Finding Your Officiant

  

One of the first decisions a couple has to make in planning for their wedding ceremony is who will officiate.  When planning a Jewish wedding incorporating multiple faith backgrounds, you have a number of options as to who can be your officiant. You may choose to have solely Jewish clergy (a rabbi or cantor—for the sake of simplicity, we will just refer to “rabbis” from now on, but note that most cantors can officiate just as a rabbi can); to have Jewish clergy co-officiate with a clergy member of a different faith; or not to have clergy at all.

Jewish Clergy Only

If you want to have Jewish clergy officiate your wedding ceremony, there are some things you should know. While Reform, Reconstructionist and Renewal rabbis are permitted to officiate interfaith wedding ceremonies, not all do so, and some who do have certain conditions that must be met in order for them to officiate. Conservative and Orthodox rabbis, on the other hand, are not permitted to officiate interfaith weddings. This means that you or your partner may have a rabbi you grew up with that you had always dreamed would officiate your wedding ceremony and they may not be allowed to officiate interfaith weddings, may choose not to do so or may not be comfortable officiating the type of wedding you are planning.

The best way to find out if a rabbi is able and willing to officiate your wedding ceremony is to inform them of your plans as early as possible in your planning and to ask if they can and will officiate. It’s important to run the date by them, as most rabbis will not officiate on Shabbat or the evening before a Jewish holiday. If a rabbi you know isn’t able to officiate, or if you don’t have a relationship with a rabbi, then InterfaithFamily’s Jewish clergy referral service is a resource that can help. Just fill out the officiation request form, and we’ll email you, free of charge, a curated list of rabbis and cantors in your area who are likely to be a good fit for the type of wedding you’re planning. We also refer Jewish clergy that may be willing to travel.

Jewish Clergy Co-officiate with Clergy of Another Faith

Most rabbis and cantors who officiate interfaith weddings are not willing to co-officiate with clergy of another faith, though the number who will do so is growing. If you’re using InterfaithFamily’s clergy referral service and you’re looking for a rabbi to co-officiate, please check the appropriate box on the online form.

Good, clear communication is essential when working with two officiants. Many clergy (of any faith) who are willing to co-officiate may have conditions for doing so, and some will want to make case-specific decisions about what they are comfortable doing. Good communication between the officiants, and between you and both officiants, is crucial so that no one feels blindsided or misunderstood. Some rabbis who co-officiate will recommend specific local clergy of other faiths with whom they enjoy working.

Wedding Ceremonies Without Clergy

You can choose to get married without having a rabbi or cantor, or any other clergy for that matter. Hiring a justice of the peace, judge or non-denominational officiant are all options. You can also arrange to have a friend deputized by the state to act as your officiant. Good communication is key when working with officiants who may be unfamiliar with the family dynamics or other issues sometimes in play in interfaith weddings.

If you decide to go this route, there are many resources you can consult to incorporate Jewish ritual and cultural elements into your ceremony. See the Sample ceremonies and definitions for wedding programs section of IFF’s Jewish Wedding Guide for Interfaith Couples for some good ideas.

Questions to Ask Clergy and Clergy Fees

You should feel free to ask any questions of the clergy you contact, including questions about fees. It is important to feel comfortable with someone before you make the commitment to have them join in your special day.

Your first conversation with a prospective officiant is your “interview,” and it’s your main opportunity to discern whether this person is a good fit for you and your partner. Here are some questions you may want to ask:

  1. Are you willing to work with us to craft the content of the ceremony, and do you have limitations on how flexible you’re willing to be about the ceremony? (For example, if you’re a couple that prefers little to no God language, this is the time to ask.)
  2. What do you charge for a fee, and when do you need to be paid? Do you use a letter of agreement?
  3. How much time are you willing to spend with us and/or members of our family if there are important issues or family dynamics that require sensitivity?
  4. How far are you willing to travel to a wedding venue, and what travel reimbursement might you need?
  5. How would you describe your approach to working with interfaith couples?
  6. Do you have ritual limitations or restrictions that we might not be aware of?
  7. How much Hebrew and English can we expect in the service, and how do you work to help guests who aren’t Jewish feel included?
  8. Do you do dress rehearsals?
  9. Do you have references we can contact (i.e. other couples)?

