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    jHUB is your local resource for connecting to other interfaith families and Jewish life in Greater Cleveland. Rabbi Melinda Mersack, director, is available to individuals, couples, and families in the Greater Cleveland area to talk about issues, introduce you to interfaith family-friendly activities and organizations, and to personally help you find Jewish clergy for officiation at life cycle events. Contact her at mmersack@jecc.org or 216-371-0446, x232.

    Melinda Mersack
    Rabbi Melinda Mersack

 
Greater Cleveland

Introducing Our InterfaithFamily/Your Community Affiliate jHUB

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We are your local resource for connecting to other interfaith families and Jewish life in Greater Cleveland. We provide a variety of opportunities to support your exploration of Judaism including social gatherings, holiday experiences, and Jewish learning. We also offer safe, non-judgmental gatherings for couples to discuss issues specific to being part of an interfaith family.

If requested, we can connect you to local clergy for your lifecycle events, and other Jewish programs and institutions that may suit your needs.

We are here for your entire family: you, your children, your parents and other relatives.

Please contact Rabbi Melinda Mersack, director, who is always looking for new program ideas and would be glad to meet you!

Upcoming Cleveland Programs and Events:

Look for jHUB at Today's Bride Show January 16th and 17th at the I-X Center!

Interested in learning about your family history? Join jHUB for tips on genealogical research at the Solon Public Library on February 21st at 1:30pm, or at Mayfield Public Library on March 13th at 1:30pm. 

"I Do, I Do!" Learn about Jewish wedding customs and rituals during this four session class held at the Mandel JCC in February. For more information, call 216.831.0700, x1348.

 

 

Check back for info about Seder in a Box and More Seder in a Box- delivered to your home in time for Passover!

jHUB in the News:


Cleveland Jewish News, Feburary 26, 2015

Cleveland.com, March 19, 2015

Cleveland Jewish News, April 2, 2015

Chagrin Valley Today, September 14, 2015



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Taste of Judaism®

Everyone is welcome to this free 3-session class for beginners - Jewish or not - that explores the topics of Jewish spirituality, ethics and community values. Classes are taught by a rabbi and offered on both the West and East sides of Cleveland.

A Feast of Judaism®

The perfect follow up to A Taste of Judaism®. A free six-week session class that explores the Jewish life cycle events, holidays, and Israel. Taught by a rabbi, the classes are designed for those with little or no previous knowledge of Judaism. Offered on both the West and East sides of Cleveland.

Intro to Judaism

Explore Jewish observance of the holidays and life-cycle events, major periods in Jewish history, and significant Jewish concepts through lecture, engaging text study, meaningful dialogue, and exploration of the Greater Cleveland Jewish community. Class will be taught in three – six week blocks with a different rabbinic instructor for each block.

For more information on these and other learning opportunities in Greater Cleveland, please contact Rabbi Melinda Mersack at mmersack@jecc.org or 216-371-0446, x232.

First Steps
Introduction to school life, library time, open exploration, movement, Jewish holidays.
October 12 2015 - June 06 2016
9:00 am - 10:30 AM
26500 Shaker Boulevard
Beachwood, OH 44122

Thursdays Together: Playing, Learning and Peers
Bring your infant or toddler every Thursday to play at our school! Enjoy the opportunity to meet new parents and discuss child development, Jewish life and parenting issues with community specialsts.....
November 05 2015 - June 09 2016
9:30 AM - 10:30 AM
26500 Shaker Boulevard
Beachwood, OH 44122

TBS Tots Around Town: Bagels & Bouncing
All kinds of Jewish families with children ages 5 and under are invited to join Temple Beth Shalom at Sky Zone in Boston Heights for a fun afternoon of trampoline play, PJ Library story time, songs,....
February 28 2016
2:00 PM - 4:00 PM
Sky Zone 6217 Chittenden Road
Boston Heights, OH 44236

TBS Tots Around Town: Park Day
All kinds of Jewish families with children ages 5 and under are invited to join Temple Beth Shalom at Hudson Springs Park for games, PJ Library story time, songs, snacks and socializing. This program....
June 05 2016
2:00 PM - 4:00 PM
Hudson Springs Park 6899 Windsor Road
Hudson, OH 44236

Agudath B'nai Israel
Synagogue
Lorain, OH
44053 United States
2 Members

Public
This is an Organization

Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple
Synagogue
Beachwood, OH
44122 United States
2 Members

Public
This is an Organization

B'nai Jeshurun Congregation
Synagogue
Pepper Pike, OH
44124 United States
2 Members

Public
This is an Organization

Beth Israel West Temple
Synagogue
Cleveland, OH
44111 United States
3 Members

Public
This is an Organization

Both Sides of the Family
Arts & Culture -
Chagrin Falls, OH
44022 United States
7 Members

Public
This is an Organization

Camp Wise
Camp -
Shaker Hts, OH
44122 United States
1 Member

Public
This is an Organization

Congregation Shaarey Tikvah
Synagogue
Beachwood, OH
44122 United States
2 Members

Public
This is an Organization

Blogs

Greater Cleveland
Subject
Author Date
 
Stephanie Zulkoski 02-04-16

I was raised Catholic. I have received sacraments in the Catholic Church including Baptism, Penance, Holy Communion and Confirmation. While spirituality has always been an important part of my life, it has been a part of me that I have kept more reserved. As I grew through adolescence and into adulthood, the thought of marrying someone of a different religious background never crossed my mind. But after meeting Jarrett and growing closer, our different faiths became a norm in our relationship. We continue to teach each other about our different religious backgrounds and continue to respect each other for these differences… and that is how our relationship works.

Jarrett has been my wedding date to 10 weddings in the last two years. We have watched some of our closest friends and family members marry their significant others in Catholic, Jewish, Christian and non-denominational ceremonies. As each wedding came and went, I found myself thinking about what kind of wedding ceremony I might someday have. It wasn’t until Jarrett and I got engaged in March of 2015 that I realized my thoughts would soon become actions as we prepared to plan our interfaith wedding.

Happy at a wedding

One of my first Jewish Wedding experiences!

When Jarrett and I sat down to begin wedding planning, he expressed to me how important it was to him to be married by a rabbi in a Jewish wedding ceremony. At this point in time, I had been to two Jewish weddings but felt they were truly unique and memorable. I liked that the Jewish ceremonies were personal and intimate with a strong focus on the bride and groom. While I have always felt that Catholic wedding ceremonies are beautiful and meaningful, I had never dreamed of getting married in a Catholic church and this was not a requirement I needed in order to marry my best friend. What mattered to me was what Jarrett felt to be important for our big day. It was special to hear him explain that his Jewish heritage was very important to him and that having a Jewish wedding was something he had always wanted. So it was settled. We would be married by a rabbi in an interfaith wedding ceremony with an emphasis on Jewish traditions. The only problems were, I did not know a lot about Jewish wedding traditions and had no idea where we would find an interfaith rabbi to marry us!

As fate would have it, while working in Philadelphia one day, I had a meeting with a pharmaceutical representative. At the end of the meeting, I asked her if she had plans for the upcoming holiday weekend (Easter). When she responded that she was Jewish and celebrates Passover, I found myself feeling somewhat embarrassed that I hadn’t considered this before asking the question. I apologized then explained that my fiancé is also Jewish and that I celebrate Passover with him and his family. She asked about wedding planning and I explained that we had plans to look for a rabbi to marry us. She excitedly responded that she has a very close friend who just so happens to be a rabbi and the director of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia. She gave me her friend’s contact information and I reached out to introduce myself. Jarrett and I met with Rabbi Robyn Frisch and knew our search for the right wedding officiant was over before it had really even begun. Rabbi Frisch was kind, easy-going and non-judgmental. We look forward to working with her over the next several months and having her as an essential part of our big day!

During our second meeting with Rabbi Frisch, she provided us with some information to guide our decision-making through the ceremony-planning process. I was relieved to have someone to teach us more about Jewish wedding traditions so I could expand my knowledge and understanding throughout the planning process. Over the next several months, Jarrett and I will be busy making important decisions including designing our chuppah, choosing a ketubah and determining which Jewish wedding traditions to incorporate into our ceremony. As we continue to move closer to our wedding date, we are also looking forward to the opportunity to participate in InterfaithFamily’s “Love and Religion” Workshop which will give Jarrett and I the opportunity to dive deeper into some challenging scenarios that may arise in our future as an interfaith couple. I feel this will help strengthen our bond and allow us to learn even more about each other as we approach marriage. I look forward to sharing our wedding planning experiences as we move closer to saying “I do” in eight short months!

wedding venue

Where we will tie the knot in an interfaith wedding ceremony 8 months from now!


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Guest Blogger 02-02-16

By Courtney Naliboff

mother_daughter_hamsa

Flying makes me nervous. It never used to, but a few years ago on a bumpy trip back from England, I lost my faith in the Bernoulli principle. I used to pop a Xanax and snooze my way through the anxiety, but now that I’m a parent, I need to stay awake and alert to tend to my daughter on flights.

Without my sedative crutch, I turned to superstition to get me through a cross-country flight to California this winter. I bought a little silver hamsa necklace with an elegant branch and leaf design on the palm. I put it on before we left our island home in Maine for the airport, and haven’t taken it off. If the Evil Eye had any designs on our airplane, we’d be covered.

We got through the flight (Penrose is a much better traveler than I am these days) and landed in the warm embrace of my husband’s extended family, all of whom live in Southern California. His mother’s side is from Guatemala and his father’s side is Italian and German. Dozens of them descended on his childhood home for the holidays, drawn by Penrose’s presence.

She sat on my lap and met relative after relative, warming up slowly to each new person. When she got overwhelmed, she would turn into me and often hold my hamsa in her hand.

“This?” she asked.

“It’s my hamsa,” I answered.

“Ham,” she replied, touching it gently.

Beyond the irony of her abbreviation for the symbol, she began to connect my necklace to the jewelry of others.

“Abue ham?” she asked, wondering if her grandmother had a similar necklace.

“Abuela doesn’t wear a hamsa; sometimes she wears a cross,” I said. “I wear a hamsa because I’m Jewish. Abue wears a cross sometimes because she’s Catholic.”

“Mommy joosh?”

“That’s right, Mommy’s Jewish.”

“Me joosh?” she asked, pressing a palm to her chest.

“Yes, you’re Jewish too.”

“Daddy joosh?”

“No, Daddy’s not Jewish.”

Although this was Penrose’s second holiday season, and she was enthusiastic about candles, latkes, and matzah balls (and Christmas tree lights and wrapping paper), it hadn’t yet occurred to me to talk to her about our Jewish identity, and how that differed from her father’s side of the family.

As a secular humanist, I haven’t imbued our day-to-day life with Jewish rituals. My husband doesn’t practice any elements of Christianity, and we are planning to celebrate Hanukkah, Passover, and Rosh Hashanah. When we are in Maine for Christmas, we often attend the Lessons and Carols service as musicians and enjoy the quiet evening of storytelling and song, but we’re hoping to avoid the Santa and tree elements of the holiday. We often talked about the fact that Penrose would be the island’s first Jewish child, and my excitement—and anxiety—about that. I wanted to find a way to start explaining to Penrose what it actually meant to be “joosh” other than wearing jewelry. But I wasn’t sure what she would understand at 20 months old.

“To me, being Jewish means that we are connected back thousands of years to strong people who fight for what they believe in,” I said. “We help people and we work to fix the world. We never stop learning. We celebrate holidays that remind us of our freedom. We eat delicious things.”

