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In the end, the wedding went the way it was supposed to. That’s not to say that we didn’t hit a few snags along the way, most of them caused by me. I may have left our room at the hotel a mess prior to Shannon’s arrival. “Do you want the photographer to get pictures of your socks and underwear?” Shannon asked me. I may have forgotten to take the cake to the restaurant at which we had dinner afterwards, but one of Shannon’s brothers was able to get it there. And my best man might have stared in horror as I prepared to iron my tallit by first touching the iron to see how hot it was. In my defense, I had other things on my mind, and Mike’s much better at ironing than I am, anyway.
Our common phrase “mazel tov” is used to mean “congratulations,” but its origin is really astrological, meaning something like, “it was in the stars.” That’s what our wedding day was like; the stars were aligned for us. The weather was beautiful. Family members were all on their best behavior. I managed to keep my awkwardness to a minimum.
Our rings and ketubah.
Shannon and I wanted our ceremony not only to join us in marriage, but also to educate our families regarding the faith that informs our life together. To that end, we began with havdallah (the ceremonial end of Shabbat), and Rabbi Freedman narrated the ceremony throughout, explaining why we circled one another, why I broke the glass, and so on. Our approach seems to have worked; Shannon’s grandmother enjoyed the ceremony so much that she said she needed to find a Jewish man to marry!
Readers of this blog know that the decision to hold a Jewish wedding ceremony was not an easy one for me, but I couldn’t imagine having done it any other way. The picture above, in which Shannon is placing my prayer shawl on me, is symbolic of our relationship and the role Judaism plays in our lives. Although she is not Jewish, it is Shannon who cooks Rosh HaShanah dinner, Shannon who encourages me to become more involved in shul, and Shannon who has chosen to adapt to my lifestyle.
Shannon drapes my tallit on me. Look at how serious I am!
Drama on the bimah!
I wrote this blog in part to share the experiences of one interfaith couple, and I hope it has been interesting and informative for readers. But my motives weren’t completely selfless; it was therapy, too. I learned about life and myself as Shannon and I navigated the wedding planning process and as I narrated our story here. (These are the lessons I learned, and aren’t meant to be instructions for anyone else!):
It is easy to speak, harder to listen, and harder still to find common ground.
It’s important to examine the gap between what one does and what one claimsÂ to do.
Individual experience is as important as ideals, policies, beliefs, etc. In other words, life is messy and complicated.
Just as “haters gonna hate,” “lovers gonna love.” (Thanks to Rabbi Freedman and my friend Eugene S. for sharing these nuggets of wisdom.)
Community is an important Jewish value. Shannon and I couldn’t have planned our wedding alone. We’d like to extend our sincere thanks to:
InterfaithFamily for providing us the opportunity to share our story, and, in particular, my managing editor, Lindsey, for her help throughout.
Shannon practiced saying âShanah tovahâ during the week leading up to Rosh Hashanah.
âHow do you say that thing?â she said.
âWhat thing?â I replied, all innocence.
âYou know, that thing you say that means âhappy new year.ââ
âOh, that thing.â I told Shannon how to say it and listened as she repeated it. That she wanted know the right thing to say, and how to say it, made me smile.
Communication featured prominently in last weekâs Torah portion, Noach, too. Everyone knows about Noah and the Flood, but tucked at the end of the parsha is the story of the tower of Babel. All humankind, possessing the âsame language and the same words,â began building âa tower with its top in the sky, to make a nameâ for themselves. God saw what humankind was up to and concluded, “If, as one people with one language for all, this is how they have begun to act, then nothing that they may propose to do will be out of their reach.â God then âconfoundsâ peoplesâ speech so that they donât understand one another. (Breishit / Genesis 11:1-9.)
The tower of Babel is, on its surface, a straightforward explanation as to why people speak many languages rather than one. Having seen humankindâs hubris, God literally descends from the heavens to which the people were building and puts a stop to it. Some of my fellow congregants at Rodeph Shalom were troubled by what they perceived as Godâs capriciousness. âWhy,â they asked, âwould God give us the potential to do something, and then, when we do it, punish us for it? Why would God make it harder for us to understand one another, which leads to endless strife?â
There are deeper theological currents in such questions than Iâm qualified to parse, but I donât think that by âconfoundingâ our speech God was simply âpunishingâ us. Indeed, absent from the story is any sense of severe judgment, and God is forgiving considering we were building a stairway to his house. âNothing that they may propose to do will be out of their reach,â God says. Should we have reached our zenith at the very beginnings of history? If it is true in Judaism that we are Godâs partners in the act of creation, and that we use the tools we have to work toward a more perfect world, then I prefer to think of the worldâs many languages not as barriers to understanding, but as a nudge to better comprehend oneâs fellows, as reason to reach out not with a closed fist, but with an open hand.