After your initial conversation, the most important thing is for you and your partner to decide whether or not you feel comfortable, supported and respected.

As for fees, Jewish clergy fees vary greatly (and are often greater than the fees of clergy of other faiths) though generally they fall somewhere between $500 – $1,500, depending on many variables. Fees may include travel costs, or reflect the amount of necessary pre-marital work. They also vary by region. Many rabbis and cantors offer a sliding scale if finances are an obstacle—don’t be afraid to ask for a fee reduction if this is a factor.

Here’s what’s going into the fee: Rabbis bring years of seminary training into their work with couples, and often spend considerable time preparing the wedding ceremony according to the specific needs of each couple. In interfaith weddings, rabbis work with each unique couple to craft a sensitive, respectful and meaningful ceremony that strives to balance the aesthetics of Jewish ritual with the need for some cultural translation for family members and guests of other faiths.

When they hire a rabbi, couples are choosing to pay for a professional to create a sacred moment that they will remember forever. It’s useful to think about the clergy fee alongside the other costs associated with weddings today. The expertise and care couples look for in a wedding cake, a DJ or a photographer all come with fees, and clergy also need to make a living.

Finally, for co-officiated weddings, remember to include clergy fees for both officiants in your budget.

More Resources:

Are You Keeping Your Guests in the Dark?

  

Recently, an amazing Jewish wedding program infographic was posted in our Facebook group for Jewish interfaith weddings (planning a wedding? Join us!), and we all flipped over how pretty and easy to follow it was. What a perfect way to help guests who aren’t familiar with Jewish weddings to understand what’s going on. Jewish weddings have many beautiful rituals, and I wanted to connect with the artist behind the program (Ling’s Design Studio) to see where she got the idea and how she helps couples create inclusive wedding ceremonies. Spoiler: She’s never been to a Jewish wedding! Who’s going to invite her so she can see it firsthand?

And for those of you who have a wedding coming up and want to purchase these beautiful programs from Ling? Check out this interfaith-friendly, egalitarian, customizable design we love. Happy planning!

Why is it important for couples to have a wedding program—in particular couples who come from two different faith backgrounds?

Ling: Having a wedding program for a couple is more than just about what you’d like to inform your guests with in regards to the order of your wedding ceremony; it’s all about getting the “personal touch” to make it more fun nowadays. I have not been to a Jewish wedding before, but I’ve learned so much from creating the program from my clients. With two people coming from different faith backgrounds, it’s definitely helpful to have it to show your guests who are not Jewish what Jewish wedding customs are all about.

In this particular program, your guests will be learning Jewish wedding customs through the fun infographic. It’s a fun way to break away from the traditional wedding programs we used to have!

How did you start creating programs for weddings?

As I began to accept custom orders, I was asked to design a Jewish infographic design for a buyer. This particular Jewish program was how it all started. Since then, the item became very popular in the Jewish community.

Are there any other customs or traditions that couples can include in their program aside from what’s listed in the sample Jewish program?

Absolutely! Every wedding is different. Couple “A” may not have the same customs from their wedding as Couple “B”. I often have buyers ask to add or omit some items from the program. If the couple provides me the info, I’d be happy to modify the program. (Please note that there will be additional charges depending on the complexity of the requests.)

Do you ever have couples ask for a program that describes multiple religions or cultures?

I haven’t had that request yet but I do take any custom orders.

What are some other customizations people have asked for?

Some couples would ask to include “Hakafot,” “Kiddush Cup” and “Yichud.” One buyer also asked me to list out each blessing of “Sheva Brachot.” I also made a timeline, and added a thank you note.

What has been most interesting or surprising to you to learn about Jewish weddings while creating these programs?

I learned that Jewish weddings are very cultural with many beautiful meanings for a couple. Most of the customs are about the couple and their family. It really emphasizes the connection and union between the bride and groom. One of the interesting things is that I never knew that the right index finger has the closest bloodline to the heart before I created this program. I thought this was very special.

Q&A with Anita Diamant on The Jewish Wedding Now

  

Anita Diamant and The Jewish Wedding Now

By InterfaithFamily

How is this version of your wedding book more inclusive of all who identify as Jewish or are marrying into a Jewish family?