She nodded and squirmed off my lap to find her abuela. Over time, we’ll continue the conversation. She likes to look in the Union Haggadahs I inherited from my grandfather and pretends to read the prayers out loud. She would be perfectly happy eating latkes every night, and asks to see my hamsa when it’s hidden under a sweater. Every night, especially, for some reason, when she’s singing “Bow wow wow, whose dog are thou?” she runs through the list of Jewish family members.

Even though she might not yet understand what it means, my heart swells with pride when she ends the list with “Me, joosh.” It’s not a question for her anymore—it’s become a part of her story.

This article was reprinted with permission from Kveller.com, a fast-growing, award-winning website for parents raising Jewish and interfaith kids. Follow Kveller on Facebook and sign up for their newsletters here.

nabiloff_BiophotoCourtney Naliboff lives on North Haven, an island off of midcoast Maine. There she teaches music, theatre and English, takes her daughter to the beach, plays music and teaches Pilates. Her writing can also be seen in MaineBiz and Working Waterfront.

 


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Amy Beth Starr 02-01-16
Amy, Roxy & Everett

Everett, Amy & Roxy

If you’re a parent, there’s always those questions you know your kids are going to ask you at various ages and stages that you mostly want to avoid. Things like “where do babies come from?” “What’s sex?” and “Have you ever tried drugs?” I think over the years I’ve done a pretty good job at either changing the subject or placating them with a vague answer and offering up real facts when necessary. But as they get older, the questions become less about physical body functions and more about real subjects that I honestly don’t know HOW to answer. And a recent conversation with the kids proved more challenging than I thought.

It started innocently enough as the 6 & 8 year old were getting dressed to go to Friday night family services at our synagogue.

Kids: “Hey Mommy? Does Matt go to church?”

Me: “Um, no, not really.”

Kids: “But isn’t he supposed to go to church? Isn’t that like the opposite of temple? Like people who aren’t Jewish who are Christmas go to church, right?” (Yeah, my kids still don’t get the concepts of the names of other religions. Either a mom fail or they haven’t paid attention to half of what I say to them. Or both. Let’s be real though, trying to explain to them the difference between Catholicism and Episcopalians is pretty much next to impossible at this stage. I know my limits.)

Me: “Well yeah. I guess he’s *supposed* to go to church. If you’re part of a religion a lot of times you go to services. But not everybody belongs to a church the way we belong to the temple. Matt doesn’t belong to a church and he doesn’t go. We don’t go to Shabbat services every week either, so that’s OK, right?”

Kids: “Yeah it’s OK, but did he EVER go to church?”

Matt and Amy

Introducing Matt and Amy

Clearly they weren’t letting this go. My brain was spinning trying to figure out how to explain that my Irish Catholic boyfriend grew up with a serious religious education, went to Catholic school, was the head altar boy, represented the church at community functions like funerals and actually hung out with his clergy because it was fun. Matt’s connection to religion growing up very much shaped him, much like how my involvement in my synagogue shaped me. But as an adult? Times change. Views change. Beliefs change. New traditions get formed.

We had a good talk, but the questions kept coming.

Kids: “Does Matt pray to Jesus? Or does he pray to God?”

Oh. Dear. Now they want to talk about prayer?!? It’s a subject that I’m not entirely comfortable with because *I* wrestle with it.

Me: “Uhhhhhh, kind of? I mean, he believes in God. It’s really hard to explain guys.”

Kids: “Well remember that time we went to church for that wedding and everybody kneeled and said prayers to Jesus and then ate those cracker things? Jesus was Jewish. Did you know that mommy? Does Matt know that? Did he do that stuff at church?”

This is seriously so hard to talk about. So the conversation continues, which at times has inspired our own adult conversations about what we each believe, various experiences we had in our lives and how we live now. I recently shared with Matt that one of the things I love about being a Reform Jew is being able to interpret prayer and beliefs to create personal meaning. I never expect him to one day tell me he’s converting, but the longer we’re together, the more he seems to get and appreciate my connection AND the more I understand his own connections – yes, even if he no longer goes to church, sorry kids.

I think with life’s experiences we turn to what we know in looking for answers, healing, serenity and more. My kids are starting to figure this out as they ask me those tough questions and I’m proud of them for wanting to understand and decide things for themselves. As parents we provide these types of tools for our kids; my family and Matt’s family gave us amazing foundations to start with. We may not have grown up attending the same type of services, what we both believe in now might not always mesh up, but the values we both learned along the way match perfectly. So keep the hard questions coming as we all learn more about ourselves in the process.


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Ed Case 01-29-16

Bride and groom

I had a very interesting day yesterday.

It started with a phone interview with a graduate student in journalism writing a story about Jewish-Muslim relationships. She had a Jewish parent and a Muslim parent herself, and was involved with a group of young Jewish-Muslim couples. She told me that some of them had decided to raise their children with Judaism and some hadn’t decided. I told her that at InterfaithFamily we are always interested in what influences some interfaith couples to get involved in Jewish life or not.

She said she thought that Jews were “exclusivist” and told me that one couple in the group approached a rabbi, I think she said about conversion, and the rabbi made a comment about Arabs and breeding that was so derogatory I don’t want to repeat it here. She couldn’t see it, but my jaw dropped, it was such an insulting and stupid comment.

But sadly I shouldn’t have been surprised. I immediately thought of a good friend in the San Francisco Bay Area, not Jewish herself but active in her Reform synagogue, who reported last year that a woman at the synagogue said in her presence “we Jews are dumbing ourselves down by intermarrying.” My friend – herself at the highest level of anyone’s intelligence scale — was so shocked at how insulting and stupid the comment was that she couldn’t immediately respond. And then I thought of a survey that a major city federation asked me to analyze a year or two ago in which one couple said that at a Reform synagogue someone who learned they were interfaith said “maybe people like you would be more comfortable” at some other synagogue. It’s hard to believe that these comments are true – yet they keep on happening.

After the phone call I went to a terrific event at the Brown-RISD Hillel co-sponsored by the Genesis Prize, Hillel International and the Jewish Agency for Israel that featured Michael Douglas and Natan Sharansky talking about their Jewish journeys. I sat next to a man who asked me what I did and then told me his story. He grew up Orthodox, had a child with his first wife, got divorced, and then married a woman who is not Jewish. His wife doesn’t intend to convert but she keeps a strictly kosher home and his grandchildren call her “bubbe.” But after he re-married his synagogue told him he couldn’t have an aliyah (recite blessings before and after the Torah is read) any longer, so he left the synagogue.

This morning the Good Morning America team was talking about new variations of the Barbie doll and one of the correspondents said that her young children “don’t see color” meaning they don’t distinguish other children based on race. I’m not sure how widespread it is that people see people of other races as “normal.” I do think that young children see different constellations of parents as “normal;” I recently asked my 5-year-old grandson if one of “Joe’s” two mothers wasn’t a policeman, and I am quite sure he doesn’t think twice about his classmates who have two mothers or two fathers.

All of this made me wonder if Jews will ever see “non-Jews” and Jews marrying “non-Jews” as “normal.” At InterfaithFamily we try very hard not to use the term “non-Jew” which is why I put it in quotes; it’s off-putting and people don’t identify as “non-“ anything. We prefer to say “partners from different faith traditions.” But we keep on hearing people say “non-Jew” and it’s very use appears to support viewing the other as not “normal” – an Arab who breeds … or “non-Jews” who aren’t smart – as well as penalizing Jews who marry them.

The last thing that happened yesterday was hearing Michael Douglas tell his story again. As he said last night, and in a great story in the Jewish Week last week, Michael Douglas was told his whole life that he wasn’t Jewish because his mother wasn’t Jewish. When the people from the Genesis Prize came to him and said they wanted to award him the Genesis Prize as an outstanding Jew, he said “this is a mistake, I’m not Jewish.” But his son has gotten the family interested, and became bar mitzvah, and they traveled to Israel, and the Genesis Prize people very wisely recognized the importance of making a statement that the Jewish community needs to recognize and welcome people who are the children of intermarriage or are intermarried themselves but engaging in Jewish life.

Dare I say that the Genesis Prize being awarded to Michael Douglas is a statement that Jews need to not only recognize and welcome, but normalize intermarriage, the children of intermarriage, Jews who intermarry and most important, the partners from different faith traditions married to Jews? It was a ray of hope to end a very interesting day.


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Rabbi Mychal Copeland 01-27-16

200500887-001Last month, I sat with 25 people who gathered over breakfast to talk about being part of interfaith families. As the Director of an InterfaithFamily community, there is nothing new or remarkable about that; I bring interfaith couples together regularly to share stories and support one another as they explore religious life. What is noteworthy about this particular group of people is that they were all Jewish professionals, working in Hillels around the country. We were attendees at the Hillel International Global Assembly and this was a first-of-its-kind meeting for people who work in Jewish campus life and are in interfaith relationships. Some of the participants in this discussion were “out” about their relationships while others hoped no one from their campus community or staff would know they had attended the meeting. Many others did not feel comfortable attending at all for fear they would be found out, possibly resulting in losing their jobs.

I have written about how one’s choice of partner does not necessarily reflect one’s commitment to Jewish life. This is certainly true personally, and I know scores of other Jewish professionals like me who are wholly dedicated to enriching Jewish life in our generation, and are themselves partnered with people from other cultural and religious backgrounds. With an intermarriage rate of around 70 percent in non-Orthodox Jewish communities, it is clear that Jewish-Jewish couples are about to become a rarer sight than interfaith ones. Many of those who marry someone from another background are active in Jewish life and have every intention of continuing that involvement. Some are so dedicated to a thriving Jewish community that they become Jewish professionals. Yet when they get there, they often feel that they can’t bring their whole selves to their work for fear of being labeled bad role models.

I hear the worry that Jewish campus professionals, more than professionals in other Jewish settings, are especially poised to be role models for young Jews at the time in their lives when they are getting serious about dating and marriage. Being intermarried would sanction the decision to marry out of the tradition, the argument goes. But let’s look realistically at the demographics of our current Jewish college students. According to a recent study, “Among millennials, born between 1981 and 1995, … partly as a result of the high rate at which millennial children of intermarriage identify as Jewish, half of all Jews in their generation are children of intermarriage” [the Brandeis Millennial Children of Intermarriage study, p.5].

This next generation is often trying to figure out how to honor both parents as they explore religious life on campus and chart a way forward. Furthermore, many if not most of them are interdating or have at least explored the idea. The same study shows that the percentage of young adults who think it is important to marry someone Jewish is extremely low for children of in-married parents and even lower for the children of intermarried parents [Ibid, pg. 43]. Pretending that Jewish college students are largely choosing only to date other Jews is causing us to miss out on some profound conversations. They are not merely deciding on a partner; they are contemplating how they will bring meaning into their lives, they are beginning to own and make decisions as adults for their own spiritual journeys, and they are determining what role Judaism will play in their lives going forward.

These college students need diverse role models, a plethora of professional exemplars so they can see how an adult makes Jewishly committed decisions when Judaism is not the default. They need models to demonstrate how interfaith families navigate raising kids in a still-conflicted Jewish community, and how couples have healthy conversations with in-laws and grandparents about religious choices. If they do partner with someone Jewish, they will inevitably have extended family members who marry someone outside of Judaism at their family holiday table. They need models and forums to discuss how we can best navigate the increasing diversity in the Jewish community.

We are also missing the whole picture when we think only of undergraduates in the Hillel picture. Many Hillels have vibrant graduate student and young adult communities. Large numbers of these young people arrive on campus already having made their decisions about a life partner, and many of those relationships are with people from different religious and cultural backgrounds. They also seek support and models as they begin their lives together.

