This booklet explains the history of Hanukkah, the symbolism and significance of lighting candles for eight nights, the blessings that accompany the lighting of the candles, the holiday's foods, the game of dreidels, and more!
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A great way for Jewish professionals and volunteers who work with and provide programming for people in interfaith relationships to locate resources and trainings to build more welcome into their Jewish communities; connect with and learn from each other; and publicize and enhance their programs and services.
This year may have been the perfect snapshot for our inter-faith life together.
As Friday settled in and the sun began to set, we began to prepare for the weekend. I was preparing my body by beginning my fast. Lisa was preparing for a busy Saturday.
One thing that makes Lisa a wonderful inter-faith partner is that she asked me before she made dinner if I minded. Since to my knowledge, there is not a lot of fasting in Catholicism, she wanted to be respectful for my decision to practice faith in a way that was meaningful for me. I never once expected her to fast with me because our relationship is based on encouragement and not on forced decisions.
When we rose on Saturday, it was going to be a busy day for the both of us.
We both attended the Saturday morning services for Yom Kippur.
Although the services and sermon was great, it was the simplest things of the day that brought me the most joy. A year ago, I could not even enter a temple if I wanted to because major knee surgery had me laid up and streaming the services from my computer. And as we chanted during services, we would have been grateful and content. However, with so much changing over the past year, outside my relationship with Lisa, our temple was the only constant. And for that I would have been grateful and content. The last part I will say about services is that it was great to have Lisa there for me in the morning. When I attended the afternoon services without her, she was dearly missed. However, she was there in the morning for me and for that I am grateful and content.
When I asked Lisa about services, her first answer was the most important. She liked being there for me. It melts my heart a little bit even to think of it. However, her overall view was that a lot of things remained universal. There were songs to be sung, readings to follow, and a sermon to be heard. She was most fascinated with seeing the Torah scrolls being unveiled from behind the curtain and then carried around to be touched by tallit or prayer books and then kissed.
Lisa At Her Bridal Shower
Lisa also had a busy rest of the day preparing for the wedding. She needed to go purchase a slip for her dress and several other pressing wedding purchases. And this was before she needed to attend her own bridal shower that day. We know we should have planned better to not have it on such a big day, but that is when most people were available and since we do have not a very active Jewish circle of friends, no one really thought much of it until the date was set. Lisa was grateful for all those who were able to attend the event.
This snapshot of our day is very much what it is like to live in an inter-faith world; we all just need to be respectful of everyone’s decisions and try to be there in the best ways that we can.
“My Happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations.” – Michael J. Fox
My Original Draft
One thing about me is that I am an avid fantasy football player. As a matter of fact, I am champion of one league, two years in a row and am currently tied for first place in that league again. Before the season began and even before the draft, I went over my team from last year. I realized that I had very little of my original team that I drafted still on that team. That means that week in and week out, I played the game. I worked hard and it brought home two championships. This year is not much different. I selected Adrian Peterson with my first pick in the draft, thinking it was a steal at the fifth overall spot. I expected him to be a stud and carry my team to victory. However, due to his legal issues, he is sitting on my bench and I have had to pay attention every day and make the smart decisions to put me into first place. As a matter of fact, my only loss of the year was when he was playing for me in the first game. Every win since then has taken a lot of work and of course some luck.
Planning a wedding and a life is not much different.
There will be expectations when you begin planning. Some of those will not be met. You accept them and continue to forge ahead.
One expectation Lisa had was that her grandparents would be able to attend the ceremony. It looks like now, the trip may be a little much for them and we are both a little heartbroken. For myself and those who have been reading along, know that I was very excited to have my spiritual mentor come be at my side during the wedding. As it turns out, he was over committed and triple booked that weekend and could not get out of one commitment to be at the wedding.