Shannon holds our ketubah, designed by Etsy seller Once Upon a Paper.
As our wedding approaches, Shannon and I are becoming more aware of the ways in which the ceremony will be an act of translation, of one culture speaking to another. The irony of our wedding night is that, of the dozen or so people present, only two will be Jewish: myself and the rabbi. My family members have rarely encountered Jewish people, and the only Jewish event they ever attended was my conversion. Thus Shannon and I, and our friend and officiant, Rabbi Eli Freedman, have determined that our wedding will be not only a ritual we perform for ourselves, but also an opportunity to educate our families about the faithway that informs our lives.
Rabbi Freedman will not only lead the ceremony, but heâll also narrate it for the benefit of our families. Heâll explain to our mothers and siblings what weâre doing and why. We want our families to understand the symbolism of the event, to know why weâll circle one another and why Iâll break the glass.
What better way to âtranslateâ Judaism for others than by to invite them to participate? Family is one of the foremost Jewish values, and, to that end, our families have roles to fulfill during the ceremony. My sister and Shannonâs brothers and sister-in-law will hold the poles of the chuppah. Shannonâs mother will read the Irish wedding blessing (which is cultural, not religious). And weâll remember my father, without naming him, when my mother reads Koholet (Ecclesiastes) 3:1-8, which was read at his funeral service. Weâll emphasize the positive half of each of those verses, âa time to build…a time to laugh…a time to dance,â and not only honor my father, but also invest them with a happier significance.
There are elements in the contemporary Jewish community that see only a tide of darkness, âa time to weep, a time to mourn,â especially in regards to interfaith marriages. To approach it thus is to say, as my fellow congregants did, âWhy did God do this to us?â Shannon and I choose to celebrate our marriage as an opportunity for greater understanding. We were given different ways of speech, Jewish and not, but that doesnât mean we canât communicate. âCome, let us build a city.â
One of us has said that every week since we began planning our wedding. âWe should have eloped,â I say. âI know,â 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, âThey have no power at all! Why worship idols?â (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.
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 âOver the Rainbowâ 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 âissues,â 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.
It’s us again, and Daisy (our cat) says hi too. (Have you ever tried using a laptop while a cat is also trying to occupy said lap?)
We’re continuing to move along with wedding planning, with just under four months until W Day! Slowly things seem to be shaping up. This of course has entailed the usual back and forth with our respective matriarchs, calls to DJs and florists, menu planning and continuing the ongoing odyssey of discovering how we actually want the day to look and feel. All of this while Ethan juggles full-time work plus two grad classes, and Mia transitions between jobs. Suffice to say we got a lot goin’ on, and practically have to book appointments with each other to ensure dedicated planning time. But it works, and that’s the important thing!
So far we have been fortunate in many things. For instance, one of the DJs we contacted said it would be no problem to have a period of traditional Jewish dancing. He even threw down with some Yiddish. Mia is confident a traditional Indian wedding vase can be easily procured (she says “Indian” because, as the residents on the reservation close to her parents’ house note, they aren’t Native Americans because this wasn’t always America…but we digress…)
Technology has definitely made living in Boston while planning an Arizona wedding much more feasible. Emails help bridge the time zones, and our “wed site” has kept friends and family members from across the country informed about logistics and what to expect. The Internet also played a large role in selecting vendors. Our wedding consultant had sent us a few links for photographers she highly recommended, and because photography is, well, visual, as is the Internet, we felt very confident when we clicked on one of the links and found ourselves staring at an album that matched our vision. But how to connect with this person who would memorialize moments of our most special day? We’d heard horror stories about photographers who looked good on paper but were wet blankets on the day of. Skype to the rescue!
We were particularly excited this past week when we Skyped with Christine, our photographer, so that we could “meet.” We felt like goofy kids, all three of us giggling and exclaiming how cool it was that we could see each other! It’s not like we’re new to Skype, but it is still neat to have a chance to have a face-to-face interview from 2,000 miles away. (Mia has noted lately how it’s hard to feel like a bride sometimes when she can’t physically be there to meet vendors or go shopping for dresses with her interstate brides maids…but she digresses…) We hope to Skype with the DJ and florist as well. We’ll have to fly to AZ to do our menu and cake tastings…no food replicator similar to that in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” has hit the market yet. Unless you know something we don’t know…;)
Has Skype played a valuable role in YOUR wedding planning or relationship building?