AD: This edition of the book reflects the fact that the chuppah, the wedding canopy, has never been bigger or more inclusive. The Jewish Wedding Now addresses the advent of marriage equality, and the language throughout embraces people of all gender identities. I also discuss the diversity of people who are not Jewish but choose marry under a chuppah. Just as there is no generic Jewish wedding, there is no such thing as THE “interfaith wedding.” It’s all about making choices that are meaningful and authentic for the couple under the canopy.

How can the book be helpful for someone who is not Jewish or is not sure they want Jewish rituals at their wedding?

The book is intended to help people of any background decide which, if any, Jewish rituals, can help them create the wedding they want. I hope the tone and language of the book is clear, jargon-free and inclusive, so that the Jewish rituals described are doorways, never barriers. I hope that couples are surprised and delighted to learn about the varieties of joy that are woven through the customs and rituals of Jewish weddings.

What is your greatest hope for what a couple from different religious backgrounds would take away from this book?

I hope couples feel empowered by learning about Judaism’s wealth of customs, rituals, wisdom and insights, and I hope they feel encouraged to make use of what speaks to them. There are countless ways that Jewish tradition can enrich a wedding ceremony and I hope couples see Judaism as a source of joy and spiritual expression.

Two Faiths Becoming One Family

  
Zach cooking latkes

Zach making curried latkes for Hanukkah

I recently joined a Facebook group that InterfaithFamily started to connect couples planning interfaith weddings (join here!). As I’ve mentioned in a few of my posts, Zach and I have our wedding pretty well planned already, and we’ve been working with great officiants to create a beautiful, meaningful and inclusive ceremony. I joined the group because I’ve realized during this process that the choice we made with this wedding to include and celebrate both traditions–to make both families feel welcome and represented–is a challenge and opportunity that we will continue to face in our married life.

I’ve mentioned a book called Being Both by Susan Katz Miller that solidified our decision to marry. The book isn’t about weddings; rather, it’s about what happens after. That was our biggest question in deciding to get married: What would we do if and when we decided to have children?

Meanwhile, what I had heard from clergy, both Jewish and Catholic, was that “being both” was not an option. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops claims that religious leaders agree that raising children of interfaith marriages exclusively in one religious tradition is best. While this may be true, I had a hard time finding studies on the alternative, save for Miller’s book. Additionally, both Zach and I felt that a piece of us would be missing from our future family if our future child or children was or were raised exclusively in one tradition. Being Both offers examples of families and congregations that enable families to participate in both traditions fully, rather than having one or more family members as a spectator to that tradition.

couple standing in front of a lit-up Christmas tree

Laura and Zach by her parents’ Christmas tree, 2015

I’m not entirely sure what the right answer is for us, but reading that book made me realize that our family might not feel completely at home in either tradition, because of our desire to not just respect but incorporate both traditions into our one family. As a Catholic woman from a Catholic family, where we get together for baptisms and First Communions, that is a realization that, honestly, I still struggle with.

But I draw strength in my conviction that the benefits outweigh the negatives. I’ve already written about how well Zach and I complement each other, and I also see a unique calling or mission in creating an interfaith family. I love celebrating Jewish holidays with Zach, and I can’t wait to share those beliefs, prayers and family traditions with our children. Similarly, when I go to church on Sunday, I think about sharing with them my family’s stories, beliefs and rituals. I think our overall desire is to raise children comfortable and familiar with both traditions, who see and appreciate God in all forms. Because, when it comes down to it, I see God in my relationship with Zach, and I refuse to be bound by the lines our religious communities have drawn around us. Our love is boundless, and our family will be too. That’s been the biggest realization for me in this process–we’re starting something new, that no one in either of our families has done before, but connecting to the larger interfaith community, with families who have years of experience before interfaith marriage became commonplace, is so valuable.

I recently decided to take the last name Drescher. I struggled with the decision for a while. I like my name as it is: Laura Rose Free. I like the connection that “Free” gives me to my family. I like the pun possibilities (bachelorette hashtag: #freeasilleverbe). But marriage signifies the start of something new–of two people coming together as one, acting as partners, and making decisions together. For me, taking the last name Drescher is a step in that direction; it’s an act that symbolizes that change for me. In addition to all of the practical reasons, this symbolism made me decide that I want to change my name. I’m not saying it’s the right decision for all couples, but I feel it’s the right decision for us–it’s the first step toward the new family that we’re starting. I’m thankful to have this community to support us and show us the ways they have chosen to create new families and traditions.