Those of us with religiously diverse families are uniquely situated as Jewish professionals to bring wisdom, knowledge and compassion to interfaith families exploring Jewish life. Drawing on our personal stories and experience, we are poised to model for others how good communication, flexibility and introspection can help strengthen the next generation of seekers. The current generation of inter-partnered Jewish professionals aren’t the first … and won’t be the last. Judaism’s greatest leader, Moses, married Tzipporah. Not only was she not a Hebrew; she was the daughter of a Midianite priest. Her father, Jethro, condoned this union and even offered Moses sound advice on leading the Israelites.

Hillel has come a very long way. When I began working for the campus organization, it was made clear that professionals would not be allowed to perform an interfaith marriage ceremony, let alone be partnered with someone from another background. Thank you, Hillel International, for providing the space for such an important conversation when field professionals were brave enough to step forward and express the deep need for community and support. I look forward to the time when all Jewish professionals can bring their whole selves to their workplaces, proud to be exemplars for the Jewish campus community as they dedicate their life and work to strengthening Judaism for the next generation.


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Rabbi Ari Moffic 01-27-16
Ari at Creating Change

From left: Rabbi Shoshana Conover from Temple Sholom, Rabbi Judith Golden from Or Chadash & Rabbi Ari Moffic from IFF/Chicago

I have a confession to make: For a while now, I’ve been pretty anti-Jewish prayer. I know that may sound startling coming from a rabbi. But I’ve kind of been dreading Friday night services lately. All that rote Hebrew that many people aren’t following and don’t understand what they’re saying. Now that I’ve been working with interfaith families, I am especially aware of the barrier that Hebrew creates and have wondered about all different ways to get over that wall. Many in the Jewish world think that some of our prayers (especially ones that have the words “v’tzivanu,” like the Shabbat candle blessings) can only be said by Jews and this poses other problems for those in our families who want to join in and are not sure where they fit.

Friday night services can have highs and music definitely helps get into the mood of the often universal and timeless themes in the liturgy. Sometimes it’s nice to just be with others and feel a sense of camaraderie, joint mission and shared purpose. It’s good to put my phone away for an hour and move at a different pace. Taking a deep breath, being in a beautiful space and hearing words from our tradition can be good for the soul. But, actual liturgy or communal prayer has been my nemesis for a while.  

In fact, I was wondering if we could start a congregation with no prayer. There would be no Friday night or Saturday morning “services.” We would come together when we were up for it and looking forward to it for experiences of meaning. A bar or bat mitzvah service could involve a few major words of our faith tradition like the Shema or our Kaddish because a couple of prayers are transcendent. Their sound and their words are wholly evocative and needed. But, the core of the life cycle event would be to read from the sacred Torah scroll, to interpret the ancient text, to share who this child is at this moment and to celebrate a coming of age. To say words that feel compelling, engaging, inspiring and relevant. This is what has been going on in my heart and mind lately.

And then I was invited by A Wider Bridge to help lead Friday night worship at the Creating Change Conference in Chicago. I was invited because InterfaithFamily/Chicago works for inclusion and our mission aligns with the mission of this massive conference. I was invited because I am a proud ally for LGBTQ people within the Jewish world and non-profits in this realm. I was honored to help plan a service with Rabbi Shoshana Conover from Temple Sholom and Judith Golden from Congregation Or Chadash. But all did not go smoothly, and you can read multiple news stories about the drama and trauma that happened that night at the conference. I am still not sure what to do when you find that you agree with a group on so many grounds but have a major schism of belief in an area that is fundamental to your world view. But, the political pieces aside, I have to report that something happened to me in that service.

There was no guitar. Judith sang with emotion and feeling and it was participatory. I. Was. Moved. I felt it. I think other people in the room felt it (and maybe that’s why we, the prayer leaders, felt it). We sang for purpose. We sang for freedom. We prayed for help from the Source above. We were in the moment. We weren’t thinking about what we need at the grocery store. We were there together. A new group. People from all over the world and from all different backgrounds. Pluralistic. Egalitarian. The beat was contagious. Clapping and moving, smiles and swaying. Maybe because each of the prayer leaders desperately, and with all of our hearts and souls, wanted every person in that room to feel supported and part of it and included and loved—the vibe went out and it reverberated back.

I got my prayer mojo back. Now, how to keep it?

I had a few takeaways from this experience, and here’s what I suggest might make prayer more meaningful for me and possibly others:

  1. Services should be short and sweet.
  2. Services should include singing throughout and songs should be sung through enough times that people can catch the tune.
  3. When there are readings, have people who are representative or people who “get” the reading, read them.
  4. Think about who is sitting around you and pray with them.
  5. Look at the people around you and see what vibes you can get from being in the same space.

Thank you Creating Change for reminding me that I love to pray with other people. I’m sorry there was so much tumult. I’m sorry there was so much pain. I pray we will all know peace.


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Lindsey Silken 01-26-16

valentines_couple_food

Of course there is no such thing as the “best partner,” but you want your loved one to feel that you are their best partner, right? Whether you’re dating, married or seriously committed, the best gift you can give your loved one is to be supportive—even on those rare (or not so rare) occasions when you don’t see eye to eye.

Speak your mind: Speaking up is just as important as listening. If your partner doesn’t know how you feel, they can’t be sensitive to your feelings. If Passover’s coming up and you’d really like a hand preparing to host the holiday, don’t wait for them to offer—ask! So many of relationship struggles come from lack of communication. If you’re visiting your significant other’s parents and you’re anxious about not being familiar with certain religious rituals that might come up during a holiday of a religion you don’t practice, ask for a primer (better yet, if it’s Jewish information you seek, find one here!). You’ll feel more comfortable and your loved one will appreciate your interest in their religion.

Go halfsies: My husband and I annoyingly like to tease each other that “what’s yours is mine” when it comes to that ice cream sundae or a winning scratch ticket. But it goes both ways. When I see him eyeing the last of my homemade Hanukkah cookies: “What’s mine is yours.” When that wine bottle is almost empty: “What’s mine is yours.” By being generous with the little things, you might find you’re in a better mindset to compromise on the big stuff too.

Get creative: Feel like most of the time you’re on autopilot? Work, grocery store, gym, errands, pick up the kids (if you have kids), etc. That’s because we all are. So when you actually get a free minute to spare with your sweetheart, it can be hard to figure out what to do with it—besides a Netflix binge. But there are so many great events going on every week in the Jewish community, plus workshops from InterfaithFamily for couples and new parents. #ChooseLove by taking advantage of that precious free time in a more enriching way and learn something new together. Even if it’s just once in a while, you’ll be glad you got off the couch.

Take your time: Figuring out your religious identity as a couple or family takes time. You might want to feel like you have a plan for celebrating holidays and family gatherings that’s just right—from the get-go. Let yourself off the hook! Be OK with not having the perfect Passover this year. Your what-went-wrongs will inform next year. And some unexpected moments worth repeating will almost certainly happen organically. As you see what works for you—hosting versus visiting, keeping the kids in school versus bringing them to a holiday observance, etc., you’ll start to create your own traditions.

Let it go: I’m not saying you should avoid communication and let hurt feelings fester (especially about big issues), but this is about not “sweating the small stuff.” If your partner’s complaining about visiting your in-laws for Easter again, but you know she’s had a terrible, no good, very bad day, maybe let this one slide. Or if you’ve already made your opinion known that your grandmother has the best chicken soup recipe on the planet, and it would be a travesty not to serve it to your guests, put it in perspective: If it’s really important for your partner to connect with their grandma through an old passed-down recipe, perhaps it’s not worth ruining your holiday over soup. Often we expect a lot from our loved ones, but sometimes we lose sight of what’s worth getting worked up over. And more important: what’s not.

I hope you have a fun and happy Valentine’s Day! And if you could use more advice about choosing love in your relationship, check out our Love & Religion workshop.


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Emily Golomb 01-26-16

Just married

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 (it’s 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 “the honeymoon is over” 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.

First look

The first look

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 be—intimate and meaningful—and 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.

Chord and veil ritual

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 “lighting the way” 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 “Mazel tov!” from the crowd.

Candle lighting ceremony

Drinking the wine

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.

Jose signing the ketubah

Jose wanted to write his name transliterated in Hebrew, so he used a note card provided by the rabbi!

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.

Selfie at the yichudAfter 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 “playing anything you can shake your hips to.”) 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:

“We’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 — and call it love — true love.”

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, “Before I met you, I was singin’, I was dancin’, I was fine.” [Roar of laughter from the audience.] “Now you’re the music I dance to and the song that I sing.” [More sobbing from me!]

Our first dance was to Jason Mraz’s “I Won’t Give Up” 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: “I won’t give up on us / Even if the skies get rough / I’m giving you all my love / I’m still looking up.” 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, “93 Million Miles,” that holds a lot of meaning for me and my dad. Substitute the word “daughter” for “son” 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: “Oh, my my, how beautiful / oh my irrefutable father / He told me, ‘Son, sometimes it may seem dark, but the absence of the light is a necessary part.’” And for my mother who believes in me as I embark on a new career path: “Oh, my my, how beautiful / oh my beautiful mother / She told me, ‘Son, in life you’re gonna go far / If you do it right you’ll love where you are.’”

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 anyone’s 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.


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Jessie Boatright 01-25-16
New England sun setting on the trees on their birthday eve

The New England sun setting on the trees on their birthday eve

Today is Tu Bishvat, and the trees in New England are dressed in white for the occasion. The snow was late to come this year, but it has announced itself and covered the frozen earth, still new enough to be beautifully iridescent and crisp.

I have written before about the oddity of celebrating the birthday of the trees in a season when it is impossible to imagine planting one. On this side of the planet, the mid-winter holiday presents itself as an opportunity to revisit our commitment to conservation, to healing the world by nurturing the earth.

Of course, just like last year, I am still challenged by what sometimes feels like the impossibility of simultaneously being a model conservationist and a toddler’s mother. We still haven’t conquered the dichotomy of saving water and properly washing our hands after the playground, after the bathroom, after finger painting, before we eat, and whenever a bug is coursing its way through preschool. And now that we are thankfully out of diapers, I am faced with a new challenge of building self-sufficiency and keeping mindful boundaries around water and paper goods.

Yesterday, when I dropped Ruthie and Chaya off at Sunday school, Ruthie’s teacher shared her enthusiasm about celebrating Tu Bishvat with a cake for the trees. Eating a cake doesn’t save water, but it does celebrate our environment. It isn’t planting a tree, but it is something. And every year, we all have a chance to do something, even if we can’t do everything. At 7, I am finally seeing Ruthie embrace a mastery of junior conservationist practices. Her self-motivation reminds me that doing something every year, even through the tough toddler years, can really amount to meaningful practice over time.

So let’s all do something. Eat a cake (I won’t twist your arm, but isn’t it a great idea?). Use the backside of the memo you printed at work to write your grocery list. Cut your shower down by a minute this evening. Or, if nothing else, just notice how you are using resources – be more mindful about the earth today than you were yesterday, and carry it into your week. Because regardless of the season, it is a beautiful day to renew our respect for nature, and nurture a better practice for the future.


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Anna Keller 01-25-16

 

Adrian with the baby

Adrian checks out the snow with baby Helen Rose

 

I believe in the mystical. Tarot Cards, Ouji boards, even the woman on the corner of Ocean Avenue who stares at me with one blue eye and one gray eye and says “you have a purple aura” when I walk by. Yes, I believe in her too. As I watch my newborn grow and change every day I wonder what magic I will teach her. What mysticism will her father share with her?