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.
I canât believe that I am sitting here writing my last blog post before the big day.Â Weâve hit the final countdown and Iâm reminded of it as the weather forecast moves from the 10 day into the 5 day.Â 5 days until the wedding!
Iâm set to leave on my big Mikvah trip in a few hours.Â Well.Â Ok.Â Bachelor party.Â Iâve just decided to see my upcoming three day adventure as a way to cleanse myself of any feelings of anxiety or stress.Â I am going to use my time-with-the-boys to ground myself and walk down the isle with a clean mind and spirit.Â I donât think that I can think of anything more comforting than spending time with people whom I would trust with anything.Â They have always been there for me, since we were kids, and will continue to be there for me no matter what happens.Â They are the people that I am most comfortable around and Iâm happy to have them put me in the mind frame to push me out of this liminal space and into married life
We have so much going on that my whole body is spinning (not just my head anymore!) Although the plans are shaping up, I canât forget that there is always going to be more to do.
The benefit to being us is that we donât stress too easily.Â This is one of those times where we both understand that if it gets done, great.Â If not, we will still have the best day ever.
I will be totally ready.
Iâm excited to start this adventure, and honored to be a part of Lulaâs life.Â Iâm just so glad that itâs her.
So we got our marriage license today.Â May 7th.Â Exactly one month from the wedding.
How nutty is that?
Our list keeps getting smaller but for some reason it feel like it never ends.Â When I worked in the bookstore it felt like no matter how often I alphabetized the stacks or cleaned up the kids section, it would never be done.Â The next day I would have to start all over again.Â You know.Â Like homework.Â Well.Â Thatâs kind of what itâs like planning for a wedding.Â You turn a corner and boom.Â Double boom.Â Two more corners to turn.
I hated homework.Â In high school it was a chore.Â In college it was busy work.Â Now.Â Homework separates us from our wedding day.
We meet again with Rabbi Berman in a few days and I havenât even looked at the list of things that we are supposed to have prepared. (Sheâs reading this now and thinking about how interesting our conversation will be when I tell her that we did it all last minuteâHi Rabbi Berman.)
And weâre talking important stuff here.
Since Lu and I just outright refuse to take things at face value it means that we will be crafting our own 7 blessings.Â We will be writing the Kettubah.Â We will be tweaking the language and we will be happy with it. Â But, man.Â Thereâs a lot to do!
So as I sit here knowing full well that the next month is going to be a rough ride I canât help but think that I wouldnât have it any other way.
The other night Lu and I talked about how it would be if I were marrying a Jew. Â Well.Â I probably would just take it all at face value.Â Jew to Jew means that you can kind of roll with the punches and take the easy route.Â I could take what was handed to me and just let it be the Jewish wedding that has happened for centuries.Â The fact that we are trying so hard to make sure that there is meaning in it for both of us makes it that much more awesome.Â Iâm proud of what we are doing.Â We are taking a Jewish ceremony and making it have meaning for me, Jewishly and non Jewishly, and crafting the ceremony that Lu has always wanted.
Granted, we could never do this without the wonderful guidance of our Rabbi and community.
Itâs a wonderful ride and I have every expectation that we will get an A+.
Eight weeks left until the big day and I feel like we have barely gotten started on what needs to be done. Life just flies by so fast now that I know June will be here before we know it. Between the invitations that havenât gone out and the Ketubah that is yet to be made, I feel like we have more on our plate now than when we started. How did that happen?
Lu and I have taken every step to internalize each piece of tradition and make it our own. It is a big task to be able to separate ritual from tradition and I often feel that life would be easier were we to take things at face value. But hey. Whatâs the fun in that?
Tradition ends where the new age begins. Right?
I mean. There comes a point where a chuppah is just a chuppah and a ketubah is just a ketubah. But why not make these things ourselves? Why not create them so that they donât create us. I feel like we spend a lot of time internalizing and a lot of time in conversation about these traditions. We make each piece a challenge. And the truth is: I love it.
It makes me feel closer to Judaism.
We have spent the better part of a year planning this thing and the more that we have to learn, the more I feel connected. The more that we have to figure out together, the more I feel connected. The more we meet with Rabbi Berman, the more I feel connected. The more I write this blog, the more I feel connected. Itâs like Iâm creating a new relationship with an old friend. My Judaism is fresh. It makes me feel good.
I know that we have much learning to do. And just like when our son, Raiden was born, I know that we will never be ready.
