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One of the first decisions a couple has to make in planning for their wedding ceremony is who will officiate.Â When planning a Jewish wedding incorporating multiple faith backgrounds, you have a number of options as to who can be your officiant. You may choose to have solely Jewish clergy (a rabbi or cantorâfor the sake of simplicity, we will just refer to ârabbisâ from now on, but note that most cantors can officiate just as a rabbi can); to have Jewish clergy co-officiate with a clergy member of a different faith; or not to have clergy at all.
Jewish Clergy Only
If you want to have Jewish clergy officiate your wedding ceremony, there are someÂ things you should know. While Reform, Reconstructionist and Renewal rabbis are permitted to officiate interfaith wedding ceremonies, not all do so, and some who do have certain conditions that must be met in order for them to officiate. Conservative and Orthodox rabbis, on the other hand, are not permitted to officiate interfaith weddings. This means that you or your partner may have a rabbi you grew up with that you had always dreamed would officiate your wedding ceremony and they may not be allowed to officiate interfaith weddings, may choose not to do so or may not be comfortable officiating the type of wedding you are planning.
The best way to find out if a rabbi is able and willing to officiate your wedding ceremony is to inform them of your plans and to ask if they can and will officiate. If a rabbi you know isnât able to officiate, or if you donât have a relationship with a rabbi, then InterfaithFamilyâs Jewish clergy referral service is a resource that can help. Just visit www.interfaithfamily.com/findarabbi and fill out the officiation request form, and we’ll email you, free of charge, a curated list of rabbis and cantors in your area who are likely to be a good fit for the type of wedding youâre planning. We also refer Jewish clergy that may be willing to travel.
Jewish Clergy Co-officiate with Clergy of Another Faith
Most rabbis and cantors who officiate interfaith weddings are not willing to co-officiate with clergy of another faith, though the number who will do so is growing. If you’re using InterfaithFamilyâs clergy referral service and you’re looking for a rabbi to co-officiate, please check the appropriate box on the online form.
Good, clear communication is essential when working with two officiants. Many clergy (of any faith) who are willing to co-officiate may have conditions for doing so, and some will want to make case-specific decisions about what they are comfortable doing. Good communication between the officiants, and between you and both officiants, is crucial so that no one feels blindsided or misunderstood. Some rabbis who co-officiate will recommend specific local clergy of other faiths with whom they enjoy working.
Wedding Ceremonies Without Clergy
You can choose to get married without having a rabbi or cantor, or any other clergy for that matter. Hiring a justice of the peace, judge or non-denominational officiant are all options. You can also arrange to have a friend deputized by the state to act as your officiant. Good communication is key when working with officiants who may be unfamiliar with the family dynamics or other issues sometimes in play in interfaith weddings.
If you decide to go this route, there are many resources you can consult to incorporate Jewish ritual and cultural elements into your ceremony. See the Sample ceremonies and definitions for wedding programsÂ section of IFFâs Jewish Wedding Guide for Interfaith CouplesÂ for some good ideas.
Questions to Ask Clergy and Clergy Fees
You should feel free to ask any questions of the clergy you contact, including questions about fees. It is important to feel comfortable with someone before you make the commitment to have them join in your special day.
Your first conversation with a prospective officiant is your âinterview,â and itâs your main opportunity to discern whether this person is a good fit for you and your partner. Here are some questions you may want to ask:
As for fees, Jewish clergy fees vary greatly (and are often greater than the fees of clergy of other faiths) though generally they fall somewhere between $500 – $1,500, depending on many variables. Fees may include travel costs, or reflect the amount of necessary pre-marital work. They also vary by region. Many rabbis and cantors offer a sliding scale if finances are an obstacleâdonât be afraid to ask for a fee reduction if this is a factor.
Hereâs whatâs going into the fee: Rabbis bring years of seminary training into their work with couples, and often spend considerable time preparing the wedding ceremony according to the specific needs of each couple. In interfaith weddings, rabbis work with each unique couple to craft a sensitive, respectful and meaningful ceremony that strives to balance the aesthetics of Jewish ritual with the need for some cultural translation for family members and guests of other faiths.
When they hire a rabbi, couples are choosing to pay for a professional to create a sacred moment that they will remember forever. Itâs useful to think about the clergy fee alongside the other costs associated with weddings today. The expertise and care couples look for in a wedding cake, a DJ or a photographer all come with fees, and clergy also need to make a living.
Finally, for co-officiated weddings, remember to include clergy fees for both officiants in your budget.
