Smashing the Idols: How to Plan a Nontraditional Jewish Wedding


“We should have eloped.”

One of us has said that every week since we began planning our wedding. “We should have eloped,” I say. “I know,” Shannon replies. Then we both sigh.

A wedding is a turning point. It’s the moment when two lives become one, when two individuals are sanctified unto one another. And, as Shannon and I have learned, planning one is a lot of work. At some point, romance gives way to administration and dreams become action items. Dress? Check. Synagogue? Check. Ketubah? Well…I’m still working on that one. I’ll send Shannon a meeting invitation so we can plan milestones.

Weddings so often become events unto themselves rather than celebrations of the couples getting married.

Midrash tells us that the patriarch Abraham, as a child, smashed the idols his father manufactured. When his father confronts him, Abraham tells his father that the largest idol smashed the others. His father scoffs at the story, and Abraham responds, “They have no power at all! Why worship idols?” (Midrash B’reishit 38:13.)

The rabbis used this story to explain Abraham’s righteousness and his call by God. But I think the idols Abraham smashes can be understood as a metaphor for anything that obscures the truth. That’s what Shannon and I aim to do with our wedding: smash any idols that obscure the true intent of the day. For instance, we decided to have a small ceremony, despite the size of our families. Neither Shannon nor I are comfortable as the center of attention, so only 14 people will be present, including the photographer. The wedding will take place in the chapel at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, in Philadelphia.

Entrance to the RS Sanctuary

A detail of artwork welcoming visitors to the Congregation Rodeph Shalom sanctuary. Do visit if you're ever in Philly!

Some aspects of our ceremony will remain traditional. We’ll stand beneath a chuppah. We’ll perform the badeken, or veiling of the bride. And, after the ceremony, we’ll have yichud, a brief time we’ll spend alone as a newly married couple.

But we’ll smash idols along the way, ensuring that the ceremony is wholly ours. The chuppah will be a quilt made by my great-grandmother. Rather than Shannon circling me seven times, we’ll circle one another three-and-a-half times, a maneuver that may prove tricky when Shannon’s in her dress. We interpret the act of circling as the separation of our new relationship, as a married couple, from our past. In a nod to Shannon’s ancestry, her mother will read the Irish blessing (which has cultural rather than religious connotations). And we’ll walk down the aisle to the rabbi playing “Over the Rainbow” on the ukulele. (Our rabbi plays a mean uke.)

Of course, the biggest idol we face is that of intermarriage. So many people bow before it! But, as Abraham knew, the power an idol possesses is all in the worshiper’s mind. Why worship it? Shannon and I, surrounded by family and loved ones, will smash that idol on a quiet Saturday night in October.

And it won’t be about the “issues,” the flowers or even the dress. It will be about us.

And we’ll be glad we celebrated our union in a Jewish ceremony, even if, in the meantime, we sometimes wish we had eloped.

Our Last Vlog and Wedding Day Recap

Please note: I’ve posted this for Yolanda, who wrote the following post.

Hey there IFF,

So here we are, two months past our actual wedding date and we’re both enjoying the married life. Before we head off into wedded bliss, Arel and I are leaving you with a farewell video and some extra goodies to take a look at. We never talked about our actual wedding day so this is the video that finally covers how our day went and Arel included some pics for you guys to see how our wedding progressed that day.

We loved vlogging for and hoped that you enjoyed viewing our journey as much as we enjoyed documenting it for you guys. We wish you all a blessed life and for those of you getting married, good luck and enjoy the process. We welcome the next wedding bloggers, Jess and Erik, and wish them an awesome wedding and life thereafter.

Enjoy our last videos. We have video recapping our actual wedding, the video below that is a glimpse of the ceremony, and the third video showcases our unusual wedding dance. Let us know what you think.

Until we meet again,
Yolanda and Arel

A new identity, or, what is in a name, a Seder and an Easter egg?


Hi friends,

Mia here…Ethan is at a meeting and our cat Daisy is curled up next to me. This rare quiet time  inspired contemplative thoughts about my upcoming marriage to Ethan in an interfaith context. The theme of “in between” came to mind on three different levels, so I thought I would share. If anyone has had any positive experience with them, I welcome your feedback!

Level 1: Kinda sorta a “member of the Tribe” but not really ~
As previously shared, I have been overcome by the love and joy Ethan’s family and friends have exhibited as our relationship progressed, and especially when we became engaged. I have also been similarly touched by and grateful for their acceptance of me as a non-Jewish person, as well as their appreciation of my efforts to learn all I can about Judaism, and my participation in high holidays, Shabbat dinners, etc. I have been dubbed something of a budding resource about Judaism among my non-Jewish friends and coworkers. But beneath it all is the truth that I am not Jewish, and at this time, I don’t intend to convert in the near future. Respect, yes. Participate, yes. Continue to learn, of course. It’s just that I have had a very complicated relationship with organized religion since an early age. I was not raised in a religion because my parents wanted my brother and me to choose our own paths, and that process has been met with a lot of confusion and hostility over the years from many camps (not from anyone in Ethan’s family, thankfully!). I need to get to a place where I can find a good middle ground and not feel in limbo, nor feel defensive about my position (although Ethan keeps reminding me there’s no reason to feel that way ~ I hope he’s right!).

