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By Karl Gierach
My fiancé and I did not grow up in different religious traditions. Sherrita was raised in Detroit as a Christian, attending Episcopalian, Baptist and Pentecostal services. I was also raised as a Christian—a Lutheran in the Detroit suburbs with a very conservatively evangelical upbringing. I attended 14 years of Lutheran school and during high school, I started having doubts regarding several aspects of the Christian faith. In college, as those doubts intensified, I felt drawn to Judaism. Upon introspection and research into the religious traditions, I ultimately converted to Judaism in 2007.
A decade of various levels of observance, becoming a member of congregations and attending a Birthright Israel trip led me to feeling confident and positive about my Jewish identity in the face of family disapproval. Overall, the Jewish community has been warm and welcoming with occasional mild confusion, typically from younger people.
Because I had struggled with acceptance both outside and inside the Jewish community, I wanted to date and ultimately marry a Jewish woman. After all, I wouldn’t want my children’s Jewish identity questioned the way mine had been, but I realized that my Jewish faith and personal practice had less to do with creating Jewish babies than with encountering and struggling with the divine and engaging the outside world. And then, I met Sherrita online in 2014.
After talking online for about a week, we were smitten and went on several amazing dates in rapid succession. We were engaged two years later in March of 2016. Happily, and newly, cohabitating in Detroit’s Cass Corridor/Midtown area, we unexpectedly learned that Sherrita was accepted at the Drexel University College of Medicine and would start the next week. We hurriedly said our goodbyes because I had to stay on to finish my semester of culinary school and work at a country club. I planned to join Sherrita in Philadelphia in the last week of 2016. The time apart only intensified our love, making us realize the gift of supporting each other in pursuit of our goals. Getting married was the best possible decision!
Once we entered the planning stages of marriage, Sherrita did not hesitate to say that she would like to have a Jewish wedding. She knew that it was important to me and wanted to support this new interfaith family that we were starting. I began the search for wedding venues in local churches, wanting to express my love and commitment for Sherrita more than any particular religious or cultural sentiment. However, the further along we got in planning, the happier I was with the Jewish direction we were taking.
We had vastly differing experiences in attending weddings—mine were more religious and hers were not. In both of our experiences, though, there were readings of the vows and both partners saying “I do” once the clergy said their part.
Once we found the rabbi who would perform our ceremony, we both learned what was involved in a Jewish wedding. As a person who loves to learn, Sherrita was excited about new terminology and traditions that were going to be a part of our family and that we could share with our extended family.
But the one thing that Sherrita wanted for the wedding was to say, “I do.” She didn’t know that it would not be part of a traditional Jewish ceremony. It seemed so trivial, but it made her wonder: Had she ever actually stopped to think if she really did want to have a Jewish wedding ceremony?
Sherrita had not been a practicing Christian in recent years and neither of us were interested in having our wedding co-officiated. But Sherrita hadn’t fully reconciled the idea of our wedding being the start of an interfaith family. We both thought that it would be easier to only have one religion present in the ceremony, but Sherrita was getting concerned that she could be losing part of her identity. After several meetings with our rabbi, she suggested we change the wording of vows in the ketubah so that they could be answered as questions with “I do.”
Even though our concerns are often still present as we continue planning for the big day, we are always able to work through them. We continually commit to hearing each other and compromising when necessary. And now, with just over a month to go until our wedding, we could not be more excited!
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.