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When planning a wedding, communication is key.Â Youâll be communicating with one or more of the following: clergy or other officiant, a wedding planner, florist, caterer, DJ or band, relatives and many others.Â But most importantly, you have to communicate with your partner.Â One of the great things about working with your partner to plan your wedding is that many of the issues that will come up later in your marriage (such as handling finances, dealing with parents and in-laws, determining who gets to make which decisions, and of course religion) are sure to come up in wedding planning.Â So working onÂ how you communicate with your partner while planning your wedding is great practice for how you will communicate when youâre married!
Some couples engage in pre-marital counseling as a way to prepare for their future life together. Sometimes couples will seek counsel from the rabbi who will be marrying them, from the institution of the religious tradition of the partner who isnât Jewish (for example, if one partner is Catholic, they may do pre-cana) or from a therapist. Some couples participate in more than one form of counseling before their wedding. ).Â If you are interested in pre-marital counseling, you can ask your officiant if this is something that they can do or else ask for recommendations for a good therapist or group for couples in your area. If you live in a community where the Love and Religion workshop for interfaith couples is offered we highly recommend participating in this four week workshop.
When talking about various issues before getting married (such as what lifecycle rituals youâll include when you have children â e.g., if you have a son, will there be a bris? a baptism?; are you going to have a Christmas tree in your home?; what holidays will your family celebrate?) itâs important to be clear with your partner about what issues are non-negotiable for you, and then to consider what issues you can compromise on.Â Itâs also essential to recognize that your feelings and positions, as well as your partnerâs, may evolve and change over time.Â Whatâs truly essential is not what decisions you and your partner make about what youâll do in the future, but how you communicate â learning to listen to each other and communicate in a healthy, productive way.
As far as the wedding ceremony itself, if youâre the Jewish partner and youâre being married solely by a rabbi, remember that this may not be entirely comfortable for your partner. Even if theyâve agreed to be married by a rabbi, they may have some concerns or conflicting feelings about not having a representative of their own religion taking part in the ceremony. Be sure to be sensitive to this, and to give your partner space to share their concerns with you.
Wedding couples are adults and most of the decisions about the wedding are theirs to make â though if parents are helping to pay for the wedding, it may be appropriate for them to be involved in aspects of the decision-making. And itâs important in making decisions, though it may not ultimately affect the outcome, to consider how they may affect your parents and close family members.Â If youâre going to be including something in your wedding that may be surprising or difficult for your relatives â like having clergy members of different faiths officiate â itâs best to inform your parents as early as possible.Â This applies to aspects of the wedding that may not seem like such a âbig dealâ to you â such as including a reading from the New Testament (something most Jewish parents wouldnât expect, even if it doesnât include Jesusâ name) or breaking the glass (something parents from a different religious tradition may not expect) â as well. Similarly, if you are not planning to include rituals from your own religious tradition that your parents might hope or expect to be part of the ceremony, it is best to share this information with them ahead time. The more your parents can be prepared for what to expect, the more comfortable the wedding is likely to be for them.
If youâre going to be married by a rabbi and you werenât raised Jewish, then you may want to ask the rabbi if theyâd be willing to meet with your parents before the wedding, especially if your parents havenât attended a Jewish wedding before.Â This way they can ask the rabbi any questions they may have and they can get to know them a little bit as a person, rather than just meeting the rabbi minutes before the ceremony.
There will be many decisions you need to make when planning for your wedding ceremony and reception. It is possible you will have different opinions than your partner and family members and it will likely be necessary to compromise. One way to help ease conflict is for each person involved to identify what is most important to them and focus on that rather than on every single decision that needs to be made. Hopefully then you wonât get caught up trying to satisfy everyone with every decision.
One way to do this is for each person to pick the three things that are most important to them. For example, your top priorities may be writing your own vows, having kippot for the guests, and choosing the cake. Your partner on the other hand may prioritize choosing the officiant, selecting the venue and picking the music. Then you each get to make the decisions about your three things.Â For a blog about this, click here.
FINALLYâŠwhen youâre feeling stressed about your wedding, just remember that whatâs most important isnât the wedding, but the marriageâŠand the fact that youâll be spending the rest of your life with the person you love.
Weâre counting down the daysâless than one month until the wedding! Plenty of friends and family have been askingÂ us if weâre excited (of course) and if weâre ready (which is a tougher question). In the practical sense, yes, we are ready. The caterer has our menu, the DJ has our song list and weâre finished with all of our DIY projects. In a broader sense, Iâve been thinking a lot about the question: How do you know youâre ready to make such a monumental commitment to another person?
