Designing our Interfaith Ketubah

  

Couple looking at Ketubahs onlineWhen Jarrett and I started our wedding planning journey last April, I knew very little about Jewish wedding traditions. However, once I learned how important it was to Jarrett for us to have a Jewish wedding ceremony, I spent time learning about Jewish wedding traditions so we could find special ways to incorporate these traditions into our big day.

One tradition Jarrett and I have been particularly focused on over the last few weeks is the design of our interfaith Ketubah. The Ketubah is a Jewish marriage contract. In ancient times, this marriage contract was legally binding and confirmed that the groom would provide for his new spouse. Today, the Ketubah is a personalized piece of art that includes both meaningful text and design. The modern Ketubah has been adapted from ancient times to better illustrate modern marriage, the partnership between a couple and their love and commitment to each other.

During our first meeting with our wedding officiant, Rabbi Robyn Frisch (Director of IFF/Philadelphia), we discussed ceremony details, including the Ketubah. She advised that we choose a Ketubah that is meaningful to us, especially when deciding on the text. She informed us that there are different texts written for couples of different religious backgrounds so we should search for interfaith text for our Ketubah (for ideas see this InterfaithFamily resource). She also asked us to start thinking about who we would choose as our witnesses in signing our Ketubah on our wedding day. The two witnesses must not be related to us but should be very special people in our lives to share in such an important tradition.

Rabbi Robyn made suggestions on where to search for our perfect Ketubah, including the National Museum of Jewish American History in Philadelphia as well as Etsy online. Then, at our last InterfaithFamily Love & Religion workshop a fellow classmate who is also in the process of planning her interfaith wedding made the suggestion to look on www.ketubah.com.

I spent days scouring through the pages of beautifully-designed Ketubahs and shared many of my favorite designs with Jarrett. It’s a big decision as we look forward to having this special work of art displayed during our wedding ceremony in October and then hanging it inside our home for years to come. We loved so many of the options on the ketubah.com website. It was a hard decision but we were drawn toward the intricacy of the paper cut ketubah designs. Our favorite design has personalized touches within the artwork, including our names cut into the top. We can also choose to incorporate a favorite quote or phrase around the perimeter of the Ketubah design.

This is our favorite Ketubah design!

This is our favorite Ketubah design!

This site offered four interfaith text options for us to choose from. I printed one of each text choice from their website and on a recent road trip Jarrett and I spent time reading the texts together to determine which one was most meaningful to us. We chose an interfaith text that we could identify with and felt symbolized our partnership with words we would use toward one another. We felt especially connected to the text that states, “They choose each other as friends according to the teachings of our ancestors who said, ‘Acquire a friend with whom you will learn, next to whom you will sleep and in whom you will confide.’”

To make this wedding planning step even more special, Jarrett’s mom has requested to buy our Ketubah as part of our wedding gift because it is equally important to her that we have chosen to incorporate Jewish wedding traditions into our big day. We look forward to seeing our personalized Ketubah when it arrives and we are even more excited to participate in the Ketubah-signing ceremony on our wedding day in less than five months!

Surprise! It’s a Rabbi!

  

Wedding rings on the Torah

In the days after our engagement, we began to imagine our wedding. I had thought about a possible future wedding many times in the past, but the realness of that imagined wedding became heightened by our official engagement. Distant ideas like, “getting married outside might be nice,” were suddenly translated into Google searches for “outdoor wedding venues.” One of the first questions we asked ourselves was, “Who do we want to officiate?” I was actually surprised by how quickly the answer came to me. After flipping through the various options in my mind, I knew a rabbi was the right choice for us. I asked Amma what she thought of the idea, and without skipping a beat, she completely agreed.

Just a couple of years ago I don’t think either of us would have guessed that we would be married by a rabbi. For starters, neither of us is technically Jewish (depending on how you define Jewish). One could argue (and I often do) that I am Jewish because my grandparents are. Whether or not that argument wins, depends on the audience. Because I wasn’t raised Jewish, and whatever lineage I do have is on my father’s side, some would say I’m a far cry, but that has never stopped me from feeling Jewish! And that isn’t the only reason we want a rabbi for our ceremony.

As Amma and I examined our decision, we discovered our desire for a tie to something greater than ourselves to play a meaningful role in our wedding. We may not be religious, but we do feel a strong spiritual connection to humanity, the universe and God. It was clear to us that we wanted the person leading us into our marriage to be someone who is dedicated to that greater spiritual connection.

Sally Jane Priesand, the first woman in the United States to be ordained as a rabbi.

Sally Jane Priesand, the first woman in the United States to be ordained as a rabbi.

Also on a spiritual level, being two women, we felt that our union would be best endorsed and honored by the heart, experience and wisdom of a woman. Reform Judaism has not only been ordaining women and LGBTQ rabbis since the early 1970s but also supporting its followers in the LGBTQ community. This history of equality and acceptance was yet another great reason for us to adopt Judaism into our wedding and our lives.

So we knew we wanted a rabbi, but we still had to find the right one. I didn’t know what I would find when I started my search. Not only had we just moved to Philadelphia, but we also weren’t part of a Jewish community. I went online and Googled “Philadelphia rabbis,” and up popped an ad for InterfaithFamily. I didn’t know what InterfaithFamily was, but it sounded inclusive and open-minded, so I clicked. I liked what the InterfaithFamily community stood for and it seemed like it had grown from a wonderful place of wanting to bring people together. The fact that they had a rabbi referral service was more than I could have dreamed of.

The referral service was exactly what I needed, and my request was handled with care and attention. When I received a response from Rabbi Frisch, it felt like a gift. The questions on the referral form were used to compile a list of potential rabbis who were appropriately matched to our needs. It was fun learning about all these different rabbis. I did an Internet search for each candidate to find out more.