The best that we can do is to do our best. We will begin our life together knowing that we didnât just take what was prescribed and that we are in every capacity to carve out our own path.
Where does one put her individuality and feminism aside for the greater good? This is the question I face.
I’m talking about our processional at our wedding. What I didn’t know is that it is Jewish tradition for the parents to not only walk their child down the aisle but to also stand under the huppah with them. For various reasons mostly dealing with logistics, we had decided that only us, our son, and the rabbi would be under the huppah. Needless to say, this was quite the punch to my mother-in-laws gut. However, she accepted this with the consolation that she would still get to walk her son down the aisle.
That’s where the issue begins. I didn’t want my parents to walk me down the aisle. As a thirty-two year old mother who has been on her own in the world for quite a while, I felt that no one needed to “give” me away. I am giving myself to Alx. To add to this, there is some heavy water under the bridge when it comes to my relationship with my father. I’ve come a long way in life emotionally but on this issue I’m torn. Do I put aside my issues and let my parents walk me so Alx’s parents can walk him?
From what I understand, in Judaism this is a symbolic gesture of releasing their child into adulthood. They’ve supported and cared for them under their own roof and they are now escorting them with love to the new home that the child will make with his/her spouse. It’s actually a heart warming ritual but what about when there is unresolved issues between child and parent(s)?
I guess this would be easy if I were Jewish as well because then it would just be. The choice would be made for me out of tradition and ritual.
Alx and I have talked about this intimately and I’ve even spoken with my mother-in-law about it. She understands my position and has selflessly left it up to me. Even though it breaks her heart, she is willing to give up this ritual if it is going to make me uncomfortable. I have to say that I really lucked-out with mother-in-laws. Miki is caring, understanding, easy to talk to, a bit bossy at times but always, always puts her children’s well-being before anything.
She has accepted me as her daughter with open arms and an open heart. This is why I’m in the process of reconciling the issues that are stopping me from participating in this ritual. It bothers me to have my parents walk me but that pales to the heaviness in my heart at taking this away from Alx and his parents. Jewish or not, Alx is extremely close to his family and they are active participants in every aspect of his life. I want to accommodate but I don’t really know how to do that without compromising myself.
Our rabbi says that this situation is a paradox because it’s all in the viewpoint. I can have them walk me and see it as a healing moment or I can focus on the negative and allow that to ruin the moment. I can not walk with them and it might be negative since it is in reaction to the unresolved issues or I can not walk with them and retain my current viewpoint of individuality and self-sufficiency. I think it all boils down to what I’m ready to accept, forgive, and move past.
If I’ve learned anything from Alx’s family, especially his mom, is that love knows no bounds and for family we gladly sacrifice to ensure the happiness and well-being of our loved ones. For my mother-in-law, I am willing to sacrifice. I am willing to endure the pain that it will take to resolve my issues and move-on so that on our beautiful wedding day she can walk her son down the aisle. The thought of this makes me happy. Maybe this was the stimulus that I needed. The last little nudge to take those last painful steps towards forgiveness and closure on a not-so-great chapter of my life.
So, thank you Miki, for being you. For being caring, understanding, easy to talk to, a bit bossy at times but always, always putting your children’s well-being before anything and for being the little nudge that I needed to strive to become healthier, happier, and whole.
So Iâm faced with the question as to whether or not I will take a dip in the Mikvah âfiguratively or literally.Â Iâm 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.Â You see.Â The idea is that with full immersion into a body of water, one can find ritual purity.Â 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.Â It sets you up with Tabula Rasaâa clean slate.
So why wouldnât I want a clean slate before the wedding?
Can I achieve that without the traditional bath?Â Is there something else that I can do that would achieve the same goal for me spiritually?
Would skydiving feel the same to me?
Itâs not that I am against this tradition.Â It is, in fact, something that seems beautiful and honest and something that I would be TOTALLY intoâif it didnât feel so stuck in the past.Â The thought of a woman bathing herself in the Mikvah after each menstrual cycle before she can resume sexual relations with her husband just doesnât sit right with me.Â 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 religionânot just Judaism.Â Itâs traditions like these that I feel solidify gender roles in the past and donât look to our modern day for guidance.
There I go again.Â Leaning left.
I have some thinking to do.Â How can I achieve what I will perceive as a ritual cleansing without the tradition?Â If I donât follow tradition, should I even bother?
So.Â Friends of interfaithfamily.com.Â Please feel free to offer me some guidance.Â Maybe through conversation I will have my Aha moment and figure out what I need to do.
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