Why I Didn’t Want the Sheva Berachot Recited During My Wedding

  

By Cantor Ayelet Porzecanski

ayelet aric chuppah650As a cantor, I’ve sung the Sheva Berachot—the seven traditional Jewish wedding blessings—countless times, and I know the words by heart. They were recited for me at my first wedding some 17 years ago. My then-husband and I simply followed the familiar formula: place Jewish groom “X” and Jewish bride “Y” under a chuppah, or wedding canopy, recite blessings over wine, read a ketubah, or Jewish marriage document, break a glass and poof, you’re done. Nothing in the ceremony was unfamiliar to anyone in attendance, but unfortunately the marriage didn’t last. Two beautiful children and one heartbreaking divorce later, an unexpected chance for real happiness allowed me to be the last thing I thought I’d ever be again: a bride under a chuppah.

Falling in love with my fiancé, Aric, and his two wonderful children was effortless; planning our wedding, however, proved to be much more difficult. While we wrestled with the decisions that all engaged couples face, the largest obstacle to overcome was that we are inter-partnered. Aric is Christian—and an evangelical Christian minister to boot.

We soon discovered that I had apparently “failed” my tribe by “choosing” to date and subsequently fall in love with someone of a different faith. Members of Aric’s circle were also quick to point out that he was “unequally yoked” to a non-believer. Our union was ethically insurmountable for many potential officiants and downright explosive for our Jewish community and family. Barely two months before the wedding, we finally settled on a dear friend of mine to marry us. She has a special talent for crafting unique lifecycle ceremonies.

Creating our wedding ceremony was a bigger challenge than we anticipated. We wanted the ritual to combine both of us; we didn’t want to create a hybrid of our two faiths that didn’t represent our home or life together. Neither of us was comfortable having a purely Jewish or purely Christian wedding, especially when it would have been done mainly to appease those who would probably not support our union anyway.

We had already decided on certain visual elements that were important to me: a chuppah and the breaking of a glass. We also knew we wanted to involve our children in some way, and we wanted God to be present—a purely civil ceremony simply wouldn’t reflect the important role God plays in our lives.

My friend asked me if I wanted to incorporate the Sheva Berachot. My first hesitation was that they were all in Hebrew, and I wanted Aric to be able to engage with the ceremony at all times. My biggest problem though was that the last of the blessings speaks specifically to a Jewish couple.

The more I lived with the idea, the more I realized I had already accepted long ago that I ayelet aric smiling 650was not marrying a Jew. I had gone through a period of mourning, saying goodbye forever in my heart to that little bit of Yiddishkeit, or Jewishness, I had hoped for and failed to capture even with my first marriage. I was at peace with my decision and completely happy. The Sheva Berachot were not for us, and I was at peace with that too.

In the end, my friend wrote beautiful blessings for our children to say to us, and she read from Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs). Aric wrote every word of his wedding vows and inscribed them in a book that I could keep forever, like a ketubah.

To promise myself to him, I used the words I speak from my soul as I wrap tefillin:

I will bind myself to you forever.

And I will bind myself to you in righteousness, justice, kindness and mercy.

I will bind myself to you with fidelity, and [through our union we] shall know God.

Some might say our wedding ceremony left loose ends. But we can confidently tell you that those loose ends come from two distinct strings that were tied in a firm and lasting knot.

Growing Our Interfaith Marriage “Garden”

  

emily and jose garden blogBefore Jose and I got married, I wondered how marriage would influence our personal growth. I frequently heard the term “growing apart” to describe divorce. I worried whether that happens to some extent in all marriages, that all couples drift apart in their natural self-evolution and whether some couples are just stronger at making the union work. Would growing alongside another person stunt personal evolution, constraining one to only grow so much? Or would a marriage stimulate more self-growth?

Even before setting off on a career as a yoga teacher, I was interested in the concept of self-improvement. I believe we must better ourselves to better serve the world around us. I always saw, and still see, only minor hurdles in Jose and I coming from different religions and cultural backgrounds. All spirituality teaches us to be compassionate and kind to others, and there are more similarities than differences. If our religions encourage us to serve and to love, then Jose’s Catholicism is not at odds with my Judaism in that sense. Still, what obstacles from our faiths might emerge within our continued growth?