After narrowing the list down to a handful of rabbis who I thought might be a good fit, I sent out initial emails. I felt hopeful as the responses began popping up in my inbox. There were two or three who, through the tone and wording of their emails, felt like they could be “the one.” But over the next week or so, each conversation resulted in a dead end due to various issues, and there I was back at the drawing board, feeling defeated.

Rabbi Frisch must have heard my prayer, because the next morning I received an email from her asking how my search was going. I wrote back describing my fruitless efforts. In my reply I also felt inspired to talk about my strong desire to have a rabbi marry us, and why. Much to my surprise, but true to her generous nature, she offered to be our rabbi. I can’t begin describe my delight. Not only did I already feel like I was getting to know her through the emails we had written back and forth, but I absolutely knew she was a perfect fit for us.

There is something about the way everything worked out that just feels like fate. Since Rabbi Frisch agreed to officiate, we have met in person to chat and get to know each other better. Suffice it to say, we all hit it off wonderfully! We plan on meeting a few more times before the wedding to talk about the ceremony in more detail, and we can’t wait to see her again.

Top 3 Wedding Planning Tips from a Beginner

  
Crossing one more item off the to-do list! Creating our wedding registry!

Crossing one more item off the to-do list! Creating our wedding registry!

I have planned exactly one party in my lifetime. It was a surprise sweet sixteen birthday party for my best friend during our sophomore year of high school. The party was held in my parents’ basement decorated with balloons and streamers. Party guests successfully pulled off the surprise and spent the rest of the evening gobbling slices of pizza and birthday cake while mingling and listening to the latest tunes playing on my boom box.

Fast forward 12 years to 2016. I am knee deep in planning the biggest party of my life…my wedding! Jarrett and I are approaching our one year engagement anniversary (March 20th) and have been busy wedding planning for nearly 11 months now. We continue checking items off of our to-do list as we move closer to our October 2016 wedding. While our to-do list is much shorter than it was 11 months ago, it’s safe to say I probably looked like a happy deer in headlights last April. I was so excited about our recent engagement but had NO idea where to begin when it came to wedding planning. So I thought it might be helpful to share some planning tips that worked for us. We are by no means professionals when it comes to wedding planning but we’re having a lot of fun figuring it out!

1. Talk Details! Jarrett and I sat down one day and discussed everything we knew about weddings (mostly from the weddings we had recently attended). We brainstormed what we wanted and did not want in our day. We talked seasons: Summer? Too hot. Winter? Too cold. Spring? A spring 2016 wedding would only allow one year of planning which felt too rushed. We also discussed that weddings are very expensive and the additional months of planning would allow us to save more money. We had made our decision. A Fall 2016 wedding would allow a year and a half for all of the planning, decision making and money saving (it also happened to be my favorite season!). We drafted a guest list based on who we knew we would be inviting plus estimated a number for our parents’ guest lists. Our guest estimate totaled 150-200 individuals so we knew we needed a venue that accommodated at least 200.

Finally, while the wedding day is about celebrating us as a couple, we knew the majority of our guests would be traveling to celebrate with us and we did not want our wedding day to be an inconvenience for our friends and family. We knew we wanted a Saturday evening wedding with the ceremony and reception at the same location. So we had determined season, guest count and venue wish list. Then we discussed budget. We listed each wedding vendor we would need for our wedding day (Venue, Caterer, Photographer, DJ, Florist and Officiant). We created a budget range for each potential vendor prior to setting up any appointments. From there, we estimated a total budget range for all wedding vendors plus additional details (wedding dress, invitations, etc). It seemed we had it all planned on scratch paper! Now what?!

2. Get Organized! After our engagement, friends and family members had bought me a number of wedding magazines and I was so excited to start browsing through for inspiration. Over time, I started cutting ideas I liked out of the magazines so I could keep them in a pile and easily access them. I realized I needed somewhere to hold all of our wedding planning resources. I bought a three-ring binder and visited one of my favorite websites, Pinterest, and searched for “Wedding Organization Printables.” I found free print-out dividers and resources for “financials,” “guest list & seating” and “timeline/to-dos.” I knew that everything would be in one place and nothing would get lost. Through each step, I write in the amount we spent and checked it off the to-do list! As we decided on each vendor, I placed signed copies of our contracts in the binder so I could refer back to them when I needed a quick reference or to see when a future payment was due.

I created a wedding binder to stay organized during the planning process!

I created a wedding binder to stay organized during the planning process!

3. Do Your Homework/Be Willing to Be Flexible! I began searching for wedding vendors in the Philadelphia/South Jersey area. I utilized “The Knot” website/app on my phone to search vendors by location. The app made it easy to learn details about different vendors and read reviews from people who had utilized their services. I could even look at samples of vendors’ work (ie: photography/floral arrangements) on “The Knot” app.

First, we chose wedding venues to tour based on those that met our search criteria. We knew we would need a confirmed wedding date and venue selection before being able to book any additional vendors. I made the vendor appointments and Jarrett came along to every meeting to provide his opinion and support. It is helpful to make the decisions together since after all, it is our wedding day! We made a list of questions to ask before each meeting so we would be prepared. The reason I suggest being flexible is because many wedding venues, especially popular ones book up far in advance. We toured a wedding venue in April 2015 and fell in love with it. We knew we wanted to host our wedding there but it was booked through September 2016 for Saturday weddings. This is how we decided on an October wedding date (based on venue availability). If you have your heart set on a specific wedding date, you may need to be flexible with your venue choice. The more time you allow for planning, the more choices you will have!

