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I recently joined a Facebook group that InterfaithFamily started to connect couples planning interfaith weddings (join here!). As Iâ€™ve mentioned in a few of my posts, Zach and I have our wedding pretty well planned already, and weâ€™ve been working with great officiants to create a beautiful, meaningful and inclusive ceremony. I joined the group because Iâ€™ve realized during this process that the choice we made with this wedding to include and celebrate both traditions–to make both families feel welcome and represented–is a challenge and opportunity that we will continue to face in our married life.
Iâ€™ve mentioned a book called Being Both by Susan Katz Miller that solidified our decision to marry. The book isnâ€™t about weddings; rather, itâ€™s about what happens after. That was our biggest question in deciding to get married: What would we do if and when we decided to have children?
Meanwhile, what I had heard from clergy, both Jewish and Catholic, was that â€śbeing bothâ€ť was not an option. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops claims that religious leaders agree that raising children of interfaith marriages exclusively in one religious tradition is best. While this may be true, I had a hard time finding studies on the alternative, save for Millerâ€™s book. Additionally, both Zach and I felt that a piece of us would be missing from our future family if our future child or children was or were raised exclusively in one tradition. Being Both offers examples of families and congregations that enable families to participate in both traditions fully, rather than having one or more family members as a spectator to that tradition.
Iâ€™m not entirely sure what the right answer is for us, but reading that book made me realize that our family might not feel completely at home in either tradition, because of our desire to not just respect but incorporate both traditions into our one family. As a Catholic woman from a Catholic family, where we get together for baptisms and First Communions, that is a realization that, honestly, I still struggle with.
But I draw strength in my conviction that the benefits outweigh the negatives. Iâ€™ve already writtenÂ about how well Zach and I complement each other, and I also see a unique calling or mission in creating an interfaith family. I love celebrating Jewish holidays with Zach, and I canâ€™t wait to share those beliefs, prayers and family traditions with our children. Similarly, when I go to church on Sunday, I think about sharing with them my familyâ€™s stories, beliefs and rituals. I think our overall desire is to raise children comfortable and familiar with both traditions, who see and appreciate God in all forms. Because, when it comes down to it, I see God in my relationship with Zach, and I refuse to be bound by the lines our religious communities have drawn around us. Our love is boundless, and our family will be too. Thatâ€™s been the biggest realization for me in this process–weâ€™re starting something new, that no one in either of our families has done before, but connecting to the larger interfaith community, with families who have years of experience before interfaith marriage became commonplace, is so valuable.
I recently decided to take the last name Drescher. I struggled with the decision for a while. I like my name as it is: Laura Rose Free. I like the connection that â€śFreeâ€ť gives me to my family. I like the pun possibilities (bachelorette hashtag: #freeasilleverbe). But marriage signifies the start of something new–of two people coming together as one, acting as partners, and making decisions together. For me, taking the last name Drescher is a step in that direction; it’s an act that symbolizes that change for me. In addition to all of the practical reasons, this symbolism made me decide that I want to change my name. Iâ€™m not saying itâ€™s the right decision for all couples, but I feel itâ€™s the right decision for us–itâ€™s the first step toward the new family that weâ€™re starting. Iâ€™m thankful to have this community to support us and show us the ways they have chosen to create new families and traditions.
By Courtney Dunne
An â€śinterfaith wedding.â€ť What does that mean? I, after all should know what that means. My partner of 10 years and soon-to-be spouse is the CEO of InterfaithFamily. But understanding what it means to be in an interfaith relationship and putting it on display for all of your family and friends to witnessâ€¦well, those are two different things.
Our families knew we would eventually tie the knot. After all, when we made the decision to move to Massachusetts, the ability to legally wed was a strong pull for us. Yet, life so to say, got in the way. Jodi was working full time in preparation for the transition in leadership at IFF and I was a first-time full-time stay at home mama for our active, inquisitive and adorable twin boys.
