Weddings Are a Lot Like Thanksgivukkah


Our wedding blogger Matt Rice recently wrapped up his blog after getting married to his now wife, Shannon. We’re sad to see him leave our blog, but thrilled for his happy union. While we search for a new wedding blogger, I thought I would fill in since I recently got engaged! I have to be upfront though: My fiancé is Jewish, and I am Jewish, so we are not an interfaith couple. Scandalous, I know, but I think there are a lot of pieces of wedding planning that are similar for anyone planning a Jewish wedding—interfaith or not. To some extent, every wedding is the bringing together of two different faiths, and a couple must navigate their families’ differences during the planning process. I hope I can be of help or at least amusement until we find a new blogger—and if you are planning a wedding and are interested in blogging, please email me at

I got engaged in September, and have already nailed down a date and a place, taken engagement photos (my brother is a photographer and was kind enough to give us this gift), blocked off hotel rooms for guests and are close to figuring out who our rabbi and caterer will be. Oh, and I tried on dresses yesterday. (Never has anything been more fun.) We can sit back and eat bon bons now, right?

Not so fast. We’re planning on getting married in Bristol, Rhode Island, which means the bulk of our organizing revolves around the Newport area. Newport is a major wedding destination and everything from lodging to photographers book up quickly. (And no, my brother will not be allowed to work on our wedding day!)

The couple on a moped. The journey begins!

My fiancé and I found ourselves suddenly going from blissfully engaged to full-on planning our wedding just two weeks after our engagement. Not to say this part isn’t also exciting—from the grins on our faces, it’s clear we are not exactly sweating it. But at the same time, after each item gets checked off the list, there’s another one waiting to be explored just as urgently.

It’s kind of like holiday prep—I realize many of us are overwhelmed with the upcoming Thanksgivukkah mega holiday (Is it here yet???), but of course we’re looking forward to it at the same time. How do you keep things in perspective when you’re stressed out prepping for a holiday that is both celebratory and spiritual? IFF/Chicago director Ari Moffic blogged about stress release during the holidays.

When it comes to wedding planning, I find that what keeps the process fun, exciting and meaningful is the constant reminder of what will be our joy at the end of it all: a day in which we make a lifelong commitment surrounded by our loved ones. Eye on the prize.

But how do you keep your eye on the prize when there is a seemingly endless list of things to do to prepare for your wedding day over the next TEN months? Take a step back. What works for me might not work for you, but simply spending quality time with my fiancé and participating in the planning together is what I find makes it all meaningful. It’s more fun to pick out save the dates or imagine a menu when you’re bouncing ideas off your fiancé. I realize I am lucky in that my fiancé actually wants to be an equal player in this process, which is not often the case. (I’m sorry if that sounds sexist: I do not mean to say this exclusively pertains to men. But often there is one person who is less interested in planning than the other.)

I also know that I’m only two months into wedding planning. I keep hearing that things will get more stressful as it gets closer. But your fiancé is your support. He or she is your partner and your care taker and your source of joy. Whether or not they want to help you pick out flower arrangements–and whether or not you agree on bigger issues like whether or not to have a rabbi officiate the ceremony–lean on that person. I promise everything will seem easier.

The End: Lovers Gonna Love


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.

Our rings and ketubah.

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.

Shannon drapes my tallit on me. Look at how serious I am!

Drama on the bimah!


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!):

  • It is easy to speak, harder to listen, and harder still to find common ground.
  • It’s important to examine the gap between what one does and what one claims to do.
  • Individual experience is as important as ideals, policies, beliefs, etc. In other words, life is messy and complicated.
  • Just as “haters gonna hate,” “lovers gonna love.” (Thanks to Rabbi Freedman and my friend Eugene S. for sharing these nuggets of wisdom.)

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:

  • InterfaithFamily for providing us the opportunity to share our story, and, in particular, my managing editor, Lindsey, for her help throughout.
  • Congregation Rodeph Shalom for being so welcoming.
  • Our many friends, who were always there for us. I won’t name anyone here, but if you’re reading this and you suspect that I might be referring to you, I am.
  • Rabbi Eli Freedman for his counsel and friendship, and for performing the ceremony.
  • Our families, the Finnegans and Rices, especially those who were with us for the ceremony, as well as those who joined us for our party on November 9.
  • My best man, Mike, and Shannon’s maid of honor, her sister, Megan.
  • Shannon’s mom, Kathy, for her unparalleled planning skills, and my mom, Bonnie, for her support.

We made it!

Shannon and I are looking forward to reading the next couple’s story. Until then…



(Photographs by Kirk Hoffman Photography.)