The Hebrew word for Pregnancy is Herayon. In Hebrew every letter is paired with a number and the letters in the word Herayon add up to 271. This is because a woman’s pregnancy generally is equal to 271 days. Here is another interesting Kabbalistic fact about Herayon: Har, the first part of the word in Hebrew, means “mountain.” This is because a woman’s belly is shaped like a mountain. I try to explain this to my significant other, Adrian. We compare notes on magic.

The month before my daughter was born I went to the Judaica store in my neighborhood and bought Channa’s book of Prayers for Jewish Women. I was nervous about delivery. I was looking for a magic spell. I called Adrian’s mother on a regular basis. “Señora,” I said, “Is it very, very painful? Is it unbearable?” She did not lie. She said it was. My own mother told me the truth as well and then she added, “But the pain doesn’t matter. In the end you get a baby.”

But I needed magic! I needed the Zohar to whip me up a flying carpet and deliver me from the agony of childbirth. More than this I wanted my newborn delivered into the world safely and with the prayers of both my Jewish background and Adrian’s Catholic background.

I thought of the word Tzirim. The Hebrew word “tzirim” means “contractions” or “labor pains” but there is another literal translation as well. “Tzirim” can also mean “hinges” like, door hinges. This is because a woman is opening a door for her child to exit through during childbirth. The Kabbalah compares contractions to snake bites and when this happens the woman gets ready to push the baby out of the womb and into the world. Snake bites make me nervous. Again, I needed magic.

Adrian is from Puebla, Mexico. In his small village his parents speak a language of the Aztec empire. They speak Spanish but they also speak a language called “Nahuatl.” It is an indigenous language. It is a dying language. It is the Hebrew of Mexico.

The Nahuatl people believe that when a boy is born his umbilical cord should be buried on a battlefield and when a girl is born her umbilical cord should be buried in the field because the cornfield is where tortillas come from.

But the birthing process for both cultures, for both religions is the same. In ancient times Jewish women gave birth in tents surrounded by other women. The same is true for Nahuatl women. In fact, when I spoke on the phone with Adrian’s mother she told me that she had birthed all seven of her children in her house surrounded by her female family members and one witch doctor.

I asked to speak to the witch doctor but I never could get a hold of her. My pregnancy began to take on an artistic form in my head. In my imagination, my giving birth began to look like Frida Kahlo and Amedeo Modigliani had lunch together and then had a painting competition. I saw myself painted slim across a canvas with a dark red background and serpents coming out of my nose. My imagination was winning over my mysticism.

Here is the truth about birth: It hurts. It hurts, but it is the one true visible sorcery. I had been so concerned about what my newborn would learn, how she would grow, what she would believe in. What I didn’t realize is that SHE was pure wizardry. On every contraction I felt the hinges inside swing back and forth. On her long entrance into the world I asked Adrian, “Can you see her head?” he nodded yes. I asked, “Is her hair black?” he nodded yes again. She arrived black haired as the raven, audacious as the eagle and breathtaking as an Aztec monarch.

The Hebrew word for love is ahava, and its numerical value adds up to the number 13. There are other words that add up to the number 13 as well. Zeved, for example, means “to gift” or “to bestow” and its letters add up to 13. To whisper or meditate is Hagah in Hebrew, also a numerical value of 13. Even the number 1 in Hebrew, which is Echad, has a numerical value of 13. Thirteen plus 13 is 26. In Hebrew, the letters in G-d’s name add up to 26. Love is a gift, love is a whisper, love is one and so is magic in any culture or religion.

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Rabbi Malka Packer 01-25-16

On Sunday, January 10, 2016, InterfaithFamily/Atlanta hosted a fabulous open house at our new office space in Ponce City Market. Over 100 Atlantans celebrated with us as we blessed our new home. After reciting the Shehecheyanu prayer, guests shared their blessings for IFF/ATL and our board member, Rebecca Hoelting, hung our new mezuzah from Atlanta’s own Modern Tribe Jewish gift shop. We enjoyed music from the Pussywillows, thanks to the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival, ate delicious food from the markets in PCM, and hung out in our cool new gathering spaces like the meditation room, the green room with picnic tables, and a secret room that looks like the inside of Jeanie’s bottle. Everyone left with a florescent green Shalom Y’all tote bag full of goodies and IFF resources.

We are looking forward to more exciting events in 2016!!

IFF/Atlanta's blessing space

Shalom Y'all bag

Mezuzah hanging

Picnic area space in new offices

Rabbi Malka Packer & Laurel Snyder

 

Kids holding hands

 

The Pussy Willows performing


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Rabbi Robyn Frisch 01-21-16

Back of a couple in love

Following are brief descriptions of wedding ceremonies of interfaith couples I know (all names have been changed) who were married in recent months:

  • Matthew and Stacie were married by a rabbi* in a ceremony that was very similar to the ceremony the rabbi would have performed if both of them were Jewish. A few small liturgical changes were made due to the fact that Matthew is Christian.
  • Sam and Beth were married by a cantor* in a service involving Jewish wedding liturgy. Friends of the couple read from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and the New Testament. At Beth’s mother’s request, a Unity Candle was included in the ceremony, which was lit by Sam and Beth’s mothers.  
  • Christopher and Ellie were married by a rabbi and near the end of the ceremony Christopher’s uncle, a Lutheran minister, offered a blessing.
  • Mark and Adrienne were married at a ceremony co-officiated by a rabbi and a Catholic priest.

 

[* Note that either a rabbi or cantor can officiate a Jewish or interfaith wedding ceremony. InterfaithFamily’s Jewish clergy referral service refers both rabbis and cantors.]

All of these ceremonies were “interfaith weddings,” yet they were all very different. And each rabbi and cantor has different comfort levels and boundaries as to what they will do as part of an interfaith wedding.

One rabbi said to me recently: “I officiate at weddings where one partner isn’t Jewish, but they’re really ‘Jewish weddings.’ Essentially I do everything the same as I would do for two Jewish partners, with a few minor changes. I never let clergy or relatives from other faith traditions have any role in the ceremony, and I would never include a New Testament reading or any kind or any reference to or ritual from the other partner’s religious tradition.”

At the other end of the spectrum, another rabbi I was speaking with not long ago said: “I think it’s really important to honor the religious heritages of both partners. I always ask the partner who isn’t Jewish if they have a clergy person or other representative from their religion that they want to invite to take part in the ceremony. If not, I encourage them to think about including readings or rituals from their religious tradition that they find meaningful.”

Clearly, these two rabbis are on two ends of the spectrum as to how they understand their roles in officiating interfaith weddings—and most Jewish clergy fall somewhere in between. Neither of these rabbis is “right” or “wrong”—but it can be frustrating and uncomfortable for a couple to meet with a rabbi or cantor who falls toward one end of the spectrum when they’re really looking for someone who falls toward the other end. Needless to say, this can be uncomfortable for the clergy as well.

So what should a couple do when they’re searching to find a rabbi or cantor who is the right “fit” to officiate their wedding?

1.  First of all, before even reaching out to clergy, the couple needs to have an honest conversation (or, likely, several conversations) about what’s important to them in their wedding ceremony. How does each partner feel about having Jewish clergy? Assuming that they want to have a Jewish officiant, they should decide: Do we want clergy of another faith to participate as well, and if so in what way? Are there rituals from the religious tradition of the partner who isn’t Jewish that they want to include? Are there elements of Judaism (e.g., use of Hebrew, mention of God) that they are not comfortable with? Do they want their ceremony to take place before sundown on a Saturday? (Rabbi Keara Stein’s blog How To Avoid This Wedding Nightmare offers couples good advice on how to have some important conversations.)

2.  Once the couple has had these conversations, they should begin looking for clergy as soon as possible. If a couple doesn’t already have a relationship with a rabbi or cantor, they can go to interfaithfamily.com/findarabbi and fill out a brief form with some basic information, and we will email them a list of rabbis and cantors in their area who officiate at interfaith weddings. Among other questions, the online form asks if the couple plans to have clergy of another faith participate in the service—if they do, they will be sent a list including only those Jewish clergy who are comfortable co-officiating weddings.

3.  Once they have a list of rabbis and cantors, it’s time for the couple to reach out and talk to them. The couple and the rabbi or cantor need to be very clear up front about what their expectations and comfort levels are when deciding if they are going to work together. As I often say when I met with couples (whether both partners are Jewish or they’re an interfaith couple): “This is going to be one of the holiest, most special moments of your life. We should ALL be comfortable with the ceremony. If I’m not OK with something that’s important to you, I want to help you find a rabbi or cantor that is totally comfortable with what you want. And if you don’t feel like I’m the right ‘fit’ for you, it doesn’t mean that I’m not a good rabbi or you should feel badly not working with me, but you should find someone who feels right for you.”

The couple should be very clear with the rabbi or cantor about what they’re expecting their wedding ceremony to look like. They should also feel free to ask any questions (after all, for most people this is their first time having a wedding, so they shouldn’t feel like they need to be an “expert”), and to be honest if there are some things they’re not yet sure about. Similarly, the rabbi or cantor should be clear about what they are and are not comfortable with.

Hopefully, when all is said and done, the couple will be very excited about the person they choose to officiate their wedding. Ideally, it will be just the beginning of a relationship that continues not only through the wedding, but for many years into the future.


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Guest Blogger 01-19-16

By Elizabeth Raphael

This article was reprinted with permission from Kveller.com, a fast-growing, award-winning website for parents raising Jewish and interfaith kids. Follow Kveller on Facebook and sign up for their newsletters here.

Mom and newborn

2015 was a year of change for me, facilitated largely by the birth of my lovely dumpling of a daughter in February. Among the normal challenges of being a first-time parent (learning to cobble together a working brain when it has been addled by lack of sleep, perfecting the art of acting casually when your child decides to poop on you in a public place, and so on), I had the additional challenge of being a woman from another faith background raising a Jewish daughter.

A bit of background on me: My religious upbringing can best be described as “vaguely Christian.” I went to a Catholic church a handful of times as a child, but I was never baptized, nor did I undergo confirmation (in fact, I had to do a quick Internet search while writing this article to make sure that “confirmation” was even the right term for the process I was thinking of).

My family celebrated Easter and Christmas, but there was never an emphasis on the religious aspects of the holidays. Though my parents made sure my siblings and I knew the meaning behind the holidays, the days themselves were more about getting together with and showing appreciation for family than going to church or performing any truly religious rituals. As I grew older, my naturally skeptic mind led me on a journey of religious exploration that eventually brought me to a place of agnosticism in my early 20s. It was right around this time that I met my husband, who—you guessed it—happens to be Jewish.

He and I met through a mutual friend in 2007. OK, technically we met on a mutual friend’s MySpace page, but we tend to leave that part out of our official couple story. We quickly bonded over our love of art, our mutual fondness for grunge music, and our uncanny ability to quote “Seinfeld” episodes from start to finish. Eventually we agreed to meet, and sweet amorebloomed.

Through my relationship with him, I got my first real experience with Jewish culture (well, outside of a childhood fondness for the “Rugrats” cartoon from the 90s). His religious education was more thorough than mine; he attended Sunday School regularly as a child and had his bar mitzvah. Despite this, he too had settled into agnosticism as an adult.

However, where things between us differed was in the strong connection he still felt toward his culture. He kept (and still keeps) loosely kosher, not maintaining a separate kitchen but avoiding shellfish and pork and never mixing meat and dairy. Every Hanukkah, he would pull out his menorah and sing the blessings over the phone with his family across the country each night.