Recently, an amazing Jewish wedding program infographic was posted in our Facebook group for Jewish interfaith weddings (planning a wedding? Join us!), and we all flipped over how pretty and easy to follow it was. What a perfect way to help guests who arenât familiar with Jewish weddings to understand whatâs going on. Jewish weddings have many beautiful rituals, and I wanted to connect with the artist behind the program (Lingâs Design Studio) to see where she got the idea and how she helps couples create inclusive wedding ceremonies. Spoiler: Sheâs never been to a Jewish wedding! Whoâs going to invite her so she can see it firsthand?
And for those of you who have a wedding coming up and want to purchase these beautiful programs from Ling? Youâre in luck because sheâs offering InterfaithFamily readers 10 percent off during the month of October with the code INTERFAITH10OFF. Check out this interfaith-friendly, egalitarian, customizable design we love. Happy planning!
Why is it important for couples to have a wedding programâin particular couples who come from two different faith backgrounds?
Ling:Â Having a wedding program for a couple is more than just about what youâd like to inform your guestsÂ with in regards to the order of your wedding ceremony; itâs all about getting the âpersonal touchâ to makeÂ it more fun nowadays. I have not been to a Jewish wedding before, but Iâve learned so much fromÂ creating the program from my clients. With two people coming from different faith backgrounds, itâsÂ definitely helpful to have it to show your guests who are not Jewish what Jewish wedding customs are all about.
In this particular program, your guests will be learning Jewish wedding customs through the funÂ infographic. Itâs a fun way to break away from the traditional wedding programs we used to have!
How did you start creating programs for weddings?
As I began to accept custom orders, I was asked to design a Jewish infographic design for a buyer. ThisÂ particular Jewish program was how it all started. Since then, the item became very popular in the JewishÂ community.
Are there any other customs or traditions that couples can include in their program aside from whatâsÂ listed in the sample Jewish program?
Absolutely! Every wedding is different. Couple âAâ may not have the same customs from their weddingÂ as Couple âBâ. I often have buyers ask to add or omit some items from the program. If the coupleÂ provides me the info, Iâd be happy to modify the program. (Please note that there will be additionalÂ charges depending on the complexity of the requests.)
Do you ever have couples ask for a program that describes multiple religions or cultures?
I havenât had that request yet but I do take any custom orders.
What are some other customizations people have asked for?
Some couples would ask to include âHakafot,â âKiddush Cupâ and âYichud.â One buyer also asked meÂ to list out each blessing of âSheva Brachot.â I also made a timeline, and added a thank you note.
What has been most interesting or surprising to you to learn aboutÂ Jewish weddings while creating these programs?
I learned that Jewish weddings are very cultural with many beautiful meanings for a couple.Â Most of the customs are about the couple and their family. It really emphasizes the connection andÂ union between the bride and groom. One of the interesting things is that I never knew that the rightÂ index finger has the closest bloodline to the heart before I created this program. I thought this was very special.
ByÂ DebraÂ Lynn Shelton
Apparently when she and her non-Jewish fiancĂ© scheduled their most special event, they had no idea the date coincided with the holiest days on the Jewish calendar. By the time they realized the conflict, it was too late. They werenât able to change the date of their wedding at the fancy country club where it was booked.
On a scale of religiousness, our family ranges from fairly religious to completely non-participating. So the fairly religious contingent now have a difficult decision to make.
The bride is my first cousin, the daughter of my momâs younger brother. For my immediate family (parents and sisters) the knee-jerk reaction was: reject the occasion altogether. Send a gift, but donât attend.
I mean, how disrespectful could you be to schedule your special day on such a somber and important holiday? What could the future bride and groom have been thinking? What could they expect? But the deeper we delved into the dilemma, the more complicated it became.
For my mom who is fairly religious, in her mid-70s, and lives across the country from her two brothers, the decision was especially difficult. She was choosing between sharing the joyous celebration including magnificent meals with her cherished brothers vs. observing the High Holidays by attending services and fasting.
Rather than asking the audience, she decided to âphone a friend.â That friend was her rabbi who happened to be in Israel on a trip with fellow congregants.
After explaining the situation, my mom asked: âWhat advice can you give our family regarding attending the wedding? I can hear my fatherâs voice saying, âfamily is family.âÂ How do I choose between my family and my faith?âÂ
His response was surprising. On a call from Jerusalem the rabbi advised:Â âDonât go, but do send a gift.Â Do not tell her why you are not going.â
This confused my mom even more, especially the last part. If she chose not to go, why not stand up and say why?