Since weâve completed most of the wedding planning, weâve been able to spend the past few weeks making sure we stay connected and grounded. Last Saturday, we biked to Yards Park in the Navy Yard area of DC, which is where Zach proposed over a year ago! We rodeÂ past one of our favorite breweries and sat in the park with our feet in the wading pool for a while, watching the kids run around and play. I thought about this lazy summer day that we were taking advantage ofâthat we were making the time to have fun and do something that wasnât wedding-related, grocery shopping or watching TV together. I promised myself when we got engaged that we would make time for these things, and I havenât been as good about that as I would have liked, but that day, we were.
We ran into our maid of honor and her family visiting from out of town, got ice cream with them and biked home in time to host some friends for a low-key game night. Thatâs one of the many things I love about Zachâthat he gets me out of my head, and he challenges me to enjoy things like warm summer days and riverside parks without thinking about what I should be doing instead. Yards Park was a perfect reminder of that strength of his, at an exciting and busy time in our lives.
Iâve also been catching up with old friends, like my former roommate. We lived together for two years right after college and have kept in touch since both of us moved on. Last week, we met up for dinner at our favorite place in the old neighborhood. As we laughed and commiserated over wedding planning (and assured each other that the headaches would be worth it), I couldnât help but think: Am I ready to get married? To leave my single life behind?
Those years of supporting each other through good and tough times over wine, lazy weekends and taco nights seem so rosy, and Iâm a little sad to leave them behind. But then, I go home to my amazing fiancĂ©, who has already unloaded the dishwasher, or left me Reeseâs in the fridge, or asks me how my day was, and I know Iâm ready to marry Zach. I’m ready to promise to be there for him in all of those ways and more. Itâs still important, for me, to reflect on where this journey has taken me, and the other relationships I formed on the way. Iâm a firm believer in the value of friendships outside of a relationship, even outside of your marriage, and the end of my âsingle lifeâ in no way means the end of those friendships. But it does mark the beginning of a binding partnershipâa promise to work through tough times and celebrate the good ones in new ways.
This past weekend, we went home to Pennsylvania to work on our seating chart. Putting it together was beautiful because, at each table, we see different groups of people from different times in our life, who have made us into the people we are today. We have friends from childhood, friends from high school and college, family friends who weâve known since birth, current friends, work friendsâtheyâll all be there, with our loving families, to watch us commit to the rest of our lives together. We canât wait for everyone to meet and mingle, and to represent for us on this momentous day who we have been and our hopes for who we are to become.
When I read about the Jewish tradition of the ketubah, I realized it was the perfect way to create a visual representation of this commitment weâre making to each other. Rather than a contract or agreement, itâs a perfect reminder of the promise weâre makingâto constantly strive to live up to the ideal of love for each other. You can read the text we selected here. Different articles (likeÂ this one from InterfaithFamily and this one from America Magazine) and conversations with family and friends have forced me to acknowledge the uncertainty associated with marriageâthe idea that peopleâs values, personalities and desires can shift over time, and marriage is a promise to work through those. Like many people, I personally struggle with uncertainty, but in thinking about these issues, I know that Zach is the person I want to take that leap of faith with. I canât wait to see where we end up on this journey.
How is this version of your wedding book more inclusive of all who identify as Jewish or are marrying into a Jewish family?
AD: This edition of the book reflects the fact that the chuppah, the wedding canopy, has never been bigger or more inclusive. The Jewish Wedding Now addresses the advent of marriage equality, and the language throughout embraces people of all gender identities. I also discuss the diversity of people who are not Jewish but choose marry under a chuppah. Just as there is no generic Jewish wedding, there is no such thing as THE âinterfaith wedding.â Itâs all about making choices that are meaningful and authentic for the couple under the canopy.
How can the book be helpful for someone who is not Jewish or is not sure they want Jewish rituals at their wedding?
The book is intended to help people of any background decide which, if any, Jewish rituals, can help them create the wedding they want. I hope the tone and language of the book is clear, jargon-free and inclusive, so that the Jewish rituals described are doorways, never barriers. I hope that couples are surprised and delighted to learn about the varieties of joy that are woven through the customs and rituals of Jewish weddings.
What is your greatest hope for what a couple from different religious backgrounds would take away from this book?
I hope couples feel empowered by learning about Judaismâs wealth of customs, rituals, wisdom and insights, and I hope they feel encouraged to make use of what speaks to them. There are countless ways that Jewish tradition can enrich a wedding ceremony and I hope couples see Judaism as a source of joy and spiritual expression.