What I came to realize is that where my relationship with the Christian holidays was one of somewhat superficial amusement (though fun and lovely in its own way), his relationship with the Jewish holidays and with Judaism in general was something more substantial. His was a relationship of preservation. By maintaining those rituals, he was helping to keep alive an ancient, beautiful, and strong culture that had undergone more than its share of challenges over the years. It was this realization that made the decision to raise our daughter as Jewish a natural choice for both of us.

Since our daughter is still only a wee lass—just 11 months old!—her current relationship with Judaism is at a fairly basic level. Last Purim, we dressed her up and took her to temple, delighted to have an opportunity to put her in the bear costume we bought pretty much when we first found out that I was pregnant. For her Hebrew naming ceremony, we waited until Sukkot and had it under the sukkah with the Sunday School classes in attendance. (I managed to only cry a little bit while reading the blessings.) She delighted in all of the aspects of Hanukkah—especially opening gifts, eating latkes with lots of applesauce on top, and watching the menorah being lit. She may not have fully realized the significance behind such events yet, but by undergoing these experiences, she has already become a part of the culture.

In many ways, I am learning about Judaism alongside my daughter. I know that at some point, her education and her experiences will take her to a different place than me, and there will be complicated questions to answer when we come to them. I am not intimidated by this. We will be different, yes, but not separate. I will find ways to help her grow as a young Jewish woman. Already I have adopted the role of helping her appreciate her culture through cooking. (I’m proud to say I have challah, hamantaschen, babka, and matzah ball soup under my culinary belt.) The older she gets, I will find other ways as well.

I await these challenges, and the Gregorian New Year, with open arms and an open heart.

 

Elizabeth RaphaelElizabeth Raphael is a stay-at-home mom and full-time book nerd. She also makes excellent matzo balls.


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Anna Keller 01-14-16

Anna with her babySome people believe that when a child is born the angel of death and the angel of mercy stand in the room side by side. During the delivery of my baby I watched the monitor as her heart rate dropped and lifted with every contraction. “The cord is wrapped around her neck,” the doctor said, “don’t worry this is very common.”

In Hebrew the Malach Hamavet, the angel of death, is a warning. He is sent by God to show how precious life is. He is the angel who made himself known to David, Samuel and Moses and he was in my delivery room making everybody nervous.

My partner, Adrian, who is originally from Mexico is not afraid of the angel of death. The Catholics in Mexico have a Saint that signifies death; they call her “La Muerte” and she is a good luck charm. Day of the Dead in Mexico celebrates death. People bring food to the graves of the ones who had passed. They actually cook the favorite meals of the deceased and bring them to the cemeteries as a celebration.

“Don’t worry, don’t worry…” Adrian said even though with all his faith in God and the Virgin and even La Muerte I could see fear in his eyes.

How could I not worry? This was my first child. I had carried her for nine months. I had taken all of my vitamins, exercised, eaten right and slept well. I wanted her journey into this world to be safe and harmless. That would be too easy though. Even when my doctor asked me three months before delivery if I had a birth plan, I said “No” and she said, “That doesn’t matter. Anything you plan never goes as planned anyway.”

I did what any Jewish girl from Brooklyn trapped in a room with the Angel of Death would do: I called on the ghosts of my Grandmothers.

Grandma Helen had been a social worker. She was a Barnard Graduate when women were not pushed to go to school. When her son, my uncle, had some trouble she sold her wedding ring to send him into therapy. Grandma Rosie raised four boys, two of her own and two of her sisters’. She read the stocks every day and always had Tanqueray gin and Canada Dry tonic water in her fridge until the day she passed away.

Helen RoseThe greatest thing about being with Adrian is that his beliefs and my beliefs often merge and intertwine. He didn’t think it was at all strange that I had propped up photos of my two Grandmothers in the delivery room. He knew La Muerte was there and she was cunning. I felt the Malach Hamavet and he was filing his nails waiting for my next move.

When the ghosts of Grandma Helen and Grandma Rosie showed up, death packed up his things and left. I pictured my Grandmothers barging in with plaid suitcases and polka dot dresses pulling a cigarette out from Death’s lips and pointing to the door. My Grandmothers basically took over and stood behind the doctor as I pushed for forty minutes. On the last push as the baby came out I saw the cord around her neck. A nurse reached over to take the baby and the doctor smacked the nurse’s hand away and untied the cord from my daughter’s neck faster than I thought was possible. In my heart I knew it was my Grandmother untying that cord. No doctor in his or her right mind would smack a nurse’s hand away. Grandma Rosie would do that.

If my newborn had been born a boy we would have named him David, for my father and Zacharias for Adrian’s grandfather. Because the baby is a girl her name was easy for us to choose: Helen Rose. She took Adrian’s last name to symbolize both of our cultures. She took my two Grandmothers’ names to symbolize strength.

What’s unique about interfaith families is that there is always more than one way to do something. Two faiths offer more choices. Now on the Day of the Dead we won’t only bring traditional Mexican dishes to Adrian’s deceased family members, we will bring plates of food to my Grandmothers as well. On Day of the Dead we will cook for my father, for my grandfathers and for my Uncle Mark. The menu will be a mix of pastrami on rye, borscht, perogis and other favorite dishes of my family.

Baby Helen Rose will witness a coming together of cultures, a mixture of faiths and we will continue to highlight the importance of both as a presence in her life. She will learn the Hebrew prayer for mourning called “Kaddish” and we will light candles in memory of those who have passed on. When she is old enough I will show her photographs of Grandma Helen and Grandma Rosie and explain that these women live on in her. They come back to life once a year on the Day of the Dead. They put down their plaid suitcases and straighten their skirts and like most Jewish women in my family they ask the same question when their ghosts arrive each year: “What time do we eat?”


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Ed Case 01-11-16

Arthur ObermayerInterfaithFamily lost a very dear friend, and the broader Jewish world an outstanding leader, when Arthur Obermayer died yesterday.

I’m not sure what Arthur is best known for in the Jewish world. It could be the Obermayer German-Jewish History Awards, given annually to several Germans (not Jewish themselves) to recognize their efforts to preserve Jewish history and culture in Germany. It could be for his role as a co-founder of Meretz USA, an organization that supported the Meretz party in Israel, or his involvement with JewishGen.

Arthur was deeply involved in secular causes, too. In 2006 I asked him what Boards of Directors he served on and got a list of ten, including the Boston NPR affiliate, the MIT Museum, and Social Venture Partners Boston.

What I am sure of is the impact Arthur had on InterfaithFamily. When I started IFF, I needed to recruit a Board of Directors who were in a position to help the organization get started and grow. I had known Arthur from our involvement in our synagogue, and at some point learned that he was deeply interested in engaging interfaith families in Jewish life, so I asked him to join our Board right when we started operations in 2002. I’m so glad I did.

Arthur’s biggest impact on IFF may have been with our social media and Internet strategies, which resulted in 2015 in reaching over 1 million unique visitors. Way back in 2004, Arthur spent a lot of time helping us select a vendor for our first website re-design, and he helped again in 2008. He started nudging us to get involved in social networking back in 2008 and often forwarded articles he thought would be helpful.

Arthur was the kind of Board member any non-profit would want to have. He read my (often lengthy) Board updates and reports carefully and often offered thoughtful suggestions. When his high standards were satisfied, he said so; when he congratulated us on one email newsletter graphic re-design, we knew we had done something well. In 2005 Arthur and his wonderful wife Judy, herself a past Board Chair of Boston’s Jewish Vocational Service and Board member of Bend the Arc, graciously hosted the first parlor meeting IFF ever had.

Arthur was very ill when we had our #ChooseLove Celebration in October, but he called to ask when I would be speaking because if he could make it, he wanted to come and hear what I had to say. He came at just the right time, and I’m glad I had the chance to publicly thank him not only for making the effort to be there, but for all he had done for IFF and for me.  He called the next day and left a voice message, which I treasure, saying my work with IFF had been effective to address an issue I really cared about, and that he was proud to know me as a friend.

Arthur and Judy sent a one page, two-sided holiday message every year, and it was one I always looked forward to. I realize now it was because of the balance in each annual report. There was always a part about what Arthur and Judy had been doing with the many organizations they were involved with, there was always a part about the interesting travel and things they had done together, and there was always a proud part about their children and grandchildren’s latest accomplishments.

Earlier this year we had lunch. I was in the midst of my own transition and I wanted his advice on what I should focus on, on what was really important. This incredibly accomplished man, gravely ill, said “well, you do what you can to make the world better.” The thoughtful and considerate and helpful way Arthur Obermayer conducted himself, the positive impact he had on so many causes, and the balance he always seemed to have with his personal and family life — all are an inspiration to me that I will always remember.


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Stephanie Zulkoski 01-11-16

Stephanie & JarrettIt has been said that timing is everything. This belief is especially true for the evolution of my relationship with Jarrett over the last six years.

I first met Jarrett in February of 2010. Our encounter was brief. I was a junior at Penn State University and out with a group of girlfriends one night. I ran into Jarrett and his friend on my way to the bar. They introduced themselves, we exchanged a few words then I continued on as usual with my evening. Just another night out in State College…or so I thought.

A few weeks later, I was out to dinner celebrating my roommate’s birthday. Toward the end of our meal, I received a text from a friend. She said they were at a bar around the corner and that I should meet them after dinner. Now, it was a Wednesday night. I had a tough course schedule that semester and didn’t love the idea of staying out late on a weeknight. I told her I was tired and didn’t think I was going to make it. She responded with, “but there is someone here that wants to see you.” Curiosity got the best of me and after all, it was Saint Patrick’s Day. Being a redhead of Irish descent, I couldn’t disappoint my ancestors on this holiday, right? So, I finished up dinner and headed to Café 210 West.

When I approached my friends, I noticed there were a few boys with them and right in the center of the group sat Jarrett….timing is everything, right? I learned that a few of his fraternity brothers were friends with a group of my girlfriends. I was still skeptical. I mean, he was a fraternity boy (which must mean trouble) and a senior getting ready to graduate. I thought he would have no interest in dating. But, as I sat with him that evening, I learned that he was funny, confident and kind. We talked and hung out in the weeks leading up to his graduation. He even asked me to be his date to his Senior Fraternity Formal! But we never talked about our status as a couple.

After he graduated, we went our separate ways. I moved back in with my parents for the summer in Gilbertsville, PA, and he moved back in with his mom in Cherry Hill, NJ.  I thought for sure we would fall out of touch. But one summer day, he asked if I wanted to go on a date. We saw each other every few weeks after that and officially started dating! As we got to know each other more, he learned that I was raised Catholic and I learned that he was raised Jewish. This wasn’t anything new for me as I had a Jewish roommate in college who taught me the basics of Jewish traditions. Also, while I would say I’m a spiritual person, my Catholic faith background wasn’t the only thing that defined me. Plus, I liked this boy! And who knew where our relationship would go? I was only 21 years old at the time and wasn’t planning for marriage.

The following three years meant long distance for our relationship. I finished my senior year at Penn State, graduated and moved to Maryland to complete a dietetic internship to become a Registered Dietitian. He started his career in sales in New Jersey. Throughout the long distance, we strengthened our relationship through milestones such as meeting extended families and celebrating different holidays together for the first time including Passover, Easter, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Hanukkah and Christmas!

Engaged!