Chuppah: Your First “Home”

  

By Maria Bywater

Chuppah - the first "home" for the engaged couple

I grew up in a large, close Catholic family, so when I got married in a Jewish wedding ceremony, finding meaningful roles for everyone in my family proved challenging. I had converted to Judaism, and the rabbi required that the roles linked to Jewish ritual—–signing the ketubah (Jewish marriage contract) and reciting the Seven Blessings, for example—be filled by people who were Jewish. Eventually, I figured it out: I asked my two sisters and two of my brothers to hold the poles of the chuppah, the wedding canopy under which the ceremony took place (you’ll also see it spelled “huppah” and “huppa”).

Looking back, what I remember most about the ceremony was how comfortable I was standing there, in that space under the chuppah, surrounded by so many people who represented important parts of my life. I didn’t feel nervous. I felt supported. I felt at home because the chuppah is symbolic of the marrying couples’ home—both their physical home and the spiritual home they’ll build together. And today, as a chuppah designer and founder of Huppahs.com, I specialize in hand-held chuppahs.

The chuppah is a deeply traditional element of the Jewish wedding ceremony, but also one with a great deal of flexibility as far as what style you use, which makes it a great opportunity to make the ceremony your own, whether you use a hand-held or free-standing version, want something large or small, formal or casual, traditional or modern, or simply or elaborately decorated.

If you didn’t grow up hearing a lot of Hebrew, like me, the only really intimidating thing about using a chuppah might be the moment you first try to pronounce the word out loud in front of someone. It has that back of the throat “h” sound at the beginning. It’s the same sound as at the beginning of the word “Chanukkah.” People pronounce Chanukkah all kinds of different ways, so however you pronounce the first sound in the word “Chanukkah” is a good way to pronounce the first sound in the word “chuppah.”

And really, once you’re past the pronunciation, it’s on to the fun stuff.

Handheld or freestanding?

Chuppah freestandingThere are two basic styles of chuppah: handheld—the kind I used—and freestanding. Both kinds have a canopy held up by four poles. The difference is that a freestanding chuppah will have more structure so that it stands on its own.

Traditionally, the chuppah is open on all four sides, in a nod to the first Jewish couple, the Torah’s Abraham and Sarah, who traditionally kept the four sides of their tent open to welcome guests.

Hand-held chuppahs hark back to when the custom of using a chuppah first arose in Europe in the Middle Ages. Young boys would escort the bride from her home to the ceremony location, holding the canopy over her head like royalty on procession through the city. There’s even an official name for the chuppah bearers: unterferers, which means “supporters.”

To use a hand-held chuppah for your ceremony, you can have the chuppah bearers lead the procession or enter from the side of the ceremony space just before the procession begins. Aside from the links to tradition and community, a hand-held chuppah works great when your ceremony space doubles as your reception venue and you need to move the chuppah out of the way quickly.

For a chuppah that is set in place when the guests arrive, choose a freestanding chuppah, with bases to hold the bottom of the poles or a frame with supports connecting the poles at their tops. Using a frame is pretty much a must if you want a large chuppah, if the canopy is heavy or if you want to add drapery or a lot of decoration.

What size?

You’ll want enough square footage under the canopy for the couple, the officiant and a small table for the wine and other ritual items. It can be as small as 60 inches by 60 inches. Generally, poles that are seven to eight feet tall work well for small to medium sized canopies, although you’ll also find taller versions for a dramatic look.

Where to Get a Chuppah

Some synagogues, wedding venues, florists, and event rental companies have a chuppah to borrow or rent. If you’re interested in this option, be sure to check the condition of the chuppah early in your wedding planning process. Ask the chuppah provider if they set up and take down the chuppah and if there are extra fees for delivery and set up.

You can also buy or rent a chuppah or chuppah kit online. You’ll find both commercial and artisanal versions. If you want a custom design, look for an artist on Etsy or other sites selling handmade items. My company, huppahs.com, rents different styles of chuppahs as well as canopies and poles if you only need one or the other.

For the canopy, you can use a tallit or tablecloth that you have on hand, especially if it has special meaning to you. Just make sure the fabric is in good shape and will hold up to being secured to the poles.

