Full of helpful advice for families starting to think about their child's bat or bar mitzvah, Bar & Bat Mitzvah For The Interfaith Family will be a helpful primer to all families (not just interfaith!).
This booklet explains the history of Hanukkah, the symbolism and significance of lighting candles for eight nights, the blessings that accompany the lighting of the candles, the holiday's foods, the game of dreidels, and more!
Connecting Interfaith Families to Jewish Life in Greater Cleveland by providing programs and opportunities for interfaith families to experience Judaism in a variety of venues, meet other interfaith families, and to connect to other Jewish organizations that may serve their needs.
A great way for Jewish professionals and volunteers who work with and provide programming for people in interfaith relationships to locate resources and trainings to build more welcome into their Jewish communities; connect with and learn from each other; and publicize and enhance their programs and services.
Our interfaith ceremony was the best and most meaningful part of our wedding day. It was really important to my husband, Brandon, and me that the ceremony be both very personal to us as a couple and truly interfaith. This meant we looked at wedding traditions from both Christianity and Judaism, and discussed which would fit into our ceremony. It also meant working closely with both a rabbi and a pastor to select readings and determine what would be said by each of them. I took a very hands-on role in planning our ceremony—maybe more than most brides do—because we had very specific ideas of what we wanted to be included. Here’s a look at what we chose to do, and where we made it work for ourselves and our families. (We also had a Ketubah ceremony, which I’ll write about in an upcoming post.)
Processional & Affirmation of Families
Brandon walking down the aisle with his parents
It is traditional in Judaism for both parents of the bride and both parents of the groom to walk their respective child down the aisle. In Christianity, it is much more typical for only a bride’s father to walk her down the aisle. For this tradition, Brandon and I went with what we were comfortable with and had imagined growing up—both his parents with Brandon, and just my dad with me. My feminist heart hated the notion of my father “giving me away,” and so I chose to look at the experience as an incredibly special moment between my father and me, and I’m glad I did not miss out on that. Early in the ceremony, our pastor led an Affirmation of Families that included blessings from both sets of parents.
We loved the symbolism of our new home under the chuppah and were excited to include this in our ceremony. We decided that only Brandon and I, and our officiants, would stand under the chuppah, with our parents in the front row and our attendants off to the side. We made this choice because we wanted our parents to experience the ceremony without feeling like they were on display, and we also wanted it to be a more intimate moment between ourselves and our officiants.
My mother and I designed our chuppah with our amazing florist. Our wedding was outside in Washington Square Park in Chicago and we wanted to ensure that our chuppah felt natural. The flowers and birch poles the florist used were beautiful and the best part of the chuppah was a white lace tablecloth that belonged to my late maternal grandmother. During the ceremony, I glanced up at the chuppah and loved feeling my grandmother’s presence in that moment. We now have the tablecloth at home and I hope to have it made into baby blankets for future children.
Acknowledgement of Different Faiths
Our pastor began the ceremony with an acknowledgement of our two faiths and talked about how the ceremony was uniquely created for Brandon and me, with traditions and beliefs adopted from both Christianity and Judaism. He closed with a Bible passage, God is love, and those who abide in love, abide in God, and God abides in them. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (1 John 4:16)
Our rabbi led three blessings: Shehecheyanu, blessing over the wine and blessing over the chuppah. We saw these blessings as essential to our ceremony and wanted to include both Hebrew and English. Our rabbi also provided background for each so that everyone understood their meaning. For the blessing over the wine, we asked our rabbi to recite it in Hebrew and our pastor to recite it in English. We also used the Kiddush cup from Brandon’s bar mitzvah, which added special meaning.
In our initial conversation with our pastor, we agreed that we wanted to include Jesus throughout the ceremony. It is possible to have a Christian-Jewish ceremony that only references God, but it was more comfortable for us to also include Jesus in name. During our ceremony, our pastor explained with grace how we would be including aspects from both faiths, which could be perceived differently from person to person. We selected both Tanakh and New Testament readings for the ceremony, both of which offered blessings and a charge for our marriage. For the Tanakh, we heard Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, and for the New Testament, Colossians 3:12-17.
We were also blessed with homilies from both officiants, a statement on the gift of marriage, “I Carry Your Heart” by E.E. Cummings and the singing of “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong, arranged by my brother-in-law, our pianist for the day, and performed by him and my sister.
Vows & Exchange of Rings
Inspired by my sister and brother-in-law, Brandon and I wrote our vows together and each said the same words to one another, which was our personal way of making promises to each other about our commitment.
Brandon and I were also eager to find a way to incorporate each of us speaking in Hebrew in the ceremony. We found this opportunity in our ring exchange. Our pastor led Brandon and the rabbi led me in reciting our own words and words borrowed from Songs of Solomon, “With this ring, I thee wed. Wear me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is infinitely strong. Many waters cannot quench love, no flood can sweep it away.” We closed with these words in English, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” and in Hebrew, “Ani le’dodi ve’dodi li.