Wedding websites

Some of the apps and websites I used for wedding planning inspiration and ideas

Other selling points for our venue included the staff; they thoroughly and professionally answered all of our questions and put our worries at ease. We learned that we could have both our ceremony and reception on-site and they even had on-site catering and bar service so we were able to save a few steps. Once we selected our venue, we continued booking our remaining wedding vendors one by one. We carefully read the vendor reviews, made lists of questions and compared prices and availability for our chosen wedding date.

My final planning tip would be to have fun! Many people have told me wedding planning is so stressful and they were happy when it was over. Truthfully, because we gave ourselves a lot of planning time, I have been enjoying this life chapter and may miss it when it all comes to an end because it’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We are still seven months away from the big day and there is still so much to do but I am content in what we have been able to accomplish thus far; especially since we’re figuring it out on our own and with the support of one another! Next up on the to-do list: designing invitations and yarmulkas! Stay tuned for more wedding fun.

A Jewish Wedding for a Catholic Girl

  

I was raised Catholic. I have received sacraments in the Catholic Church including Baptism, Penance, Holy Communion and Confirmation. While spirituality has always been an important part of my life, it has been a part of me that I have kept more reserved. As I grew through adolescence and into adulthood, the thought of marrying someone of a different religious background never crossed my mind. But after meeting Jarrett and growing closer, our different faiths became a norm in our relationship. We continue to teach each other about our different religious backgrounds and continue to respect each other for these differences… and that is how our relationship works.

Jarrett has been my wedding date to 10 weddings in the last two years. We have watched some of our closest friends and family members marry their significant others in Catholic, Jewish, Christian and non-denominational ceremonies. As each wedding came and went, I found myself thinking about what kind of wedding ceremony I might someday have. It wasn’t until Jarrett and I got engaged in March of 2015 that I realized my thoughts would soon become actions as we prepared to plan our interfaith wedding.

Happy at a wedding

One of my first Jewish Wedding experiences!

When Jarrett and I sat down to begin wedding planning, he expressed to me how important it was to him to be married by a rabbi in a Jewish wedding ceremony. At this point in time, I had been to two Jewish weddings but felt they were truly unique and memorable. I liked that the Jewish ceremonies were personal and intimate with a strong focus on the bride and groom. While I have always felt that Catholic wedding ceremonies are beautiful and meaningful, I had never dreamed of getting married in a Catholic church and this was not a requirement I needed in order to marry my best friend. What mattered to me was what Jarrett felt to be important for our big day. It was special to hear him explain that his Jewish heritage was very important to him and that having a Jewish wedding was something he had always wanted. So it was settled. We would be married by a rabbi in an interfaith wedding ceremony with an emphasis on Jewish traditions. The only problems were, I did not know a lot about Jewish wedding traditions and had no idea where we would find an interfaith rabbi to marry us!

As fate would have it, while working in Philadelphia one day, I had a meeting with a pharmaceutical representative. At the end of the meeting, I asked her if she had plans for the upcoming holiday weekend (Easter). When she responded that she was Jewish and celebrates Passover, I found myself feeling somewhat embarrassed that I hadn’t considered this before asking the question. I apologized then explained that my fiancé is also Jewish and that I celebrate Passover with him and his family. She asked about wedding planning and I explained that we had plans to look for a rabbi to marry us. She excitedly responded that she has a very close friend who just so happens to be a rabbi and the director of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia. She gave me her friend’s contact information and I reached out to introduce myself. Jarrett and I met with Rabbi Robyn Frisch and knew our search for the right wedding officiant was over before it had really even begun. Rabbi Frisch was kind, easy-going and non-judgmental. We look forward to working with her over the next several months and having her as an essential part of our big day!

During our second meeting with Rabbi Frisch, she provided us with some information to guide our decision-making through the ceremony-planning process. I was relieved to have someone to teach us more about Jewish wedding traditions so I could expand my knowledge and understanding throughout the planning process. Over the next several months, Jarrett and I will be busy making important decisions including designing our chuppah, choosing a ketubah and determining which Jewish wedding traditions to incorporate into our ceremony. As we continue to move closer to our wedding date, we are also looking forward to the opportunity to participate in InterfaithFamily’s “Love and Religion” Workshop which will give Jarrett and I the opportunity to dive deeper into some challenging scenarios that may arise in our future as an interfaith couple. I feel this will help strengthen our bond and allow us to learn even more about each other as we approach marriage. I look forward to sharing our wedding planning experiences as we move closer to saying “I do” in eight short months!

wedding venue

Where we will tie the knot in an interfaith wedding ceremony 8 months from now!

The Honeymoon is Over … and That’s Not a Bad Thing

  

Just married

The wedding was over a month ago, and we had a fantastic honeymoon in the Galapagos Islands and mainland Ecuador. It was an incredible mix of beautiful scenery, wildlife, laid back people and delicious food. It was insanely hard leaving behind 80-degree tropical weather with limitless ocean and volcano views to return to 10-degree gray and dreary weather in Philadelphia. But we did, and we are back with stories to tell.

I have been sick twice in the last two weeks since I got back (it’s been a bad winter) and I am working on making a complete career shift that is both scary and exciting. Back to reality. As it happens, the phrase “the honeymoon is over” feels pretty apropos, but luckily not regarding our relationship.

Over the last two weeks I have returned to my gratefulness practice where I can truly appreciate the unbelievable experiences we had and the opportunities we were given with the wedding.

There was something intangibly special about our wedding. Having everyone we loved in one place cheering us on and celebrating this milestone was a high I will carry with me forever. The photos we have and the trailer video from our videographer are mind blowing and awesome. They capture our love and admiration for each other, which is something I will cherish for many years to come.

