Two Traditions United for a Perfect Wedding Weekend

  
bride with mom, dad, and sisters in purple dresses with bouquets

Laura’s parents and sisters

Laura's sister putting on her veil

A few weeks ago, I posted some pictures from our honeymoon along with an account of my first Yom Kippur fasting with my new husband. But, you may ask, how was the wedding? It was the event I’ve been planning and dreaming about for the past year-and-a-half that has taken my sweat and tears (thankfully no blood) for its own. And, it went off without a hitch.

Well, not entirely, but the few mishaps that did occur happened before the wedding day, which is a blur. I woke up on Saturday morning and went with my mom to our local church. It was bittersweet, because I had always assumed I would be married in that church, but it was a wonderful way to start the day—thoughtfully and peacefully in God’s presence. The monsignor at the parish even remembered about the wedding and announced it at the end of mass, extending the community’s prayers and good wishes for the day, and for our marriage.

When we got home, the whirlwind of preparations started—hair, makeup, dress and jewelry. My bridesmaids (my two sisters), my maid of honor (Sarah, my college-and-beyond friend) and my parents were all getting ready with me at my parents’ house, which made it really lovely, and about as relaxed as I could be. Before I knew it, the photographer was at the house and ready to take photos! I had lived my whole pre-adult life in this house, so having the photos at home was really important to me. The photographer was able to capture the importance of the house and my family in her photos.

On the way to the venue, I was so nervous and excited—more nervous than I’d been about almost anything else in my life. We got into the bridal suite for a few minutes to cool down with a glass of water before the ceremony started. In the bridal suite, there was a card and gift waiting for me from Zach. He had written me a beautiful message, and gifted me a mezuzah he had gotten on one of his trips to Israel (before which I had bugged him to get a mezuzah for the house and was puzzled why he’d never brought one home after the trip. Patience is not my strong suit.) Needless to say, it made me cry, and centered me in a way, knowing that the Zach I know and love was waiting for me a few (long) moments away.

Laura sitting and waiting for the ceremony to begin

Waiting in the tent for the ceremony to begin

The ceremony was also a blur, but what surprised me was the number of people who came up to us during the reception to tell us it was one of the most beautiful wedding ceremonies they had ever been to. People were really impressed with the way we seamlessly blended our two traditions, chose readings and readers that were meaningful to us, and included prayers that signified our desire to build a better world. I posted about the ceremony here, but the highlights are:

  • Two readings, one from the New Testament and one from the Old Testament
  • Recitation of vows and exchange of rings
  • The Seven Blessings, led by our fathers and culminating in the sharing of the wine using a goblet that Zach’s mother, Roberta, made
  • General Intercessions, which include prayers for the broader community
  • Benediction and breaking of the glass (which went everywhere but the napkin it was wrapped in)

Fr. Mike and Rabbi Bleefeld give a blessing

Before I knew it, we were walking back down the aisle—married! It definitely took some time to sink in. We took pictures with family, signed the ketubah with the rabbi and headed over to the reception to be introduced as Mr. and Mrs. Zach and Laura Drescher! The reception was a whirlwind of dances, dinner and toasts. We danced our first dance to “Stand By Me,” followed by my dance with my dad and a parents’ dance: Zach dancing with my mom and me dancing with Zach’s dad.

 

As the dance floor filled up, we tried to split our time between dancing and saying hello to folks sitting around the tables in the tent. Honestly, I was surprised at how quickly it went by and how little we got to see each individual person (we had about 100 people). I would start talking with one person, and then be pulled away to take a picture, or hit the dance floor, or say hi to another guest… It was so wonderful to be surrounded by all of the people we love. That was my favorite part of the day—having all of the people who have played different roles in our lives, and seen different parts of our stories, come together to celebrate this new chapter with us.

Before the wedding, Zach was lobbying hard for us to do something after the wedding—a party, a bar, something. I was pretty adamant that we would both be exhausted, but we left the door open for an informal option. When the reception wound down, I was surprised to find I had a lot of energy—I felt like I didn’t want the night to end! We decided to go with some friends to a bar near the hotel, just for one drink…which turned into three. It was surreal, to be in a bar, still in my wedding dress, catching up with old friends from college. It was a great opportunity to see some of the people who we’d barely had a chance to say hello to at the wedding and I’m so glad we took the opportunity to spend more time with friends who had traveled to spend the day with us.