She called her brothers to discuss the situation, and their voices reminded her of the deep love they share. In the end, that love overpowered everything else. She and my dad booked their tickets and will be attending the wedding at the end of September.
The bride-to-be also showed some flexibility, changing the time of the rehearsal dinner so anyone who wishes may attend Kol Nidre services. She also researched nearby temples and their times for services on Friday night and Saturday.
Her Saturday evening wedding is, technically, after the holiday is over. I think she genuinely feels bad about the predicament this has put her observant family members in, and has done what she can to rectify the situation. (Iâm sure many of you will disagree with this.)
Personally, Iâve come full circle. At first I was ready to book my plane ticket. Then I thought, since it was so disrespectful of the bride and groom to put so many in such a challenging position, I wouldnât go. Then I considered what really matters: family. So Iâll be checking out flight and hotel information soon.
This isnât an uncommon dilemma in our world where so many levels of observance can be found in one family. Secular Jews may have weddings or birthday parties or even graduations or professional milestones that involve travel on Saturdays, for instanceâleaving their Sabbath-observant relatives torn.
After all is said and done, as inconsiderate as keeping the wedding date scheduled for Yom Kippur is, Iâm of the opinion that, as my grandfather said, âFamily is family.â
The High Holidays will occur again next year. My cousinâs wedding will not. So, Iâll be joining my parents to watch my cousin walk down the aisle (They plan on attending services near the wedding venue.) Iâm looking forward to spending time with relatives I donât get to see very often, and to celebrating this special milestone with them.
But it isnât an easy choice. Dear readers, I wonder: what would you do?
This article was reprinted with permission fromÂ Kveller.com, a fast-growing, award-winning website for parents raising Jewish and interfaith kids.Â Follow Kveller on FacebookÂ andÂ sign up for their newsletters here.
One of the items that we needed to tick off our Wedding To-Do List this month was ordering the ketubah. As an interfaith, same-sex couple, we were looking for a text that spoke to the myriad possibilities of what it means to be in a loving, committed relationship. In a moment in the wedding industry when interfaith and same-sex ketubah texts are relatively scarce, we were happy to find something that struck a chord with us.
The Church of England doesnât have anything similar to a ketubah. The traditional wedding ceremony involves words and vows that have remained more or less the same since the Book of Common Prayer wedding service was first codified in the 17th Century. Our own wedding ceremony will combine these long-recited vows with elements of the Jewish tradition, so we wonât be taking the opportunity to express our more personal thoughts about marriage within the service itself (partly because the Church of England vows are very meaningful and beautiful, and partly because Vanessa would become a blubbering wreck). So, the ketubah felt like a wonderful opportunity for us to reflect on our conception of marriage and to verbalize our priorities and commitments for the years ahead.
In the end, we decided to choose a ketubah that encompasses more of a poetic, abstract notion of love. The design is relatively abstract too: an impressionistic tree with blue and gold leaves, with its roots drawing strength from the text underneath. Our ketubah tells the story of a partnership between two people using beautiful metaphor, but a metaphor that is rooted in concrete behavior.
Wedding planning can be stressful, and weâre combining it with finishing our graduate degrees and looking for jobs: So when we read our ketubah text that speaks of supporting each otherâs dreams and comforting each otherâs sorrows, we know that the beautifully-illustrated document is not just for show. The line that describes holding each other in both our arms and our hearts has never seemed more appropriate than in recent weeks, as weâve huddled together under a blanket on our sofa, escaping the delightfully chilly weather/miserable freezing temperatures (depending on who you ask).
So, the ketubah is on its way. Many more things remain on the Wedding To-Do List, the vast majority of which relate to a single day. But this is one element of our planning that weâll see every day for the rest of our lives, throughout our entire marriage.
Weâre Michele and Vanessa, and weâre getting married on April 30, 2017. Michele is Jewish and grew up just outside Philadelphia; Vanessa was raised in the Church of England (more or less equivalent to the Episcopal Church) a little outside London in the U.K. We got engaged in May 2015, and are thrilled to be counting down to the big day and our interfaith celebration.
Amidst our wedding planning (more on that another time), weâre alsoâlike everyone elseâplanning our holiday celebrations. This is a pretty big year for us, as itâs our first Christmas in the U.S. For the last couple of years, weâve gone to the U.K. and celebrated with Vanessaâs family; but this year weâre staying in Philly. For a while, I (Vanessa) was pretty sad: This is the first Christmas in 31 years that I wonât be with my family, watching my sister stare with trepidation through the oven door at the cauliflower cheese and roast potatoes and listening to my mum attempt the descants to Christmas carols on TV. But talking this over with Michele, and planning the holidays with her has brought me a lot of joy, as Iâve realized that this is actually a really exciting opportunity: We get to figure out how we can create our own traditions, and not just do whatever our families do, as we celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah.