First look

The first look

I look forward to watching my wedding video trailer (and the longer one still in progress) when we are at our highest and lowest moments, to remember how we felt on our wedding day. If you are planning a wedding and can splurge for a videographer in your wedding budget, do it. It is something you will have forever, long after the funny stories and fuzzy memories fade. It is something we would not have done because of cost, so having this included in the contest we won was such a blessing. But if I had to do it again, it is something I would spring for.

Our ceremony was exactly what we hoped it would be—intimate and meaningful—and it honored both of our religious backgrounds. Jose’s side loved seeing the Jewish traditions; his older relatives gave us feedback that they were glad they could witness them for the first time. My side adored the Filipino traditions, especially the arras, or exchanging of coins, and the cord and veil ritual, where Jose and I were clothed in a veil and a cord shaped in an infinity sign while we exchanged short promises.

Chord and veil ritual

We chose seven friends and relatives to recite seven blessings to us in English, as a nod to the Jewish tradition of a rabbi reciting the Sheva Brachot, or seven blessings, in Hebrew. We rewrote them to words that made sense for us and it was beautiful to have our loved ones say those words back to us.

We also did a candle lighting ceremony where our parents lit two candles and we used their flames to light our unity candle, as a nod to the Filipino tradition of the parents “lighting the way” for the new couple. We also incorporated the Jewish tradition of saying a blessing and drinking wine, and Jose broke the glass at the end of the ceremony, followed by a huge “Mazel tov!” from the crowd.

Candle lighting ceremony

Drinking the wine

The night before the wedding really set the tone for the weekend. We hosted a ketubah signing ceremony for our immediate families and the wedding party. This was something I thought long and hard about for months during wedding planning. Winning the contest was amazing in so many ways, but it was important to me to still have the intimate ceremony I always dreamed of. At the ketubah signing, we had our rabbi from our synagogue officiate by explaining what the document is and the meaning of it, and then leading us through signing it. We also lit Hanukkah candles for the sixth night of Hanukkah and Shabbat candles, since it was a Friday night.

Jose signing the ketubah

Jose wanted to write his name transliterated in Hebrew, so he used a note card provided by the rabbi!

We were able to accomplish a personal and meaningful feeling at our ceremony, thanks to our outstanding officiant who donated her services for the contest, Jill Magerman. I can’t recommend her highly enough. I feel like she is a part of our little family now.

But not everything went so easily. Two days before our wedding, Jose’s first cousin lost her courageous battle with cancer. It was devastating; she had her entire life before her and young children and a wonderful husband we all adore. We did our best to honor her life at our ceremony and to fill the hole left by her absence with happy memories from the evening. We were not able to be with Jose’s family at her funeral, but we said prayers for her while we were on our honeymoon.

Selfie at the yichudAfter the ceremony, Jose and I took a few moments alone for the Jewish tradition of yichud, or seclusion. It is a chance for us, as a newly married couple, to spend a few cherished moments alone before being showered with love by our family and friends at the reception. It was such a nice break in the day, and gave us a chance to take our first married selfie with our new rings.

The reception was the most fun I have ever had. We hired DJ Deejay, a nightlife and wedding deejay we go to see often, and he played non stop hits. (His slogan when he spins at Silk City Diner is “playing anything you can shake your hips to.”) I danced myself to exhaustion! It was glorious. I remember my face hurt so much from smiling and my voice was sore from singing.

We honored a bunch of traditions at the reception too: the hora (for the Jews), the money dance (for the Filipinos) and the anniversary dance. We did the cake cutting and I smashed cake in Jose’s face (sorry babe). But we did not do a bouquet or garter toss (sorry wedding party), although I did have some awesome friends recreate a bouquet toss of their own, which was hilarious.

The speeches by my parents, Jose’s mom and Uncle Jun, my sister (Maid of Honor) and Jose’s brother (Best Man) left me floored. I was seriously blown away by the power of their words and genuine joy that our families felt for us. And the craziest part was that my sister and Jose’s brother chose the exact same Dr. Seuss quote in their speeches, without planning it:

“We’re all a little weird. And life is a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness — and call it love — true love.”

Hold on, are we really that weird?

Ultimately nothing was better than Jose’s poetic vows. I knew he was sentimental and a great orator, but I had no idea he could tug at my heartstrings that hard. Jeez, he had me sobbing! And then smiling. And then laughing. His best line came off the cuff. He planned what he was going to say but then winged it to make it even better. He said, “Before I met you, I was singin’, I was dancin’, I was fine.” [Roar of laughter from the audience.] “Now you’re the music I dance to and the song that I sing.” [More sobbing from me!]

Our first dance was to Jason Mraz’s “I Won’t Give Up” which has a very special meaning to us. When we found ourselves playing it daily we knew it had to become our first dance song. Our favorite line is: “I won’t give up on us / Even if the skies get rough / I’m giving you all my love / I’m still looking up.” I can still hear the first few guitar chords playing in my head and it makes me tear up.

My father/daughter dance was also a highlight for me. We chose another Jason Mraz song, “93 Million Miles,” that holds a lot of meaning for me and my dad. Substitute the word “daughter” for “son” and the lyrics are basically a transcript of words he has said to me in the not so distant past. My parents have helped me out of difficult times, and to them I am so grateful. The song goes: “Oh, my my, how beautiful / oh my irrefutable father / He told me, ‘Son, sometimes it may seem dark, but the absence of the light is a necessary part.’” And for my mother who believes in me as I embark on a new career path: “Oh, my my, how beautiful / oh my beautiful mother / She told me, ‘Son, in life you’re gonna go far / If you do it right you’ll love where you are.’”