Another great option is to make the chuppah yourself or have someone make it for you. You can choose the form and materials that work best for the wedding you want to create, and you can let your style shine.

If you’re looking for a wedding role for someone who is not familiar with the Jewish wedding ceremony, asking them to help create your chuppah can be a great way to include them. Depending on the chuppah you envision, there can be roles for sewists, fabric painters, embroiderers, weavers and other textile artists as well as folks with light construction skills.

DIY Advice

My book, Sew Jewish, includes instructions for making a chuppah canopy and poles, but here are some guidelines to keep in mind if you’re designing your own.

For the canopy, choose fabric that is lightweight, doesn’t stretch, and looks good from both sides. A canopy made heavy by the fabric or extensive needlework can make holding the poles or attaching the canopy securely to the frame difficult. If the canopy is lightweight and not too large, add some combination of loops, reinforced holes or ties to enable you to attach the corners to the supporting poles or frame. If the canopy is large or heavy, make sleeves on the edges of the canopy to fit into supports running across the top of the chuppah frame.

Hand-held chuppah

Popular materials for the structure are wood, dowels and tree branches, especially birch branches. PVC piping is also a popular choice for frames when you plan to cover the pipes with drapery.

If different people will be providing your canopy and poles or frame, make sure you know how they’ll fit together before anyone gets to work. Ideally, put the whole chuppah together for a trial run well before your wedding day so that you can make adjustments if you need to.

Whatever style of wedding you choose, with all the chuppah options available to you, you’re sure to find one that feels like home.

Maria Bywater is the founder of Huppahs.com, the leading national wedding chuppah rental company and author of the book Sew Jewish: The 18 Projects You Need for Jewish Holidays, Weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvah Celebrations, and Home. She lives in New York’s Mid-Hudson River Valley amid her large, close family.

Not Saying “I Do”

  

By Karl Gierach

Karl & Sherrita didn't grow up Jewish, but are planning a Jewish wedding

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!

Breaking the Dating Rules

  

By Nataliya Naydorf

Nataliya and her fiance & breaking the dating rules.

“I don’t think being with someone who isn’t Jewish compromises my Judaism.” I said to my fiancĂ© on our first date. “As long as my partner is open, tolerant and willing to learn about my traditions, I can’t say it would be a huge issue.”

He had asked me whether I was OK with dating someone who wasn’t Jewish and how I reconciled that with my beliefs. Our original plan was to play pool, but instead we ended up sitting and talking for four-and-a-half hours about everything that you’re not supposed to talk about on the first date. At that point, we had most definitely broken the cardinal rule of first dates by discussing politics, religion and children. Let’s just say that I’m not great at being subtle and knew it was a good sign that he didn’t try to flee the scene.

I met Andy when we were working on the same project at a consulting firm in Washington, DC. Our first non-work related conversation occurred after our building was evacuated during the district’s earthquake in 2011. We bonded over our shared anxiety about using public restrooms. Afterwards, we began to speak more frequently and eventually began dating.

Our first date conversation regarding religion was only the beginning of our continuedNataliya and Andy photo shoot on street dialogue. As we became closer and our relationship grew more serious, we learned to traverse our religious differences together. I am a Ukrainian Jew who identifies most with Conservative Judaism. While I am not shomer Shabbat (I do not keep to the strict rules around observing Shabbat, such as not using electricity), I do keep kosher, go to Shabbat services at least once a month, and make sure to light candles and say kiddush on Fridays. Andy was raised Catholic but dislikes organized religion and considers himself somewhere in between agnostic and atheist.

Thankfully, one of the most significant strengths of our relationship is our ability to communicate effectively. Our conversations regarding religion, while sometimes difficult, have been meaningful and have helped us to better understand each other.

When our relationship became serious and more questions regarding religion arose, I realized that I wasn’t able to answer many of them. While I was following some traditions and was involved in Jewish learning, there were still many things I was ignorant about. In the past, I had assumed that my partner would be Jewish and would be in charge of most of the religious traditions. When I realized that I would be the partner that would take that role in our home, I began to learn as much as I could. With the full support of Andy, I took a six month sabbatical from work to study Torah and Talmud at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. It was an amazing experience that helped me to take more control over my religious beliefs and practices.