As we sat outside enjoying frozen yogurt last week, I asked Jose to get a cup of water from inside the shop. He refused. I thought he was being lazy and I got annoyed, but he explained that he didn’t feel comfortable asking for a cup of water when they sell bottles.

Wow, I thought. I was raised to not spend money unless I had to. Tap water is always free, so why buy a bottle? He was raised to respect a shop owner’s right to sell a product and to buy the item they sell.

Part of the beauty of our interfaith, intercultural marriage is the subtle differences in values, opinions and behavior that shine light on our self-development. When you’re married, you allow yourself to be exposed and vulnerable, to reveal your faults and to be embraced by love. When you give your partner the chance to love you fully for your strengths and for your weaknesses, you become aware of how to grow as an individual and as a partner. When your starting point involves different backgrounds, you often face these opportunities for growth early on.

When you grow alone, you may shoot off in one direction, one path, and no one is there to reality-check you. You may have family and friends as a support system, maybe roommates you must learn to live with, but no relationship compares to a life partner in the way it forces you to face yourself. That’s part of the reason I was always afraid of marriage.

I used to think of marriage like a sandbox: You build the wood planks around the outside to set clear boundaries for your wishes, desires, dislikes, hopes and dreams, and you try to keep the sand inside because there’s a finite amount of it. You can play with the sand, shaping and molding it in different ways as you grow and learn together, but the sandbox itself never changes shape, unless you break it down and start from scratch. That’s the other reason I feared marriage—what if we grow out of the sandbox?

I realize now there’s a much better metaphor for marriage. The marriage itself can grow; it’s not a sandbox. The two partners grow as individuals, but at the same time the union itself grows with life experiences, hurdles overcome and shared memories. I see marriage now as a garden. What grows each season may change. Sometimes you have a fruitful harvest because you have tended your garden with care, while other times the external factors like too little rain, sun or warmth prevent growth. Ultimately, each season is new, a new beginning for you to replant and learn from your mistakes.

Our interfaith and intercultural marriage is a beautifully varied garden. Together we have more seeds to choose from, more lessons from our ancestors’ cultures and religions to explore. We can plant something new, something uniquely blended to our garden, when we have children. Most important, if the harvest of our self-evolution grows beyond the perimeter of our garden because we tended to each other and ourselves with care, we can expand the garden.

Our marriage, still in its infancy, has taught me that growing alongside another person is in fact a greater, more rewarding challenge than growing alone. Marriage forces you to grow to the very edges of your comfort zone, expanding within the shape you and your partner design. That allows you to grow fully in all directions, becoming a well-rounded individual and a loving, supportive partner. And just like a garden, marriage grows when seeds are planted for the future, and that growth happens when you aren’t looking.

Tips from a Newlywed: Planning Your Two-Faith Wedding

  

By Emily Baseman

Emily & Brandon in a field

Before my now-husband, Brandon, and I were engaged, I always assumed we would have a Jewish wedding. Brandon was raised in a Jewish home, attended Sunday School, studied the Torah for his bar mitzvah and journeyed to Israel with Birthright. Our apartment has had mezuzahs on its doors for years and we take turns saying prayers in Hebrew for Hanukkah, Rosh Hashanah and Passover.

But I wasn’t raised with Judaism. I was raised in a Christian household with a family with strong Christian faiths. Both of my parents are very active in our Presbyterian church, my father recently completed a certificate in Christian Studies and my younger sister, initially planning a career in the ministry herself, married a man in the ministry in 2013. While I always aligned myself with the Christian faith, I didn’t have the same zeal for the church that any of them did. One night on our apartment building’s rooftop, I think I surprised Brandon and myself when I casually asked him if he would consider an interfaith wedding. His response? “Of course.” If I wasn’t already completely confident in marrying him before that moment, that sealed it. We got engaged shortly thereafter and began wedding planning.

It’s amazing what happens to people while planning a wedding. We all have our normal levels of emotion, and wedding planning takes these emotions, turns them on their heads, and dials them up to 11. Make that 12 if you’re planning an interfaith wedding. With emotions running high, two things are very important to remember. First, remember you’re getting married because you love your partner and you’re ready to start a life together. Remember that through every moment that something causes you stress and every moment you become frustrated with planning. Second, keep a clear head. Don’t let emotions get the better of you or in the way of open communication with your fiancé and families.