Sheva Brachot and Benediction
Before we were pronounced married, our rabbi recited the Sheva Brachot, or “Seven Blessings,” which are traditional in a Jewish wedding. Our pastor also read a benediction, Numbers 6:24-26, “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord be kind and gracious to you. The Lord look upon you with favor And give you peace.” Later at our reception, our first dance was Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young,” which we loved dancing to because the lyrics also echoed these words.
Steven and I were married in an outdoor Catholic and Jewish celebration on May 23, 2015. The ceremony itself was the biggest black box for us when planning our wedding and we hope sharing how we brought our two faiths together into an interfaith ceremony helps anyone else trying to decode this process.
Steven was raised Jewish and I’m a born and raised and practicing Catholic. We wanted faith as part of our ceremony and we also wanted to make sure it represented us and was welcoming and inclusive for our families and friends in attendance.
With some work, the help of great people and some luck, we pulled it off.
Steven’s parents are really involved in their Jewish community and through those connections found us a local rabbi, Lev Baesh that they thought we would like. It just so happens that Lev has a long history with InterfaithFamily and continues to work as a consultant with the organization. Steven and I both really value sustainability, so when we found out that Lev has solar panels on his house and chickens in his backyard, we felt like things would work out. The first time we met him for coffee (and to “interview” him) he said two things that stuck with us through the planning process:
1. Many of the major religious milestones (or sacraments in the Catholic world) recognize things that have already happened—baptism/ naming ceremonies (the baby is already born), funerals (the person is already dead) and in the case of marriage, two people have already made the decision to be together and the ceremony is to officially recognize it. Knowing this took some pressure off of us—we’d already been through the hard part of finding each other and figuring out that we wanted to be together forever. The ceremony was the cherry on top.
2. The ceremony is the first real opportunity to set the tone for how religion is going to look in your newly formed two-person family. That observation actually added a little more pressure, but also helped us find a framework as we came to decision points when planning the ceremony. For example, while I had written a word-by-word ceremony, our officiants both wanted the opportunity to speak in their own words, reflecting the sentiment we put forth in the draft. When we looked at our framework, we decided we wanted our faith journey to have room for flexibility and to be genuine and personal, so we agreed to let our officiants speak from the heart (that ended up being a GREAT decision—more on that later).
We found our priest through the recommendation of a friend who served on the Board of Directors for the Interfaith Action of Central Texas. I like the priest at my longtime Catholic parish, but I wasn’t sure he had the personality we needed for an interfaith ceremony. It can also be challenging to have the Bishop recognize an interfaith, outdoor marriage. Luckily, Father Larry Covington knew how the system worked and helped guide us through the process which included the required paperwork as well as Pre-Cana, multiple pre-marriage preparation meetings a Catholic couple goes through. He also made us feel at ease about an interfaith ceremony and marriage. Oh, and he speaks some Hebrew, which came in handy (see list below).
We decided on a mix of Catholic and Jewish traditions as well as things we just thought would be cool. Here’s what we ended up doing:
Both of my parents walked me in; both of Steven’s parents walked in with him (Jewish tradition)
Our dog was in the wedding party, holding the rings on her collar
We got married under a chuppah (the canopy structure present in traditional Jewish weddings). My father made it for us and personalized it by using Longhorn and Duke bed sheets as the canopy covering, paying homage to our alma maters
The priest and rabbi each gave a welcome and a blessing
We invited seven friends to give a blessing of their choosing, a twist on the traditional
The priest said the traditional vows, the rabbi did the exchange of rings
Steven and I wrote and said our own additional vows to each other
We did the Jewish stomping of the glass at the end of the ceremony
The singing of a prayer in Hebrew: We lucked out—our priest did this part and wow’d everyone!
Katie & Steven’s wedding ceremony with Rabbi Lev Baesh and Father Larry Covington co-officiating. Photo by Elizabeth McGuire
Here are a few additional resources and things we did that were helpful:
Lots of communication with our guests: We emailed all of those attending the wedding to give them the heads up that our wedding would have a rabbi, priest and a dog. It really helped people know what to expect.
Lots of communication with our parents: We especially wanted to make sure our parents felt good about the ceremony since we were the first interfaith couple in our immediate families. We gave the opportunity in the beginning of planning to share anything they really wanted in the ceremony. We also shared the ceremony document with our parents in advance and they appreciated it.
Ceremony: It wasn’t easy to find more than an outline of a ceremony, but we did find one from InterfaithFamily that we really liked. Here it is.
Vows: In addition to the traditional vow exchange, we also wanted to say our own words to each other. We worked off of this listand made the vows our own.
"...the one who chops your wood.. that you may enter into the covenant with the LORD your God, and into His oath which the LORD your God is making with you today" - Deuteronomy 29:11
One aspect to my spiritual life and was instilled into me by my original mentor and many who came after, was to be of service. In the beginning I took the suggestions that being of service meant giving someone a ride if they needed it. Or if someone was struggling it meant to stop and lend an ear. I came to understand that being of service meant being in service to others and to G-D. My experience has shown again and again that being of service was a keystone to spiritual development.