In life, I have really been focusing on the expectations not being met in, but in a positive way. As the job search continues, I am overwhelmed by the experience. But in a good way. In the middle of the recession, I lost my job and it took nearly two years to find steady employment and many hours submitting resume after resume. I had those expectations when I sat down and started the job process this time. However, people are stepping up in ways I did not expect. Every day, my face is in front of someone new or someone offering advice and information. It has actually made the process exciting and even enjoyable. Instead of expecting the worst, I accepted this is the reality and it has helped my outlook tremendously.
My Team Today
As we enter in Yom Kippur this weekend and continue to reflect, I had a lot of expectations over this past year. What would happen and where I would be today. I cannot do much with those failed expectations. I can accept that I have a beautiful fiancé that I could not be more excited about marrying in just over a month. I can accept that I am being overwhelmed with support from people right now. I accept and cherish that I can put extra time into the wedding planning. I accept that not having a job is allowing me for a visit back east. I can accept I will not be at a desk for the next month and instead will be spiritually readying myself for the big day and what comes next. I do not expect, I simply accept in just over a month I am going to be surrounded by loved ones and have one of the greatest days of our lives.
Cole Porter famously wrote, “What is this thing called love? This funny thing called love. Just who can solve its mystery?” It is hard to explain love. We try. Poets try. Scientists try. However, it all falls short in the actual feeling one gets while being in love.
One piece of spiritual advice I like to adhere to is that you should do what you feel connects you to G-D. When being a Reform Jew in my daily practice, the guidelines seem looser, and this allows me to find a Judaism that works for me on a daily basis. It is one reason why I eat “kosher”, but do not ask Lisa to do the same. (My definition of kosher is that I do not eat shellfish, do not mix meat and cheese, and no consumption of pork.)
These two ideas brings us to the Ketubah Ceremony. I cannot exactly explain why I feel the importance of the Ketubah. I hold the ceremony, the tradition in the highest regard not much dissimilar to a High Holy Day.
For those who are new to Jewish traditions, the Ketubah is a piece of art that is hung by the entrance of a Jewish or Inter-Faith home. It is there to remind you each day as you enter the home of that day and the happiness in your life. The art usually encompasses words that are very similar to traditional wedding vows. It also is the religious version of a marriage contract where it is signed by Bride, Groom, Officiate, and two non-family Jewish friends as witnesses. (There is a story about the witnesses, but I will save it for another time.)
The signing of the Ketubah is a short ceremony the couple does with a very small group (though some couples invite more of their guests to witness it) right before the big walk down the aisle. And in our true inter-faith fashion, we decided last weekend to sign the Ketubah in the chapel’s sacristy. The sacristy is where most items like the chalice, vestments, and altar cloths are stored for the priest before mass. It is a very ritualistic room and we feel it is the perfect place for an inter-faith Ketubah ceremony.
When it comes to the purchasing of the Ketubah, I felt strongly about spending a large but reasonable amount of money. Apparently, that is a trend of mine as I also purchased an original comic book page from a convention this weekend. And when this piece of art symbolizes so much importance, spending a little extra never hurt.
Our actual Ketubah purchase was easy as we looked on a couple websites like Etsy, but selected one from ketubah.com. Lisa and I have very different tastes when it comes to art, so we looked through quite a bit until we found something that we were comfortable looking at for the rest of our lives.
The most adventurous part of the Ketubah purchase was when selecting and editing the text. Although I can be wordy and passionate, Lisa plays the role of reserved and is not quite as flowery I am when it comes to language. Due to that, we are not doing vows during our ceremony, and the Ketubah will serve that purpose during our actual wedding. Therefore, getting the inter-faith language perfect was critical. We also had an in-between-the-planning moment recently which I talked about the importance of here.
No clever ending today. Ready for the weekend. 57 days to go…
I am having a rediscovery of music and have been listening to the band The Mars Volta quite a bit. One of the things that I love about those albums is that the lyrics do not seem to make any sense, but it does not take away from the enjoyment of the music. In my mind and to my ears it all makes sense. To a lot of people, without any context, it could easily be misunderstood, dismissed, or even perhaps judged harshly.
Our inter-faith yearly Seder, where all are welcome
I think a lot could be said similarly to Lisa and me, in our inter-faith relationship and our inter-faith ceremony.