Emily & Brandon holding hands

Emily & Brandon

There are a lot of aspects of wedding planning that are important to people in different ways. I’ll share some of those that were important to us and with which we had experiences. If there are other topics you are interested in hearing about, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Finding Clergy

In our initial conversation about planning an interfaith wedding, Brandon and I talked about who would marry us. It was very important to us that both a pastor and a rabbi be involved. Our wedding was in Chicago, where we met and I am from, and we were wedding planning from Washington, DC, where we live. I sought out a pastor from the church where I grew up and reached out to Reverend Roberta Dodds Ingersoll. Reverend Dodds Ingersoll is one of the warmest people I have ever met and she has a gift for making everyone she greets feel truly welcome when we visit the church. I was very upfront with her about how we envisioned the wedding working and she agreed to be one of our officiants. We were candid with each other from the beginning and explained what each of us was comfortable with and what we expected.

For our rabbi, we were fortunate to be referred to Rabbi Evan Moffic who is local to the Chicago area and married to InterfaithFamily/Chicago’s Director Rabbi Ari Moffic. Rabbi Moffic made us feel comfortable with planning an interfaith wedding and put us at ease about the entire process.

Premarital Workshop

One of the best decisions Brandon and I made during wedding planning was to sign up for an interfaith couple’s workshop through the Interfaith Families Project (IFFP) in Kensington, Maryland. While the class was not written solely for engaged couples, all but one of the couples in the class were planning a wedding in the upcoming year. Co-taught by IFFP’s rabbi and pastor, the class took us through the realities of interfaith relationships. Working directly with clergy living and breathing an interfaith practice—along with meeting and hearing the stories of other couples—taught us that an interfaith marriage was possible. It also showed us that we are not alone, we are one of many couples asking the same questions and grappling with the same answers every day. To find workshops in various cities led by InterfaithFamily, click here.

Honoring Family

Family is such a special aspect of our lives and we wanted to be sure they were an important part of the wedding planning process and day. Of course, it is easy to say this now, nine months after we walked down the aisle. The reality is that weddings are stressful and emotional and we each have a different definition of a perfect day. To make sure both sets of our parents were comfortable going into the wedding day, we kept an open line of communication about our plans. We went through each piece of the ceremony with them and talked about what it meant and why it was important to us. We learned that they did have questions and we were able to address their concerns. These conversations led us both to grow stronger in our respective faiths and to understand each other more deeply.

Our ceremony was a joy to plan and one of our favorite parts of our wedding day—and it’s difficult to pick just one when all of your favorite people are in the same room. Look out for a post in the future for more about the ceremony.

Blending Holiday Decorations and a New Life Together

  
Alexandra & Paul at a family holiday party shortly after they got engaged

Alexandra & Paul at a family holiday party shortly after they got engaged

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.

Cinnamon Toast and Mazel Toast!

  
Victorious!

Sam and Anne are hoisted on chairs

Sam and I were sitting at breakfast this morning reflecting on our wedding, which was a week ago yesterday. We were exchanging our favorite moments and stating what we enjoyed about that special day.

Everything about the day was beautiful. Although the weather on the days before and after was cold and rain-drenched, the day of the wedding had clear, blue skies and temperatures in the low 70’s, which allowed us to take photos outside among the gorgeous fall leaves. Friends and family members from across the country traveled without difficulty, and shared in our joy. Everyone was dressed to the nines and looked stunning. The ceremony was so beautiful that I cried through most of it. Thankfully, Sam was prepared and surreptitiously slipped me a tissue a few minutes into the ceremony.

The ceremony carried additional emotional weight as a result of the items that were owned or created by our relatives. Sam’s tallis was on top of the chuppah, so he wore his deceased Uncle Morrie’s tallis. My brother Dave made the paper for the ceremony programs using some fabric from my maternal grandmother’s wedding dress. My sister Stephanie did the graphic design for the ceremony programs (and all other printed materials). Sam’s sister Diana crocheted all the kippot that the Jewish men wore during the ceremony, and our ketubah was painted by my sister Michelle, as we mentioned in an earlier post.