After those first experiences, I began to realize I was being drawn further into the nonprofit sector as a desired occupation. Before I knew it I was working at a nonprofit food bank and volunteering my time at two other nonprofits. Even during my current job search, I find myself unable to get away from wanting to have an extra purpose in going to work each day.
When it comes to the wedding, there not a lot of time when we can be of service to others. After all, this wedding is about us. As I discussed my “food blog post” we need to at least give everyone a good meal. Meatballs and doughnuts is the least we could do. And since making that decision, not everything has been easier, but it did give us a brief moment of calm when it came to planning.
When it comes to my religious practices, we always talk about Jewish “Services” for the holidays and Shabbat. Although we call it a wedding ceremony, couldn’t it also be called a wedding service? But why would we call it a service? It is the whole reason we decided to have a Jewish service in a Catholic Chapel, because it is for G-D. When we join together on that day, those prayers are for us, but also very much for G-D as well. The whole ceremony is joining the three of us in a holy union of love. Sounds like being in service to G-D to me.
Being of service and chopping wood for an underprivledged camp
This blog has focused largely on being spiritually ready for the big day. So if being of service is important, than how was I in service this week? I actually found myself at a working interview at a soup kitchen and food pantry. I do not think there is any higher calling than giving people the basic need of food. Ever since leaving Philadelphia and the food bank there, I missed working in that environment. I missed it so much that even spent part of my time during a business trip in New Orleans at TribeFest, where I met Editor Lindsey Silken, this past year and volunteered at a food bank. It is the most rewarding thing to do with my time and at the end of this, there may even be a chance at an upcoming open position. I actually agreed to have the second working interview this upcoming Tuesday, before I turn 100% of my thoughts over to the wedding.
“Service which is rendered without joy helps neither the servant nor the served. But all other pleasures and possessions pale into nothingness before service which is rendered in a spirit of joy.” – Mahtma Gandhi.
These last few months have been busy with dress fittings, selecting the menu, arranging the seating chart, creating the invitations, ordering the suits, and other wedding plans. Sam and I continually remind ourselves that the wedding is only one day and we should focus on preparing for a marriage. This lifelong commitment to each other begins at the wedding ceremony. With that in mind, we are trying to combine the rituals and symbols of both Judaism and Catholicism in our ceremony.
Sam’s parents (Pennye & Phil) on their wedding day
We specifically chose our priest and rabbi to not only co-officiate the ceremony, but also to guide us along this spiritual journey. The rabbi is someone very dear to Sam and the priest is the presider of my family’s parish. These two special people have been a part of various life cycle events in Sam’s and my life. They know us and our families very well, and we are honored that they will be officiating our marriage ceremony. The rabbi and priest continue to help us in the marriage preparations by proofing our ketubah language, assisting with Diocesan paperwork, and helping us with the order and symbols of the ceremony. In our first meeting with the priest, he gave us words of wisdom to keep in mind, throughout this entire process (and our lives): “Keep your own faith at heart, but do not minimize or trivialize the faith of the other.”
If I were converting to Judaism, or Sam to Catholicism, we would have chosen a specific house of worship for our ceremony, such as a synagogue or church. Because we are not, we decided to have our ceremony in a country club, a “neutral” location. This way, both faiths are equally visible and our guests won’t be uncomfortable in attending a wedding in another house of worship. By having our wedding on a Sunday afternoon, Sam and his family can still go to Shabbat services, and my family can go to early Sunday morning Mass.
Throughout the ceremony, we want to honor each other’s faiths, focusing on the similarities, rather than the differences. We have asked my brother, Chris, and Sam’s sister, Stacey, to help us explain the wedding rituals and symbols in each of our faiths at the start of the ceremony.
There are a few symbols that are used in both religions, such as bread, wine, rings, and most importantly, the vows. Sam and I will say the blessings over the bread and wine in our own respective religions. The priest and rabbi will guide us in exchanging our vows and rings.
We have adapted some rituals and symbols to be more conducive to an interfaith wedding. The chuppah is a symbol unfamiliar to my Catholic family, whereas the unity candle is a symbol unfamiliar to Sam’s Jewish family. We will sign our ketubah during the ceremony rather than before it, honoring the Catholic tradition of the bride and groom not seeing each other beforehand. The traditional Jewish Seven Blessings will be said, with both fathers participating. At the end of the ceremony, we will break the glass. This has many meanings in the Jewish faith, but for the two of us, it will also symbolize the breaking down of barriers between people of different cultures and faiths as our families are now joined together.
By incorporating some Jewish and Catholic wedding rituals in our ceremony, we will signal to our friends and family our intent to continue practicing our religions. We hope that this public declaration of faith will communicate our plans to remain strong in faith while supporting our partner’s religious practice.