I felt strongly about having a rabbi marry us and incorporating a lot of Jewish customs. Lisa was passionate about getting married in the Catholic chapel due to her upbringing and her love for her grandparents. To a lot of outsiders, those concepts married together (pun intended) may be strange and misunderstood.
Before I came to Cincinnati, my then rabbi sat down with me one-on-one and in groups with other inter-faith couples. I not only left with the rabbi’s blessing, but also with the idea that in order for an inter-faith couple to be successful, both faiths must be embraced and encouraged.
Outside of our ceremony, I feel that one misconception of an inter-faith couple is that G-D has very little to do with the relationship. I was having a conversation with a rabbi this week. (Note: I speak with a lot of rabbis in my line of work. This was not a rabbi I have an ongoing relationship with.) He was the second rabbi who tried to nicely explain that when couples are inter-faith, that somehow G-D is taken out of the equation.
When it comes to Lisa and me, it is G-D who made and continues to make our relationship possible. My spiritual mentor, and groomsman, Scott, encouraged me to allow G-D to come into the relationship. Whether it was sending a text message or calling Lisa on the phone, I always said a prayer. Even before Lisa and I met in person, there was a big G-D moment. As I was running late for my flight to visit her and speeding toward the airport, I decided to pull over my car and pray. The five minutes I took to pray was the same amount of time the flight was delayed and I was able to make the final boarding call. Our foundation is based on our relationship with G-D. Whether it was moving across the country, or planning our wedding today, our relationship continues to thrive because we both have faith, even if we express it in different ways.
This week, Lisa and I both felt that we as an inter-faith couple were being misunderstood, whether from people trying to understand the ceremony and the venue choices or our life decision. I am just grateful that I simply have this space to reach out to others who are inter-faith to let them know they are not alone in those awkward moments. The important thing to remember is G-D speaks every language and will show you love no matter how you want to express it.
One of my favorite spiritual concepts is the idea of liminal space. I think about this concept a lot. I try to see where in my life, I am in liminal space.
It was taught to me to by a former mentor who explained it this way, when you look between rooms, or a door, there is a small space between the two. That space does not show up in a floor plan and it is not counted when looking at square space. However, you have go through that space in order to get to the place you need or want to be. If become hungry, I simply cannot stay in the living room. I have to get up and move into the kitchen. However, I do not stop in between the two rooms and get fed, I have to go further and into a new room to take care of this hunger.
The foundation for much of spiritual work is done in liminal space. The space between the current situation and the new situation. We have to do work and go into that uncomfortable space if we hope to come out on the other side.
Lisa and I began our time together in two separate cities, separated by 600 miles. It was a subtle space between us, but we grew to love one another because we had that space. Before we met in person, our long conversations were intense and deep. We grew in that space apart and without knowing it, that new space we were moving into was to be the most important relationship of our lives.
When planning a wedding, life is very much lived in liminal space. We have spent nearly a year planning this endeavor and when it is said and done, we really begin to plan life together. It is not like Lisa and I have not spent time talking about our dreams of owning a home and having children, but with a wedding, those plans are set temporarily on the back burner.
Lisa and I also are in a lot of liminal space in our everyday lives. I am still within the first two years of my long-term career and Lisa is still searching niche in the working world. If you remember back to our first post, we met through the sport of roller derby. After being so heavily involved with the sport years (seven for me and nine for Lisa) both of us on a hiatus and I am leaning towards yoga and ballet. I still feel in spiritual transition between Conservative services and Reform services. Moving from one coast to another, just puts everything into liminal as the settling process begins.
A picture of a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon from a recent trip to Columbus, OH and is a lot like entering liminal space
After the ceremony, we are finally out of liminal space, and officially a married couple. I am already excited to take time and have a Yichud. A Yichud is when the bride and groom take a couple minutes to just be by themselves. It is that moment, when we end our lives as we have known it and step into a new one. Honestly, this week I thought about this moment, and I cried. That is what the movement out of liminal space can create, true moments of joy. It creates a true spiritual experience. One that Lisa and I can share forever in our truly inter-faith life together.