ByÂ DebraÂ Lynn Shelton
Apparently when she and her non-Jewish fiancĂ© scheduled their most special event, they had no idea the date coincided with the holiest days on the Jewish calendar. By the time they realized the conflict, it was too late. They werenât able to change the date of their wedding at the fancy country club where it was booked.
On a scale of religiousness, our family ranges from fairly religious to completely non-participating. So the fairly religious contingent now have a difficult decision to make.
The bride is my first cousin, the daughter of my momâs younger brother. For my immediate family (parents and sisters) the knee-jerk reaction was: reject the occasion altogether. Send a gift, but donât attend.
I mean, how disrespectful could you be to schedule your special day on such a somber and important holiday? What could the future bride and groom have been thinking? What could they expect? But the deeper we delved into the dilemma, the more complicated it became.
For my mom who is fairly religious, in her mid-70s, and lives across the country from her two brothers, the decision was especially difficult. She was choosing between sharing the joyous celebration including magnificent meals with her cherished brothers vs. observing the High Holidays by attending services and fasting.
Rather than asking the audience, she decided to âphone a friend.â That friend was her rabbi who happened to be in Israel on a trip with fellow congregants.
After explaining the situation, my mom asked: âWhat advice can you give our family regarding attending the wedding? I can hear my fatherâs voice saying, âfamily is family.âÂ How do I choose between my family and my faith?âÂ
His response was surprising. On a call from Jerusalem the rabbi advised:Â âDonât go, but do send a gift.Â Do not tell her why you are not going.â
This confused my mom even more, especially the last part. If she chose not to go, why not stand up and say why?
She called her brothers to discuss the situation, and their voices reminded her of the deep love they share. In the end, that love overpowered everything else. She and my dad booked their tickets and will be attending the wedding at the end of September.
The bride-to-be also showed some flexibility, changing the time of the rehearsal dinner so anyone who wishes may attend Kol Nidre services. She also researched nearby temples and their times for services on Friday night and Saturday.
Her Saturday evening wedding is, technically, after the holiday is over. I think she genuinely feels bad about the predicament this has put her observant family members in, and has done what she can to rectify the situation. (Iâm sure many of you will disagree with this.)
Personally, Iâve come full circle. At first I was ready to book my plane ticket. Then I thought, since it was so disrespectful of the bride and groom to put so many in such a challenging position, I wouldnât go. Then I considered what really matters: family. So Iâll be checking out flight and hotel information soon.
This isnât an uncommon dilemma in our world where so many levels of observance can be found in one family. Secular Jews may have weddings or birthday parties or even graduations or professional milestones that involve travel on Saturdays, for instanceâleaving their Sabbath-observant relatives torn.
After all is said and done, as inconsiderate as keeping the wedding date scheduled for Yom Kippur is, Iâm of the opinion that, as my grandfather said, âFamily is family.â
The High Holidays will occur again next year. My cousinâs wedding will not. So, Iâll be joining my parents to watch my cousin walk down the aisle (They plan on attending services near the wedding venue.) Iâm looking forward to spending time with relatives I donât get to see very often, and to celebrating this special milestone with them.
But it isnât an easy choice. Dear readers, I wonder: what would you do?
This article was reprinted with permission fromÂ Kveller.com, a fast-growing, award-winning website for parents raising Jewish and interfaith kids.Â Follow Kveller on FacebookÂ andÂ sign up for their newsletters here.
By Maria Bywater
I grew up in a large, close Catholic family, so when I got married in a Jewish wedding ceremony, finding meaningful roles for everyone in my family proved challenging. I had converted to Judaism, and the rabbi required that the roles linked to Jewish ritualââsigning the ketubah (Jewish marriage contract) and reciting the Seven Blessings, for exampleâbe filled by people who were Jewish. Eventually, I figured it out: I asked my two sisters and two of my brothers to hold the poles of the chuppah, the wedding canopy under which the ceremony took place (youâll also see it spelled âhuppahâ and âhuppaâ).
Looking back, what I remember most about the ceremony was how comfortable I was standing there, in that space under the chuppah, surrounded by so many people who represented important parts of my life. I didnât feel nervous. I felt supported. I felt at home because the chuppah is symbolic of the marrying couplesâ homeâboth their physical home and the spiritual home theyâll build together. And today, as a chuppah designer and founder of Huppahs.com, I specialize in hand-held chuppahs.
The chuppah is a deeply traditional element of the Jewish wedding ceremony, but also one with a great deal of flexibility as far as what style you use, which makes it a great opportunity to make the ceremony your own, whether you use a hand-held or free-standing version, want something large or small, formal or casual, traditional or modern, or simply or elaborately decorated.