As we spoke of marriage and children, Andy devoted time to learning more about Judaism too. It was already a part of our lives in terms of food and Friday nights, which resulted in him being extremely knowledgeable about kashrut and the Shabbat songs and prayers. He furthered his education by reading books about Judaism and Jewish history, especially This is My God by Herman Wouk. Additionally, we took an introduction to Judaism class and attended an interfaith workshop at the DC JCC.

When we first started planning our wedding a year ago, I had a feeling that one of the hardest things would be to find a rabbi who would marry us, be supportive and be willing to perform a traditional Jewish ceremony that was inclusive of friends and family. However, there turned out to be many resources for finding a rabbi to perform an interfaith wedding, including Unorthodox Celebrations and InterfaithFamily’s referral service for finding officiants.

Unfortunately, after speaking with several rabbis, I did not feel a true connection with any of them. Feeling ready to give up, I decided to do my own research. We are getting married near a small Virginia town which happens to have a Reform synagogue. On a whim, I called the synagogue and asked them if their rabbi performs interfaith ceremonies. The very helpful gentleman on the phone told me that the current rabbi does not and it crushed me. Fortunately, he then told me that their previous rabbi who had just retired did and gave me his contact information. It turned out to be perfect. The rabbi’s wife’s family was also from Ukraine and we had a lot in common. We met with him recently to plan the ceremony.

Nataliya and Andy engagement photoAndy and I decided together that our ceremony would be Jewish, but would still be inclusive of our friends and family who are not Jewish. Our go-to wedding book was A New Jewish Wedding by Anita Diamant (she has a new version that just came out, The Jewish Wedding Now). It helped us tremendously with finding traditions that resonated with the both of us. After reading the book, we worked closely with our rabbi to discuss the parts of a Jewish wedding that we wanted to include. One of those elements includes a ketubah, which we are getting through Ketubah.com.

We are including both of our sisters as witnesses and used InterfaithFamily’s “Choosing an Interfaith Ketubah” resource to create our custom ketubah text. We will also be having a chuppah with two friends and two family members as chuppah holders, a tnaim ceremony for our mothers and yichud, which is a short interlude after the wedding ceremony where Andy and I can have a moment to ourselves during what will be a happy, albeit chaotic, day.

Because we had so many resources to aid us in planning our wedding, because we had the support of a rabbi and because of our ability to communicate our thoughts and feelings about religion, planning our wedding has not only been incredibly meaningful, but it has strengthened our love and commitment to each other. We are three months out from our wedding day and we can’t wait to say “Cheers,” “L’chaim” and “Nazdarovye” with all of our friends and family.

 

Ketubah: The Bass-line of Our Marriage (Get it? Like a tuba)

  

One of the items that we needed to tick off our Wedding To-Do List this month was ordering the ketubah. As an interfaith, same-sex couple, we were looking for a text that spoke to the myriad possibilities of what it means to be in a loving, committed relationship. In a moment in the wedding industry when interfaith and same-sex ketubah texts are relatively scarce, we were happy to find something that struck a chord with us.

The Church of England doesn’t have anything similar to a ketubah. The traditional wedding ceremony involves words and vows that have remained more or less the same since the Book of Common Prayer wedding service was first codified in the 17th Century. Our own wedding ceremony will combine these long-recited vows with elements of the Jewish tradition, so we won’t be taking the opportunity to express our more personal thoughts about marriage within the service itself (partly because the Church of England vows are very meaningful and beautiful, and partly because Vanessa would become a blubbering wreck). So, the ketubah felt like a wonderful opportunity for us to reflect on our conception of marriage and to verbalize our priorities and commitments for the years ahead.

A small preview of our ketubah

A sneak peek at our ketubah!

In the end, we decided to choose a ketubah that encompasses more of a poetic, abstract notion of love. The design is relatively abstract too: an impressionistic tree with blue and gold leaves, with its roots drawing strength from the text underneath. Our ketubah tells the story of a partnership between two people using beautiful metaphor, but a metaphor that is rooted in concrete behavior.

Wedding planning can be stressful, and we’re combining it with finishing our graduate degrees and looking for jobs: So when we read our ketubah text that speaks of supporting each other’s dreams and comforting each other’s sorrows, we know that the beautifully-illustrated document is not just for show. The line that describes holding each other in both our arms and our hearts has never seemed more appropriate than in recent weeks, as we’ve huddled together under a blanket on our sofa, escaping the delightfully chilly weather/miserable freezing temperatures (depending on who you ask).