Sam and I worked really hard to combine both Judaism and Catholicism into the ceremony. Two close family friends, a rabbi and a priest, co-officiated the wedding, and both did a phenomenal job of partnering together and taking the lead on our ceremony. At the beginning of the ceremony, Sam’s sister Stacey explained the Jewish rituals and symbols, and my brother, Chris,  explained the Catholic ones. The fathers recited the seven blessings together, and the mothers took part in the unity candle. A cantor friend of ours chanted the shehecheyanu and my sister Laura read from the book of Genesis. Afterwards, many of our family and friends came up to us and said, “I really enjoyed how you blended both religions in the ceremony.”

Anne’s favorite moment fell during the ceremony,  when our dads split up the Seven Blessings. Sam’s dad said them in Hebrew, and my dad said the translations in English. My dad is a professor at the local university and his diction is very clear and precise, so he over-enunciated every syllable in each of the blessings. In a very emotional ceremony, these blessings broke the tension and made me laugh.

Aside from watching my parents walk me down the aisle, Sam’s favorite moment was during the hora. After Sam and I went up on the chairs, our parents were also hoisted up on the chairs. Now, we had warned my parents about this dance when we first started planning our wedding. My mom was still scared when four men lifted the legs of her chair up and down, while my dad’s expression was the complete opposite. He had a blast! Every time they hoisted him up, his hands went up, as if he was on a roller coaster. It was a lot of fun to see that much excitement and joy on my dad’s face.

“You guys clearly had thought of every little detail, and I really enjoyed how everything tied together.” Yes, we did have a beer themed wedding. The place cards were beer bottles, the centerpieces were made out of beer bottles, the favors were bottle openers, and we even made our own beer to serve during the reception. My sister Stephanie created a logo for us which was made out of a sheaf of barley, bottle cap, and a hop cone that resembled a heart. This logo was on the invitations, ceremony program, signage, beer labels, and all of the printed material. The logo was even incorporated into a tile mosaic, crafted by my sister Carolyn, which functioned as our guest book. My youngest sister Theresa took this logo and made tags for everything in the hospitality bags for the guests to enjoy at the brunch afterwards. The guests at the brunch also enjoyed oversized Jenga and Kerplunk games built by my brother Andrew. All of the wedding details went off without a hitch thanks to Nicole, another sister, who was the day-of-wedding-coordinator.

“I have been to several weddings before and never have I heard the Best Man or the Maid of Honor’s toast so clearly and so well thought out.” The credit is all theirs. The Maid of Honor went to school for theater management, so speaking clearly in front of a large group of people is second nature to her. The Best Man’s occupation is planning long term medical treatments, so it is quite understandable that his speech had a very distinct beginning, middle, and end.

“Even though I just met you, I feel like I have known you for years.” In some cases, family or friends from one side of the family had gotten to know our “other half” through this blog. In others, it was a reflection of how strangely similar our families are. When I was putting together a slideshow of Sam and I growing up, for the brunch following the wedding, there are some images of my family doing a goofy face and I found images of Sam’s family doing that same goofy face. Our siblings and cousins had a ball dancing with each other, especially to songs such as Wagon Wheel by Old Crow Medicine Show, and “Cotton Eyed Joe”. It was great seeing everyone on the dance floor having such a good time.

“Keep on blogging.” Many of our guests have been following this blog. There were a few people that I met in person for the first time at the wedding who knew me only through these blogs. Sam and I are both very grateful to Interfaith Family for providing us with this forum for communicating with the world our love for each other in our different faiths.  Best of luck to the other couples on this wedding blog; I hope your weddings are as joyous, loving, and fun as ours.

It's a bear!

From left: siblings Chris (and his fiancee Katie), Nicole, Theresa, Stephanie, and Dave (and his son Ryder) Keefe, Stacey Goodman, Anne Keefe, Sam and Diana Goodman, Laura, Michelle, Andrew, and Carolyn Keefe

Ketubah

  
My sisters, Michelle (far right) and Carolyn (in blue), with a portrait Michelle painted for our High School

I come from a family of artists. My mom’s grandfather was an amazing painter. My dad’s brother is the cartoonist for Sally Forth. Dave, my brother, runs the Combat Paper Program from the Printmaking Center of NJ. Carolyn, my sister won the 2010 Congressional Art Award and had her artwork displayed in the Nation’s Capitol. And, my other sister, Michelle, has created dozens of pastels, charcoals, and paintings, which are hung in galleries and homes throughout Delaware.  My family is very artistically gifted, with each member having his or her own unique style and preferred medium.

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.