Proposal at the Nittany Lion Shrine

In the summer of 2013, we decided it was time to fix the distance between us. We started talking more about our future together and had some of the “tougher” conversations about things like where we should live, finances, marriage (more about that later) and children. In September of 2013, we made an offer on our first home in Cherry Hill, NJ.  I was offered a new job in Philadelphia (a short drive away) on the same day that our offer was accepted…they say timing is everything!

Just in case we didn’t have enough responsibility as new homeowners, we decided to adopt a golden retriever puppy in September 2014. We named him Nittany after our beloved alma mater.  On March 20, 2015, Jarrett, Nittany and I took a road trip back to Penn State for a mini-getaway. Upon our arrival, we stopped for a quick family photo-op at the Nittany Lion Shrine and to my surprise; Jarrett got down on one knee with Nittany as his witness and proposed in the place we had met almost five years to the day…timing is everything!

We will tie the knot in an interfaith ceremony in October 2016. I look forward to sharing our interfaith wedding planning journey!


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Jane Larkin 01-10-16
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Every day, I open the newspaper or listen to the news, and I am disheartened by what is happening in the world—violence at home and abroad, food shortages, disease, natural disasters, drought and environmental issues. There are days when I just have to tune out because what is good seems to have disappeared.

But recently, two things have restored my faith in humanity. After the devastating storms in Dallas following Christmas, I watched as friends and neighbors mobilized to help complete strangers try to pick up the pieces of their lives. Then in the early hours of Saturday morning, the home of my son’s classmate burned to the ground. The family had built the house and had only moved in two weeks ago during winter break. Thankfully, the family escaped unharmed, but they lost everything. As news of the tragedy spread on the class Facebook page, parents mobilized to help make sure the family’s immediate needs were met.

One family arranged for temporary housing and stocked the kitchen with groceries, and another parent set-up an online sign-up for gift cards, clothing and more. Other parents offered their home as a collection point for donations. I arranged for the school’s resale shop to open on Sunday so my son’s classmate and his brother could get the uniform clothing they needed. Teachers purchased school supplies; the head of school provided a laptop, the school counselor reached out to the family. The senior class purchased items and parents from the community that didn’t know the family whose home was destroyed called to offer help. It was amazing what was accomplished in the span of a few hours.

I told my son when he woke-up on Saturday morning what happened. As I was cooking breakfast, he said, “I want to help James and his family.”

Our son’s Hanukkah gift this past year was gelt or money. Each night he received “Gelt to Get” and “Gelt to Give.” The idea was that he received money that he could spend on himself and received an equal amount that he had to distribute to those in need in any way he chose. The “Gelt to Give” was given in small bills so that he could choose to distribute a little to many people or organizations, or pool it and give a large lump sum.

After watching the news of the tornadoes in Dallas on TV while we were on vacation, my son decided that he wanted to adopt a family and give his gelt to them. As of Saturday, a week after getting home from our trip, we had not identified a way to get the money to a family in the affected area.

After hearing the news about his friend’s house fire, my son changed his tzedakah or charity distribution plan. He was going to use his money to help his classmate. Later that day, I took my son to the grocery store so he could buy a gift card for his friend’s family so that they could buy food. As I watched with pride as my son paid for the gift card with his wad of cash, I thought of the saying, “Charity begins at home.”

The phrase expressed the demands of taking care of one’s family, before caring for others. But for me, it meant something else. It was a reminder that learning to be charitable, learning to be a tzadik or righteous person began at home. As parents, we were primarily responsible for modeling the values and behaviors that we wanted our children to see as important and to embrace. If we wanted our kids to take their responsibility to the world around them seriously, then it was up to us to show them what it meant to help others and our community.

I knew that my husband and I were far from perfect parents. There were many things we had done wrong or could have done better, but teaching our son what it meant to act justly and serve the community was one thing we’d gotten right. Whether it was helping a friend in need, raising money for education and clean water for children in Haiti, volunteering at the local food bank, purchasing prayer books for a synagogue with limited resources or doing a park cleanup, my son’s actions showed that charity did, in fact, begin at home.


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Rabbi Keara Stein 01-08-16

A bride is crying on her wedding day

I had a dream last night that I was officiating a wedding of an interfaith couple. It wasn’t a particularly strange situation: A lovely couple stood in front of their family and friends. The bride was in a gorgeous white gown, the groom in a nice black tuxedo. The three of us stood there, under the chuppah about to consecrate their marriage and begin their life as a married couple. And a priest showed up to officiate alongside me. I didn’t know him but the groom seemed to be expecting him and the ceremony proceeded. A little while later the groom shared that he’d like to read a poem that was important to him, I again wasn’t expecting this but he was standing there, under the chuppah, with a piece of paper in his hands ready to read. Once he started I realized it was a series of bible verses from the New Testament asking that all attendees pray in Jesus’ name as their marriage was blessed in the church. I looked over at the bride and saw that she was as shocked as I was, never having discussed this with her groom, I saw the questioning and blindsided look in her eyes.

I call this a dream, although as a rabbi I would more likely call this a nightmare. The couple had clearly never talked to one another about their religious preferences, and had not communicated their wishes with me—their rabbi and wedding officiant. This nightmare is unlikely to occur to this extreme, but in real life it has me thinking a lot about the issues couples have in planning weddings and marriages. The flowers and catering and dress seem like tangible, albeit not necessarily easy, decisions to make when planning a wedding. Even talking about how to plan for finances and a wedding budget are expected parts of forging ahead in a marriage. But how does talking about religion and beliefs factor into the planning process?

My husband and I went on our first date on a Friday night to Shabbat services at a Reform synagogue. I knew he was raised attending Chabad and other Orthodox synagogues, and he knew I was studying to be a rabbi. We both tried to impress each other by suggesting Shabbat for our first date.  In a lot of ways this was the best way to start our relationship, and in a lot of ways it was a hysterical failure.

I could tell that he was really uncomfortable in this liberal religious setting, and I was worried that he would never want to see me again! After services we went for sushi and beers and had our first conversation about religion. I’m sure religion isn’t on the Cosmopolitan “things to talk about on a first date” list, but we broke that rule. It was clear that religion was an important part of both of our stories, and it was essential that we talked about it right away. Our case may be extreme when compared with other relationships, but talking about religion and/or personal beliefs is important in all relationships BEFORE planning for marriage or children.

Why is it important? Imagine this scenario: You or your partner encounters a difficult situation and one says to the other, “God meant for this to happen because you’re being tested.”  Or, “There is no God so it’s not like any higher power can help you through this.” Does what your partner said help you, or raise even more questions for you while offending you? Would your partner be better equipped to support you if he or she knew something about your beliefs in order to be more sensitive?

Imagine another scenario: You are engaged, you’ve chosen a date for your wedding, the deposit has been paid, the florist and caterer already have their plans and it’s time to choose the officiant. You want a rabbi, your partner wants a priest. What do you do?

It’s important to talk about it, but HOW do you talk about it? Do you say while you’re out shopping, “Oh I really like the fabric on this sofa, and do you believe in God?” That’s probably not the most productive way, although if the fabric makes you think of it and your partner is open to it, by all means take a seat in Pier One and talk about God!

There are so many resources to help you have this conversation: InterfaithFamily has articles and discussion guides, and in some InterfaithFamily/Your Communities, including LA, we offer a workshop for interfaith couples to talk about religious issues in their relationships.

Here’s a quick primer:

Watch a movie or read a book that might bring up the question for you. My personal favorites are Keeping the Faith and The Frisco Kid but there are so many others. Most recently the movie This is Where I Leave You addresses so many interfaith and Jewish questions in a funny and heartwarming way.

Play a game of what do you think about….? For example, use this prompt to start an open and non-judgmental conversation about beliefs. Ask your partner, “What do you think about going to church/synagogue?”; “What do you think about the afterlife?”; “What do you think about how we’ll do holidays once we’re married?”; “What do you think about God or a higher power?”

Don’t get intimidated by the tough religious questions—you can also ask things like “What are your top five guiding values?” Or, “What should we do together as a couple or family that is meaningful?”

The specific questions you ask aren’t as important as the fact that you are talking about it.  More communication is great for relationship building, and it helps your wedding officiant create with you the most beautiful and meaningful wedding.  Not to mention, your marriage will be so much stronger for it.


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Amy Beth Starr 01-05-16

Amy's kids celebrate Hanukkah

Once upon a time, I was a kid growing up in North Jersey in the ‘80s, and I had a pretty clear idea of who I was and who I wanted to be. Even though I was the “token” Jewish kid in the neighborhood, I never struggled with my identity, in part to my parents’ credit for creating a strong Jewish home life, and in part because of my close connection to the Reform synagogue at which I spent countless hours. Whether I was celebrating a Jewish holiday, marching in an Israel celebration parade or singing with the junior choir at Shabbat services, it was clear to everyone around me that this kid was on a path, and that my Jewishness was a huge part of who I was and who I was going to grow up to be.

The story could just end there, with the assumption that I stayed that kid and that I followed that path … and the story wouldn’t be totally wrong.

But it’s also incomplete, and sometimes even I find myself looking over my history and wonder if I’m reading the story of me, or someone else. I’m no longer that ‘80s kid who was so self-assured, and my connection to Jewish life doesn’t always resemble the picture I imagined in my head. And I’m sure by now you’re wondering why.

My name is Amy, I’m a divorced mom of two (mostly) hilarious kids (ages 6 & 8 ½) and well, now I live in Maine. Wait, let me say that again. I’m a divorced mom of two and I live in MAINE.

This place isn’t exactly known as the center of Jewish life in these great United States. And while I’m at it, I should also mention my Irish Catholic boyfriend. So begins my interfaith journey, one that I hope you’ll join me on. I promise to fill in some of the blanks (like, are the kids Jewish? Is their dad Jewish? Yes and yes) on this blog, and to be real with all of you. Because for the first time in my life, identity and belonging isn’t so simple for me—and if it’s not simple for ME, the complexities of raising Jewish kids while trying to navigate this newness? My brain hurts just thinking about it.

Christmas tree

Amy’s kids with their first Christmas tree

So as an introduction, I’ll leave you with this story, because I think it will start developing the Polaroids for you to get the picture. As I type this, I’m looking at my Christmas tree. Yes, MY Christmas tree. I’ve never had a Christmas tree until this very tree that I’m staring at. The idea was absurd as I don’t celebrate Christmas. I’ve never had tree envy: even when my friends would invite me over to decorate theirs. It wasn’t part of who I was and there was no question that I would never, EVER have a tree.

Remember the whole Jewish girl from Jersey thing? Yet for the first time in 39 years, I’ve got a real live one, and I’m totally and completely enthralled with it. I could say it was the boyfriend’s tree since we were putting it in HIS apartment, but I went with him to pick out the perfect one, it was tied to the roof of MY car and I went to the store with him to pick out ornaments. I carefully decorated it, twice (because apparently trees have been known to fall over; I clearly have so much to learn), and added my own special touch: a blinged out Chinese takeout container, because up to this point that’s what Christmas meant to me. After a third tree felling (followed by said tree being attached to the wall), my kids got involved in the action. My Jewish children, who had never touched a Christmas tree let alone decorated one, were about to experience something totally foreign.

The night they came to decorate coincided with the seventh night of Hanukkah and the kids were excited to light the menorah and exchange gifts. All that happened, and it was our normal Jewish life. Until they decided that what they really wanted for Hanukkah was to decorate the tree. By the light of the candles, they carefully chose ornaments and hung them with care … not quietly. Instead, my amazing children, who only cared about making it look special for my boyfriend, decorated the tree while belting out as many Hanukkah songs as they could think of. There are no parenting manuals that tell you what to do, or how to react in a situation like this, so I did the only thing I knew how—I joined in.