This has led me to seek out cookie cutters in the shapes of dreidels and reindeer, menorahs and Christmas trees, and a variety of stars, both five- and six-pointed. I did a dance of delight in the Dollar Plus when I found Hanukkah garlands next to the Christmas tinsel. We started our own collection of tree ornaments that weâll keep adding to each year, with a classy otter bauble from the Vancouver Aquarium on the first vacation we took together that didnât involve either of our families. Our hope is that, in a few yearsâ time, our tree will be covered in ornaments that represent memories from our lives together. These things might sound frivolous, but for us, they symbolize the joining of our lives and our traditions; albeit in sparkly and (hopefully) delicious forms.
More seriously, weâve had to negotiate with family members what holiday events weâre going to, with Hanukkah brunches and parties surrounding Christmas church services and the first Christmas dinner hosted by us for Micheleâs family (complete with British stuffing and Christmas cake, sent all the way from England by my mum). Weâve had to think about whatâs really important to us in terms of our own traditions, and about what elements we want to share with each other. I want to go to Christmas services because itâs important for me to hear a choir welcoming Christmas in with âAdeste Fidelis,â but Iâm happy to let the cauliflower cheese go as we make the dinner kosher-style. Latkes are fairly high on Micheleâs priority list, but being all together and visiting the various branches of her family is even higher.
Itâs easy to get caught up in the mania of present-buying, tree-decorating, cookie-eating and playlist-curating, and to be honest Iâm definitely enjoying all those parts. But Michele and I are able to use those things to have conversations about what the holidays mean to us, how our families traditionally celebrate them, and what we want them to be like in our married life together. Of course, Iâll still miss my familyâbut this December, Iâll be surrounded by the love of my new family, Michele and all the Zipkins, and I canât wait. Itâs a timely reminder that our wedding planning isnât just about working toward a wedding, but a marriage. I feel incredibly lucky that weâre getting a head start on building our traditions for that marriage this year. Even if Iâm covered in powdered sugar and my reindeer cookies look more like dogs.
By Emily Baseman
Before my now-husband, Brandon, and I were engaged, I always assumed we would have a Jewish wedding. Brandon was raised in a Jewish home, attended Sunday School, studied the Torah for his bar mitzvah and journeyed to Israel with Birthright. Our apartment has had mezuzahs on its doors for years and we take turns saying prayers in Hebrew for Hanukkah, Rosh Hashanah and Passover.
But I wasnât raised with Judaism. I was raised in a Christian household with a family with strong Christian faiths. Both of my parents are very active in our Presbyterian church, my father recently completed a certificate in Christian Studies and my younger sister, initially planning a career in the ministry herself, married a man in the ministry in 2013. While I always aligned myself with the Christian faith, I didnât have the same zeal for the church that any of them did. One night on our apartment buildingâs rooftop, I think I surprised Brandon and myself when I casually asked him if he would consider an interfaith wedding. His response? âOf course.â If I wasnât already completely confident in marrying him before that moment, that sealed it. We got engaged shortly thereafter and began wedding planning.
Itâs amazing what happens to people while planning a wedding. We all have our normal levels of emotion, and wedding planning takes these emotions, turns them on their heads, and dials them up to 11. Make that 12 if youâre planning an interfaith wedding. With emotions running high, two things are very important to remember. First, remember youâre getting married because you love your partner and youâre ready to start a life together. Remember that through every moment that something causes you stress and every moment you become frustrated with planning. Second, keep a clear head. Donât let emotions get the better of you or in the way of open communication with your fiancĂ© and families.
There are a lot of aspects of wedding planning that are important to people in different ways. Iâll share some of those that were important to us and with which we had experiences. If there are other topics you are interested in hearing about, Iâd love to hear from you in the comments.
In our initial conversation about planning an interfaith wedding, Brandon and I talked about who would marry us. It was very important to us that both a pastor and a rabbi be involved. Our wedding was in Chicago, where we met and I am from, and we were wedding planning from Washington, DC, where we live. I sought out a pastor from the church where I grew up and reached out to Reverend Roberta Dodds Ingersoll. Reverend Dodds Ingersoll is one of the warmest people I have ever met and she has a gift for making everyone she greets feel truly welcome when we visit the church. I was very upfront with her about how we envisioned the wedding working and she agreed to be one of our officiants. We were candid with each other from the beginning and explained what each of us was comfortable with and what we expected.