I have fond memories of going to services as a youngster and looking forward to the weeks in which I could pelt young adults, the clergy, and innocent bystanders with tiny packages of hard candy. Not wanting to miss being on the receiving end of such a deluge, a few months back I mentioned to the Cantor at my synagogue, Monmouth Reform Temple (MRT), that Anne and I would like to have an aufruf. This is a custom during which the bride and groom – or, in more traditional synagogues, just the groom – are called up for an Aliyah, and the Torah is read in their honor.
Scheduling our aufruf posed a bit of a challenge. Traditionally, the aufruf takes place during Shabbat services prior to the wedding. However, our rehearsal dinner takes place on that Friday, outside of Philadelphia. The Shabbat prior to that coincides with Yom Kippur, and celebrating with candy is not the best way to observe a solemn fast.
We also wanted to make sure our aufruf date aligned with an appropriate Torah portion. Our wedding occurs the week prior to Simchat Torah, the holiday during which the Torah is “rewound” and we begin reading from the book of Genesis. Unlike the numerous beautiful, wedding-appropriate readings in the beginning of the Torah – the creation of Eve and man and wife becoming “one flesh,” the rainbow at the culmination of the flood, Abraham’s covenant with God to become a great nation – the final book of the Torah is not quite so generous. We made a decision to avoid the passage containing material ill-suited for beginning our wedding celebration, such as the Biblical proscription for when “a man takes a wife and, after sleeping with her, dislikes her” (Deut. 22:13, NIV translation). Luckily, nestled within Deuteronomy is a passage describing the blessings that will be rained upon Israel should they choose to keep God’s laws (Deut. 28:1-14). That coincided with the weekend of September 12th, which was free for both sets of parents. Hooray!
However, we hadn’t cleared all hurdles yet. A significant proportion of the families at MRT are interfaith, and over the past year, the Rituals & Practices Committee has discussed what activities on the bimah are permitted to the members of the congregation who are not Jewish. Also, they are charged with awarding honors for aliyot, lighting candles, and Kiddush on Friday nights. I happen to sit on this committee. A few weeks ago, the person responsible for managing these honors for the month of September asked if anyone would be interested. I asked if my parents could do the candle and Kiddush blessings for the night of our aufruf. My mother is a practicing Christian, and some congregations do not permit those who are not Jewish to say the blessings over the candles. Also, neither of my parents are members of MRT, though they do belong to a Reform synagogue in the Philadelphia area. Finally, Anne is not Jewish, and the committee had discussed in the past whether it was permissible for members of the congregation who are not Jewish to be called to Torah for an aliyah. After raising these concerns, I opened the topic for discussion to the members of the Rituals & Practices Committee.
This kicked off a lively discussion. Our Cantor sent around a link to the recent article on Interfaith Family about how different synagogues approach candle lighting by with interfaith families. Ultimately, the committee agreed that my parents could light the candles and recite Kiddush, and that as long as I was with her and saying the Torah blessings, Anne could join me for the aliyah.
With this final hurdle cleared, it looks like September 12th will be a very Keefe/Goodman Shabbat at Monmouth Reform Temple! In case you have an itching to bean some soon-to-be newlyweds with candy, services start at 7PM.
Circle up everyone, it is time for another blog post!
It is Friday so let’s put on our dancing shoes and talk about the Horah!
Dancing is Just Controlled Falling
After talking about it a couple months ago and Lisa unsure, we have decided that we are all in!
The Horah is a traditionally Jewish custom where guests circle up and dance around with linked hands, while another group of people lift the bride and groom in chairs. If you are still lost and need examples feel free to pop in Fiddler on the Roof or go on over to YouTube.
Although, it is a Jewish Tradition, there actually is not a very deep spiritual meaning to it. Some people dance in lines and Jews apparently dance in circles. So this means this tradition is very open to your own interpretation and room to make it your own.
As I mentioned before here, we will likely use Harry Belafonte’s version of Hava Nagila. Hava Nagila is the traditional song and Belafonte is a family tradition so it fits well.