Level 2: What’s in a name?
Despite having issues with patriarchal societies, I decided to take Ethan’s last name when we marry. This decision has made me think about heritage a lot. “My people” were Irish, Scottish, Welsh, German, and French (among a handful of others), with a spectrum of heritage associated with them, whereas Ethan’s family name is Russian and Lithuanian with Jewish heritage. We both gravitate toward the unity a shared name implies, as well as the sense of connection we will have with our children.  I can just picture my children’s responses to the ancestry question: “Well, we are (in no particular order) English, Irish, Russian, Welsh, Scottish, Lithuanian, Polish, French, German, Spanish, and Native American. Seriously.”  I think I may be one of a very small handful of family members in many recent generations of my family to introduce Jewish heritage to the family tree, and this has made me marvel at the amazing webs we all are weaving for future generations of our families in this age of greater tolerance.

And finally (thank goodness, you say!) Level 3: What’s in a Seder and an Easter Egg?
Ethan and I are looking forward to celebrating our third Passover and Easter together. The former is celebrated to the fullest extent; the latter consists of my display of bunnies, painted eggs, and flowers around the house (nothing about Jesus) and the consumption of jelly beans and Cadbury Cream Eggs (drool…). Last year we hosted a Seder, and I asked Ethan in advance if his family would be startled to see Easter decorations. Instead, they were really interested and asked me what the decorations’ meaning is for me. The answer is the thrill of approaching spring and the renewal and fresh start that implies, and memories of savory brunches on the holiday with my family, with me in a new frilly pastel frock and white Mary Janes. Last year, friends and coworkers asked if I was fully participating in Passover since it was Ethan’s and my first under a shared roof, and I replied that I was except for attending every service and observing the restricted eating because I’m hypoglycemic. Again, I find myself in an “in-between” land where I’m partially blending two traditions that have different meanings for me than they do for people who observe them to the letter. But as I write this, I realize that it’s fun! Ethan makes THE best brisket in the world, and I have come to look forward to the bond that exists around the Seder table, while also counting the days until I can transform our home into a springtime display and honor the cycle of the seasons. Don’t worry, I don’t let the Cadbury eggs get anywhere near the brisket.

Water Not Included.


So I’m faced with the question as to whether or not I will take a dip in the Mikvah —figuratively or literally.  I’m left to ponder both the traditional and the contemporary and what either of the two would mean to me.

When we take a look at what a trip to the Mikvah means in the traditional sense, I am left almost speechless at how central it is to Orthodoxy.  You see.  The idea is that with full immersion into a body of water, one can find ritual purity.  That is to say, you are washed clean of the things that make you impure.

Traditionally, it has different uses for men and women, but in the end it boils down to cleansing your self/your soul after one journey and before the next.  It sets you up with Tabula Rasa—a clean slate.

So why wouldn’t I want a clean slate before the wedding?

Can I achieve that without the traditional bath?  Is there something else that I can do that would achieve the same goal for me spiritually?

Would skydiving feel the same to me?

It’s not that I am against this tradition.  It is, in fact, something that seems beautiful and honest and something that I would be TOTALLY into—if it didn’t feel so stuck in the past.  The thought of a woman bathing herself in the Mikvah after each menstrual cycle before she can resume sexual relations with her husband just doesn’t sit right with me.  I think that it boils down to my egalitarian views on what a relationship should be and the inequalities that I see between matriarch and patriarch in organized religion—not just Judaism.  It’s traditions like these that I feel solidify gender roles in the past and don’t look to our modern day for guidance.

There I go again.  Leaning left.

I have some thinking to do.  How can I achieve what I will perceive as a ritual cleansing without the tradition?  If I don’t follow tradition, should I even bother?

So.  Friends of  Please feel free to offer me some guidance.  Maybe through conversation I will have my Aha moment and figure out what I need to do.


Our Grounding Moment


Last night as we sat with Rabbi Berman, I was so exhausted that I was loopy.  My new job at JPS is in my brain all the time and I was having a hard time turning my brain chatter down so that I could pay attention to the most important task at hand.

We were talking ritual.

Rabbi Berman is totally down with our questioning of rituals and our desire to make them our own.  This is exactly why we knew she would be the right fit.  We had so much to talk about and decide upon and I think in the end, we were left with more to ponder than we walked in the door with.  You know.  This is a good thing.

Something that came up, that Lu and I just love, is the idea of a Bedeken.