The next morning we hosted a brunch at the hotel for our families, because many of them had traveled far to attend the wedding and we wanted another opportunity to hang out with them. It was a great continuation of the joy and celebration from the day before. Those who weren’t flying out were invited back to my parents’ house for an “open house”—drinks, sandwiches, etc.—during the afternoon. We got to see more family members there, said goodbye to our maid of honor and best man, and eventually wound down from the excitement of the wedding. It was wonderful to end the wedding weekend right where I’d started it—in my parents’ house, among family and friends. The only difference was, I was now married!

The cake

The new Mr. and Mrs. Zach and Laura Drescher!

The Ketubah/Marriage Contract

  

What is a Ketubah?

A ketubah is a Jewish marriage contract. In ancient times, a ketubah was a legally binding document, written in Aramaic (the vernacular of the time), describing a groom’s “acquiring” of a bride, and stating the amount that the groom would have to pay the bride in case of a divorce. There’s no mention of God, love or romance in a traditional ketubah. Modern liberal ketubot (plural) are typically spiritual, not legal, covenants between both partners, and ketubot for interfaith and same-sex couples abound. For example, ketubah.com has four different interfaith text options for couples to choose from.

In past generations, the ketubah was a simple document supplied by the rabbi, signed before the ceremony and filed away with the secular marriage certificate. Today, many couples choose  ketubot that have modern texts that they find meaningful and that are also works of art and a visual testament to the love and commitment of the couple. Many interfaith couples choose to have a ketubah and even make it a focal point of their wedding, reading it as part of the ceremony and displaying it on an easel for all their guests to view.

The ketubah text may detail how both partners will share responsibilities and resolve conflicts, the ways they will support and encourage each other throughout life, and/or the values they want to guide their marriage. Some interfaith couples even choose to mention their different religious heritages in their ketubah.

As Aliyah from Ketubah.com notes in her blog post: “The beauty of the modern ketubah is that it can have a text that means something to you personally and as a couple. The original purpose of the ketubah is still there but is elevated to mean more to you as a couple through your modern text.”

Aliyah and Rabbi Robyn Frisch, Director of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia joined for a Facebook Live about ketubot, which you can watch here.

Where do I find a Ketubah?

Ketubot are usually written in Hebrew and English (though they could be in just one or the other). Some couples choose to customize a ketubah with other languages that are personally meaningful to them. Beautiful customized ketubot have been created with three languages, adding to the Hebrew and English a language such as Chinese, Russian or Spanish.

You may choose to create your own personal ketubah, either because you have in mind a special design for your ketubah or because you’d like to write your own ketubah text—or perhaps both. There are ketubah artists who will work with you if a customized ketubah is your choice. You will need to commit to this process months before your wedding date to give due time to this process.

If you are artistic, you may decide that you want to make your own Ketubah—or you may want to ask an artistic family member or friend to make one for you. To read about how Hannah created her own DIY Ketubah, click here.

For sample language you can use in creating your own ketubah click here.

Regardless of if you are purchasing a ketubah or making one on your own, before you commit to any version of text, you should make sure that it is acceptable to your officiant.

When is the Ketubah Signed?

In most modern Jewish interfaith weddings, the ketubah signing takes place about a half hour before the wedding ceremony in the presence of the two witnesses, the couples’ immediate family members and the wedding party.

Today, many couples have a “first look” before their wedding ceremony that’s photographed so that they can take pictures together before the wedding ceremony. If that’s the case, then the couple can be together for the ketubah signing. If the couple doesn’t want to see each other before the ceremony, there are different options for how they can sign their ketubah – for example, they can each sign the ketubah in a different location (there’s no requirement that they be in the same room when signing the ketubah) or they can have the ketubah signing at the beginning of the wedding ceremony. If you do not plan to see each other before your wedding ceremony, be sure to discuss with your officiant how and when the ketubah will be signed.