I think about the lessons my parents have taught me and those lyrics daily. They so beautifully capture the bond we have and the love and respect I have for how well they have raised me and my sister. I will have a lot to live up to when I become a parent!

I am not sure whether our guests noticed but Jose produced the wedding like a show, with acoustic versions of our first dance and other songs teased in at the ceremony and then played in full at the reception. He might have a second career in theater production.

As I settle back into real life, I find myself feeling my name change to my married surname to be very cool and very jarring. I am so happy to take Jose’s last name. Really giddy actually to be that solidly connected to him, but a name is such a huge part of anyone’s identity. And in my yoga teaching and writing I am Emily Golomb. It’s so weird to see my new name, Emily Sabalbaro, on Facebook and in print, and it will certainly take some getting used to. But my favorite part is that it marks the official start of a new chapter. As of December 12, 2015, I am beloved, and my beloved is mine.

In Our Love Story, Timing Was Everything

  

Stephanie & JarrettIt has been said that timing is everything. This belief is especially true for the evolution of my relationship with Jarrett over the last six years.

I first met Jarrett in February of 2010. Our encounter was brief. I was a junior at Penn State University and out with a group of girlfriends one night. I ran into Jarrett and his friend on my way to the bar. They introduced themselves, we exchanged a few words then I continued on as usual with my evening. Just another night out in State College…or so I thought.

A few weeks later, I was out to dinner celebrating my roommate’s birthday. Toward the end of our meal, I received a text from a friend. She said they were at a bar around the corner and that I should meet them after dinner. Now, it was a Wednesday night. I had a tough course schedule that semester and didn’t love the idea of staying out late on a weeknight. I told her I was tired and didn’t think I was going to make it. She responded with, “but there is someone here that wants to see you.” Curiosity got the best of me and after all, it was Saint Patrick’s Day. Being a redhead of Irish descent, I couldn’t disappoint my ancestors on this holiday, right? So, I finished up dinner and headed to Café 210 West.

When I approached my friends, I noticed there were a few boys with them and right in the center of the group sat Jarrett….timing is everything, right? I learned that a few of his fraternity brothers were friends with a group of my girlfriends. I was still skeptical. I mean, he was a fraternity boy (which must mean trouble) and a senior getting ready to graduate. I thought he would have no interest in dating. But, as I sat with him that evening, I learned that he was funny, confident and kind. We talked and hung out in the weeks leading up to his graduation. He even asked me to be his date to his Senior Fraternity Formal! But we never talked about our status as a couple.

After he graduated, we went our separate ways. I moved back in with my parents for the summer in Gilbertsville, PA, and he moved back in with his mom in Cherry Hill, NJ.  I thought for sure we would fall out of touch. But one summer day, he asked if I wanted to go on a date. We saw each other every few weeks after that and officially started dating! As we got to know each other more, he learned that I was raised Catholic and I learned that he was raised Jewish. This wasn’t anything new for me as I had a Jewish roommate in college who taught me the basics of Jewish traditions. Also, while I would say I’m a spiritual person, my Catholic faith background wasn’t the only thing that defined me. Plus, I liked this boy! And who knew where our relationship would go? I was only 21 years old at the time and wasn’t planning for marriage.

The following three years meant long distance for our relationship. I finished my senior year at Penn State, graduated and moved to Maryland to complete a dietetic internship to become a Registered Dietitian. He started his career in sales in New Jersey. Throughout the long distance, we strengthened our relationship through milestones such as meeting extended families and celebrating different holidays together for the first time including Passover, Easter, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Hanukkah and Christmas!

Engaged!

Proposal at the Nittany Lion Shrine

In the summer of 2013, we decided it was time to fix the distance between us. We started talking more about our future together and had some of the “tougher” conversations about things like where we should live, finances, marriage (more about that later) and children. In September of 2013, we made an offer on our first home in Cherry Hill, NJ.  I was offered a new job in Philadelphia (a short drive away) on the same day that our offer was accepted…they say timing is everything!

Just in case we didn’t have enough responsibility as new homeowners, we decided to adopt a golden retriever puppy in September 2014. We named him Nittany after our beloved alma mater.  On March 20, 2015, Jarrett, Nittany and I took a road trip back to Penn State for a mini-getaway. Upon our arrival, we stopped for a quick family photo-op at the Nittany Lion Shrine and to my surprise; Jarrett got down on one knee with Nittany as his witness and proposed in the place we had met almost five years to the day…timing is everything!

We will tie the knot in an interfaith ceremony in October 2016. I look forward to sharing our interfaith wedding planning journey!

The Mindful Bride

  
Engagement shoot

Emily and Jose at their engagement shoot in Philadelphia

Jose and I have recently incorporated a new practice into our lives to help prepare for our marriage. We have a daily mindfulness practice that helps us stop and appreciate each other and what we have. We take time to communicate what we are grateful for—both the good and bad things that happen in life—because all of that helps us evolve together. We practice being grateful for the present moment and appreciating the time we have together.

We recently had our engagement photo shoot, and it was amazing. To spend an hour looking into Jose’s eyes, hugging and kissing him, was exactly what I needed to take my mind off things. I am grateful for the photos, since I can always look back on them and remember the wild ride that wedding planning has been, and the fact that in the midst of it all we look truly happy. The photos captured our love in a way that I can never put into words (and believe me, I am trying to find the words as I attempt to write my own vows), but it is evident in the way we look at each other and in our smiles.

