Smashing the Idols: How to Plan a Nontraditional Jewish Wedding

“We should have eloped.”

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

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

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

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

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

Entrance to the RS Sanctuary

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Power of Skype

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?

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

Hi friends,

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

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

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

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

I Have Warm Feet

I can’t believe that I am sitting here writing my last blog post before the big day.  We’ve hit the final countdown and I’m reminded of it as the weather forecast moves from the 10 day into the 5 day.  5 days until the wedding!

I’m set to leave on my big Mikvah trip in a few hours.  Well.  Ok.  Bachelor party.  I’ve just decided to see my upcoming three day adventure as a way to cleanse myself of any feelings of anxiety or stress.  I am going to use my time-with-the-boys to ground myself and walk down the isle with a clean mind and spirit.  I don’t think that I can think of anything more comforting than spending time with people whom I would trust with anything.  They have always been there for me, since we were kids, and will continue to be there for me no matter what happens.  They are the people that I am most comfortable around and I’m 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 can’t forget that there is always going to be more to do.

The benefit to being us is that we don’t stress too easily.  This is one of those times where we both understand that if it gets done, great.  If not, we will still have the best day ever.

I will be totally ready.

I’m excited to start this adventure, and honored to be a part of Lula’s life.  I’m just so glad that it’s her.

Let’s just say, I have warm feet.

-Alx

Making the Grade

 

So we got our marriage license today.  May 7th.  Exactly one month from the wedding.

How nutty is that?

One month.

Our list keeps getting smaller but for some reason it feel like it never ends.  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.  The next day I would have to start all over again.  You know.  Like homework.  Well.  That’s kind of what it’s like planning for a wedding.  You turn a corner and boom.  Double boom.  Two more corners to turn.

 long-list.jpg

I hated homework.  In high school it was a chore.  In college it was busy work.  Now.  Homework separates us from our wedding day.

We meet again with Rabbi Berman in a few days and I haven’t even looked at the list of things that we are supposed to have prepared. (She’s reading this now and thinking about how interesting our conversation will be when I tell her that we did it all last minute—Hi Rabbi Berman.)

And we’re 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.  We will be writing the Kettubah.  We will be tweaking the language and we will be happy with it.  But, man.  There’s a lot to do!

So as I sit here knowing full well that the next month is going to be a rough ride I can’t help but think that I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The other night Lu and I talked about how it would be if I were marrying a Jew.  Well.  I probably would just take it all at face value.  Jew to Jew means that you can kind of roll with the punches and take the easy route.  I could take what was handed to me and just let it be the Jewish wedding that has happened for centuries.  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.  I’m proud of what we are doing.  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.

It’s a wonderful ride and I have every expectation that we will get an A+.

-Alx

All the parts

Gosh.

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 haven’t 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?

Decisions.  Decisions.

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.  What’s 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 don’t 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.  It’s like I’m 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 didn’t just take what was prescribed and that we are in every capacity to carve out our own path.

Life is such a wonderful journey.

-Alx

Love Thy Mother-In-Law

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.

Water Not Included.

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

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

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

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

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

Would skydiving feel the same to me?

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

There I go again.  Leaning left.

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

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

-Alx

Wedding Planners Make It Look Easy

So I know what you’re thinking…she’s a graphic designer so her wedding is going to look FABULOUS. Well, that is what I was thinking too, however, reality set-in as we started trying to plan this beast of an event. Planning an event of this magnitude is a painful, tedious process in itself. We not only have the daunting task of planning it but also incorporating the right balance of, well, of us.

The essence of our relationship lies in a fine balance of tolerance, respect, and admiration for the others’ culture and beliefs. Wedding planning is the type of situation in which that balance is often pushed, pulled, and challenged in every way possible. As a conservative Jew, Alx has very specific things that are a must for his big day: a rabbi, a chuppah, the breaking of the glass, the horah, to name a few. You would think that this wouldn’t bother me since I actually don’t subscribe to any organized religion; however, that is very far from the truth. The issue isn’t that I don’t want these rituals in our nuptials. The issue is how to embrace and incorporate all of them without it becoming strictly a Jewish wedding.

We found out quite quickly that it all comes down to a lot of long, hard discussions. I truly believe our saving grace is our bond of love and respect for each other. We disagree, we fight, we cry, we make-up and ultimately we work it out. One of the harder aspects has been the quest for a rabbi. It can’t just be any rabbi. It has to be a rabbi that is comfortable doing interfaith weddings who we are comfortable with. This is no easy task. In fact, we are still in the midst of that journey.

I’m also having a bit of trouble pinning down rituals that I want to include from my culture. Since I come from such a diverse background, it isn’t so easy for me. This type of thing is very black & white for Alx. I have to admit that it is a point of frustration to not be able to just rattle off a list of rituals and be done with it. I’m sure it’s as equally frustrating for Alx when he asks what I want to incorporate and doesn’t really get an answer. All I know is that I don’t want it to be a strictly Jewish wedding because it’s my wedding too and frankly, I’m not Jewish.

To top off all of the challenges that we already face, I’m just not into being a bridezilla. I am not the type of woman who had her wedding planned since she was a little girl. Just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about, my wedding dress is the first dress I tried on from the first store I walked into. My wedding shoes are the first pair of shoes that my Maid of Honor stuck in front of my face and said “these are cute”. I don’t like tulle, lace, pink, frilly stuff, or even most flowers.

I am the ultimate anti-bride.

This does not make wedding planning easy. Although in my defense, Alx knew what he was getting into. Our first Valentine’s Day he got me a paper shredder. That’s when I knew he was The One. So after months of feeling like I’ve been drowning in all things girlie, I decided to approach the situation like I would any of my design projects. I made concept boards.

Concept Board 1

   Concept Board 1: Visualization of table decor

Concept Board 2

  Concept Board 2: Diagram of garden for ceremony

I’ve found that this approach has helped immensely. I’ve also created spreadsheets for tasks, timelines, vendors, and our invitation list. The “project” has definitely morphed into something completely different than when we started planning a few months ago. We began with a very laid back approach to the whole wedding but it has since become a bit more upscale. It’s not super fancy but is also isn’t the laid back B-B-Q idea that we originally started with.

Decor That Died

Decor That Died: My first attempt at wedding decor. I was trying to stick with our ideals of “reduce, reuse, recycle” so I reused Raiden’s baby food jars for tea light candle holders. That got recycled…

In keeping with my approach as a designer, I’ve come-up with a main concept or theme for our wedding. It’s basically, all the things we love: my favorite colors, his commitment to Judaism, my love of minimalism, our love of books, our love of nature, our love of just having a good time. Our love of nature is what led us to agree on a centerpiece.

Our Minimalist Artsy Centerpiece

 Our Minimalist Artsy Centerpiece: The pic doesn’t do it justice. It’s willow branches with little insects, birds, and bright yellow beads on the branches. The vase is filled with iridescent, glass marbles mixed with miniature seashells (my hometown is a beach town).

Centerpiece Details

Centerpiece Detail

Centerpiece Concept Board

Centerpiece Concept Board: Of course I had a concept board for the centerpiece!

The process is coming along slowly but we are well on our way to a wedding! Now we just need to work out all of those kinks with the rituals but I’ll save that for the next post.