Some couples like to display their ketubot during their wedding reception. One way to do this is to have your ketubah mounted, but not framed (or framed without the glass), or placed in a temporary plastic frame to keep it from getting soiled, before your wedding. The ketubah can then be displayed on an easel during your reception.

After your wedding you can have your ketubah framed and hang it on a wall in your home. This is a great way to remember your special wedding day as well as the commitment you’ve made to one another.

Who signs a Ketubah?

Some couples want to have more than two witnesses sign their ketubah. If you want to do this, you should check with the company you are ordering from or the artist making your ketubah to see if this is possible. You should also get the OK from your officiant.

 Do You Still Need a Marriage License?

A ketubah is not a substitute for a civil marriage license. In order to be married, a couple must have a civil marriage license from the state in which they’re being married. Some states require that civil marriage documents be signed by witnesses, while other states only require marriage documents to be signed by the officiant. In states that require civil marriage documents to be signed by witnesses, this can be done at the same time that the ketubah is signed, by either the same witnesses or different witnesses.

To learn about obtaining a marriage license in any of the 50 United States, including how much a marriage license costs, which states require a blood test to get married, certified documents you need to bring with you and what you need to know about the United States marriage license laws before applying for your state’s marriage license application, click here.

More resources:

How a Slightly Disorganized and Overwhelmed Interfaith Couple Organized a Jewish Wedding Ceremony

  

I tried incredibly hard to make the wedding planning process as organized as I could. I had spreadsheets upon spreadsheets of guest lists and vendors that I shared with my fiancé, Andy. I had folders with links saved and an extensive private Pinterest board of DIY wedding planning ideas that required far more creativity than anything I would ever be capable of and which, closer to the main event, I had completely forgotten about.

As our wedding date loomed ever closer, as our work lives became more hectic, and as we closed on our first home two weeks prior to the wedding, I realized that we were still missing vital last minute details and items.

It was two weeks before the wedding and I had forgotten to buy my shoes, to create the wedding programs, to give the music requests for the ceremony and reception to the DJ, and to top it off, the kiddush cup we had ordered still hadn’t arrived.

Oops.

But somehow, despite a few last-minute glitches, it all came together to be one of the most unforgettable, special, and happiest day of our lives.

As mentioned in my first InterfaithFamily blog post, we started our wedding planning journey with the book A New Jewish Wedding by Anita Diamant. Together, we carefully selected Jewish wedding traditions that were meaningful to us:

TenaimTenaim is the pre-wedding ceremony where the families of the bride and groom decide on the financial and logistical arrangements of the marriage. Our rabbi drew up a progressive tenaim document which we and our ketubah witnesses, our two sisters, signed. The document stipulated that we would bring a physical reminder of our love and our spiritual gifts for one another (in lieu of a traditional object of value/dowry) which in our case, was a kiddush cup from our wine fountain set. We had originally ordered a new kiddush cup but soon realized it was not going to arrive in time so we ended up using the cup that we regularly use for Shabbat.

Tenaim includes the pre-wedding tradition of the mother-in-laws breaking a plate together. Two nights prior to the wedding, Andy and I trudged to Pier One to buy the cheapest, most breakable looking plate we could find. The rabbi had warned us to break the plate beforehand and glue it back together but we figured the plate would break easily. Lo and behold, as our mothers, the rabbi and then Andy desperately tried to break the plate in various ways, it was clear that we should have followed instructions. No matter what we did, the plate would not break. I will never underestimate the strength of Pier One plates ever again. We all laughed, the rabbi called it a “symbolic breaking” of the plate and we agreed that our mothers would break it at our house warming in two months.

KetubahA ketubah is the Jewish wedding contract which conveyed our commitment to each other and to building a loving and supportive home together. It requires the signature of the bride and groom, the officiant and witnesses. We each have one sister and while traditionally, witnesses should not be related to the bride and groom, we decided that we truly wanted to honor them in this way. We had purchased the ketubah off of Ketubah.com and made some adjustments to the Hebrew spelling thanks in part to a rabbi friend’s review of the text. The ketubah.com team was more than willing to correct the text. It was a great experience and I highly recommend them. Our ketubah is beautiful and we look forward to putting it up in our new home.