If you didnât grow up hearing a lot of Hebrew, like me, the only really intimidating thing about using a chuppah might be the moment you first try to pronounce the word out loud in front of someone. It has that back of the throat âhâ sound at the beginning. Itâs the same sound as at the beginning of the word âChanukkah.â People pronounce Chanukkah all kinds of different ways, so however you pronounce the first sound in the word âChanukkahâ is a good way to pronounce the first sound in the word âchuppah.â
And really, once youâre past the pronunciation, itâs on to the fun stuff.
Handheld or freestanding?
There are two basic styles of chuppah: handheldâthe kind I usedâand freestanding. Both kinds have a canopy held up by four poles. The difference is that a freestanding chuppah will have more structure so that it stands on its own.
Traditionally, the chuppah is open on all four sides, in a nod to the first Jewish couple, the Torahâs Abraham and Sarah, who traditionally kept the four sides of their tent open to welcome guests.
Hand-held chuppahs hark back to when the custom of using a chuppah first arose in Europe in the Middle Ages. Young boys would escort the bride from her home to the ceremony location, holding the canopy over her head like royalty on procession through the city. Thereâs even an official name for the chuppah bearers: unterferers, which means âsupporters.â
To use a hand-held chuppah for your ceremony, you can have the chuppah bearersÂ lead the procession or enter from the side of the ceremony space just before the procession begins. Aside from the links to tradition and community, a hand-held chuppah works great when your ceremony space doubles as your reception venue and you need to move the chuppah out of the way quickly.
Youâll want enough square footage under the canopy for the couple, the officiant and a small table for the wine and other ritual items. It can be as small as 60 inches by 60 inches. Generally, poles that are seven to eight feet tall work well for small to medium sized canopies, although youâll also find taller versions for a dramatic look.
Where to Get a Chuppah
Some synagogues, wedding venues, florists, and event rental companies have a chuppah to borrow or rent. If youâre interested in this option, be sure to check the condition of the chuppah early in your wedding planning process. Ask the chuppah provider if they set up and take down the chuppah and if there are extra fees for delivery and set up.
You can also buy or rent a chuppah or chuppah kit online. Youâll find both commercial and artisanal versions. If you want a custom design, look for an artist on Etsy or other sites selling handmade items. My company, huppahs.com, rents different styles of chuppahs as well as canopies and poles if you only need one or the other.
For the canopy, you can use a tallit or tablecloth that you have on hand, especially if it has special meaning to you. Just make sure the fabric is in good shape and will hold up to being secured to the poles.
Another great option is to make the chuppah yourself or have someone make it for you. You can choose the form and materials that work best for the wedding you want to create, and you can let your style shine.
If youâre looking for a wedding role for someone who is not familiar with the Jewish wedding ceremony, asking them to help create your chuppah can be a great way to include them. Depending on the chuppah you envision, there can be roles for sewists, fabric painters, embroiderers, weavers and other textile artists as well as folks with light construction skills.
My book, Sew Jewish, includes instructions for making a chuppah canopy and poles, but here are some guidelines to keep in mind if youâre designing your own.
For the canopy, choose fabric that is lightweight, doesnât stretch, and looks good from both sides. A canopy made heavy by the fabric or extensive needlework can make holding the poles or attaching the canopy securely to the frame difficult. If the canopy is lightweight and not too large, add some combination of loops, reinforced holes or ties to enable you to attach the corners to the supporting poles or frame. If the canopy is large or heavy, make sleeves on the edges of the canopy to fit into supports running across the top of the chuppah frame.
Popular materials for the structure are wood, dowels and tree branches, especially birch branches. PVC piping is also a popular choice for frames when you plan to cover the pipes with drapery.
If different people will be providing your canopy and poles or frame, make sure you know how theyâll fit together before anyone gets to work. Ideally, put the whole chuppah together for a trial run well before your wedding day so that you can make adjustments if you need to.
Whatever style of wedding you choose, with all the chuppah options available to you, youâre sure to find one that feels like home.
Maria Bywater is the founder of Huppahs.com, the leading national wedding chuppah rental company and author of the bookÂ Sew Jewish: The 18 Projects You Need for Jewish Holidays, Weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvah Celebrations, and Home. She lives in New Yorkâs Mid-Hudson River Valley amid her large, close family.
By Lynda Barness
You are now engaged! NOW WHAT?
Here are five things to consider before jumping in, from a Master Wedding Planner:
1. Breathe. Iâm not kidding! Take some time to enjoy your engagementâand each other. And your families. And your friends.
