Fielding Questions about the Wedding & Our Life Together

  
Alex and family

Alexandra with her parents and fiancé

The decision to get married inevitably invites inquiry. How did you meet? What is the proposal story? Can I see the ring? Have you set a date?

The decision to proceed with an interfaith marriage invites it even more so. For example, in response to an earlier blog where I shared news of our recent engagement, I received comments asking whether we had made a decision about how we would raise our children.

These well-intentioned comments, which presupposed that we even plan to have children, offered their views of how to solve the apparent conundrum of two faiths under one roof.

The answer is that we have talked at great length about how we will raise children if we are so blessed. These conversations have been some of the more difficult discussions we have had as the issue is a deeply personal one.

While we do not purport to be experts on how to blend two religions into one family, we compromised and reached an agreement that seems workable for us, at least in theory. (I promise to resume blogging someday to share whether it actually works in application!) Our ability to reach this compromise, I think, solidified the fact that we were “engagement-ready.” The process was challenging and illuminating. We learned how to communicate effectively and compassionately about a sensitive subject.

As we progress in the wedding planning process, I anticipate that we will continue to hone those communication skills as the inquiry about children is only one of many questions we will face (and have faced) while planning our wedding.

Would the ceremony be Jewish? Catholic? “Interfaith?” And, who would officiate? After much thought and consultation with each other and our parents, we decided on an interfaith ceremony officiated by a rabbi (Rabbi Robyn Frisch, director of IFF/Philadelphia) on a Saturday evening in December.

Prior to finalizing the decision, I had to ask myself whether I was comfortable with our plan. Our wedding will more closely resemble a Jewish wedding (albeit on a Saturday evening and with a Catholic bride). Having only attended one Jewish wedding, I feared that I might feel disconnected from the ceremony – and that my Catholic family would too.

Fortunately, we found an officiant willing to incorporate elements into our ceremony that are meaningful and familiar to me. And, distilled to its essence, a Jewish wedding ceremony supports and celebrates the union of two people. While the formalities may be different, conceptually, this is a tradition that I am familiar with.

Still, our tailor-made interfaith wedding is a far cry from the traditional, Catholic weddings of my parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents. They have questions and they, too, want to feel connected to the ceremony. My Irish grandfather actually asked me earlier this month whether he should wear a kippah (yarmulke) to the wedding!

Over the next few months, we will be working closely with our officiant – asking questions and answering them – to craft a ceremony that suits us as a couple, celebrates our differences and allows our families to meaningfully participate in our once-in-a-lifetime day.

But when all is said and done, and the majority of questions have been asked and answered, the most important question in this process will be our willingness to make a lifelong promise to each other. Though I may not know the answer to the myriad questions about interfaith wedding planning, my answer to that most important question is a resounding, unequivocal yes.

So You Want to Plan an Interfaith Wedding

  

By Courtney Dunne

Courtney and family

Courtney (left) with Jodi and their kids

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.

Life happened.

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.

Courtney & Jodi

Courtney and Jodi at Boston Pride with InterfaithFamily and Keshet

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.

A Rabbi, a Puppy, a Catholic and a Jew Walk into a Bar

  
Emily and Jose take a break from wedding planning to enjoy time outside.

Emily and Jose take a break from wedding planning to enjoy time outside

A rabbi, a puppy, a Catholic and a Jew walk into a bar… Sounds like the setup for a bad joke, right? Much the opposite. It was a brainstorming session for incorporating religious traditions and the things we love into our wedding ceremony.

Jose and I joined a reform synagogue last year—Rodeph Shalom on Broad Street. We joined not because I felt particularly religious at the time, and not because Jose is planning on converting, but because we felt a strong sense of community there. Jose accompanied me to a High Holiday service there a few years back and we noticed same-sex couples, multiracial couples and folks of all ages. It was eye-opening to me. Growing up in Baltimore, I had not seen that kind of diversity inside a synagogue. Jose and I instantly felt a welcoming and inclusive vibe and figured this synagogue must be doing something right. Jose even remarked that this was not the exclusive, “chosen” mentality he’s previously encountered with Judaism. I agreed.

We took a class with a young rabbi by the name of Eli, and it proved extremely beneficial for us in understanding each other’s spirituality. The class was called “Judaism 101,” but it was not designed to preach Judaism’s teachings. It was a discussion about the basic tenets of Judaism and whether we identify with those principles and ideas of god (little “g” and big “G”). With our classmates old and young, Jewish and not, religious and not, and of various racial and ethnic backgrounds, we discussed how each of our upbringings have influenced our thinking. Jose got to dip his toes further into the world of Judaism and I got a refresher course and some new information.