ChuppahA chuppah is the wedding canopy which represents the home that the couple will create together that will be open to family and friends. To create ours, we purchased four 7-foot birch poles off of Amazon for around 60 dollars and large eye hooks for 10 dollars. Andy drilled a hole at the top of the birch poles and screwed in the eye hooks. Our rabbi brought in his large tallit, tied the corner fringes to the hooks at the top and voila! A chuppah was constructed cheaply and easily. We had also wanted to include and honor our friends and family and had decided to have chuppah bearers. Our chuppah was held up by my best friend, my sister, Andy’s brother-in-law and one of his best friends.

One of the most special moments for me was when my parents walked me to the chuppah. It was great being able to have that time with them before the ceremony.

Circling: Circling is the tradition where the bride circles the groom seven times (or the partners both circle each other). Seven is an auspicious number in Judaism and circling seven times can represent the seven days of creation, the seven blessings and other instances where something happens seven times in the Torah/Talmud. However, for us, the circling meant that we would make each other central to each other’s lives. We decided to keep it equal and circled each other three times.

Birkat ErusinThe Birkat Erusin is the betrothal blessing recited by the rabbi over a kiddush cup of wine. We then drank from the same kiddush cup that we had used in our tenaim ceremony to symbolize our commitment to sharing our lives with each other.

Ring Exchange: Traditionally, the ring ceremony in a Jewish wedding is where the groom gives the bride a ring, constituting the act of gifting an artifact of value to the bride and therefore making the marriage official. However, we decided to do a double ring ceremony where we used my maternal grandmother’s ring for my wedding band and Andy had his paternal grandfather’s ring for his. Neither of us have any living grandparents left so it felt like they were able to participate in our celebration in a way, making it even more special for us.

Sheva BrachotThe Sheva Brachot are the seven blessings which are recited for the bride and groom. Our rabbi read them in both Hebrew and English. We had no strong feelings about the Sheva Brachot and allowed the rabbi to select the wording.

Breaking the Glass: Breaking the glass marks the conclusion of the ceremony and has many interpretations but the ones we chose to add into our wedding programs were that it’s a reminder that there is still suffering in the world and that it represents the breaking of barriers between people of different cultures and faiths. After being regaled with stories of over-confident grooms going to the ER after stomping on the glass, I made sure to put the glass into a plastic bag and cover it with multiple cloth napkins prior to the wedding. I was relieved that Andy was able to break the glass without any issues but I’m also pretty sure our wedding pictures captured my anxiety-filled expression. We kept the broken glass and are now trying to decide what to do with it.

YichudAfter Andy broke the glass, and everyone yelled “Mazel tov” and we shared our first kiss as husband and wife, we then left for yichud, a time of seclusion for the bride and groom at the end of the marriage ceremony. We escaped to the bridal suite where we had water, Coca Cola and appetizers waiting for us. We also had a chance to practice our wedding dance one last time. It was an ultimate must-have for us and we are both glad we had those moments to be alone and decompress before heading out to our guests again.

Our wedding ceremony was perfect for us and set the tone for not only the rest of the wedding but for the rest of our lives. It opened our hearts in a way we could never have imagined. It was a celebration of love, of unity and of starting our marriage with our nearest and dearest close by.

Most of all, it was a celebration of us.

Now a week after the wedding, we’re excited to have started our marriage adventure and have mostly stopped accidentally referring to each other as ‘fiancé.’

Making Time to Reflect Before the Big Day

  

We’re counting down the days—less than one month until the wedding! Plenty of friends and family have been asking us if we’re excited (of course) and if we’re ready (which is a tougher question). In the practical sense, yes, we are ready. The caterer has our menu, the DJ has our song list and we’re finished with all of our DIY projects. In a broader sense, I’ve been thinking a lot about the question: How do you know you’re ready to make such a monumental commitment to another person?

Since we’ve completed most of the wedding planning, we’ve been able to spend the past few weeks making sure we stay connected and grounded. Last Saturday, we biked to Yards Park in the Navy Yard area of DC, which is where Zach proposed over a year ago! We rode past one of our favorite breweries and sat in the park with our feet in the wading pool for a while, watching the kids run around and play. I thought about this lazy summer day that we were taking advantage of—that we were making the time to have fun and do something that wasn’t wedding-related, grocery shopping or watching TV together. I promised myself when we got engaged that we would make time for these things, and I haven’t been as good about that as I would have liked, but that day, we were.