Yet, living in Massachusetts and not being married felt strangely different than living in Pennsylvania and not being married. No one, at the time, expected a same-sex couple to be married in PA. Yet, in MA people sort of looked at us in bewilderment when they found out we werenâ€™t married. It almost felt like we were â€śliving in sinâ€ť and as a Catholic school graduate, I knew what that felt like. Alas, new friends of ours gave us the added push of encouragement we needed to tie the knot.
So, 10 years. A house. A cat. A dog. Two kids. A BIG move to Massachusetts. And, finallyâ€¦wait for itâ€¦marriage. I think weâ€™re ready. Now, to share the news with our family and friendsâ€”this brought the expected excitement. The detailsâ€”everyone wants to know the details. When? Where? Who? Most important, Iâ€™ve been asked by numerous people in an almost huffy and emphatic way, â€śWell, it will be interfaith, RIGHT?â€ť Well, yes.Â Um, sort of.
Growing up Catholic, going to Catholic school and a Catholic university, I have always held very strong beliefs about humanity that did not always coincide with doctrine. When Jodi and I met, we connected very deeply on a spiritual level. We found commonality in our differences and took a humanistic approach to seeing how her Judaism influenced her existence and my Catholicism influenced mine.
A lot of thought went into raising our children Jewish, a decision I did not come to quickly or easily. Ultimately, it was a decision made out of love for them. About wanting my children to belong to a faith community; to believe in God; to participate in community service. And most importantâ€”at least to meâ€”was to belong. I mean, truly belong.
That said, planning this wedding has forced me to really unpack the meaning behind what an interfaith wedding would mean for me. We made the decision to hold our ceremony in our synagogue, Kerem Shalom. We also made the decision to have our rabbi and friend, Darby Leigh officiate our ceremony. And here comes the line of questioning from my Catholic family members: â€śSo, the rabbi is marrying you? And youâ€™re getting married in the synagogue?â€ť I can hear my motherâ€™s Long Island accent: â€śI told her (my aunt) that youâ€™re getting married in the synagogue but it IS and will be interfaith.â€ť
Yes, mom. It is. But what does that mean? I might mention that my mother is also in an interfaith relationshipâ€”sheâ€™s Catholic and my stepfather is Jewish. But thatâ€™s a story for another time. So, how do you plan an interfaith wedding when some tenets of the Catholic faith (i.e. Christ-centered beliefs; Eucharist) contradict principles of Judaism? I found myself really questioning what an interfaith wedding would look like.
Luckily, we knew where to look for just the resources that would help answer some of our questions. Several helpful tips came out of the Guide to Wedding Ceremonies for Interfaith Couples. We also used the Tips for Inclusive WeddingsÂ to answer questions about involving friends and family (our parents will write personalized sheva b’rachot (seven blessings), choosing readings, creating an interfaith ketubah and more.
What I ultimately came up with was a Courtney-Jodi wedding that embraces our different faith traditions. Our interfaith wedding will include the pieces of our lives that that celebrate who we are; the spirituality that weaves in and out to create a bond and a tapestry. Our wedding will be in the synagogue and will have some of the traditional rituals present in Jewish weddings, such as the chuppah, the reading of the seven blessings and the breaking of the glass. However, it will also include blessings from our parents, who come from both Catholic and Jewish traditions. It will include family and friends that have been raised Catholic and family and friends who were raised Jewish. We have chosen to have our siblings, my two sisters and Jodiâ€™s two brothers, be our chuppah holders, and the chuppah will have a Celtic web of life design. My sisters (Catholic) and Jodiâ€™s brothers (Jewish) will provide the support for the canopy representing Godâ€™s presence in our lives and in our new life together.
Most important, our wedding will include two lives coming together in Godâ€™s presenceâ€”two lives who find commonality in spirituality. To me, that is an interfaith wedding. It may not include a priest. It doesnâ€™t need to. What it needs to be is inclusive. Our lives and the choices weâ€™ve made as a couple and as parents center around celebrating difference and inclusivity. Our interfaith wedding may not be your interfaith wedding. Thatâ€™s the beauty of it.
Being interfaith is about noticing the differences and looking for the thread that ties you together but maintains individuality. Jodi and I found that thread 10 years ago. It has just taken 10 years to become a tapestry.