I laugh thinking about it now as I look at the tree. My kids singing in Hebrew about dreidels, only wanting to spread love and joy. In that moment, I realized that maybe, just maybe I can make this interfaith thing work. Their excitement was electrifying and for two kids who don’t believe in Santa (I may have come up with some threats if they ruin it for their friends!) well, I think we all found a little magic that night.

So begins this chapter, as I try to figure out how to maintain old traditions and incorporate new ones that I (or the kids) never expected to be part of.


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Emily Golomb 12-08-15
Wedding invitation

The front of Emily and Jose’s handmade wedding invitation

With days left until my wedding, I started reflecting on the planning process and how my life has changed in the year since we got engaged. Many changes large and small, good and bad, have defined my last year, and I have grown from it all. Most important, I am going into the wedding day with a new perspective on happiness and an eagerness to celebrate that joy with my best friend.

Happiness is not always some grand gesture, and it is not about being positive all the time. It is not about having only good things happen to you. The bad things that happened in my life taught me that happiness is in the subtleties. It is smiling at a stranger on the street and having them smile back. It is noticing how bright the sky is. It is watching the beads of water that collect on your partner’s skin in the shower, the tiny twitch above his eyebrow when he is thinking and the edge of his dimple curl as he tells a joke to cheer you up.

Happiness is finding balance. It is going to the edge of your comfort zone, balancing there, and trying not to fall long enough for that to become your new equilibrium. After all, that is what I teach my yoga students, so why can’t it be a life philosophy, too? To find your balance, you do not hold your breath and stay still. You breathe, you adjust, you waiver, and you may even fall. But the fall lets you know definitively where the edge of your balance is, and that is often a quicker and more poignant lesson than standing still.

In the spirit of learning and growing, I’m going to share my insight on my own Wedding Planning Process. I’m debating whether to even type this, but I think it may be funny for folks to read, and it may even be comforting. When we are in a good place, we often gloss over the bad, but I want to share my comedic take on where I have been with wedding planning the last year, because it has not all been pretty! I have gone through three distinct phases:

Stage 1 – Lust

This was my “Everything is Perfect” phase. Ohmigod we just got engaged, we are so happy, we are perfect together, I’m on top of the world! Ahh!!!! My face hurts from smiling! Oh you want to hear my proposal story? GLADLY!  But sit down, it’ll take me 30 minutes, because I want to tell every single detail. I was the Blushing Bride, and I thrived off of how happy it made me and the people around me. Throw a wedding contest into the mix that we won, and this lust stage lasted far longer than it may have otherwise. I was on cloud nine and nothing could bring me down.

Stage 2 – Screw This

This was my “Everything Sucks” phase. It was impossible to be the Blushing Bride forever. The bubble had to burst, and life helped it burst by adding some extra crap into the mix. Lots of extra crap. Thanks Life, now I am the Depressed Bride. (Really.) Oh I’m supposed to plan all these tiny details I care nothing about? Great, well I don’t care anyway. That makes it better to not care, right? I’ll go through the motions, or I’ll procrastinate and nothing will get done. Ugh, that just made it even worse. I could have avoided going to the opposite extreme of the lust stage, but I do think a lot of people in my shoes would have done the same.

Stage 3 – Let’s Do This

This is my “Everything Just Is” phase, and by that, I mean that it is perfect to us. Everything just is, for better or worse. Everything is how it is for a reason, and I accept and am grateful for that. Accepting the good with the bad, both in the wedding planning, in myself and in Jose, and knowing the decisions that were made will be amazing. That turned everything around for me. Maybe others would not struggle with oscillating between extremes in the way that I did, but that is part of what makes me who I am. That is why I devote extra attention to incorporating a daily mindfulness practice to stay balanced. Our best teachers in life often struggle from the problems they try to fix, and I hope that my personal experience working to stay balanced can inspire and lead others.

I am working hard to be the Balanced Bride and it feels great. I am eagerly anticipating the wedding day and the happiness I will feel looking into Jose’s eyes. My engagement photos already showed me how happy I can be while some not-so-happy things were going on. There are things that will give Jose and I heavy hearts on our wedding day, but we must remember to feel grateful for the good things we do have in life. I can’t wait until I get to marry my best friend!

invitation suppliesBeing this reflective in this third stage, I am incredibly proud of myself for accomplishing the feat of making my own invitations from scratch while I was in the second stage. I started the project to prove something to myself, and I surely did. While I wish that I did the project not to counter the crap going on in my life but to be fully devoted to the project, I no longer look at it that way. I proved to myself that I could learn an entirely new skill—making a wedding invitation.

I ordered paper online after careful research, did meticulous math to figure out the right sizes for making a tri-fold folder enclosure, invitation and additional inserts, and designed and printed the invitation and inserts with the help of my graphic designer friend. I cut, scored, folded, taped, corner rounded, aligned, belly banded and sealed all the invitations from scratch. I even took them to be hand stamped at the original Philadelphia post office (great call if you are deciding between that and regular mail). I pushed myself to do everything and I am grateful that I did. If you want any tips on how to make invitations, please ask! I don’t want to bore everyone with the details here.

making the invitationsBottom line is, remember in an earlier post where I wondered whether I could make the invitations from scratch or whether it would be a DIY disaster? Well it was far from a disaster, and the fact that most people did not even know they were handmade was the best part for me. Thanks guys!

But I would be remiss not to mention this for future brides: What seems fun doing one or two is not as fun when you do 100. Be prepared for blood, sweat and tears. (Really.) I did have an army of helpers on hand. Thank you to all of the family and friends who helped. You saved me from pulling my hair out and I could not have done it without you.

Here are some more photos of the process. If I ever decide to open at Etsy shop for invitations, at least I have all the supplies now! (But that will never happen.)

assembling invite

wedding invitations

addressed invitation

handstamped invitation


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Emily Golomb 11-05-15
Engagement shoot

Emily and Jose at their engagement shoot in Philadelphia

Jose and I have recently incorporated a new practice into our lives to help prepare for our marriage. We have a daily mindfulness practice that helps us stop and appreciate each other and what we have. We take time to communicate what we are grateful for—both the good and bad things that happen in life—because all of that helps us evolve together. We practice being grateful for the present moment and appreciating the time we have together.

We recently had our engagement photo shoot, and it was amazing. To spend an hour looking into Jose’s eyes, hugging and kissing him, was exactly what I needed to take my mind off things. I am grateful for the photos, since I can always look back on them and remember the wild ride that wedding planning has been, and the fact that in the midst of it all we look truly happy. The photos captured our love in a way that I can never put into words (and believe me, I am trying to find the words as I attempt to write my own vows), but it is evident in the way we look at each other and in our smiles.

I have always kept a journal, and I recently read a journal entry of mine from two months after Jose and I started dating, on the evening of my birthday on June 30, 2009. Jose was in the Philippines for a family reunion, and I was at my house alone. It was clear that our love was strong from the start, with all the times I wrote “I miss him” and “I want to spend my life with him.” But what I truly enjoyed reading is something I am grateful for now.

I wrote about the serious doubts I had for our interfaith relationship. I questioned every aspect: how we’d raise kids, how our kids would self-identify, what I would think if my kids “chose” Jose’s Catholic religion, what values are important to our families and how we would navigate those desires and balance them with our own. Would I acquiesce on incorporating Jewish traditions into my home, or would I even care five, 10, 15 years down the road? Would I become more or less Jewish as I got older? Would I want a Christmas tree in my house? Would I sing Christmas carols? Would Jose accept if my opinions on religion changed over the years? Finally, should religion be a deal-breaker?

From the start of our relationship, I was honest and communicated my concerns with Jose, and we worked on it together. I read that entry now with a huge smile on my face. I am grateful that we grew together from the experience and tackled the challenge, to the point where it’s no longer an issue. Of course, religion will still present challenges throughout our lives but we have built a solid foundation of love and acceptance to face those challenges.

After thoughtful discussions and honest answers, Jose and I decided that we would only look at our religions as an asset to our relationship, not as an impediment. Our backgrounds are a means for us to see the world through a different lens and to become more empathetic and compassionate human beings. We have been a team from the start, and we have taken a true interest in and respect for each other’s cultures. I didn’t fully realize until now, re-reading that entry, just how far we have come.

Our new daily mindfulness practice begins with the idea of being grateful. Jose and I reflect on three things we are grateful for that happened during the day. Because we are vocalizing these things and giving them careful consideration, they usually end up being bigger picture things. Often just stepping back from the minutiae of our lives to reflect on the positive is enough to pull our minds out of the rut that can drag us down. We started doing this at the suggestion of a life coach we met (her name is Pax Tandon if you’re inclined to look her up and work with her) and we try to do it every night before dinner.

Because it is a practice and nobody is perfect, it’s freaking hard. It’s a challenge just to shell out the time to have a mindful dinner, meaning clearing off the table and putting things in serving bowls (instead of eating out of whatever containers the to-go food came in or right off the pan), and talking to each other instead of watching TV. After a long day, we just want to wind down and sit on the couch. Sometimes that is what we need, so we do that, but mostly it feels more satisfying to challenge ourselves to do the gratefulness practice. We have made huge strides in our positivity and stress management from just a few short weeks of this.

Whether you are planning a wedding or just going about your daily life, practicing mindfulness can have an immense benefit on your life. But it is a practice, and it doesn’t just happen in one day. There are ample articles popping up on the benefits of mindfulness, and as a yoga teacher, I am a firm believer in the practice. Mindfulness means letting go of the past and not worrying about the future, replacing all of those thoughts with an awareness of and appreciation for the present. If that sounds impossible to you, you’re mostly right. No human can entirely live in the present moment, because we carry our past experiences with us at all times. But the practice means we take simple, measurable steps each day to expand our ability to live in the present, and it really does open our eyes to the subtleties in life we would have otherwise ignored.

Mindfulness can mean you incorporate meditation (even a short, comfortable seated five-minute meditation) or set intentions for your day (a to-do list that you check off), or maybe even make reminders to take deep breaths. It means working on belly breathing: breathing diaphragmatically, not into your upper chest. It means considering and being grateful for the food you eat, where it came from and how many steps it took to get to you. Gratefulness is a part of mindful living, and taking that step alone to incorporate thoughts into your day of what you are grateful for, instead of what you don’t have, can have a huge impact.

If you choose to incorporate this practice into your life, allow yourself space to think about the negatives, even to complain about them, but don’t let them consume you. You may try to think of the things that are not going how you thought they would, what you wish to change, and what hurts you, and then immediately follow those thoughts with positives to counter it. Or you may try to start with a positive and find that the negative seems so slight in comparison. When there are really big negatives in your life and they seem insurmountable (believe me I can relate) you might try to break down each day into parts and find a small bit of positivity and gratefulness in a few moments. If you’re interested in incorporating mindfulness practices into your life, I would be happy to help steer you in the right direction for resources, and if you’re in Philly, I will absolutely drag you to a yoga class with me!

Most of all, what Jose and I have found in the last few weeks of incorporating a mindfulness practice is that we are so thankful that we are still here together, supporting each other and preparing for our marriage. Looking back on how far we have come and expressing gratitude for it, especially regarding our different religions, is so rewarding. Every relationship takes work and practice, and we are mindful that we need to consistently work to be the best we can be for each other. I encourage anyone reading to try this, because just knowing that your partner is showing up each day with as much care and effort as you are, even if your practice together that day sucks or if you half-ass it, is a game-changer. It has been a rock for us. The richness in overcoming the challenges that life gives us and growing stronger for it has gotten us to this point—a month and half until our wedding day, and I absolutely can’t wait! Let’s do this!