Rabbi Eli invited the class to his beautiful apartment in the city for Shabbat dinner and we loved the experience. We’ve since gone to a few other Shabbat/Hanukkah dinners through the synagogue and through InterfaithFamily, and we have kept in touch with events happening at the synagogue. Through the wedding contest that we recently won, the officiant was chosen for us. She is amazing (see my previous blog post!), but I wanted to incorporate a personal touch for the Jewish aspect of the wedding. The ketubah signing (Jewish marriage license) traditionally happens right before the ceremony and it is very important to me, so we reached out to Rabbi Eli to see if he would be interested in officiating it.

Rabbi Eli suggested we meet at a bar (how cool is that?) and we brought along our 7-month-old puppy and sat outside at one of the best bars in the city. If you had asked me at age 13 whether I’d be having drinks with a rabbi at a bar I would have slapped you and called you crazy. If you had even asked me whether I’d belong to a synagogue and have a rabbi that I called on, I might call you crazy for that. Needless to say, there we were.

We spoke with Rabbi Eli about the most meaningful thing to us in the wedding—the ceremony. Although we were there to discuss the ketubah signing, he became an amazing sounding board for all of our questions about the ceremony. We discussed what religious traditions we could incorporate and how the choices would be significant to our families and friends. We talked about how to involve our families in the ceremony. We disclosed that while we enjoy sharing our love publicly (if you are friends with us on Facebook you know), I am private about things that are important to me and I want the ceremony to feel intimate. Most of all, we expressed how we are using our engagement as a time for reflection about our relationship. We are honest about what we each want from our marriage and we recognize that this is the time in our lives to speak openly about it. (Sidenote: It’s a lot less scary to ask your partner direct questions than to wonder what they think, and it’s a lot easier to do it now than in 10 or 20 years.) Plus, we want to build a solid foundation for the rest of our lives together and we want to be prepared for any challenges that may arise.

One of the biggest challenges in planning a wedding is to avoid getting wrapped up in the minutiae. I am eternally grateful to have won a wedding contest, because it has, for the most part, allowed us to remain relatively free of financial woes and family drama that is usually inherent in planning a wedding. Surely, the time will come when those challenges appear, but for now we are able to keep our focus on the marriage, not on the wedding, and we can focus on the foundation we’re building together.

After our meeting at the bar, Rabbi Eli shipped us a book he recommended we read, called Meeting at the Well: A Jewish Spiritual Guide to Being Engaged. I’m about halfway through it, and it’s great. The focus of the book is on using the engagement period, however long it may be, to work through how you both feel about certain issues, religious and otherwise. While some of it can be cheesy, it does have exercises and discussion points on topics ranging from raising kids to intimacy to finances to how you spend your free time. It’s a great resource for us to discuss things we never thought would be important. I learned some new things about Jose in the process, which truly surprised me after six years of dating and five years of living together.

Over the next few months, I’m looking forward to the fun stuff: bachelor and bachelorette parties, the tastings, the engagement photo shoot, working with the DJ on what songs to include and planning our honeymoon (no that’s not included!). Stay tuned for more updates on our wedding planning!

Anything Can Happen When You Win a Free Wedding!

  

“I am excited to let you know that you and Jose have been selected as the winners for the wedding at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel!”

Wait, what? Let me read that again. We won a wedding

Jose and I let out squeals of joy, called our families and started to hold on tight for what would inevitably be a wild ride.

Emily & Jose in Philly Mag

We found out about the contest through Jose’s coworker back in January, and we took our time to write a thoughtful statement, answering the prompt of how we volunteer and give back to our community. Jose and I both volunteer, so we thought we had a pretty good shot, but to actually win seemed totally crazy.

We had not done any wedding planning until that point and we were taking our time, planning on a long engagement. I wanted to enjoy being engaged and I didn’t want to start researching and choosing vendors. I was also having a hard time accepting how much an average wedding costs.

When we won the wedding it changed everything (how could it not?). Our venue and food plus vendors including the florist, photographer/videographer, gown, officiant, life coaching and more would be mostly free. The stress and financial worries of planning a wedding were diminished and we could instead focus on the fun stuff and enjoy the process. It was such a blessing.