We ran into our maid of honor and her family visiting from out of town, got ice cream with them and biked home in time to host some friends for a low-key game night. That’s one of the many things I love about Zach—that he gets me out of my head, and he challenges me to enjoy things like warm summer days and riverside parks without thinking about what I should be doing instead. Yards Park was a perfect reminder of that strength of his, at an exciting and busy time in our lives.

I’ve also been catching up with old friends, like my former roommate. We lived together for two years right after college and have kept in touch since both of us moved on. Last week, we met up for dinner at our favorite place in the old neighborhood. As we laughed and commiserated over wedding planning (and assured each other that the headaches would be worth it), I couldn’t help but think: Am I ready to get married? To leave my single life behind?

Zach and my dad came up with this genius display for our table assignments.

Those years of supporting each other through good and tough times over wine, lazy weekends and taco nights seem so rosy, and I’m a little sad to leave them behind. But then, I go home to my amazing fiancé, who has already unloaded the dishwasher, or left me Reese’s in the fridge, or asks me how my day was, and I know I’m ready to marry Zach. I’m ready to promise to be there for him in all of those ways and more. It’s still important, for me, to reflect on where this journey has taken me, and the other relationships I formed on the way. I’m a firm believer in the value of friendships outside of a relationship, even outside of your marriage, and the end of my “single life” in no way means the end of those friendships. But it does mark the beginning of a binding partnership—a promise to work through tough times and celebrate the good ones in new ways.

This past weekend, we went home to Pennsylvania to work on our seating chart. Putting it together was beautiful because, at each table, we see different groups of people from different times in our life, who have made us into the people we are today. We have friends from childhood, friends from high school and college, family friends who we’ve known since birth, current friends, work friends—they’ll all be there, with our loving families, to watch us commit to the rest of our lives together. We can’t wait for everyone to meet and mingle, and to represent for us on this momentous day who we have been and our hopes for who we are to become.

When I read about the Jewish tradition of the ketubah, I realized it was the perfect way to create a visual representation of this commitment we’re making to each other. Rather than a contract or agreement, it’s a perfect reminder of the promise we’re making—to constantly strive to live up to the ideal of love for each other. You can read the text we selected here. Different articles (like this one from InterfaithFamily and this one from America Magazine) and conversations with family and friends have forced me to acknowledge the uncertainty associated with marriage—the idea that people’s values, personalities and desires can shift over time, and marriage is a promise to work through those. Like many people, I personally struggle with uncertainty, but in thinking about these issues, I know that Zach is the person I want to take that leap of faith with. I can’t wait to see where we end up on this journey.

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.

Insider Tips from a Master Wedding Planner

  

By Lynda Barness

Wedding planning and tips from an insider

You are now engaged! NOW WHAT?

Here are five things to consider before jumping in, from a Master Wedding Planner:

1. Breathe. I’m not kidding! Take some time to enjoy your engagement—and each other. And your families. And your friends.

2. Get to work. When you are ready to start working (and yes, it may feel like work, so now would be a good time to consider a wedding planner if you are thinking about hiring one), you and your partner will want to have a discussion about your wish list: time of year (and which year), which city, what type of officiant, what kind of venue and more. So often there are other voices in this discussion, but the couple can prioritize their wish list first and then discuss it with family and others.

3. Get your guest list in order. You can’t possibly pick a place for a ceremony or reception without knowing how many people you will invite. A question that I am asked very often is about the drop-off rate. If you invite your whole guest list, how many can you figure won’t attend? You can’t figure this at all, so please don’t bother trying! I know of a wedding where 277 guests were invited and 275 attended. The moral of this story is to look for a venue that will hold everyone you have invited. Remember, you wouldn’t be inviting these guests if you didn’t want them to come, so they just might!