So, the ketubah is on its way. Many more things remain on the Wedding To-Do List, the vast majority of which relate to a single day. But this is one element of our planning that we’ll see every day for the rest of our lives, throughout our entire marriage.

First Come the Holidays, Then Comes Marriage

  

Michele & VanessaWe’re Michele and Vanessa, and we’re getting married on April 30, 2017. Michele is Jewish and grew up just outside Philadelphia; Vanessa was raised in the Church of England (more or less equivalent to the Episcopal Church) a little outside London in the U.K. We got engaged in May 2015, and are thrilled to be counting down to the big day and our interfaith celebration.

Amidst our wedding planning (more on that another time), we’re also—like everyone else—planning our holiday celebrations. This is a pretty big year for us, as it’s our first Christmas in the U.S. For the last couple of years, we’ve gone to the U.K. and celebrated with Vanessa’s family; but this year we’re staying in Philly. For a while, I (Vanessa) was pretty sad: This is the first Christmas in 31 years that I won’t be with my family, watching my sister stare with trepidation through the oven door at the cauliflower cheese and roast potatoes and listening to my mum attempt the descants to Christmas carols on TV. But talking this over with Michele, and planning the holidays with her has brought me a lot of joy, as I’ve realized that this is actually a really exciting opportunity: We get to figure out how we can create our own traditions, and not just do whatever our families do, as we celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah.

This has led me to seek out cookie cutters in the shapes of dreidels and reindeer, menorahs and Christmas trees, and a variety of stars, both five- and six-pointed. I did a dance of delight in the Dollar Plus when I found Hanukkah garlands next to the Christmas tinsel. We started our own collection of tree ornaments that we’ll keep adding to each year, with a classy otter bauble from the Vancouver Aquarium on the first vacation we took together that didn’t involve either of our families. Our hope is that, in a few years’ time, our tree will be covered in ornaments that represent memories from our lives together. These things might sound frivolous, but for us, they symbolize the joining of our lives and our traditions; albeit in sparkly and (hopefully) delicious forms.

More seriously, we’ve had to negotiate with family members what holiday events we’re going to, with Hanukkah brunches and parties surrounding Christmas church services and the first Christmas dinner hosted by us for Michele’s family (complete with British stuffing and Christmas cake, sent all the way from England by my mum). We’ve had to think about what’s really important to us in terms of our own traditions, and about what elements we want to share with each other. I want to go to Christmas services because it’s important for me to hear a choir welcoming Christmas in with “Adeste Fidelis,” but I’m happy to let the cauliflower cheese go as we make the dinner kosher-style. Latkes are fairly high on Michele’s priority list, but being all together and visiting the various branches of her family is even higher.

It’s easy to get caught up in the mania of present-buying, tree-decorating, cookie-eating and playlist-curating, and to be honest I’m definitely enjoying all those parts. But Michele and I are able to use those things to have conversations about what the holidays mean to us, how our families traditionally celebrate them, and what we want them to be like in our married life together. Of course, I’ll still miss my family—but this December, I’ll be surrounded by the love of my new family, Michele and all the Zipkins, and I can’t wait. It’s a timely reminder that our wedding planning isn’t just about working toward a wedding, but a marriage. I feel incredibly lucky that we’re getting a head start on building our traditions for that marriage this year. Even if I’m covered in powdered sugar and my reindeer cookies look more like dogs.

Advice from the Other Side: How We Planned Our Jewish, Catholic, Spanish Wedding

  

By Sarah Martinez Roth
Photos by Celia D. Luna Weddings

Sarah's wedding ceremony

How We Met

Growing up Catholic, I knew I wanted to marry a man of faith; however, when I met Jonathan, I realized maybe things were not so black and white, and maybe faith in God was what I was searching for.

Jonathan and I met our freshman year at Colby College in Maine. While in college, we grew closer as friends and I got the chance to admire his commitment to his faith as a friend before we started dating. Even though Jonathan grew up in a Conservative Jewish household, he was very much aware of what being Catholic meant since his mother converted to Judaism from Catholicism before she got married. In addition to celebrating all of the Jewish holidays, Jonathan’s parents would celebrate the Christian holidays with his mother’s family. I think growing up in that background made Jonathan more open to dating me. Conversely, I grew up without the exposure to the same level of religious diversity, so I was not sure how my family would react.