I have always kept a journal, and I recently read a journal entry of mine from two months after Jose and I started dating, on the evening of my birthday on June 30, 2009. Jose was in the Philippines for a family reunion, and I was at my house alone. It was clear that our love was strong from the start, with all the times I wrote “I miss him” and “I want to spend my life with him.” But what I truly enjoyed reading is something I am grateful for now.

I wrote about the serious doubts I had for our interfaith relationship. I questioned every aspect: how we’d raise kids, how our kids would self-identify, what I would think if my kids “chose” Jose’s Catholic religion, what values are important to our families and how we would navigate those desires and balance them with our own. Would I acquiesce on incorporating Jewish traditions into my home, or would I even care five, 10, 15 years down the road? Would I become more or less Jewish as I got older? Would I want a Christmas tree in my house? Would I sing Christmas carols? Would Jose accept if my opinions on religion changed over the years? Finally, should religion be a deal-breaker?

From the start of our relationship, I was honest and communicated my concerns with Jose, and we worked on it together. I read that entry now with a huge smile on my face. I am grateful that we grew together from the experience and tackled the challenge, to the point where it’s no longer an issue. Of course, religion will still present challenges throughout our lives but we have built a solid foundation of love and acceptance to face those challenges.

After thoughtful discussions and honest answers, Jose and I decided that we would only look at our religions as an asset to our relationship, not as an impediment. Our backgrounds are a means for us to see the world through a different lens and to become more empathetic and compassionate human beings. We have been a team from the start, and we have taken a true interest in and respect for each other’s cultures. I didn’t fully realize until now, re-reading that entry, just how far we have come.

Our new daily mindfulness practice begins with the idea of being grateful. Jose and I reflect on three things we are grateful for that happened during the day. Because we are vocalizing these things and giving them careful consideration, they usually end up being bigger picture things. Often just stepping back from the minutiae of our lives to reflect on the positive is enough to pull our minds out of the rut that can drag us down. We started doing this at the suggestion of a life coach we met (her name is Pax Tandon if you’re inclined to look her up and work with her) and we try to do it every night before dinner.

Because it is a practice and nobody is perfect, it’s freaking hard. It’s a challenge just to shell out the time to have a mindful dinner, meaning clearing off the table and putting things in serving bowls (instead of eating out of whatever containers the to-go food came in or right off the pan), and talking to each other instead of watching TV. After a long day, we just want to wind down and sit on the couch. Sometimes that is what we need, so we do that, but mostly it feels more satisfying to challenge ourselves to do the gratefulness practice. We have made huge strides in our positivity and stress management from just a few short weeks of this.

Whether you are planning a wedding or just going about your daily life, practicing mindfulness can have an immense benefit on your life. But it is a practice, and it doesn’t just happen in one day. There are ample articles popping up on the benefits of mindfulness, and as a yoga teacher, I am a firm believer in the practice. Mindfulness means letting go of the past and not worrying about the future, replacing all of those thoughts with an awareness of and appreciation for the present. If that sounds impossible to you, you’re mostly right. No human can entirely live in the present moment, because we carry our past experiences with us at all times. But the practice means we take simple, measurable steps each day to expand our ability to live in the present, and it really does open our eyes to the subtleties in life we would have otherwise ignored.

Mindfulness can mean you incorporate meditation (even a short, comfortable seated five-minute meditation) or set intentions for your day (a to-do list that you check off), or maybe even make reminders to take deep breaths. It means working on belly breathing: breathing diaphragmatically, not into your upper chest. It means considering and being grateful for the food you eat, where it came from and how many steps it took to get to you. Gratefulness is a part of mindful living, and taking that step alone to incorporate thoughts into your day of what you are grateful for, instead of what you don’t have, can have a huge impact.

If you choose to incorporate this practice into your life, allow yourself space to think about the negatives, even to complain about them, but don’t let them consume you. You may try to think of the things that are not going how you thought they would, what you wish to change, and what hurts you, and then immediately follow those thoughts with positives to counter it. Or you may try to start with a positive and find that the negative seems so slight in comparison. When there are really big negatives in your life and they seem insurmountable (believe me I can relate) you might try to break down each day into parts and find a small bit of positivity and gratefulness in a few moments. If you’re interested in incorporating mindfulness practices into your life, I would be happy to help steer you in the right direction for resources, and if you’re in Philly, I will absolutely drag you to a yoga class with me!

Most of all, what Jose and I have found in the last few weeks of incorporating a mindfulness practice is that we are so thankful that we are still here together, supporting each other and preparing for our marriage. Looking back on how far we have come and expressing gratitude for it, especially regarding our different religions, is so rewarding. Every relationship takes work and practice, and we are mindful that we need to consistently work to be the best we can be for each other. I encourage anyone reading to try this, because just knowing that your partner is showing up each day with as much care and effort as you are, even if your practice together that day sucks or if you half-ass it, is a game-changer. It has been a rock for us. The richness in overcoming the challenges that life gives us and growing stronger for it has gotten us to this point—a month and half until our wedding day, and I absolutely can’t wait! Let’s do this!

When S**t Got Real

  
Jose & Emily

Jose & Emily at a wedding over Labor Day

All the wedding planning up until now was smooth. It felt like a dream, somewhere between a fairytale type of dream and the feeling of being separated from reality. Like those moments when you first fall asleep and can’t decide whether you are awake. At some point, I should have pinched myself to see if I was awake. Instead, life took care of that for me.

Things in my life changed. Some things were bad. Things started happening in the lives of those very close to me. Everything collided simultaneously. No matter what was happening, it wasn’t raining—it was pouring, and I didn’t have an umbrella. S**t got real.