4. Choose an officiant. The officiant will need to be the first to be chosen/hired. You need that person to be available and willing to be with you on your wedding day, and you’ll need to nail that day down before you can confirm with a venue. InterfaithFamily’s clergy referral service is the perfect place to start! Next step is finding a venue…

5. Secure the reception venue and start hiring your wedding professionals. This looks very simple in the abstract. It is not! Especially if one partner has always imagined getting married in a synagogue and the other has a picture of an outdoor ceremony in mind. This is a big decision to figure out together and often requires compromise—what better time than the present to work on that skill? If you are hiring a wedding planner, or are even thinking of hiring one, it will be helpful to have this person on-board at this point as well.

Insider tips from a wedding planner

Photo credit: Shea Roggio. Officiant pictured, Rabbi Robyn Frisch from IFF/Philadelphia. Not pictured, Planner, Lynda Barness

When it comes to the wedding day itself, there are four things that I think are essential to keep in mind:

1. Invitations and their wording. Do the names of both sets of parents appear on the invitation? Are only the hosts (the ones who are paying) listed? Here’s some advice from a planner: It is lovely to include all the parents and have them all feel a part of this day, and it is a clear signal to everyone that the two families are joining together.

2. Ceremony logistics. Who sits on what side, who walks down the aisle with whom and who stands or sits where? This can get complicated, especially since different religions handle it differently. It’s a matter of compromise and sensitivity. Do mom and dad walk down the aisle with their child as Jewish tradition dictates? Or has the bride who is not Jewish always imagined herself walking down the aisle with just her father? Do the parents stand, do they hold the chuppah or do they sit during the ceremony? These are great questions to discuss with your officiant and one of the reasons clergy can be so helpful.

3. Religious ritual objects. Do you want to have a chuppah? What about a ketubah? Which rituals from each of your faiths do you want to include? How can you best represent your individuality and your coming together as a new family? Again, your officiant can be a huge source of assistance here, and if you are having a Jewish wedding, a great place to learn about rituals and ritual objects is in Anita Diamant’s go-to book, The Jewish Wedding Now.

4. The Jewish tradition of yichud is one that seems to have become both modified and universal. After the ceremony, the couple has some private time (often with hors d’oeuvres and drinks) to simply share the first moments of their marriage alone with each other. This is such a special time and lovely tradition, and I always recommend it.

The best advice I have heard is to take some days off every week and don’t even discuss wedding planning. It will be exhausting if you try to do wedding planning every single day from now until your wedding, so spend a little time with your honey without the stress of wedding or religion talk.

Lynda Barness launched I DO Wedding Consulting in 2005 after a successful and award-winning career as a real estate developer and homebuilder. Lynda earned the designation of Master Wedding Planner from the International Association of Wedding Consultants and also has a certificate in Wedding Planning and Consulting from Temple University.  She combines education with years of experience as she helps navigate the complexities and challenges of planning the big day–with consulting services, day-of services, customized and full service planning—in the Greater Philadelphia area and beyond. Her background and experience are varied, and she has been both a participant and leader in a variety of civic, philanthropic and political activities.

Ketubah.com’s Tips for Creating an Inclusive Ketubah

  

By Aliyah Gluckstadt

Love ketubah

Photo from InsideWeddings.com

Planning an interfaith wedding is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for couples to create a ceremony filled with traditions that have personal meaning to both partners. Couples can learn what the history and meaning behind Jewish traditions are, and then they can decide together, and with their officiant, what is best for them. The ketubah is an integral part of the wedding because it is signed before the ceremony begins and then must be conserved for the rest of your marriage.

The ketubah is a long-held tradition, so when a couple feels connected to this custom, we at ketubah.com are happy to help them find the right one. The right text. A design they love. And with over 700 options and a staff that has been helping couples with their ketubahs for 20 years, ketubah.com helps you every step of the way!

The first question an interfaith couple might ask themselves is: Why have a ketubah? To answer that we have to go back and give a brief understanding of what the ketubah even is!

ketubah signing

multicultural ketubah

Photo from Modern Jewish Wedding

The ketubah is often called the Jewish marriage contract, but I like to think of it as the first-ever prenup. Keeping in mind when the ketubah was created (2,000 years ago), women went from their father’s home to their husband’s home. If, God forbid, they were to divorce, the ketubah outlined that the dowry be returned to the wife and that he take care of her. It was a contract to protect her, knowing that she would not be able to work. It outlined a husband’s commitment to his wife, signed by witnesses and given to the bride in front of witnesses of their marriage and commitment.