Our Last Vlog and Wedding Day Recap

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 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.

Until we meet again,
Yolanda and Arel

Blog Post #2: Taking Notes at Other Weddings…..


Last weekend, Erik and I celebrated the wedding of our friends Raul and Sarah, another interfaith couple (Raul is a Salvadorian Buddhist friend of Erik, who grew up in Northern Virginia; Sarah is Christian, from Birmingham, Alabama).  As we enjoyed their special day, we took notes for ours.

Raul and Sarah held their wedding in a small church/community center in southwest Virginia, with about 35 of their closest friends and family—much different than the 200+ person wedding that we’re planning. The food was served buffet-style, and made by the bride’s cousin. Sarah, the bride, made all the decorations herself, and had friends help her set up the room. Although I know (or hope!) that our wedding will be lovely, there’s something to be said about the intimacy of a smaller, family-style engagement with the people you care about most in life.

One of our favorite take-aways, besides the fact that they wrote their own vows: Sarah’s grandmother, the associate pastor of the church, officiated. She told a story about how, growing up, Sarah used to play dress up with her cousin and ask: “Grandma, will you help marry me at my wedding when I grow up?” And, for 20+ years, her grandmother answered, “Yes, honey. I will be there when you get married, and I will marry you myself.”

It was such a special moment, that it underscored for us the importance of our choice to have family and a close friend officiate our wedding too.  We’ve decided to have my cousin, Wendy, an Orthodox Jew, and Erik’s college philosophy professor, Ken, who introduced Erik to Buddhism, preside over our wedding.  We’re thrilled about it. The next step: figuring out the vows and the ceremony.

We would welcome your suggestions and ideas as we move into the ceremony planning stage….

Thanks for reading, and Happy St. Patty’s Day to any fellow Irish-Jewish folks out there!


Blog Post #1 – Introducing Jess & Erik


Hello IFF Community!

Check out me (Erik) and my fiancee Jess as we introduce ourselves via our first Hitch posting.  We are super excited to be a part of the IFF community, to share our story and get your thoughts and opinions as we prepare for our interfaith (Buddhist/Jewish) wedding in November. 

Thanks so much for taking the time to watch and we look forward to your comments and thoughts as we begin our journey with IFF. 

Take care,

Video 13: meet our bridal party aka our siblings


Hi there IFF!

Last week, we hit you with a pretty heavy topic as Arel and I took some time to figure out what marriage is really about and why and if we should head down that road. As you’re aware, we did take the plunge and documented the process so stay tuned for more posts.

The week prior to our wedding, the day of, and day after was crazy and filled with never ending tasks. Thank goodness our family and friends showed up a few days early to help us out. Remember, how Arel and I commented in an earlier post that we weren’t too sure what the point of a bridal party was? Well, our lovely bridesmaids and groomsmen sure did come through and our wedding could not have been pulled off without all of their hard work. We were so grateful for their presence and dedication.

In this video, we introduce you to two of the hardworking bridal party members, the best man and one of the bridesmaids. See if you can figure out who’s related to who…

See ya next week!

Oh the joys of wedding dress shopping for a Conservative Jew


Dear IFF,

I know I’ve been ranting and whining about wedding invitations but now that they are over and done with, I wanted to take you back a few months to where I talked about the wedding dress.

There’s so much that goes into the dress. I mean this is ‘the’ dress that so many girls dream about, envisioning their day dressed in a to die for gown. To be honest, I never really thought about what dress I would wear, but when the day came to actually start thinking about it, I couldn’t believe how many options there were and how most of them did nothing for me. As  much as I love sparkly things in everyday life (love glitter), I for some reason found it to be ghastly on a wedding gown. Who knew? I also found it disturbing the lack of options for a Conservative bride. And don’t even get me started on the ‘modest’ dresses that are out there. Seriously, it’s as if ‘modest’ is equated with lack of fashion sense and taste because dresses made for Conservative Jewish girls like me are just plain ugly. Blech. All I wanted was a beautiful dress that was simple and covered the arms. I want to be modest for the ceremony which means covering myself. I know many liberal Jews do not share the same opinion, but I’m naturally conservative and do not like showing my arms. It seems so risque but for this post you’ll see I’m wearing all strapless gowns because that’s what’s out there.