I get angry thinking about earlier Emily in her previous posts. Why was she so darn cheery? Why was everything such a breeze for her? Screw her! When serious things started to happen in my life, I didn’t think I could plan a wedding anymore. I did a lot of thinking and that thinking led to doubt. Were we making decisions without thinking about budget? What is our budget anyway? Did we research things enough to make informed decisions? Was this was the type of wedding I wanted? Were the things that were chosen for us as uniquely and appropriately “me” as I wanted them to be?

Yes, we won a wedding contest, and most of the vendors were chosen for us and are free, but other things are covered at a base price that we will end up upgrading. Still, other things are not covered at all. That may add up to a considerable amount of money in the long run. Since s**t had recently gotten real in my life, I started to get insanely frustrated when people said, “Well you won a free wedding so there’s not much to complain or worry about.” OK, maybe it was my fault for telling everyone it was free, but I was suddenly wrestling with my gratitude for winning and the reality of what the final bill would be. And I certainly did have a lot to complain and worry about aside from the wedding.

I am eternally appreciative of what we are receiving, and I hate saying anything that sounds less than grateful. After all, instead of being a free wedding, it’s probably more like the sale-of-a-lifetime on a wedding, which no one really gets, and that’s nothing to take lightly.

Things have started to come around for me. I think about where I was mentally in the last month, and I’m glad everything is evening out. I am excited to plan our wedding and I’m so excited to look into Jose’s eyes as I say my vows. I realize that’s what really matters, not all the silly decisions. He’s been my rock through this adversity, and I’m weirdly grateful for everything that’s happened, since this tough time has served to strengthen our partnership. It has reinforced that Jose is the man I want to spend my life with. He always has a way of making me laugh and bringing me back to what’s important in life. He’s my best friend and my soul mate.

I’ve turned the corner mentally, aided by the contemplative and introspective time of the Jewish “Days of Awe;” the time between the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). This time offers the chance to right your wrongs from the last year and reflect on how you’d like to improve in the next year. It’s an interesting task to contemplate the sins you’ve made against yourself, your loved ones and your community. This offers a chance to connect deeper with family members and those close to you, and to reach out for support.

With plenty of time to think, I arrived at a place of happiness and contentment with our wedding choices and with what we have been given. The wedding will be incredible, and not because it’s some magical fairytale, but because it’s real. Because it isn’t perfect. Because real s**t can happen in our lives and Jose and I can get through it together. Because we are better together than we are apart and I want to scream that from the top of the Loews Hotel Philadelphia in December!

The DIY Conundrum

  

Save the Dates

Our wedding is three-and-a-half months away (yay!) and we have a lot to do. We checked off the major items and now we must decide on the smaller pieces. Should we do those things ourselves or hire professionals? The invitations, the honeymoon, and more—these are things we could design, plan and book ourselves if we want to. But do we want to?

In a dream world, which one could argue I spend too much time in, my love of Pinterest and TLC shows would translate into the DIY wedding of my dreams with no stress and at a fraction of the cost. These details that we have to plan now are not covered by the wedding contest that we won, so we can choose how to handle them. Do we put our stamp on them and hopefully save money, or do we spend money and let professionals handle them, because most other vendors are covered by the contest?

Sometimes I get lost in thought envisioning an alternate universe without the contest where I am three and a half months out but have drowned in a treacherous sea of bad DIY art projects flooded with ribbon and lace. It’s not a pretty scene. Maybe winning the contest saved me from myself, and I should let trained professionals handle the rest. After all, it’s a predictable formula where David Tutera has to swoop in to save the day: Girl gets big ideas for DIY wedding. Girl gets in over her head. Girl pulls all her hair out. Girl ends up hiring professionals.

save the datesFor the save the dates, I did do them myself, and it was a DIY project that I’m very proud of. I hired a designer and friend of mine whose work I am fond of and we designed the font, colors and style that felt right for me and Jose. We designed them as postcards to save time and money, and I hand-cut each one with a ruler and X-Acto knife, which took a few hours on a Friday night. Jose and I even added our own touch with a cute hashtag (thanks Melanie!).

For the invitations, I’m at a crossroads now. Do I design them from scratch and source the paper and printer to live out my wildest fantasy of a very unique invitation, or do I go to an invitation shop, pick what we like most and call it a day? It’s a black hole once you start Googling what past brides have done and what they’ve learned from the experience. There is good advice, but mostly there is just too much advice. Sometimes you gotta try it for yourself. Sometimes you gotta get dirt on your hands (or in the case of paper, blood!). But that’s a very scary proposition and could end up taking more time and money than we want it to. Regardless, I visited Paper Source in Center City to look at paper, and I’m feeling very inspired to do them myself! I think I can pull it off.

For the honeymoon, we met a fantastic and inspiring “travel designer” who builds dream honeymoons from scratch. She was a riot and we loved her personality and approach. She has traveled the world and specializes in unique accommodations in cities around the globe. Things like treetop hotels and hard-to-find vacation rentals and scheduled itineraries. Ultimately, Jose and I decided that we love doing the research that goes into booking a trip and it feels more rewarding to book our own activities and places to stay, so we are going it alone without a travel agent. We booked our flight and are thrilled to say that our honeymoon will be in the Galapagos over the winter holidays! (That’s literally all we’ve planned for the trip, though. Phew, we better get on that!)

For the rehearsal dinner, there are elements we might make DIY, too. I am gluten-free by necessity since I have Celiac disease, so I want to find a place that has options for me. My future sister-in-law has a severe seafood allergy, so we also need to find a place that can accommodate her. We are currently looking at unique spaces to rent where we can bring in a caterer of our choice instead of renting out a restaurant, but there are so many challenges (and costs!) to doing that.