Even though we are past that kind of gendered thinking these days, the ketubah is still a critical part of a Jewish wedding ceremony. It is one of the many ways on the wedding day that a couple is declared “married!”

For more history on the ketubah we have multiple blog posts, “The History of the Ketubah,” “Understanding the Ketubah Text” and “What is a Ketubah and Where Did It Come From?

Once you have decided that you want to have a ketubah, the next question is, what will your ketubah say? Ketubah.com’s Signature Collection has over 700 designs that all offer four interfaith ketubah texts which you can read before placing your order and even send to your officiant for input. There are also other text options including a completely custom Digital Calligraphy of your own text, which many modern couples especially interfaith couples choose and we can have it translated into Hebrew* for you. If you want to include a different language we can even do that as a custom text.

The beauty of the modern ketubah is that it can have a text that means something to you personally and as a couple. The original purpose of the ketubah is still there but is elevated to mean more to you as a couple through your modern text. We strongly recommend discussing the ketubah with your rabbi or officiant. They should know this is something you want to include in your wedding ceremony. If you are still looking for the right officiant, we love that InterfaithFamily has a free clergy referral service. They can approve your text, personalization form and the text proof before the ketubah is finalized. We can even add additional signature lines to include a co-officiant or more witnesses (upon request and may be limited depending on the ketubah design). Another great place to get ideas for your text is Anita Diamant’s book, The Jewish Wedding Now. You can also find more sample text ideas from InterfaithFamily.

Don’t know how to write your name in Hebrew? No problem! Our new and improved Personalization Form can help you find it, or you can just check off the box for our professional staff to transliterate your name for you or your partner. Don’t know what the Hebrew date of your wedding is? Just tell us if the chuppah ceremony will be taking place before or after sunset and voila, you have your Hebrew wedding date!

ketubah

Photo from Smashingtheglass.com by joymariephoto.com

The most fun but sometimes overwhelming part is finding the design you love. You can really choose any style you want and decide together, as a couple, what speaks to you. Perhaps you would prefer a ketubah without Jewish symbolism like the many couples who love a tree design (so much so that we just had to find out Why Tree ketubahs are so Popular?). We also have ketubahs that incorporate different religions like Michelle Rummel’s Double Happiness design. There doesn’t seem to be any major trend as to what most interfaith couples chose and the options are nearly endless.

Finding the right partner was hard but finding the right ketubah doesn’t have to be! With the help of your officiant and our staff, it can be the smoothest part of your wedding planning.

Tune in for a Facebook Live with Aliyah Gluckstadt and Rabbi Robyn Frisch on August 2, where they will answer any of your questions about ketubahs for an interfaith wedding!

* For an additional cost. Please see ketubah.com for all prices.

Aliyah Gluckstadt is the social media manager and blogger for Ketubah.com and started in customer service. She was especially excited when it came time to choose a ketubah for her wedding last September and was so inspired by the ketubah, she had the invitations designed by the same artist. Aliyah was also a Digital Editorial Intern at Martha Stewart Weddings.

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 fiancé 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.

 

Finding Co-Officiants: A Multi-Step Process

  

July 2016 – Engaged! Now, who will marry us?

Our first hurdle in planning an interfaith wedding (other than the insanity of touring and booking a venue) was finding an officiant and creating a ceremony that reflected both of us. The day after we got engaged, I began fumbling around for some guidance. I knew what a Catholic wedding looked like, but I had no idea what was important in a Jewish ceremony, much less what we could do if we wanted to combine them.

As the daughter of a lifelong librarian, I put my research skills to the test. Surprisingly, my local library had exactly what I was looking for. A quick search in the card catalog for “interfaith marriage” turned up a fabulous book by Rabbi Devon A. Lerner: Celebrating Interfaith Marriages: Creating Your Jewish/Christian Ceremony. Yes! Exactly what I was looking for! It’s like someone has done this already…

I read the book cover to cover. It was super valuable during this process and covered almost every ceremony question I had: from the treatment of Jesus in a Christian-Jewish ceremony to what to expect when we met with the rabbi a few weeks later. The book included several sample ceremonies and really opened my mind to what we could create. The next step to realizing that vision was to decide on a venue.