For our rabbi, we were fortunate to be referred to Rabbi Evan Moffic who is local to the Chicago area and married to InterfaithFamily/Chicagoâs Director Rabbi Ari Moffic. Rabbi Moffic made us feel comfortable with planning an interfaith wedding and put us at ease about the entire process.
One of the best decisions Brandon and I made during wedding planning was to sign up for an interfaith coupleâs workshop through the Interfaith Families Project (IFFP) in Kensington, Maryland. While the class was not written solely for engaged couples, all but one of the couples in the class were planning a wedding in the upcoming year. Co-taught by IFFPâs rabbi and pastor, the class took us through the realities of interfaith relationships. Working directly with clergy living and breathing an interfaith practiceâalong with meeting and hearing the stories of other couplesâtaught us that an interfaith marriage was possible. It also showed us that we are not alone, we are one of many couples asking the same questions and grappling with the same answers every day. To find workshops in various cities led by InterfaithFamily, click here.
Family is such a special aspect of our lives and we wanted to be sure they were an important part of the wedding planning process and day. Of course, it is easy to say this now, nine months after we walked down the aisle. The reality is that weddings are stressful and emotional and we each have a different definition of a perfect day. To make sure both sets of our parents were comfortable going into the wedding day, we kept an open line of communication about our plans. We went through each piece of the ceremony with them and talked about what it meant and why it was important to us. We learned that they did have questions and we were able to address their concerns. These conversations led us both to grow stronger in our respective faiths and to understand each other more deeply.
Our ceremony was a joy to plan and one of our favorite parts of our wedding dayâand itâs difficult to pick just one when all of your favorite people are in the same room. Look out for a post in the future for more about the ceremony.
In a million years, I never would have imagined that I would someday marry the sweet, funny, curly-haired freshman I met at a house party at Penn State 10Â years ago. Yet, here we are.
Paul and I were friendly acquaintances at Penn State, but not much more. Despite our shared love of bad television and daiquiris, we only socialized a handful of times during our four years in State College.
After graduating from Penn State, Paul moved to Philadelphia to study medicine and I moved thereÂ to study law. Halfway through our second year of graduate school, we discovered we were both single. (Thanks, Facebook!) Paul asked me out. Unlike our chance encounters at Penn State, when Paul walked into our first date it was different. We talked for hours, laughed a lot and I had this overwhelming intuition that this was the beginning of something big.
We have been together since that first date. Our respective career paths have not always made it easy or even allowed us to live in the same city, but we both now work and live in Philadelphia. Nearly five years strong, we are still talking for hours, still laughing a lot and our relationship is the biggest thing in my life.
On a chilly Friday night this past December, Paul proposed in our living room, which was decorated at the time with our Star of David-topped Christmas tree, wax-covered hanukkiah (Hanukkah menorah) and a porcelain statue of Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus, recently gifted to me by my Catholic, Italian grandmother.
Surrounded by our blended holiday decorations, we excitedly agreed to blend our lives as husband and wife.
By way of background, I was raised Catholic. Paul is Jewish. Our proposal story is, undoubtedly, a beautiful snapshot of our interfaith relationship. However, in all candor, the interfaith aspect of our relationship has been a challenging (albeit, a rewarding) one. Communication and compromise have been instrumental to our process.
After one particularly difficult discussion, I turned to my best, most reliable resource in a time of uncertainty: Google. That night I found theÂ InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia website. I began reading blogs byÂ clergy and similarly-situated couples who have made interfaith relationships, weddings and parenthood work. Suddenly, Paul and I had options, resources and a network to help us figure this out. It was a game-changer and ultimately led us to our kind and open-minded officiant, Rabbi Robyn Frisch (director of IFF/Philadelphia).
Paul and I will be married in an interfaith ceremony on December 3, 2016 in Philadelphia. While I am still not entirely sure what that will entail, I look forward to figuring it out and sharing our experience with the InterfaithFamily community.
When Jarrett and I started our wedding planning journey last April, I knew very little about Jewish wedding traditions. However, once I learned how important it was to Jarrett for us to have a Jewish wedding ceremony, I spent time learning about Jewish wedding traditions so we could find special ways to incorporate these traditions into our big day.
