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Before meeting Sam’s extended family, I had met his parents very briefly for a slice of mid-afternoon pie. I was very nervous about meeting his parents—I think it took me over an hour that day to figure out what to wear! This meeting was so brief, that we didn’t get a chance to talk about much, therefore the topic of faith didn’t come up. I was (and still am) very amazed at how sweet and genuinely nice his parents are! I don’t remember when the topic of faith first came up around his parents, but they knew that I wasn’t Jewish when I attended the Passover Seder.
Sam first invited me to join his family Seder a few months after we started dating. I had only been to one other Seder before, five years prior. The meal was slightly awkward and uncomfortable. I didn’t understand what was being said, nor did I understand the traditions around what was being done. Also, because I was the youngest person there, I had to say some of the prayers, find the Afikomen and open the door for Elijah. I was nervous that the Seder with Sam’s family would be equally awkward and uncomfortable. Sam reassured me that most of his family’s Seder would be in English and that I wouldn’t be the youngest person there.
In the weeks leading up to the Seder, Sam re-emphasized that the youngest people there would be his cousins, who were growing up in interfaith households. Both of his dad’s siblings were in interfaith marriages and their children (Sam’s cousins) celebrate both sets of holidays. This calmed my fears a little, but I still thought it would be awkward and uncomfortable.
The awkwardness started when I arrived empty handed because I was told not to bring anything. Whenever I go to a fancy dinner party, I try to always bring a dish or something. I asked Sam what I should bring. His answer was, “Nothing. There are very specific foods and everyone has a specific dish that they always bring.” This didn’t satisfy me, so I asked Sam repeatedly only to receive the same answer over and over.
On the day of the Seder, I put on my fancy clothes, my best behavior and attended the Seder empty-handed. There were 13 people there (a normal crowd for me), and the topic of my faith wasn’t brought up. We talked a lot about my family and what dish I could eventually bring to future family dinner parties. There was no awkwardness nor discomfort, only really nice people with a lot of funny stories to tell.
We began the prayers and rituals surrounding the meal. After getting used to the way the Haggadah was read (from right to left), I sat back and listened to his Poppop tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. During his story, his little cousin, Jason, started singing and the escape to freedom became a musical! We even Skyped Sam’s sister Diana, living in Israel at the time, so she could chant the Four Questions. After the prayers were said, it was time for the holiday meal.
This particular Seder fell on Good Friday. It is a Catholic ritual to fast and not eat meat on Good Friday. Catholic fasting means eating only one full meal during the course of a day. I had refrained from eating all day, which would allow me to eat the Seder meal. While I was helping to serve the Matzah ball soup, with Sam’s aunts and female cousins, Sam made up a plate of food for me. When I got back to my seat, he had served me a little bit of everything- including the beef brisket. This was the biggest internal conflict of the night: do I eat the meat because it’s on my plate, or should I put it back, risk being rude and interrupting the flow of the meal? I saved the beef brisket for the last thing to eat to prolong my decision-making. I ended up eating the meat, justifying to myself that this was the right thing to do in this particular case.
This Seder meal was not like the one that I had experienced five years prior. It was neither awkward nor uncomfortable. Everything seemed natural and everything somehow magically “fit”. Although this was the first time that I had met his extended family, I remember his Mommom telling me that I fit very well into their family. I think that my response was telling her that my cheeks hurt from laughing & smiling too much!
I still don’t fully understand the symbols and rituals behind the Seder meal, but I have the rest of my life to learn about all of the Jewish customs.
Chris and Dana here; the new couple for InterfaithFamily’s wedding blog. We’re so excited to share our experiences with you.
Let us begin by introducing ourselves. Dana is originally from central Massachusetts and Chris is from southern New Hampshire. We met in Boston after college while working as Americorps volunteers for a non-profit called Playworks and have been together for over five years. Dana was raised conservative Jewish and Chris was raised Catholic but currently neither of us attend service regularly. We still live in Boston in our newly purchased condo and are both still working in Education; Chris as a first grade teacher at a Boston Public School and Dana as a school administrator at a private school in Boston.