I decided to approach the entire experience differently from the start. For my wedding gown shopping, I invited my mom, sister and a few bridesmaids to join. Since my gown was included in the prize package and it was from one of the best shops in Philly, Lovely Bride, I knew I wouldn’t be shopping around. So I asked one of my bridesmaids to bring a bottle of champagne to make the shopping experience a celebration!

As I tried on dress number three, and we were all gathered in the room together, my bridesmaid Madison, a certified sommelier who knows how to properly open a bottle, popped the champagne. And, because anything that can happen will, it EXPLODED all over the dressing room. It went on the ceiling, the walls, the floor, in her eyes and on all of the women in the room. It kept dripping from the ceiling onto me in a wedding dress. It left no area untouched. The entire bottle exploded. It was like something out of a movie. We later found out that the wine shop had kept the bottle in the freezer (Why? Who knows!).

Champagne exploding

My sister smartly took a photo while the situation unfolded!

The silence that filled the room was palpable, seemingly so thick you could touch it. A record started playing on repeat in my head: You now have to pay for this free dress. You now have to pay for this free dress. 

A few frightening minutes passed, and my mom blurted out, “I have to clean something. Give me SOMETHING to clean.” At which point the owner of the shop, the lovely Ivy Kaplin, started hysterically laughing. It was just too funny to not laugh. A sales associate was Swiffering the ceiling as I stood motionless and drenched in a wedding dress, and what else could we do but bask in the complete absurdity of the situation? Ivy and her associates were the coolest people I have ever met and didn’t charge us for the mishap. They took it in stride and we were all laughing about it moments after it happened. Not only do I have quite a story to tell, but I also found the wedding dress of my dreams and it was not covered in champagne!

We’ve had an amazing time meeting with our vendors and thanking them for their services. We are thrilled to have the fantastic Jill Magerman, a certified Life Cycle Celebrant who happens to specialize in interfaith weddings, as our officiant. She invited us over for a Mother’s Day brunch at her house (how cool is that?) and we talked for hours about what traditions we will incorporate from each of our religious and cultural backgrounds. We talked about Jewish traditions like standing under a chuppah (a four-post structure meant to symbolize the home), signing a ketubah (the Jewish marriage contract), breaking the glass (meant to symbolize the fragility of marriage, among many other things) and reading the sheva brachot (seven blessings for the couple’s marriage).

We talked about Filipino and Catholic traditions, like being wrapped in a cord and veil (symbolizing the union of the couple, the bond they share and the purity of their love), presenting arras (coins that symbolize prosperity and the couple’s commitment to mutually contributing to their relationship, their children and their community), and incorporating a unity ceremony, the details of which we have yet to determine. We also plan on incorporating Filipino traditions throughout the ceremony and reception, but I can’t give away all the good details!

We’ve also met with the fabulous Vito Russo, VP at Carl Alan Designs, who is providing intricate and beautiful floral arrangements for the ceremony and reception. We are absolutely in love with his work, and we couldn’t have asked for a better florist. It’s uncanny how closely his style aligns with ours, and we didn’t even choose him! It must be beshert (Yiddish for “meant to be”)! This adventure is sure to bring on more excitement, funny stories, challenging obstacles and plenty to discuss and for which to be grateful. If you keep reading, hold on, it is going to be a wild ride!

The Father & The Rabbi Weigh In

  

The following is a guest blog post by the groom’s father, Phil Goodman followed by some additional thoughts from officiant Rabbi Robyn Frisch who is the director of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia

Phil & Pennye

Sam's parents, Phil and Pennye

Like many of you I have enjoyed Anne and Sam’s wedding blog, but I have a major bias, I am Sam’s father. By way of introduction, over thirty years ago I entered my own interfaith marriage. I was not overtly active in daily religious practice and neither was my wife. Raised as a Conservative Jew, in my twenties I had become the proverbial twice-a-year-Jew assuming I would become more involved once I had a family. Pennye, raised Catholic, practiced little of any Christian faith. Once engaged we attended many community programs addressing interfaith marriage issues as we knew they would continually be the elephant in the room and it was important for us to have a basis to lean about what we knew would be part of every family decision we would make as a couple. We found a rabbi to perform our wedding ceremony as the Jewish traditions included in our ceremony were important to me and many of our guests, and acceptable to Pennye.