One tradition Jarrett and I have been particularly focused on over the last few weeks is the design of our interfaith Ketubah. The Ketubah is a Jewish marriage contract. In ancient times, this marriage contract was legally binding and confirmed that the groom would provide for his new spouse. Today, the Ketubah is a personalized piece of art that includes both meaningful text and design. The modern Ketubah has been adapted from ancient times to better illustrate modern marriage, the partnership between a couple and their love and commitment to each other.
During our first meeting with our wedding officiant, Rabbi Robyn Frisch (Director of IFF/Philadelphia), we discussed ceremony details, including the Ketubah. She advised that we choose a Ketubah that is meaningful to us, especially when deciding on the text. She informed us that there are different texts written for couples of different religious backgrounds so we should search for interfaith text for our Ketubah (for ideas see this InterfaithFamily resource). She also asked us to start thinking about who we would choose as our witnesses in signing our Ketubah on our wedding day. The two witnesses must not be related to us but should be very special people in our lives to share in such an important tradition.
Rabbi Robyn made suggestions on where to search for our perfect Ketubah, including the National Museum of Jewish American History in Philadelphia as well as Etsy online. Then, at our last InterfaithFamily Love & Religion workshop a fellow classmate who is also in the process of planning her interfaith wedding made the suggestion to look on www.ketubah.com.
I spent days scouring through the pages of beautifully-designed Ketubahs and shared many of my favorite designs with Jarrett. Itâs a big decision as we look forward to having this special work of art displayed during our wedding ceremony in October and then hanging it inside our home for years to come. We loved so many of the options on the ketubah.com website. It was a hard decision but we were drawn toward the intricacy of the paper cut ketubah designs. Our favorite design has personalized touches within the artwork, including our names cut into the top.Â We can also choose to incorporate a favorite quote or phrase around the perimeter of the Ketubah design.
This site offered four interfaith text options for us to choose from. I printed one of each text choice from their website and on a recent road trip Jarrett and I spent time reading the texts together to determine which one was most meaningful to us. We chose an interfaith text that we could identify with and felt symbolized our partnership with words we would use toward one another. We felt especially connected to the text that states, “They choose each other as friends according to the teachings of our ancestors who said, ‘Acquire a friend with whom you will learn, next to whom you will sleep and in whom you will confide.’â
To make this wedding planning step even more special, Jarrettâs mom has requested to buy our Ketubah as part of our wedding gift because it is equally important to her that we have chosen to incorporate Jewish wedding traditions into our big day. We look forward to seeing our personalized Ketubah when it arrives and we are even more excited to participate in the Ketubah-signing ceremony on our wedding day in less than five months!
In the days after our engagement, we began to imagine our wedding. I had thought about a possible future wedding many times in the past, but the realness of that imagined wedding became heightened by our official engagement. Distant ideas like, âgetting married outside might be nice,â were suddenly translated into Google searches for âoutdoor wedding venues.â One of the first questions we asked ourselves was, âWho do we want to officiate?â I was actually surprised by how quickly the answer came to me. After flipping through the various options in my mind, I knew a rabbi was the right choice for us. I asked Amma what she thought of the idea, and without skipping a beat, she completely agreed.
Just a couple of years ago I donât think either of us would have guessed that we would be married by a rabbi. For starters, neither of us is technically Jewish (depending on how you define Jewish). One could argue (and I often do) that I am Jewish because my grandparents are. Whether or not that argument wins, depends on the audience. Because I wasnât raised Jewish, and whatever lineage I do have is on my fatherâs side, some would say Iâm a far cry, but that has never stopped me from feeling Jewish! And that isnât the only reason we want a rabbi for our ceremony.
As Amma and I examined our decision, we discovered our desire for a tie to something greater than ourselves to play a meaningful role in our wedding. We may not be religious, but we do feel a strong spiritual connection to humanity, the universe and God. It was clear to us that we wanted the person leading us into our marriage to be someone who is dedicated to that greater spiritual connection.
Also on a spiritual level, being two women, we felt that our union would be best endorsed and honored by the heart, experience and wisdom of a woman. Reform Judaism has not only been ordaining womenÂ and LGBTQÂ rabbis since the early 1970s but also supporting its followers in the LGBTQ community. This history of equality and acceptance was yet another great reason for us to adopt Judaism into our wedding and our lives.
