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Saying I Do to an Interfaith Wedding

August 13, 2010

It was nine years in July from the day when Bryan and I said, "I do." It was a beautiful wedding. We stood under a huppah that was adorned with flowers and there was just enough of a breeze to keep the July evening from being too warm.

Leah and Bryan
Leah Singer and her husband Bryan at their wedding.

While the wedding was certainly beautiful and, more importantly, our marriage is still strong nine years later, getting to the huppah was not an easy task. Especially because Bryan and I were an interfaith couple looking to plan a wedding that was welcoming to our family and held to our own religious beliefs.

I grew up in what I'd call a culturally Jewish family, but certainly not religious. We celebrated the Jewish holidays at home, but never went to synagogue. As I went to college and grew older, Judaism became much more important to me and I started to seek out ways to bring Judaism into my life.

Bryan grew up in a Catholic family. But as he grew up, his family's frequency of practicing Catholicism grew sparse. Bryan's always been interested in learning about other religions. He even minored in religious studies in college. So naturally, he had an interest in Judaism when we began dating.

I find it interesting how religion suddenly becomes important during lifecycle events, as it certainly did for my parents during the planning of their first daughter's wedding. When I told my parents we found the most beautiful outdoor venue that is only available Saturday afternoons, they were shocked. "You can't get married on Saturday!" my dad exclaimed. "Jews don't marry on the Sabbath." Because we were never raised religiously, I honestly had no idea about this "rule."

Our quest to find a clergy who would marry us was the first interfaith wedding challenge. We knew we wanted someone symbolic, not a justice of the peace or a friend that was ordained for the day. Interestingly enough, my non-religious parents pressured me to have a rabbi. As a non-Jew, Bryan wasn't too keen on this idea. When I first tried explaining this to my parents, they could not understand why Bryan would be uncomfortable. It wasn't until I said, "How would you feel if we had a priest marry us?" did they finally understand and stop pressuring us.

In addition, the fact that Bryan was not Jewish posed a problem to the Jewish clergy we approached nine years ago. We asked for many referrals, but very few in the Reform community would marry us--especially on a Saturday. I recall speaking to a retired cantor who considered marrying us, so long as we agreed to raise our children Jewish. While that was likely the course our lives would take, this was a very personal and private decision. Bryan and I were unwilling to make that promise to anyone other than ourselves. Finally we found a rabbi with a local Humanistic Jewish congregation who agreed to marry us. She was wonderful and made all guests--Jewish and not--feel welcome and included.

The next hurdle was what the ceremony would "look like." Bryan and I both agreed to a huppah and the breaking of the glass. But actual Hebrew language was something we had to negotiate. Bryan wasn't too comfortable having parts of his wedding ceremony in a language he did not understand. And we had to think of half the guests that probably felt the same way. So we included Jewish prayers, but they were said in English. We included Bryan's family and religion into the ceremony by asking his uncle to read a verse from the New Testament.

We did not do the hora, nor did we say motzi or do havdalah. Nor did we light unity candles and include Christian prayers in our ceremony. As I look back at planning our wedding with the challenges of being an interfaith couple, we wouldn't have done it any differently. This wedding was for Bryan and me. It was more about us coming together as a couple--to start a marriage--than it was about religion.

Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." Hebrew for "separation" or "distinction," the ceremony marking the end of the Sabbath on Saturday evenings. A member of the Jewish clergy who leads a congregation in songful prayer. ("Hazzan" in Hebrew.) A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Hebrew for "canopy" or "covering," the structure (open on all four sides) under which a Jewish wedding ceremony takes place. In its simplest for, it consists of a cloth, sheet, or tallit stretched or supported over four poles. Hebrew for "brings forth" or "expels," the first unique or identifying word of the blessing over bread ("...brings forth bread from the earth"). Some say this blessing over bread, others recite it as a catch-all before a meal. Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation. Hebrew, derived from the Greek word for "dance," a variety of dances done in a circle, popular in Israel (and the Balkans).
Leah R. Singer

Leah R. Singer is a writer, marketing and social media strategist. When she's not helping non-profits and businesses tell their stories, Leah blogs about family, motherhood, traditions, religion, cooking and other such topics. Leah enjoys spending time with her husband, daughter, two dogs and two cats in San Diego. You can read more about her at: www.leahsthoughts.com.

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