly relevant when coming at the idea of one religion’s prayer from a multi-faith lens.)
Which is why we’re going to take the seven blessings and take them from complicated ideas to a simple “good thunderstorm” style message. But we need your help.
We’re asking seven of our friends to craft their own blessings based on the meaning of the originals. They’ll then be recited in the original Hebrew by our rabbi. What matters to us is less of the traditional language (we’ll have our bases covered by our rabbi’s recitations), but the sentiments passed along by the friends reciting the blessings.
Here’s where we’re asking for your help: if you were to simplify the following prayers to one word, what would it be?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
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.
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.
It is hard to believe it has already been a month since our “big day.”
It is finally starting to sink in.
It seems that we have not stopped moving since we got married. Between the holidays, Lisa’s sister getting married, and my new employment opportunities, there has been barely a moment to sit and take it all in. However, this week, we received our photos and have been listening to our playlists from the ceremony and reception. It is certainly bringing us some cheer.
It was an incredible journey for us both. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
We had a lot of help along the way. So thank you everyone who helped. Friends, family, and loved ones. Thanks to all our wonderful vendors too. Thank you all who followed us both on this journey and the whole InterfaithFamily staff who gave us this opportunity to talk about and really explore what having an interfaith wedding is all about and meant to us. (I also apologize to our photographer because I had to resize all the photos to fit into this post, they simply do not do her work justice.)
After the wedding, we ended up answering a lot more questions than I thought. We had a lot of members of Lisa’s family asking about the Ketubah ceremony, while others asked about the circling of one another toward the beginning of the ceremony.
We also received a ton of compliments. The donut table (instead of cake) was a huge success. You could not tell the difference between the adults and children because all of them kept staring at the table with hungry eyes, even with a belly full of delicious meatballs. Our Jewish friends also said that when it comes to the Hora, Lisa and I hit it out the park. It was their most fun moments of the wedding.
What’s next in our journey? That is a great question. We are hoping after the New Year to settle down a little bit more. There should be some clarity in our close future. I also hope to attend temple more regularly. For the first time in awhile, we do not have a deadline for our life and maybe that is the best gift of marriage. It is what you do with it after the big day.
I did not mean that we were walking down the aisle in jeans and hooded sweatshirts. I meant that if you asked 5-year-old Ryan what he would look like or who was the man he was going to be on his wedding day, he could not have imagined it. And everything is different from what I imagined on my 15th birthday. And even at 25, I would not have believed you I would be getting married 600 miles from where I grew up and that was only four years ago.
At the beginning of this blog, I was asked to introduce Lisa and me as a couple. That couple could not have planned what lay ahead for the both of us. It is amazing to look back when I first started writing in April and see the changes in our lives that have happened since then. Many of them were not planned, but Lisa and I remained a team and got through all the ups and downs together. The wedding we planned in April is nowhere near identical to the wedding that is happening in just 8 days.
Where am I going with this? I don’t know.
My spiritual mentor Scott and I talked about the power of “I do not know” this week during our weekly chat. Sometimes in life, it is best not to know. There is a lot of truth in that statement. We tend to get caught up on what we do know, and forget that we do not need to know everything in order to be successful. We simply have to trust that G-D has got it worked out.
Easier said than done. Especially this close to the date and you feel like you have to know everything. Everything needs to be set in stone. And maybe for the wedding it does have to be. However, at the moment, in life, it is best that I do not know life’s full plan. Knowing that I love Lisa with all my heart is really all I need. Life’s other details will be taken care of with or without my help, it seems.
I have talked about being spiritually ready to get married throughout the course of this entire blog. I can say that I am ready and have not even gone to the mikveh yet. What I thought “spiritually ready” looked like in April, and actually feeling it now, into my soul, are two very different things.
One aspect to my spiritual life and was instilled into me by my original mentor and many who came after, was to be of service. In the beginning I took the suggestions that being of service meant giving someone a ride if they needed it. Or if someone was struggling it meant to stop and lend an ear. I came to understand that being of service meant being in service to others and to G-D. My experience has shown again and again that being of service was a keystone to spiritual development.