So we knew we wanted a rabbi, but we still had to find the right one. I didnât know what I would find when I started my search. Not only had we just moved to Philadelphia, but we also werenât part of a Jewish community. I went online and Googled âPhiladelphia rabbis,â and up popped an ad for InterfaithFamily. I didnât know what InterfaithFamily was, but it sounded inclusive and open-minded, so I clicked. I liked what the InterfaithFamily community stood for and it seemed like it had grown from a wonderful place of wanting to bring people together. The fact that they had a rabbi referral service was more than I could have dreamed of.
The referral service was exactly what I needed, and my request was handled with care and attention. When I received a response from Rabbi Frisch, it felt like a gift. The questions on the referral form were used to compile a list of potential rabbis who were appropriately matched to our needs. It was fun learning about all these different rabbis. I did an Internet search for each candidate to find out more.
After narrowing the list down to a handful of rabbis who I thought might be a good fit, I sent out initial emails. I felt hopeful as the responses began popping up in my inbox. There were two or three who, through the tone and wording of their emails, felt like they could be âthe one.â But over the next week or so, each conversation resulted in a dead end due to various issues, and there I was back at the drawing board, feeling defeated.
Rabbi Frisch must have heard my prayer, because the next morning I received an email from her asking how my search was going. I wrote back describing my fruitless efforts. In my reply I also felt inspired to talk about my strong desire to have a rabbi marry us, and why. Much to my surprise, but true to her generous nature, she offered to be our rabbi. I canât begin describe my delight. Not only did I already feel like I was getting to know her through the emails we had written back and forth, but I absolutely knew she was a perfect fit for us.
There is something about the way everything worked out that just feels like fate. Since Rabbi Frisch agreed to officiate, we have met in person to chat and get to know each other better. Suffice it to say, we all hit it off wonderfully! We plan on meeting a few more times before the wedding to talk about the ceremony in more detail, and we canât wait to see her again.
The wedding was over a month ago, and we had a fantastic honeymoon in the Galapagos Islands and mainland Ecuador. It was an incredible mix of beautiful scenery, wildlife, laid back people and delicious food. It was insanely hard leaving behind 80-degree tropical weather with limitless ocean and volcano views to return to 10-degree gray and dreary weather in Philadelphia. But we did, and we are back with stories to tell.
I have been sick twice in the last two weeks since I got back (itâs been a bad winter) and I am working on making a complete career shift that is both scary and exciting. Back to reality. As it happens, the phrase âthe honeymoon is overâ feels pretty apropos, but luckily not regarding our relationship.
Over the last two weeks I have returned to my gratefulness practice where I can truly appreciate the unbelievable experiences we had and the opportunities we were given with the wedding.
There was something intangibly special about our wedding. Having everyone we loved in one place cheering us on and celebrating this milestone was a high I will carry with me forever. The photos we have and the trailer video from our videographer are mind blowing and awesome. They capture our love and admiration for each other, which is something I will cherish for many years to come.
I look forward to watching my wedding video trailer (and the longer one still in progress) when we are at our highest and lowest moments, to remember how we felt on our wedding day. If you are planning a wedding and can splurge for a videographer in your wedding budget, do it. It is something you will have forever, long after the funny stories and fuzzy memories fade. It is something we would not have done because of cost, so having this included in the contest we won was such a blessing. But if I had to do it again, it is something I would spring for.
Our ceremony was exactly what we hoped it would beâintimate and meaningfulâand it honored both of our religious backgrounds. Jose’s side loved seeing the Jewish traditions; his older relatives gave us feedback that they were glad they could witness them for the first time. My side adored the Filipino traditions, especially the arras, or exchanging of coins, and the cord and veil ritual, where Jose and I were clothed in a veil and a cord shaped in an infinity sign while we exchanged short promises.
We chose seven friends and relatives to recite seven blessings to us in English, as a nod to the Jewish tradition of a rabbi reciting the Sheva Brachot, or seven blessings, in Hebrew. We rewrote them to words that made sense for us and it was beautiful to have our loved ones say those words back to us.
We also did a candle lighting ceremony where our parents lit two candles and we used their flames to light our unity candle, as a nod to the Filipino tradition of the parents âlighting the wayâ for the new couple. We also incorporated the Jewish tradition of saying a blessing and drinking wine, and Jose broke the glass at the end of the ceremony, followed by a huge âMazel tov!â from the crowd.
The night before the wedding really set the tone for the weekend. We hosted a ketubah signing ceremony for our immediate families and the wedding party. This was something I thought long and hard about for months during wedding planning. Winning the contest was amazing in so many ways, but it was important to me to still have the intimate ceremony I always dreamed of. At the ketubah signing, we had our rabbi from our synagogue officiate by explaining what the document is and the meaning of it, and then leading us through signing it. We also lit Hanukkah candles for the sixth night of Hanukkah and Shabbat candles, since it was a Friday night.