Religion remains an extremely important part of both of our lives. Jointly we’ve explored each other’s beliefs. I am a committed Reform Jew who, with my wife’s full support, has been very active in our large suburban congregation and held many leadership positions. Pennye is a committed Presbyterian with similar leadership positions in her church community. We are very lucky to have found two faith communities that accept both of us and consider both of us as resources when figuring out how interfaith issues affect their congregations. The key is mutual respect.

I frequently find myself in conversations concerning the increase in interfaith marriage in current society. I always ask the naysayers whether they practice their religion the way their parents do. Rarely is the answer “yes.” I then ask why they have any expectation that their children should be any different. When Sam brought Anne into my life I could not be happier for them as a couple. Individually they will figure out how their beliefs and practices will be part of their lives. InterfaithFamily certainly provides resources that were not as readily available to us thirty years ago. Over the past three years I’ve seen how Anne seems to complete Sam and visa versa. Their happiness is all that really matters to me.

Incorporating religious tradition, both Jewish and Catholic, in their ceremony was important to Sam and Anne. I expect that Sam’s upbringing made him cognizant that the beauty of his wedding day would partially rely on the comfort of the clergy participating in an interfaith ceremony. Knowing that our family’s rabbi did not perform interfaith ceremonies, his participation was never considered. (This rabbi was their guest at the wedding and in the following week he extended a congregational membership to Sam and Anne.) Sam and Anne were lucky to have relationships with other clergy who have known them individually since their childhoods, who took the time to get to know both of them over the past year, and who were willing to co-officiate. These personal relationships added to the beauty of the ceremony that seamlessly wove in two religious traditions.

I was honored when Sam and Anne asked that I toast them at their reception. Assuming that the maid of honor and best man would probably offer lighter remarks about the couple, I wanted to be more solemn and personal so I included the following in my speech:

“Following the priestly benediction over our children on Shabbat after we light the candles we ask that God make our sons like Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons, not so ironically for us here today, of Joseph and his Egyptian wife brought from an interfaith Diaspora into the fold by their grandfather, Jacob, becoming the namesakes of two of the tribes of Israel. Sam, wherever life may lead you, may you be like Ephraim and Manasseh, earning and deserving the respect of your peers and prospering by your continued good deeds.

We also ask that God make our daughters like the matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. Anne, may you be like our matriarchs, the diligent manager of your household and strong protector of your family.”

At the end of the day, the oldest biblical history of our separate religions is the same. The past two thousand years may have led us down different paths, but the desire to make our world a better place and dreams for our children are the same. The reverence and respect that Sam and Anne have shown to their different religious faiths offers us all hope as it has provided us opportunities to learn from and about each other. I don’t deny that our uniqueness is important, but finding a way to weave our separate threads into a tapestry of new traditions that can envelop us all should be our goal.

Rabbi Robyn Frisch shares a few more personal words:

Robyn Frisch

Monsignor Hopkins & Rabbi Frisch co-officiating the wedding

I met Sam and his family 13 years ago when I came to work at the congregation where Sam grew up. The Goodmans have been good family friends since then, and I have always admired the way that Sam’s parents navigated their own interfaith marriage. It has been a true pleasure for me to get to know Sam and Anne together as a couple for the past year. When Lindsey Silken mentioned many months ago that she was looking for a new couple to be wedding bloggers for InterfaithFamily, I knew that Sam and Anne would be perfect! Here is a piece of what I said to them at their wedding ceremony.

“Over the last year I’ve had the joy of getting to know you as a couple and of reading your blogs about your relationship.  I’ve been so touched by the respect you have for one another.  It’s rare to meet someone in their 20’s who has such a connection to both family and religion – such an awareness of their heritage – as each of you do.  You’ve probably both heard me say many times that I hope that when my kids grow up they have as deep a connection to their Judaism as the three Goodman kids (Sam and his sisters) do.  Anne, I know that you too respect this about Sam – just as he respects your bonds to Catholicism.

Rather than being scared of each other’s bonds to your religions, you both admire that in one another and you have let this draw you together.  Rather than either of you trying to convince the other to believe or to worship the way that you do, you’ve explored each other’s religious traditions to learn what is meaningful to your partner.  You’ve accompanied each other for family holidays and for worship – and your families have engaged in “Theology on Tap” sessions, combining both of your loves for learning, for holy scripture, and for a good beer.

Neither of you expects the other to compromise in a way that isn’t sincere; nor do you compromise your own practices or beliefs.  Rather, you navigate your own unique path – together.”

Congratulations to Anne and Sam from everyone at InterfaithFamily!