We also have recruited a couple friends to be in charge of hoisting us up in celebration. As I broke the news to Nick, my best man, I congratulated him on being a fine physical specimen with rhythm. He is a boxer and a musician so the mold fits. We then asked our friend Sarah, who is Jewish and competes in CrossFit competitions to be the other captain. She was happy to oblige as well.
The next piece we needed was someone to lead the circle, and we asked our friend Paula who is the person who talked Lisa into the Hora in the first place. Paula and Seth actually have a large part in our wedding and it seems almost by accident. They went with us to the caterer that we chose and Seth, her husband and my colleague, is signing our Ketubah.
We have some more things planned with it all, but it is not yet finalized, so I will wait to share the details.
Slipping the Night Away?
I know this week is a little light, but with so much going on, I feel a bit all over the place. Which when talking about movements where you are easy on the feet and dancing around, it might be the best way to write this post.
Quick Update! We are full steam ahead. There has been a lot going on.
Here is the quick list:
1. We have finalized the guest list. (Is it ever finished?)
2. Received the invitations.
3. We have picked a ketubah!
4. Scheduled a weekly, Tie-The-Knot Meeting. Tues. we are going to take 2 hours and discuss what needs to get done, then reward ourselves by taking planning off the table and have fun for the evening.
5. Come close to finalizing our wedding favors / welcome bags for out-of-towners.
6. Planned our décor and ordered some lights.
7. Lisa settled on a veil and shoes.
8. Lisa will be spending next weekend hosting a night for some friends trying out cocktails & mock-tails.
Here is what we are doing over the weekend:
1. Going to check out a showroom floor to look at linens.
2. Going to see a wedding set up in our space to get a better idea of what we need.
3. Dropping off the invitations to the calligrapher.
4. I am ordering custom converse shoes for my suit.
Plus, life is happening between each one of those items on the list.
Wedding planning should be both. It should not only be the check list items, but it also is what goes on between. If you do not get the check list items done, the wedding simply does not happen. G-D works wonders in our lives, but if we chose not to take any action, we simply cannot expect to show up on our date and have the place set up and everything paid.
This week we both sat down and had a long conversation. Mainly to do with some of the fears we both have over unresolved matters. We live in a very real world, and not every relationship, or lack thereof with other people outside of us is perfect. Sometimes, we have to sit down and talk and talk to one another about our fears. We have to sit down and just put our emotions on the table right next to the wedding magazines. Although, we know much of these things about one another, it really is taking us towards the wedding as well. We are growing and learning about one another and although it does not show up in your typical check list, it is as important to know your partner deeper with each day, each month, and each year.
Whether on the checklist or happening in between, both get you closer to the big day.
Even as I read this post, I see what started as a check list has grown into some reflection and a deeper look. So this week, it is a bit of both. Looking forward to sitting down and breaking down each item in the list and the things in between.
In the Torah, Genesis 18:2 talks about how Abraham welcomes strangers (who would turn out to be angels) into his tent and gives them food and drink. For their kindness to strangers, Abraham and Sarah are blessed. Modern translation: If you want to be blessed on your wedding day, make sure the people are fed.
So, let’s talk about food.
Our wedding menu is going to be a lot like in our home. I keep a version of kosher… no meat and dairy (although I am a vegetarian so not too hard), no shellfish, fast on certain Holy Days, and eat certain foods on others. Lisa maintains a higher protein, lower carb diet. She also loves her traditional polish kielbasa on Easter and Christmas. Our diets may seem worlds apart, but we always enjoy a meal together as often as we can.
When you first think of food at a wedding, you think wedding cake. We first thought against it. However, my mother asked us to get one for the reception. The reason being is that when my parents got married on their front lawn 30+ years ago, they had very little. The only thing they had was a Carvel ice cream cake. They even had to borrow the $10 to get that. It holds a special place in their hearts and to honor that we decided upon a small cake to cut. It’s one tier, simple design, almond flour base with apricot filling cake.