We were able to accomplish a personal and meaningful feeling at our ceremony, thanks to our outstanding officiant who donated her services for the contest, Jill Magerman. I can’t recommend her highly enough. I feel like she is a part of our little family now.
But not everything went so easily. Two days before our wedding, Jose’s first cousin lost her courageous battle with cancer. It was devastating; she had her entire life before her and young children and a wonderful husband we all adore. We did our best to honor her life at our ceremony and to fill the hole left by her absence with happy memories from the evening. We were not able to be with Jose’s family at her funeral, but we said prayers for her while we were on our honeymoon.
After the ceremony, Jose and I took a few moments alone for the Jewish tradition of yichud, or seclusion. It is a chance for us, as a newly married couple, to spend a few cherished moments alone before being showered with love by our family and friends at the reception. It was such a nice break in the day, and gave us a chance to take our first married selfie with our new rings.
The reception was the most fun I have ever had. We hired DJ Deejay, a nightlife and wedding deejay we go to see often, and he played non stop hits. (His slogan when he spins at Silk City Diner is âplaying anything you can shake your hips to.â) I danced myself to exhaustion! It was glorious. I remember my face hurt so much from smiling and my voice was sore from singing.
We honored a bunch of traditions at the reception too: the hora (for the Jews), the money dance (for the Filipinos) and the anniversary dance. We did the cake cutting and I smashed cake in Jose’s face (sorry babe). But we did not do a bouquet or garter toss (sorry wedding party), although I did have some awesome friends recreate a bouquet toss of their own, which was hilarious.
The speeches by my parents, Jose’s mom and Uncle Jun, my sister (Maid of Honor) and Jose’s brother (Best Man) left me floored. I was seriously blown away by the power of their words and genuine joy that our families felt for us. And the craziest part was that my sister and Jose’s brother chose the exact same Dr. Seuss quote in their speeches, without planning it:
âWe’re all a little weird. And life is a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness â and call it love â true love.â
Hold on, are we really that weird?
Ultimately nothing was better than Jose’s poetic vows. I knew he was sentimental and a great orator, but I had no idea he could tug at my heartstrings that hard. Jeez, he had me sobbing! And then smiling. And then laughing. His best line came off the cuff. He planned what he was going to say but then winged it to make it even better. He said, âBefore I met you, I was singinâ, I was dancinâ, I was fine.â [Roar of laughter from the audience.] âNow you’re the music I dance to and the song that I sing.â [More sobbing from me!]
Our first dance was to Jason Mrazâs âI Won’t Give Upâ which has a very special meaning to us. When we found ourselves playing it daily we knew it had to become our first dance song. Our favorite line is: âI won’t give up on us / Even if the skies get rough / I’m giving you all my love / I’m still looking up.â I can still hear the first few guitar chords playing in my head and it makes me tear up.
My father/daughter dance was also a highlight for me. We chose another Jason Mraz song, â93 Million Miles,â that holds a lot of meaning for me and my dad. Substitute the word âdaughterâ for âsonâ and the lyrics are basically a transcript of words he has said to me in the not so distant past. My parents have helped me out of difficult times, and to them I am so grateful. The song goes: âOh, my my, how beautiful / oh my irrefutable father / He told me, âSon, sometimes it may seem dark, but the absence of the light is a necessary part.ââ And for my mother who believes in me as I embark on a new career path: âOh, my my, how beautiful / oh my beautiful mother / She told me, âSon, in life youâre gonna go far / If you do it right youâll love where you are.ââ
I think about the lessons my parents have taught me and those lyrics daily. They so beautifully capture the bond we have and the love and respect I have for how well they have raised me and my sister. I will have a lot to live up to when I become a parent!
I am not sure whether our guests noticed but Jose produced the wedding like a show, with acoustic versions of our first dance and other songs teased in at the ceremony and then played in full at the reception. He might have a second career in theater production.
As I settle back into real life, I find myself feeling my name change to my married surname to be very cool and very jarring. I am so happy to take Jose’s last name. Really giddy actually to be that solidly connected to him, but a name is such a huge part of anyoneâs identity. And in my yoga teaching and writing I am Emily Golomb. It’s so weird to see my new name, Emily Sabalbaro, on Facebook and in print, and it will certainly take some getting used to. But my favorite part is that it marks the official start of a new chapter. As of December 12, 2015, I am beloved, and my beloved is mine.