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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.
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.
I said it quietly, without making eye contact, as Shannon walked by. As if, by treating it as a commonplace, like the weather or the Phillies, I’d sneak it by her without conversation.
Shannon stopped and turned to face me. “Are you serious?” she asked. I’m known for making outrageous statements. I like to push peoples’ buttons and see how they react to things. But this wasn’t a time for joking around.
“Yeah,” I said.
Shannon paused for a moment. “Finally,” she breathed.
That conversation took place in early 2011. I converted to Judaism on May 16, 2012. Shannon and I were engaged on November 29. We’re to be married on October 26 of this year, at 7 in the evening, after Havdalah.
I am Jewish. Shannon is not.
Our story is not a typical one. After all, how many couples are there in which one partner is a convert to Judaism and the other isn’t Jewish? Many people convert, in part, in order to marry their Jewish partner or satisfy the expectations of their partner’s family. (Of course, this is not to imply that anyone’s conversion is in any way less heartfelt or genuine than someone else’s, whatever the reasons!)
Our story is increasingly commonplace, too. Like many “younger” people (I use the term loosely, as both Shannon and I are in our thirties), Shannon and I have chosen our own way. For me, that meant becoming Jewish and living a Jewish life. For Shannon, that meant defining her identity outside of mine, an ongoing act of spiritual and emotional integrity that I admire. Shannon and I will defy tradition when we celebrate our union in a Jewish wedding. (Ironically, as a small ceremony, only two Jews will be present: the rabbi and myself.) An interfaith couple, Shannon and I will together establish a Jewish home. And, as more young Jewish men and women intermarry, our story becomes more typical, too.
There are voices in our community who will say that our marriage can’t be Jewish, that our children won’t be Jewish, that I’m not Jewish, that even the idea is mishegas, a shande. I’m writing to state positively, for Shannon and me and those couples like us, that we’re here, we’re real, and that there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Nu?
Shannon and me at Rockefeller Center Plaza in 2009
Shannon and I met in college in 2004. We’ve been together ever since, through arguments, long distance, health problems and family crises. Our dedication to one another sometimes wavered but never failed. You might say that we are bashert (meant to be).
Perhaps most impressive was Shannon’s support of my decision to become a Jew. As a rabbi and friend of ours is fond of pointing out, Shannon “didn’t sign on for this.” “This” being code for…a suddenly Jewish partner, Rosh Hashanah dinners and Yom Kippur fasts, latkes and dreidels at Christmastime and blessings recited in Hebrew: in short, all the trappings of a Jewish life. Shannon has gracefully walked the fine line of embracing Jewishness while maintaining her intellectual independence. She affirms my Jewishness by actively living the Jewish values of home and family, of giving tzedakah and honoring Shabbat. She won’t convert, though, because she doesn’t believe in the Hebrew God. Shannon’s intellectual openness and integrity are part of why I love her. Her encouragement of my choice to convert, to become who I was meant to me, is why I will marry her.
Shannon knew about my interest in Judaism from the time we began dating. I imagine, at the time, that it seemed like a minor quirk; after all, I was a history major with an interest in religion. Over time, though, as I referred more and more often to Judaism, Shannon intuited what I wanted but was afraid to embrace: conversion to Judaism. So it was no surprise to Shannon when, in the winter of 2011, I announced to her that I was thinking of converting. “Finally,” she breathed, a sigh of relief indicative of the divinity inherent in accepting the life choices of one’s partner.
Shannon encouraged me throughout the conversion process. She accompanied me to the Introduction to Judaism class offered by the URJ and talked excitedly about Shabbat dinners and the Jewish values of family and charity. She drove me to the mikveh. She was was at shul when I held the Torah scroll and proclaimed my allegiance to the Jewish People and our God. And she suffered through at least one Torah study before deciding she’d rather cook Rosh Hashanah dinner. Shannon actively lives the values to which I aspire.
During the spring of this year, Shannon and I enrolled in InterfaithFamily’s Love & Religion workshop. Although we’re (for the most part) comfortable with the role religion plays in our lives, we thought it would be good to meet other couples with similar experiences in order to learn from them. Little did we realize that we would be the most experienced couple in the workshop! Love & Religion provided us a window into the way other couples our age are negotiating the role of religion in their relationships. We learned that our accommodation of one another was not unique and that we’re not alone. It’s a shared story.
Over the next few weeks I’ll use my space here to talk about our plans: what our ceremony will be like (and why), choosing a ketubah, and what we imagine our married life will be like. I’ll write about points of contention that arose between Shannon and me in the past and likely sources of conflict in the future. And I’ll expand on our plans to establish shalom bayit (in English, a “peaceful home,” or domestic harmony). I look forward to you joining me!
Please note: I’ve posted this for Yolanda, who wrote the following post.
Hey there IFF,
So here we are, two months past our actual wedding date and we’re both enjoying the married life. Before we head off into wedded bliss, Arel and I are leaving you with a farewell video and some extra goodies to take a look at. We never talked about our actual wedding day so this is the video that finally covers how our day went and Arel included some pics for you guys to see how our wedding progressed that day.
We loved vlogging for InterfaithFamily.com and hoped that you enjoyed viewing our journey as much as we enjoyed documenting it for you guys. We wish you all a blessed life and for those of you getting married, good luck and enjoy the process. We welcome the next wedding bloggers, Jess and Erik, and wish them an awesome wedding and life thereafter.
Enjoy our last videos. We have video recapping our actual wedding, the video below that is a glimpse of the ceremony, and the third video showcases our unusual wedding dance. Let us know what you think.
Check out me (Yolanda) and my fiance Arel as we introduce ourselves via our first vlog (video blog) and hear a little bit about your story and upcoming wedding plans. We’re very excited about this journey and look forward to learning more about Judaism as we figure out how to have a Jewish wedding with a mostly interfaith guest list.
We would love to hear from all of you out there. Please comment and show us some love or give your opinion. This wedding is a work in progress and we are eager to hear from y’all.
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.
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