After those first experiences, I began to realize I was being drawn further into the nonprofit sector as a desired occupation. Before I knew it I was working at a nonprofit food bank and volunteering my time at two other nonprofits. Even during my current job search, I find myself unable to get away from wanting to have an extra purpose in going to work each day.
When it comes to the wedding, there not a lot of time when we can be of service to others. After all, this wedding is about us. As I discussed my “food blog post” we need to at least give everyone a good meal. Meatballs and doughnuts is the least we could do. And since making that decision, not everything has been easier, but it did give us a brief moment of calm when it came to planning.
When it comes to my religious practices, we always talk about Jewish “Services” for the holidays and Shabbat. Although we call it a wedding ceremony, couldn’t it also be called a wedding service? But why would we call it a service? It is the whole reason we decided to have a Jewish service in a Catholic Chapel, because it is for G-D. When we join together on that day, those prayers are for us, but also very much for G-D as well. The whole ceremony is joining the three of us in a holy union of love. Sounds like being in service to G-D to me.
This blog has focused largely on being spiritually ready for the big day. So if being of service is important, than how was I in service this week? I actually found myself at a working interview at a soup kitchen and food pantry. I do not think there is any higher calling than giving people the basic need of food. Ever since leaving Philadelphia and the food bank there, I missed working in that environment. I missed it so much that even spent part of my time during a business trip in New Orleans at TribeFest, where I met Editor Lindsey Silken, this past year and volunteered at a food bank. It is the most rewarding thing to do with my time and at the end of this, there may even be a chance at an upcoming open position. I actually agreed to have the second working interview this upcoming Tuesday, before I turn 100% of my thoughts over to the wedding.
“Service which is rendered without joy helps neither the servant nor the served. But all other pleasures and possessions pale into nothingness before service which is rendered in a spirit of joy.” – Mahtma Gandhi.
We just celebrated Simchat Torah as a community. The purpose of the holiday is to celebrate the conclusion of one cycle in the Torah and the beginning of another. In the spirit of the holiday, I found myself closing a lot of chapters in life and looking forward to new ones.
Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the East Coast and spend some time with family and friends.
I certainly felt that with that trip, there were some chapters closing. I played in a “Send-Off” roller derby game. The send-off was because it was the end of my bachelor party and my very likely retirement from the sport that brought Lisa and me together. There have been a lot of mixed emotions over the sport and how the last year with my involvement in the sport ended. It was more than one could hope for, to play with some friends, have a good time, and being able to end something that has meant a lot to me for the past five years.
I also look forward to starting life anew. Many people have commented, “There is no difference between the day before and the day after the wedding.” For the moment, I am going to disagree. Although there are some things on paper that change, and yes some of our daily life will remain the same, I think that spiritually this is a new beginning. Without that thought rooted deep in me, this wedding would not mean nearly as much to me. At the end of the day, in front of everyone and G-D, we are beginning our new life together.
One Ending. One Beginning.
I have been talking about being spiritually prepared for the wedding in many of these posts. It is only now with a little bit of time and deeper reflection, I am not where I wanted to be, but I am where I needed to be.
November 21st (just two weeks after my wedding) will mark my fifth year of abstaining from drugs and alcohol. The significance of this is that it will mark precisely two separate lives. My drinking career which lasted roughly about five years (I was a little late to the game) and the one I now live completely sober. And yet, I find myself feeling like I’m back to the beginning.
That trip back East certainly opened me up spiritually. Not because I spent a lot of time with former mentors, although that did help. I just became able to let go of more things that I was holding on to and that were keeping me” blocked off.” I also became very aware that G-D is always working in my life, and that losing my job was a blessing. It also has brought out some deeper feelings as I am scheduling the mikveh. This is all new. A new low led me to a new beginning and a new perspective.
An ending. A beginning. Another beginning.
Life is like the Torah. It never really ends. You celebrate the endings and you rejoice in the new beginnings.