Soon after we graduated, I remember having a conversation with my mother and asking her what she would think if I started dating Jonathan. She said: “Sarah, he believes in the same God. As long as you communicate and are open and honest about what you want, you will be just fine.” I took her advice, and we started our relationship soon after.

Finding Clergy

As we began to plan our wedding we knew we wanted to tie together our Jewish and Catholic faiths. Our situation was especially unique, since Jonathan is a Conservative Jew, I am Catholic and we were having an outdoor wedding ceremony. We needed clergy that would be accommodating to all three of those things. After many months of searching, we were honored to have my husband’s childhood rabbi and the priest that confirmed me marry us.

Our Aufruf

Our wedding weekend began with our aufruf, which technically translates to “calling up,” at Jonathan’s childhood synagogue. An aufruf is a custom where the bride and groom are called up in front of the congregation, usually during a Shabbat service, to be welcomed by the Jewish community. We invited both sides of our immediate family to our aufruf, where Jonathan and I were both asked to join the rabbi on the bimah and participate in the service by saying the blessings over the challah and wine.

Signing the ketubahThe cantor sang “All of Me” by John Legend in Hebrew, which we thought was very meaningful because my family, who doesn’t understand Hebrew, was able to recognize the song. At the end of our aufruf, the congregation threw little candies at us, which represented sweet blessings for our marriage.

Signing Our Ketubah

Traditionally, it is two male non-family members who are Jewish that sign the ketubah, the Jewish marriage contract. Adhering to that rule would mean that no one on my side would be able to sign such an important document in my life.

I mustered up the courage to ask our rabbi if I could have someone from my side sign it, and he said of course; there is no rule that three people could not sign it. So in the end, our ketubah was signed by my husband’s best man, a close family friend of my husband’s family and my godmother.

The Ceremony

Jewish wedding - circling

One of the most memorable parts of our wedding to me was the circling tradition. In Judaism, when the bride circles the groom seven times it represents the creation of our new family circle and the intertwining of our lives together. This was a beautiful moment for me because as I circled Jonathan I felt our lives truly becoming one. Our rabbi suggested that my mother and mother-in-law help me with my veil and dress while I circled Jonathan. Even though that moment was supposed to be about the new home Jonathan and I were creating, it was reassuring to know that our families would always be right behind us to support us.

Sarah's husband breaks the glass

We wanted our wedding to be as traditional to both faiths as possible. Our rabbi kept the structure of the traditional Jewish wedding in its entirety until before the breaking of the glass, when our priest shared a reading from the New Testament, followed by a homily and blessing over our marriage. Then they both pronounced us husband and wife. Given that my family is bilingual, it was important to me to have the Spanish language included on our wedding day, and our priest was more than willing to conduct the reading and homily in both English and Spanish.

Our chuppah, or wedding canopy, was made from white birch wood, which reflected our roots from college in Maine, and the tallis (prayer shawl), which covered our chuppah, was my father-in-law’s and was handmade in Israel.

Under the chuppah

Our vows were a unique part of our wedding—we completed the traditional Jewish ring exchange in Hebrew and in English: “Behold, you are consecrated unto me with this ring in accordance with the Law of Moses and the People of Israel.” After that, we exchanged our own personal words.

At the end of our ceremony, the last prayer, called the Priestly Blessing, was sung by our rabbi in Hebrew and our priest in English. We were wrapped by both of them in my husband’s tallis from his bar mitzvah. At that moment it really felt like we became husband and wife.

My Advice to Couples

The kiss

My biggest piece of advice for couples planning their interfaith wedding is to not give up. Whatever your vision is, there will be someone who will help make it come true. Just have faith and don’t get discouraged. Planning a wedding can be very stressful, and at times overwhelming. When also trying to balance and manage the interfaith component to your wedding, it can get increasingly complex.

Create your vision for what you and your future spouse want, and I promise this will be the happiest day of your life. When you are standing next to your partner as you are committing yourselves to each other in holy matrimony during your unique and special ceremony, your different backgrounds and faiths will fuse together in the most beautiful moment of your life.

Are you planning a wedding? Find clergy from InterfaithFamily here.