Now.  Traditionally a Bedeken Ceremony in an Orthodox wedding takes place right before the actual wedding ceremony and is the unveiling of the Bride.  The story here (traditionally speaking) is that the groom should see the bride’s face before the magic happens so that he doesn’t marry the wrong woman—Like how Jacob married Leah accidentally when he meant to marry Rachel in Genesis:29

So.  Not only is this custom out of date and totally weird, but you wouldn’t even think that it could be a positive thing—a spiritual moment–the connotation that the woman would be trying to get over on the man, and that the man is so distrusting of his wife-to-be that he has to check to make sure that she is who she claims to be. Preposterous!  Lu and I are just way too liberal for that!

So Rabbi Berman presented an alternative idea—Let me elaborate.

In the weeks leading up to the wedding, Lu and I will be hectic.  Crazy, pull out your hair, yell at each other, and maybe even start drinking-hectic.  We will be making last minute plans, gathering family, and working to make our wedding, a wedding.  On the big day there will be getting dressed and taking pictures and decorating and flower arranging.  We will be totally hectic right up until the moment when we stand there-under the huppah– and look into each other’s eyes.

So why not make THAT our bedeken?

As Lu and I meet, for the first time, under the huppah, on our nuptial day, we will take a moment.  We will be silent and we will ground ourselves.  We will be sure that we are there completely; leaving behind all of the hectic life that was the wedding-prep and we will unveil each other by taking a breath.  By looking into each others eyes and be sure that we are there with each other and for each other.

We know that we can only remain in silent meditation for a few moments without causing our guests to stir.  But with any hope, the moment will feel like an eternity.  It will be the most calming, grounding, humbling moment that a couple could ask for.

I for one am looking forward to that little break.


Happy Birthday RAIDEN!


As I sit here on the eve of our son, Raiden’s first birthday all that I can think about is how good Lu and I have it.

We met so long ago that I can’t actually imagine life without her in it.  It’s amazing how quickly someone binds themselves to you and intertwines with every aspect of your life.  It’s almost as if we have grown up together, which in essence, we have.

In our first year of parenting we have learned to really lean on and support each other.  Our relationship has only grown and strengthened.  We have come to terms with our differences and have learned to love the fact that we are in it together.

We are.  In it together.

When we became pregnant, I was overcome with happiness that Lula was going to be a mother, and that she was going to be a mother to the same child that I would father.  To this day, I couldn’t be happier.

All the time I find myself telling Lu: “I’m so glad it’s you.” I can’t think of anyone that I would rather take this journey with.

Lula: Thank you for being my stronghold.  Thank you for being the best mother that I have ever met.  That you for caring, and thank you for feeling, and thank you (most of all) for being born!  Raiden is lucky.  I am lucky.  We are one lucky family.


Lula and Raiden—on your special day.

This post is for you.

Raiden: Baby boy, Dooker Butt, One-Sock-Block   My son.  My light.  My life.  I know that you are just learning to walk and to talk and to really show us who you are and “I’m so glad it’s you.” You are the best thing to ever happen to us. You amaze us everyday with your strength in body and mind.  You make each moment precious and amazing.  I’m glad that you are our teacher and am honored that we will be able to learn from you for years to come.

I’m so excited that the three of us are embarking on this life together.  Our future is bright.


Rai eating                 Rai Happy

Rai and Lu sleeping     Rai on potty

Rai Splat          Rai, Snakeyes, and Pheonix

Why Can We Be Married?


I feel like Lu and I are hitting our stride on all things wedding related and I couldn’t feel better about it.  We have just finished the last of our meetings with some amazing rabbis, we have our tasting with Diverse Catering next week, and we have decided that I will be wearing a tux.  Check. Check. And Check.

Oh happy day!

There has been something that has come up many times in our rabbi meetings that I have just been itching to call attention to.

Lu and I decided a few years ago that we would not be married until ALL of our friends could be married.  It was a conscious decision to wait until all was fair in the world and equal opportunity existed.  Well.  Fast forward to the “age of Raiden” and we find ourselves more willing to make a legal commitment to each other.  The truth is that we don’t want to pass on the benefits that are available for married couples, especially where the little dude is involved.  So instead of feeling guilty about it, we are just going to except the fact that we are hetero-sexual-enough to be legally married.  And do it.

So why, may I ask, may we be married?

The reality is that I don’t have the answer.  I mean.  We are two people who have built our lives together.  Started a family.  Have a few pets.  We have fun, we laugh, we cry.  We live together as life partners, for better—for worse.  Ready for every up and down that a relationship might bring.  We are the perfect gay couple—we just happen to not be gay.  We are so non-gay in fact that our relationship can be made legally binding.  What a world!

This twisted idea that a state sanctioned legitimacy of a relationship has anything to do with sexual orientation is just nutty.  Nutty I say.  My heart sank when California voted yes on Prop 8 and I will continue to push for equality when it comes to a person’s right to make their own decisions.  If a couple wants to marry they should be able to do so no matter how they are born or how they identify.

This is just some food for thought.

So we have decided that we will make this a part of our ceremony.  We will pour out a few drops of wine to symbolize the loss that we feel for those who cannot be married.  We all need to speak up and eventually,  hopefully sooner, rather than later, but eventually–we will be heard.