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Guest Blogger 10-12-15

By Hila Ratzabi
Photos by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Wedding ceremony

When José and I first started dating, my Jewish parents were not pleased. Though my mom is fairly liberal, some instinct flared up in her that has roots in centuries of Jewish fear of disappearance. Though that fear has lessened over the decades for many Jewish families, particularly in the U.S., it still rises up for many people, sometimes unexpectedly. What if my daughter loses her Jewish identity?, some parents wonder. What if the grandchildren aren’t raised Jewish? Is this the end of the line?

For me and many other Jews like me, this fear is unfounded. I went to Jewish day school from kindergarten through high school, and even went on to get a degree in Jewish philosophy. While my Jewish practices have changed over the years, I have always been a proud and engaged Jewish woman. I was, and remain, confident that my connection to Judaism is strong enough to share with my husband who is not Jewish and our future children.

The road to acceptance took a few years, but by the time we were ready to get engaged my parents had thankfully come around. They gave us their blessing, and we set out to create a wedding that reflected my Jewish heritage and José’s Mexican culture.

We had it fairly easy in that José does not identify with a particular religious tradition. He is a scientist and committed atheist; as a child he briefly attended a Baptist religious school in the small town in Baja where he was raised, but he definitively broke off with religion when he awakened to his atheism. While being an atheist, José has always supported and joined in with my Jewish practices. I’m not a believer either, but I love Jewish holidays, attending services and grappling with the big questions in life. Judaism is the lens through which I consider ethical dilemmas and the source of my commitment to social and environmental justice. These are things we’re able to share.

We found an amazing Reconstructionist rabbi, Rachel Weiss, of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah—the gay/lesbian synagogue in New York City—to officiate at our wedding. Aside from being open-minded and accepting, Rabbi Weiss also had the added bonus of being fluent in Spanish. She had previously worked with Mexican immigrants, and we felt she understood both of our backgrounds.

Reading the ketubahTogether with Rabbi Weiss, we designed a ceremony that honored the dual heritage we were bringing together. We included traditional Jewish elements, including the chuppah (wedding canopy), the seven blessings, the circling of bride and groom, the ketubah (marriage contract) and the ring exchange. We wrote our own ketubah text instead of using the traditional text, and changed the language of the ring exchange and seven blessings to be more inclusive and universal. The witnesses who signed our ketubah included two of our close friends who happen to be another interfaith/intercultural couple—Jewish and Indian. We had watched them create a beautiful marriage that included both of their cultures, and were inspired by their example.

José’s grandmother was central to his upbringing, often standing in as a second parent since he didn’t have a father in his life, so we wanted to make sure she was included and would understand what was going on at the wedding. Since his grandmother doesn’t speak English, Rabbi Weiss explained each part of the ceremony before it was performed in both English and Spanish. José’s grandmother found the customs fascinating and listened intently as they were described. We also had traditional Mexican paper cutouts (papel picado) created for our wedding, which served as decoration at the entrance of the garden where the ceremony took place.

Papel picado

My own Jewish background is somewhat mixed, in that my mother is Ashkenazi and my father is Yemenite on his father’s side and Sephardic on his mother’s side. To honor my late grandmother, Rabbi Weiss sang a Jewish song in Ladino, the Judeo-Spanish language that my grandmother had spoken. This was another way to bridge our cultures, having a taste of the Spanish language woven into an ancient Jewish song.

The horaWhen it came to the reception, we just wanted to throw an awesome party. The raucous klezmer band Golem was essential to making that happen. The wedding took place in an art museum on Long Island, and since both José and I dabble in visual art, we made mini-paintings on mini-easels as souvenirs for our (very impressed) guests. We also brought a giant blank canvas and paints for guests to create a piece of collective artwork for us. The painting now hangs in our living room, reminding us of that incredible day.

During the reception, my mom gave a speech that chronicled her and my dad’s evolution in coming to accept and share the joy in our relationship. They had truly done a “180,” realizing over time that they had nothing to fear in my marrying “outside” the Jewish faith, and that I had found the life partner who was exactly right for me, and who they loved like a son. Now, three years later, I am pregnant, and we all can’t wait to bring another person into our crazy, mixed family. Among our plans for the baby: teaching it Hebrew, Spanish… and if there’s time, maybe even English.


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Emily Golomb 09-24-15
Jose & Emily

Jose & Emily at a wedding over Labor Day

All the wedding planning up until now was smooth. It felt like a dream, somewhere between a fairytale type of dream and the feeling of being separated from reality. Like those moments when you first fall asleep and can’t decide whether you are awake. At some point, I should have pinched myself to see if I was awake. Instead, life took care of that for me.

Things in my life changed. Some things were bad. Things started happening in the lives of those very close to me. Everything collided simultaneously. No matter what was happening, it wasn’t raining—it was pouring, and I didn’t have an umbrella. S**t got real.

I get angry thinking about earlier Emily in her previous posts. Why was she so darn cheery? Why was everything such a breeze for her? Screw her! When serious things started to happen in my life, I didn’t think I could plan a wedding anymore. I did a lot of thinking and that thinking led to doubt. Were we making decisions without thinking about budget? What is our budget anyway? Did we research things enough to make informed decisions? Was this was the type of wedding I wanted? Were the things that were chosen for us as uniquely and appropriately “me” as I wanted them to be?

Yes, we won a wedding contest, and most of the vendors were chosen for us and are free, but other things are covered at a base price that we will end up upgrading. Still, other things are not covered at all. That may add up to a considerable amount of money in the long run. Since s**t had recently gotten real in my life, I started to get insanely frustrated when people said, “Well you won a free wedding so there’s not much to complain or worry about.” OK, maybe it was my fault for telling everyone it was free, but I was suddenly wrestling with my gratitude for winning and the reality of what the final bill would be. And I certainly did have a lot to complain and worry about aside from the wedding.

I am eternally appreciative of what we are receiving, and I hate saying anything that sounds less than grateful. After all, instead of being a free wedding, it’s probably more like the sale-of-a-lifetime on a wedding, which no one really gets, and that’s nothing to take lightly.

Things have started to come around for me. I think about where I was mentally in the last month, and I’m glad everything is evening out. I am excited to plan our wedding and I’m so excited to look into Jose’s eyes as I say my vows. I realize that’s what really matters, not all the silly decisions. He’s been my rock through this adversity, and I’m weirdly grateful for everything that’s happened, since this tough time has served to strengthen our partnership. It has reinforced that Jose is the man I want to spend my life with. He always has a way of making me laugh and bringing me back to what’s important in life. He’s my best friend and my soul mate.

I’ve turned the corner mentally, aided by the contemplative and introspective time of the Jewish “Days of Awe;” the time between the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). This time offers the chance to right your wrongs from the last year and reflect on how you’d like to improve in the next year. It’s an interesting task to contemplate the sins you’ve made against yourself, your loved ones and your community. This offers a chance to connect deeper with family members and those close to you, and to reach out for support.

With plenty of time to think, I arrived at a place of happiness and contentment with our wedding choices and with what we have been given. The wedding will be incredible, and not because it’s some magical fairytale, but because it’s real. Because it isn’t perfect. Because real s**t can happen in our lives and Jose and I can get through it together. Because we are better together than we are apart and I want to scream that from the top of the Loews Hotel Philadelphia in December!


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Emily Golomb 09-02-15

Save the Dates

Our wedding is three-and-a-half months away (yay!) and we have a lot to do. We checked off the major items and now we must decide on the smaller pieces. Should we do those things ourselves or hire professionals? The invitations, the honeymoon, and more—these are things we could design, plan and book ourselves if we want to. But do we want to?

In a dream world, which one could argue I spend too much time in, my love of Pinterest and TLC shows would translate into the DIY wedding of my dreams with no stress and at a fraction of the cost. These details that we have to plan now are not covered by the wedding contest that we won, so we can choose how to handle them. Do we put our stamp on them and hopefully save money, or do we spend money and let professionals handle them, because most other vendors are covered by the contest?

Sometimes I get lost in thought envisioning an alternate universe without the contest where I am three and a half months out but have drowned in a treacherous sea of bad DIY art projects flooded with ribbon and lace. It’s not a pretty scene. Maybe winning the contest saved me from myself, and I should let trained professionals handle the rest. After all, it’s a predictable formula where David Tutera has to swoop in to save the day: Girl gets big ideas for DIY wedding. Girl gets in over her head. Girl pulls all her hair out. Girl ends up hiring professionals.

save the datesFor the save the dates, I did do them myself, and it was a DIY project that I’m very proud of. I hired a designer and friend of mine whose work I am fond of and we designed the font, colors and style that felt right for me and Jose. We designed them as postcards to save time and money, and I hand-cut each one with a ruler and X-Acto knife, which took a few hours on a Friday night. Jose and I even added our own touch with a cute hashtag (thanks Melanie!).

For the invitations, I’m at a crossroads now. Do I design them from scratch and source the paper and printer to live out my wildest fantasy of a very unique invitation, or do I go to an invitation shop, pick what we like most and call it a day? It’s a black hole once you start Googling what past brides have done and what they’ve learned from the experience. There is good advice, but mostly there is just too much advice. Sometimes you gotta try it for yourself. Sometimes you gotta get dirt on your hands (or in the case of paper, blood!). But that’s a very scary proposition and could end up taking more time and money than we want it to. Regardless, I visited Paper Source in Center City to look at paper, and I’m feeling very inspired to do them myself! I think I can pull it off.

For the honeymoon, we met a fantastic and inspiring “travel designer” who builds dream honeymoons from scratch. She was a riot and we loved her personality and approach. She has traveled the world and specializes in unique accommodations in cities around the globe. Things like treetop hotels and hard-to-find vacation rentals and scheduled itineraries. Ultimately, Jose and I decided that we love doing the research that goes into booking a trip and it feels more rewarding to book our own activities and places to stay, so we are going it alone without a travel agent. We booked our flight and are thrilled to say that our honeymoon will be in the Galapagos over the winter holidays! (That’s literally all we’ve planned for the trip, though. Phew, we better get on that!)

For the rehearsal dinner, there are elements we might make DIY, too. I am gluten-free by necessity since I have Celiac disease, so I want to find a place that has options for me. My future sister-in-law has a severe seafood allergy, so we also need to find a place that can accommodate her. We are currently looking at unique spaces to rent where we can bring in a caterer of our choice instead of renting out a restaurant, but there are so many challenges (and costs!) to doing that.

Our dream would be to serve food that incorporates Jewish elements, since our rehearsal dinner and wedding are during Hanukkah, and Filipino elements to honor Jose’s background (and because the food is delicious!). My dream on top of that dream is to have gluten-free jelly donuts (sufganiyot) for a traditional Hanukkah treat, but I may need to focus on the bigger picture and just plan the rehearsal dinner before I get too excited about dessert! It may be simpler and better to find the right restaurant with a price-fixed menu, so we could always end up going that route, but for this one we are exploring what DIY options may be out there.

Ultimately, the process of making these decisions is exciting and enjoyable for me, since I’m decisive about what I want and Jose is an active and involved partner. I won’t look back and wonder “what if” I chose the wrong thing, because I know that no bride can go wrong with what she chooses. It’s her wedding (and it’s just a wedding) so if someone judges you for choosing differently than they would, so be it. You are doing it your way and making it your own. That is never wrong.

Keep following my blog for more updates on our wedding planning. I can only imagine (or hope) how much further along we’ll be a month from now!


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