I did eventually find my dress love, the beautiful ‘Addie’ by Monique Lhullier. It really was pure love at first sight. It’s modern, simple, no bling, sequins, or sparkles and it has 3/4 sleeves, sheer beautiful sleeves. This dress is conservative and stylish. But as I mentioned before, it’s also $6000. Ahh.. This was one of those moments where I actually thought life isn’t fair for the budget conscious bride, but I reluctantly got over it, and started the search for ‘the’ dress that looked like my dear ‘Addie’. I started my search at Alfred Angelo, followed by David’s Bridal, and then NY Bride. For all you brides out there, please do not wait to buy your dress. I waited until 4 months before the wedding date which left me very little time to find a dress in time. I felt sort of pressured to make a decision quickly and although I did find my dress, and I love it, it’s not my first love, the Addie, and to be honest, I don’t love it as much as the Addie. It’s true. I still look at pictures of my dear dress but like a long lost love that didn’t work out, I try to focus on what I do have now, my actual dress. I’m happy with it and I bought a sheer tulle bolero with a train to give it a conservative twist because of course it’s strapless. I’m not going to show you what I chose until the actual wedding, but I’ll show you a few of the dresses that didn’t make the cut. Notice my facial expressions in some of the pics…clearly, I wasn’t so thrilled. However, wedding dress shopping is fun and I felt like a princess. I wish there were more occasions to wear such gorgeous dresses than just one day.

So let’s start with my dream dress, the Addie.

And now let’s move onto the ‘real’ dresses

Dress 1 from Alfred Angelo. Pretty but it didn’t catch my eye.

Dress 2 from Alfred Angelo. Simple and modern. I liked it but it didn’t have enough ‘oomph’.

Dress 3 from Alfred Angelo. I just thought this looked weird on me.

Dress 4 from Alfred Angelo. I like the simplicity of this one with the crystal band but it’s hard to tell how it would really look. All the samples were way too big so everything had to be clipped back.

Dress 5 from Alfred Angelo. I like the idea of this dress but it was just too big to really tell what it would look like. It’s very romantic and lace-y. I think if it fit, I would have liked this one more.

Dress 6 from David’s Bridal. I adored this dress from David’s Bridal but once I tried it on, it didn’t look right on me. This is from Vera Wang’s new White line. All the dresses are gorgeous. I tried quite a few on but it didn’t seem to work for me. You’ll also notice my Blue Steel face. I was trying to be Vera Wang-ish and no one was there to take a pic for me. Yes, I went wedding dress shopping alone (initially). I wanted to see how I felt about it without the influence of other’s opinions.

Dress 7 from NY Bride. I really enjoyed this dress but it was too thin for a winter wedding. It didn’t have as much heavy material like the other dresses. It was effortless to move in which is a big plus but I wanted more material.

Dress 8 from NY Bride. I just had to try on a big poofy dress. Fun, but hard to move in, and it swallowed my short body.

Dress 9 from NY Bride. This dress was so pretty and flowy but I found another dress I liked more, so this one could have been the one.

I think I tried on about 20 dresses total. For those ladies who are already married or are getting married, how many dresses did you try before you found the one?

Who are we? Arel and Yolanda introduce themselves


Hi everyone!

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.


How does one spell “Jewish Wedding Canopy”?


The people Ethan would playfully refer to as “punks” would say “J-E-W-I-S-H…” but that’s not what we’re talking about here.

One thing we noticed while on our whirlwind trip through Phoenix last week, talking to florists, planners, event location managers, caterers, and other sundry people involved in The Wedding Day, was that we just couldn’t come to agreement on how to spell Huppah.  There are just so many choices, Chuppah, Hupah, Huppah, Huppa, Chuppa….  Though some would probably argue that there is only one right way to do it, they better not be using the Roman alphabet.  Because there just isn’t standardization in transliteration.  Oh sure, some people have tried, and large groups of Jews choose to use one standard or another, but there just isn’t a universal.

This can cause a bit of a problem when dealing with people not familiar with all the variance.  If you use a spelling they’re not used to, then they might not understand what you’re talking about.  Certainly this problem is more prevalent in the modern age when so much is done via email and the internet, but trying to make arrangements from 2000 miles away doesn’t help either.

Fortunately we haven’t run into any major snafus because of the joys of transliteration, but there has been occasional minor confusion.

All that being said, we’re happy to report success in making major progress from our trip, and invitations are going out tomorrow.

On a related note, when we drafted our invitations we had included the Hebrew date, and had spelled out the English year “Two thousand and eleven,” as is often traditional in formal invitations.  We had kept the Hebrew date as a numeral and got a near universal reaction from people who reviewed it that that looked weird.  In the end we chose uniformity in numerals because spelling out “Fifty seven and seventy one” in addition to the above just took up way too much space.  So be on the lookout and keep it in mind for your big day.  It’s a minor detail, but one worth looking good.

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.