It is coming via the wonderful Tres Belle Cakes. Instantly, we fell in love with the place and their owner Tracy. The sweets are the best. They also do a nice lunch with salads and croissant sandwiches. We originally went there to meet with a photographer and now I am a regular for lunch. It is a fun place and when we went for our tasting it reminded us planning should be fun. We like it so much, we are actually having our rehearsal dinner there on Friday night.
For our main dessert, we went for a Cincinnati local favorite, Holtman’s Doughnuts. Wedding cake for everyone was a bit too traditional. Cupcakes at weddings are tired. Pies are messy. We knew we made the right decision when my dad, who is not much of a doughnut person, was in town visiting and proceeded to eat 2 doughnuts in the 10 minutes that it took to drive home from the shop.
Our main course catering was a much different situation. We are working on a budget and we considered some Cincinnati favorites of Indian or Skyline Chili. Both are reasonably priced, but we realized we actually would be serving something not a lot of people may eat. Lisa was quick to point out if we are tasked with providing a good meal for our guests, we should give them one.
This weekend we decided to give a small restaurant called Meatball Kitchen in the Short Vine neighborhood a try. They had catered a work event for a colleague and when I emailed them they came back with a quick response and great pricing. They do a fun and modern take on the meatball. We took a couple friends there this weekend and we all were blown away. I loved the veggie options, Lisa loved the pork option, and our friends loved the beef option. We ordered every side on the menu and we all enjoyed every single one of them.
It has felt like all our choices were a home cooked meal or something comforting that everyone loves but with an interesting twist that plays with our sensibilities. You could call it the perfect marriage.
In many religious communities, it is customary for men and women to spiritually ready themselves before they walk down the aisle. A traditional observance of Orthodox Jews is to take a bath, or immerse themselves into a sacred pool known as a mikveh. For those more familiar with Christian metaphors, it would be like getting a baptism in a pool filled with Holy Water. One of the times the ritual is preformed is before a couple becomes married. At the end of the day, it is all about becoming spiritually clean and purifying our bodies before we walk down the aisle.
I find myself spiritually readying myself without the assistance of the mikveh. I am exploring the idea of the mikveh ritual, but in the meantime, I have begun the process of spiritual readiness that may be good for people of all faiths!
We need to purify the body, and make sure we fit in those wedding clothes! That means we need to work out. I put roller derby on the shelf. It was not only hurting my body, but was beyond mentally taxing. So I hung up my skates and took down the yoga mat. I began to practice Bikram Yoga. Bikram is strict 26 posture yoga practice done for 90 minutes in 105 degree heat. I admit, I am not flexible at all, but I am finding myself being able to let go of the daily stresses and finding mental clarity. For me, it really has become a mind, body and soul cleansing process which is exactly what I had set out to do for the wedding. After one of those classes, it certainly feels like I have been immersed in water.
I also began to take ballet classes. I do not have a joke for that, but being a man of my size and limited flexibility, it is quite a laugh. And we all know, laughter is the best medicine. Well, next to matzo ball soup. Although, when getting in shape for a wedding, ballet class has fewer calories.
The next part of my spiritual readiness is coming from my mentor and my groomsman, Scott. Scott became my mentor when I was about 10 months into a mentoring program and really began to look at life from an honest perspective. Over the past 4 years or so, he has been not only a mentor but a friend and really helped develop me into the man I am today and when I met Lisa. Scott and I recently began to restart our work together. The purpose is that by the end of it all, you have re-established or deepened your relationship with G-D. This past weekend, I spent close to four hours reviewing over the phone with Scott. Although we have done this process before, I truthfully say that this an extremely powerful experience and am already experiencing changes in my life. Today, I feel spiritually lightened and on a path to repair, mend, and strengthen all my relationships in life.
There is a lot of work left to do. There is the long list of actual wedding to-do’s, but after completing this post, there is clearly spiritual work that needs to be completed as well. I am looking forward to sharing more with everyone and taking those traditions and putting our new spin on them. Time to hit the bar… the ballet bar.
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