After doing some research and talking with Zach, I decided I needed to reassess my dream of being married in the church where I grew up. That church meant a lot to me and to my family—we had received all of our sacraments there, attended the connected parish school and built our family life around that community. Discussing it with Zach, I realized that my in-laws-to-be might not feel comfortable in the church—and that maybe the church wasn’t the neutral ground zero from which the rest of our lives would start.

We needed somewhere that was meaningful to both of us, because that compromise or give-and-take is pretty emblematic of our life together. We found a beautiful venue in Historic Graeme Park that combined my Pennsylvania roots with Zach’s love of (and my appreciation for) nature. With a meaningful space secured, I set out to tackle the big question: Who would officiate our ceremony?

The view from our chuppah (minus all the people, of course!)

I first asked a clergy member from our local parish to officiate. He congratulated us and promised to look into the logistics. After some discussion and deliberation, we decided that it wasn’t the right fit. The diocese where we were getting married had policies about diocesan clergy (priests and deacons) performing wedding ceremonies in a dignified space–which typically means inside, not outdoors. (A Catholic diocese is a district that is under the supervision of a bishop and is made up of parishes run by priests.) I had done my research beforehand and, to the surprise of many (myself included), the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops does not appear to explicitly ban outdoor weddings when it comes to a Catholic-Jewish ceremony because they recognize the need for a neutral space. But, as I understood it, this diocese had their own restrictions.

We didn’t know what to do—we had just selected a beautiful park to be married in, not thinking it would make finding an officiant more challenging. The decision on how to move forward really shook me. I felt like I had been part of a family for my whole life and now they were taking issue with something that seemed inconsequential to our marriage. We had looked at hotel ballrooms and fancy mansions in our venue search, but none of them really felt like a venue for us. We thought about having the ceremony inside the tent at the venue and we considered having a Catholic clergyman (priest or deacon) do a blessing after the ceremony. But after discussing it together and with my parents, we decided to see if we could find another Catholic officiant for the outdoor ceremony.

Tent space at Graeme Park–perfect for a reception, not ideal for the ceremony

Our success in finding such an officiant was a small miracle, likely brought about in some part by the fervent prayers of my mother. After reading the book Being Both, we looked up the Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington to see if they offered any resources on interfaith marriage. We found a couples’ workshop for engaged and married interfaith couples, and I contacted the Catholic priest listed as a speaker at the workshop. Fr. Michael Kelly of St. Martin’s in DC was a godsend. He talked with me over the phone and agreed to help us fill out the paperwork, do the required marriage prep and find an officiant. On his recommendation, we contacted Rabbi Bleefeld in Dresher, PA, and met with him a few weeks later. Having read up on my stuff, I was thankfully aware when the rabbi asked us about things like a ketubah and the seven blessings. He has been a pleasure to work with and a resource in putting together our special day.

The priest was a little trickier to find. Fr. Kelly connected us with an order of priests that were not subject to the same rules and policies as diocesan priests (name of the order withheld). We met with Fr. Mike around Thanksgiving: He came across as kind, gentle and generous. He talked with us for a few hours about our relationship and what we wanted in our ceremony and he happily agreed to officiate our wedding.

Now we finally have a Catholic priest and a Jewish rabbi, both doing equal parts of the ceremony and offering us the flexibility to incorporate parts of our traditions that have meaning to us (more on that in another post). It has been a long process to get to this point and I experienced a crisis of faith in my struggle to gain a Catholic officiant for my wedding. Throughout this journey, we have met so many incredible people who are doing God’s work. We would not have met them if we had taken the easy way—such as asking the rabbi to officiate and having a priest say a blessing.

A friend asked me the other day what I’m most excited for on our wedding day, and other than the dress (it’s gorgeous), I am most excited for our ceremony, a unique blend of the faiths and prayers and people that matter the most to us. I’m so thankful we can have it all present as we start our life together. Check back in a few weeks to see the ceremony, after we’ve put some finishing touches on it!

Looking for an officiant? InterfaithFamily can help!