Our dream would be to serve food that incorporates Jewish elements, since our rehearsal dinner and wedding are during Hanukkah, and Filipino elements to honor Jose’s background (and because the food is delicious!). My dream on top of that dream is to have gluten-free jelly donuts (sufganiyot) for a traditional Hanukkah treat, but I may need to focus on the bigger picture and just plan the rehearsal dinner before I get too excited about dessert! It may be simpler and better to find the right restaurant with a price-fixed menu, so we could always end up going that route, but for this one we are exploring what DIY options may be out there.

Ultimately, the process of making these decisions is exciting and enjoyable for me, since I’m decisive about what I want and Jose is an active and involved partner. I won’t look back and wonder “what if” I chose the wrong thing, because I know that no bride can go wrong with what she chooses. It’s her wedding (and it’s just a wedding) so if someone judges you for choosing differently than they would, so be it. You are doing it your way and making it your own. That is never wrong.

Keep following my blog for more updates on our wedding planning. I can only imagine (or hope) how much further along we’ll be a month from now!

A Rabbi, a Puppy, a Catholic and a Jew Walk into a Bar

  
Emily and Jose take a break from wedding planning to enjoy time outside.

Emily and Jose take a break from wedding planning to enjoy time outside

A rabbi, a puppy, a Catholic and a Jew walk into a bar… Sounds like the setup for a bad joke, right? Much the opposite. It was a brainstorming session for incorporating religious traditions and the things we love into our wedding ceremony.

Jose and I joined a reform synagogue last year—Rodeph Shalom on Broad Street. We joined not because I felt particularly religious at the time, and not because Jose is planning on converting, but because we felt a strong sense of community there. Jose accompanied me to a High Holiday service there a few years back and we noticed same-sex couples, multiracial couples and folks of all ages. It was eye-opening to me. Growing up in Baltimore, I had not seen that kind of diversity inside a synagogue. Jose and I instantly felt a welcoming and inclusive vibe and figured this synagogue must be doing something right. Jose even remarked that this was not the exclusive, “chosen” mentality he’s previously encountered with Judaism. I agreed.

We took a class with a young rabbi by the name of Eli, and it proved extremely beneficial for us in understanding each other’s spirituality. The class was called “Judaism 101,” but it was not designed to preach Judaism’s teachings. It was a discussion about the basic tenets of Judaism and whether we identify with those principles and ideas of god (little “g” and big “G”). With our classmates old and young, Jewish and not, religious and not, and of various racial and ethnic backgrounds, we discussed how each of our upbringings have influenced our thinking. Jose got to dip his toes further into the world of Judaism and I got a refresher course and some new information.

Rabbi Eli invited the class to his beautiful apartment in the city for Shabbat dinner and we loved the experience. We’ve since gone to a few other Shabbat/Hanukkah dinners through the synagogue and through InterfaithFamily, and we have kept in touch with events happening at the synagogue. Through the wedding contest that we recently won, the officiant was chosen for us. She is amazing (see my previous blog post!), but I wanted to incorporate a personal touch for the Jewish aspect of the wedding. The ketubah signing (Jewish marriage license) traditionally happens right before the ceremony and it is very important to me, so we reached out to Rabbi Eli to see if he would be interested in officiating it.

Rabbi Eli suggested we meet at a bar (how cool is that?) and we brought along our 7-month-old puppy and sat outside at one of the best bars in the city. If you had asked me at age 13 whether I’d be having drinks with a rabbi at a bar I would have slapped you and called you crazy. If you had even asked me whether I’d belong to a synagogue and have a rabbi that I called on, I might call you crazy for that. Needless to say, there we were.

We spoke with Rabbi Eli about the most meaningful thing to us in the wedding—the ceremony. Although we were there to discuss the ketubah signing, he became an amazing sounding board for all of our questions about the ceremony. We discussed what religious traditions we could incorporate and how the choices would be significant to our families and friends. We talked about how to involve our families in the ceremony. We disclosed that while we enjoy sharing our love publicly (if you are friends with us on Facebook you know), I am private about things that are important to me and I want the ceremony to feel intimate. Most of all, we expressed how we are using our engagement as a time for reflection about our relationship. We are honest about what we each want from our marriage and we recognize that this is the time in our lives to speak openly about it. (Sidenote: It’s a lot less scary to ask your partner direct questions than to wonder what they think, and it’s a lot easier to do it now than in 10 or 20 years.) Plus, we want to build a solid foundation for the rest of our lives together and we want to be prepared for any challenges that may arise.

One of the biggest challenges in planning a wedding is to avoid getting wrapped up in the minutiae. I am eternally grateful to have won a wedding contest, because it has, for the most part, allowed us to remain relatively free of financial woes and family drama that is usually inherent in planning a wedding. Surely, the time will come when those challenges appear, but for now we are able to keep our focus on the marriage, not on the wedding, and we can focus on the foundation we’re building together.

After our meeting at the bar, Rabbi Eli shipped us a book he recommended we read, called Meeting at the Well: A Jewish Spiritual Guide to Being Engaged. I’m about halfway through it, and it’s great. The focus of the book is on using the engagement period, however long it may be, to work through how you both feel about certain issues, religious and otherwise. While some of it can be cheesy, it does have exercises and discussion points on topics ranging from raising kids to intimacy to finances to how you spend your free time. It’s a great resource for us to discuss things we never thought would be important. I learned some new things about Jose in the process, which truly surprised me after six years of dating and five years of living together.

Over the next few months, I’m looking forward to the fun stuff: bachelor and bachelorette parties, the tastings, the engagement photo shoot, working with the DJ on what songs to include and planning our honeymoon (no that’s not included!). Stay tuned for more updates on our wedding planning!