2.Â Get to work. When you are ready to start working (and yes, it may feel like work, so now would be a good time to consider a wedding planner if you are thinking about hiring one), you and your partner will want to have a discussion about your wish list: time of year (and which year), which city, what type of officiant, what kind of venue and more. So often there are other voices in this discussion, but the couple can prioritize their wish list first and then discuss it with family and others.
3. Get your guest list in order. You canât possibly pick a place for a ceremony or reception without knowing how many people you will invite. A question that I am asked very often is about the drop-off rate. If you invite your whole guest list, how many can you figure wonât attend? You canât figure this at all, so please donât bother trying! I know of a wedding where 277 guests were invited and 275 attended. The moral of this story is to look for a venue that will hold everyone you have invited. Remember, you wouldnât be inviting these guests if you didnât want them to come, so they just might!
4. Choose an officiant. The officiant will need to be the first to be chosen/hired. You need that person to be available and willing to be with you on your wedding day, and youâll need to nail that day down before you can confirm with a venue. InterfaithFamilyâs clergy referral service is the perfect place to start! Next step is finding a venue…
5. Secure the reception venue and start hiring your wedding professionals. This looks very simple in the abstract. It is not! Especially if one partner has always imagined getting married in a synagogue and the other has a picture of an outdoor ceremony in mind. This is a big decision to figure out together and often requires compromiseâwhat better time than the present to work on that skill? If you are hiring a wedding planner, or are even thinking of hiring one, it will be helpful to have this person on-board at this point as well.
When it comes to the wedding day itself, there are four things that I think are essential to keep in mind:
1. Invitations and their wording. Do the names of both sets of parents appear on the invitation? Are only the hosts (the ones who are paying) listed? Hereâs some advice from a planner: It is lovely to include all the parents and have them all feel a part of this day, and it is a clear signal to everyone that the two families are joining together.
2. Ceremony logistics. Who sits on what side, who walks down the aisle with whom and who stands or sits where? This can get complicated, especially since different religions handle it differently. Itâs a matter of compromise and sensitivity. Do mom and dad walk down the aisle with their child as Jewish tradition dictates? Or has the bride who is not Jewish always imagined herself walking down the aisle with just her father? Do the parents stand, do they hold the chuppah or do they sit during the ceremony? These are great questions to discuss with your officiant and one of the reasons clergy can be so helpful.
3. Religious ritual objects. Do you want to have a chuppah? What about a ketubah? Which rituals from each of your faiths do you want to include? How can you best represent your individuality and your coming together as a new family? Again, your officiant can be a huge source of assistance here, and if you are having a Jewish wedding, a great place to learn about rituals and ritual objects is in Anita Diamantâs go-to book, The Jewish Wedding Now.
4. The Jewish tradition of yichud is one that seems to have become both modified and universal. After the ceremony, the couple has some private time (often with hors dâoeuvres and drinks) to simply share the first moments of their marriage alone with each other. This is such a special time and lovely tradition, and I always recommend it.
The best advice I have heard is to take some days off every week and donât even discuss wedding planning. It will be exhausting if you try to do wedding planning every single day from now until your wedding, so spend a little time with your honey without the stress of wedding or religion talk.
Lynda Barness launched I DO Wedding Consulting in 2005 after a successful and award-winning career as a real estate developer and homebuilder. Lynda earned the designation of Master Wedding Planner from the International Association of Wedding Consultants and also has a certificate in Wedding Planning and Consulting from Temple University.Â She combines education with years of experience as she helps navigate the complexities and challenges of planning the big day–with consulting services, day-of services, customized and full service planningâin the Greater Philadelphia area and beyond. Her background and experience are varied, and she has been both a participant and leader in a variety of civic, philanthropic and political activities.
âSo, howâs the wedding planning?â These days, this question excites and exasperates me at the same time. I have a lot of energy and excitement about the wedding, but it varies day by day whether that excitement is greater or less than my stress about âgetting it all done.â To explain that, I need to go back to the beginning of the process and explain a few things.
From the beginning, weâve been fairly flexible about what this wedding will look like. I donât have a crystal-clear vision of what I want, so I have invited and taken suggestions from family and close friends. I was breezing along for the first nine months, checking things off my list, thinking, this is easy! Sure, thereâs a lot to do, but Iâm organized! Iâm on top of it! We can do this!
In May I started to feel the pressure. And it was all because of Pinterest.