It has certainly taken us some time to get used to our different religions and traditions, but we have both been very open-minded throughout the learning process. We have each tried new things and gotten involved in one another’s faith. A key element of this is that we participate when we feel comfortable to do so and ‘sit it out’ when we don’t.
Now…about our wedding! We got engaged in November of 2012 and are getting married next June, 2014 at Dana’s parents’ home. The ceremony will take place in the front yard and the reception will be in backyard under a tent, in what Chris likes to call a “mullet wedding…business in the front, party in the back.” We will be married by a mutual friend and plan to incorporate aspects of both religions into the wedding ceremony. While we are not entirely sure what that will look like yet, we do know a few key details: there will be a chuppah, designed by Dana’s mother (more details about that later) and we will undoubtedly dance the hora, we will have a few Bible readings of Chris’ choosing and Chris is extremely excited to break a glass and give guests custom-made Boston Bruins kippot.
So how is our relationship different than a same-faith couple? Well, we don’t have to split holidays, which is pretty nice, and we get to celebrate both Christmas and Hannukah. In the beginning we often had to act as ambassadors for our respective faiths, explaining a lot and trying not to assume that the other knew things. We began the discussion of how to raise our children very early on and continue to give it a lot of thought. We both feel that religion is an important element of our lives both culturally and spiritually, and want to pass on the values we’ve received from our families and upbringing. However, we’ve also had to do a lot of self-reflection and think about how much of a role religion plays in each of our own lives at the moment.
It has certainly been a journey to get where we are now and we have learned a lot along the way. We are very excited to share our wedding experience with you readers and to see what our future brings!
Chris and Dana
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.
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.
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!):
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:
Shannon and I are looking forward to reading the next couple’s story. Until then…
(Photographs by Kirk Hoffman Photography.)
Shannon practiced saying “Shanah tovah” during the week leading up to Rosh Hashanah.
“How do you say that thing?” she said.
“What thing?” I replied, all innocence.
“You know, that thing you say that means ‘happy new year.’”
“Oh, that thing.” 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 week’s
The tower of Babel is, on its surface, a straightforward explanation as to why people speak many languages rather than one. Having seen humankind’s 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 God’s capriciousness. “Why,” they asked, “would 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?”
There are deeper theological currents in such questions than I’m qualified to parse, but I don’t think that by “confounding” our speech God was simply “punishing” 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. “Nothing that they may propose to do will be out of their reach,” God says. Should we have reached our zenith at the very beginnings of history? If it is true in Judaism that we are God’s 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 world’s many languages not as barriers to understanding, but as a nudge to better comprehend one’s fellows, as reason to reach out not with a closed fist, but with an open hand.
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 he’ll also narrate it for the benefit of our families. He’ll explain to our mothers and siblings what we’re doing and why. We want our families to understand the symbolism of the event, to know why we’ll circle one another and why I’ll break the glass.
What better way to “translate” 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 Shannon’s brothers and sister-in-law will hold the poles of the chuppah. Shannon’s mother will read the Irish wedding blessing (which is cultural, not religious). And we’ll remember my father, without naming him, when my mother reads Koholet (Ecclesiastes) 3:1-8, which was read at his funeral service. We’ll emphasize the positive half of each of those verses, “a time to build…a time to laugh…a time to dance,” 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, “a time to weep, a time to mourn,” especially in regards to interfaith marriages. To approach it thus is to say, as my fellow congregants did, “Why did God do this to us?” 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 doesn’t mean we can’t communicate. “Come, let us build a city.”
“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.
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.
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 ~
Level 2: What’s in a name?
And finally (thank goodness, you say!) Level 3: What’s in a Seder and an Easter Egg?
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.
So we got our marriage license today. May 7th. 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. 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.
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+.
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?
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.