In the winter, we visited Lansdale and started thinking about decorations–again, an area where I didnât have preconceived ideas about what I wanted. My parents own a beautiful old house, and my dad has completed a lot of home improvement projects. Back in the wintertime, we discovered some old doors and windows he had saved that sparked some crafty neurons in my brain. I thought, these things will be perfect for signage, table assignments, whatever! And itâs all free! Perfect.
Itâs true that nothing in life is ever really free. I did not factor in how much effort it would take to polish all of those things. Washing, sanding and painting. Re-glazing some of the old window panes. Building stands for the doors so they arenât a hazard. We spent a full day cleaning some of these pieces and drawing out multiple iterations of plans for how we would use all the pieces. Luckily my family (and fiancĂ©) dove into the projects with gusto, each contributing their own talents to different pieces.
I went into that weekend excited, but I came out feeling overwhelmed. We had so many different ideas for how to use each piece. Plus, there were so many steps to bringing it all together–for example, to use one window we would need to wash it, sand the frame, repaint the frame, re-glaze the panes in the window and then write table assignments on it! I was having a hard time figuring out how we would get it all done, even with all the helping hands we had.
I did two things in response to this overwhelmed feeling. First, I sat down in my cone of silence and came up with a plan. I laid out all the steps, determined the critical path, and wrote out which tasks we could complete on which weekends we would be coming to Lansdale from Washington, DC. I had it all figured out, but I still felt tense.
Then I did the second thing: I envisioned what our wedding would look like if these projects didnât all come together. Surprise–everything was still beautiful. And we were still getting married! There would be officiants, food and a DJ. Somehow people would be welcomed, know where the bathroom was, and find their seat, even if it didnât look like the way we had envisioned it.
I realized that I was, to some degree, in control of how much pressure I was feeling to âget it all done.â If I decided that some things, like the signs for the bathroom, were more important than others, I could give myself (and everyone else) permission to not get those other things done, if we ran out of time.
Sure, an old window with a quote from Song of Solomon would make a beautiful addition to our ceremony space–but it wasnât as high on the list as, say, the table assignments. I needed to let some of these things go if I was going to enjoy the rest of this process. The time between engagement and marriage feels so special–youâre giddy and excited and hopeful, all leading up to this one day that will be over before you know it. The wedding day starts a blessed and fulfilled lifetime of marriage, but thereâs something special about this expectant time, where youâre waiting for that next step, and I donât want to miss that. I want to savor it.
So, when I start to think about all that I âhave to do,â I think about all the people around to help me. I think about what the âbare bonesâ of the event will look like, and Iâm still happy. I think about standing in front of friends and family and promising to love Zach for the rest of our lives, and I know it doesnât matter if we get the photo booth just right.
Iâm choosing to use this time to prepare for a lifetime with my best friend, where the little things donât shake our happiness together. And I make that choice anew every day. Some days are better than others, but I, like most of us, am a work in progress.
By KarlÂ Gierach
My fiancĂ© and I did not grow up in different religious traditions. Sherrita was raised in Detroit as a Christian, attending Episcopalian, Baptist and Pentecostal services. I was also raised as a Christianâa Lutheran in the Detroit suburbs with a very conservatively evangelical upbringing. I attended 14 years of Lutheran school and during high school, I started having doubts regarding several aspects of the Christian faith. In college, as those doubts intensified, I felt drawn to Judaism. Upon introspection and research into the religious traditions, I ultimately converted to Judaism in 2007.
A decade of various levels of observance, becoming a member of congregations and attending a Birthright Israel trip led me to feeling confident and positive about my Jewish identity in the face of family disapproval. Overall, the Jewish community has been warm and welcoming with occasional mild confusion, typically from younger people.
Because I had struggled with acceptance both outside and inside the Jewish community, I wanted to date and ultimately marry a Jewish woman. After all, I wouldnât want my childrenâs Jewish identity questioned the way mine had been, but I realized that my Jewish faith and personal practice had less to do with creating Jewish babies than with encountering and struggling with the divine and engaging the outside world. And then, I met Sherrita online in 2014.
After talking online for about a week, we were smitten and went on several amazing dates in rapid succession. We were engaged two years later in March of 2016. Happily, and newly, cohabitating in Detroitâs Cass Corridor/Midtown area, we unexpectedly learned that Sherrita was accepted at the Drexel University College of Medicine and would start the next week. We hurriedly said our goodbyes because I had to stay on to finish my semester of culinary school and work at a country club. I planned to join Sherrita in Philadelphia in the last week of 2016. The time apart only intensified our love, making us realize the gift of supporting each other in pursuit of our goals. Getting married was the best possible decision!
Once we entered the planning stages of marriage, Sherrita did not hesitate to say that she would like to have a Jewish wedding. She knew that it was important to me and wanted to support this new interfaith family that we were starting. I began the search for wedding venues in local churches, wanting to express my love and commitment for Sherrita more than any particular religious or cultural sentiment. However, the further along we got in planning, the happier I was with the Jewish direction we were taking.
We had vastly differing experiences in attending weddingsâmine were more religious and hers were not. In both of our experiences, though, there were readings of the vows and both partners saying âI doâ once the clergy said their part.
Once we found the rabbi who would perform our ceremony, we both learned what was involved in a Jewish wedding. As a person who loves to learn, Sherrita was excited about new terminology and traditions that were going to be a part of our family and that we could share with our extended family.
But the one thing that Sherrita wanted for the wedding was to say, âI do.â She didnât know that it would not be part of a traditional Jewish ceremony. It seemed so trivial, but it made her wonder: Had she ever actually stopped to think if she really did want to have a Jewish wedding ceremony?
Sherrita had not been a practicing Christian in recent years and neither of us were interested in having our wedding co-officiated. But Sherrita hadnât fully reconciled the idea of our wedding being the start of an interfaith family. We both thought that it would be easier to only have one religion present in the ceremony, but Sherrita was getting concerned that she could be losing part of her identity. After several meetings with our rabbi, she suggested we change the wording of vows in the ketubah so that they could be answered as questions with âI do.â
Even though our concerns are often still present as we continue planning for the big day, we are always able to work through them. We continually commit to hearing each other and compromising when necessary. And now, with just over a month to go until our wedding, we could not be more excited!
Our first hurdle in planning an interfaith wedding (other than the insanity of touring and booking a venue) was findingÂ an officiant and creating a ceremony that reflected both of us. TheÂ day after we got engaged, I began fumbling around for some guidance. I knew what a Catholic wedding looked like, but I had no idea what was important in a Jewish ceremony, much less what we could do if we wanted to combine them.
As the daughter of a lifelong librarian, I put my research skills to the test. Surprisingly, my local library had exactly what I was looking for. A quick search in the card catalog for âinterfaith marriageâ turned up a fabulous book by Rabbi Devon A. Lerner: Celebrating Interfaith Marriages: Creating Your Jewish/Christian Ceremony. Yes! Exactly what I was looking for! Itâs like someone has done this alreadyâŠ
I read the book cover to cover. It was super valuable during this process and covered almost every ceremony question I had: from the treatment of Jesus in a Christian-Jewish ceremony to what to expect when we met with the rabbi a few weeks later. The book included several sample ceremonies and really opened my mind to what we could create. The next step to realizing that vision was to decide on a venue.
After doing some research and talking with Zach, I decided I needed to reassess my dream of being married in the church where I grew up. That church meant a lot to me and to my familyâwe had received all of our sacraments there, attended the connected parish school and built our family life around that community. Discussing it with Zach, I realized that my in-laws-to-be might not feel comfortable in the churchâand that maybe the church wasnât the neutral ground zero from which the rest of our lives would start.
We needed somewhere that was meaningful to both of us, because that compromise or give-and-take is pretty emblematic of our life together. We found a beautiful venue in Historic Graeme Park that combined my Pennsylvania roots with Zachâs love of (and my appreciation for) nature. With a meaningful space secured, I set out to tackle the big question: Who would officiate our ceremony?
I first asked a clergy member from our local parish to officiate. He congratulated us and promised to look into the logistics. After some discussion and deliberation, we decided that it wasnât the right fit. The diocese where we were getting married had policies about diocesan clergy (priests and deacons) performing wedding ceremonies in a dignified space–which typically means inside, not outdoors. (A Catholic diocese is a district that is under the supervision of a bishop and is made up of parishes run by priests.) I had done my research beforehand and, to the surprise of many (myself included), the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops does not appear to explicitly ban outdoor weddings when it comes to a Catholic-Jewish ceremony because they recognize the need for a neutral space. But, as I understood it, this diocese had their own restrictions.
We didnât know what to doâwe had just selected a beautiful park to be married in, not thinking it would make finding an officiant more challenging. The decision on how to move forward really shook me. I felt like I had been part of a family for my whole life and now they were taking issue withÂ something that seemed inconsequential to our marriage. We had looked at hotel ballrooms and fancy mansions in our venue search, but none of them really felt like a venue for us. We thought about having the ceremony inside the tent at the venue and we considered having a Catholic clergyman (priest or deacon) do a blessing after the ceremony. But after discussing it together and with my parents, we decided to see if we could find another Catholic officiant for the outdoor ceremony.
Our success in finding such an officiant was a small miracle, likely brought about in some part by the fervent prayers of my mother. After reading the book Being Both, we looked up the Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington to see if they offered any resources on interfaith marriage. We found a couplesâ workshop for engaged and married interfaith couples, and I contacted the Catholic priest listed as a speaker at the workshop. Fr. Michael Kelly of St. Martinâs in DC was a godsend. He talked with me over the phone and agreed to help us fill out the paperwork, do the required marriage prep and find an officiant. On his recommendation, we contacted Rabbi Bleefeld in Dresher, PA, and met with him a few weeks later. Having read up on my stuff, I was thankfully aware when the rabbi asked us about things like a ketubah and the seven blessings. He has been a pleasure to work with and a resource in putting together our special day.
The priest was a little trickier to find. Fr. Kelly connected us with an order of priests that were not subject to the same rules and policies as diocesan priests (name of the order withheld). We met with Fr. Mike around Thanksgiving: He came across as kind, gentle and generous. He talked with us for a few hours about our relationship and what we wanted in our ceremony and he happily agreed to officiate our wedding.
Now we finally have a Catholic priest and a Jewish rabbi, both doing equal parts of the ceremony and offering us the flexibility to incorporate parts of our traditions that have meaning to us (more on that in another post). It has been a long process to get to this point and I experienced a crisis of faith in my struggle to gain a Catholic officiant for my wedding. ThroughoutÂ this journey, we have met so many incredible people who are doing Godâs work. We would not have met them if we had taken the easy wayâsuch as asking the rabbi to officiate and having a priest say a blessing.
A friend asked me the other day what Iâm most excited for on our wedding day, and other than the dress (itâs gorgeous), I am most excited for our ceremony, a unique blend of the faiths and prayers and people that matter the most to us. Iâm so thankful we can have it all present as we start our life together. Check back in a few weeks to see the ceremony, after weâve put some finishing touches on it!
Looking for an officiant? InterfaithFamily can help!
As a Catholic teen and young adult, I never imagined I would be planning an interfaith wedding. Even though I was preparing to leave for college in Washington, D.C., I imagined I would be married in my local parish church, by one of the priests I had worked with as a receptionist at our parish center. And here I am, nine years later, planning a life together with a man who completes me and compliments me in the most important waysâand, oh yeah, he’s Jewish.
I’m so happy with the path I have chosen, but it’s different than what I imagined for myself. The saying goes that humans plan and God laughs, but I also believe that God has an infinitely better plan.
My fiancĂ© Zach and I met on the university shuttle on our first day at college. He was rooming with a guy I knew from high school. We went on a few dates, but were ultimately reluctant to jump into something immediately. Five years later, we started dating after attending Preakness (for the music, not the beer or the horses).
A few years in, we started to seriously think about our future. Could we get married and raise a family where he could still be Jewish and I could still be Catholic? Our spirituality, traditions, culture and history make us who we are and shape our families.
Being a planner, I did the only sensible thing to do: I researched. Other people must haveÂ had similar challenges or questions, right? We weren’t the first ones to consider doing this. In my research, I was amazed at the resources and communities available to interfaith families. (Side note: What did people do without the internet?) I found great references about what to expect on InterfaithFamily‘s website, including this post about a Catholic priest’s perspective on interfaith marriage. Following a coupleâs story was incredibly powerful and made me feel less aloneâI saved a few posts from A Practical Wedding (this one brought me to tears and made me realize that I could plan a beautiful and meaningful interfaith wedding). I connected with the challenges and vulnerability that authors shared in the stories I read. We started looking for examples of what we were looking for: a family where the beauty of what we each had experienced as children could be imparted to our kids; where both partners’ beliefs were treated equally; where no one felt excluded.
Reading Susan Katz Millerâs Being Both helped us make our decision. The book explores interfaith families who have chosen to educate their children in both traditions. Some kids choose to continue in both; others make an informed choice about which tradition is right for them. It made us realize that we didn’t have to choose between our traditions; we could share the beauty of both in an authentic way and that others had, in fact, already done it.
Fast forward a few years, and we’re less than six months away from our interfaith wedding in September. We are planning a beautiful outdoor ceremony with a priest and a rabbi both officiating. We have incorporated elements of both our faiths that are particularly meaningful to our family and us. While it has not been easy to plan, it’s been an experience that will stick with us as we begin our married life, and it’s been a good testing ground for our problem-solving and communication as a couple. So far, we’ve aced it.