Downton Abbey Portrays Reality of Interfaith RelationshipsBy Gerri Miller
Go inside Season 5 Episode 9 where the story line of Atticus and Rose's interfaith relationship comes to a head.Go To Pop Culture
On a quite warm Saturday night in May, 2003, Gaby, my then boyfriend, popped the question. After a moment of surprise, I said “yes,” looking into his eyes with a mixture of love and bliss, and we started talking enthusiastically about how we wanted the wedding to be. We were not completely aware then, but that was the beginning of a hectic period full of happiness, emotions and learning.
Soon after announcing the big news, we had booked a beautiful place for the wedding and things were going smoothly except for one little detail: we didn't know what kind of wedding ceremony to have. Since Gaby is Jewish and I am not (I was baptized Catholic, but I haven’t considered myself a Catholic for years), this was not a choice we could take for granted and we needed to do some thinking in order to figure out what worked for us. The Jewish community in Buenos Aires, where we live, is quite large; interfaith weddings are not uncommon (not encouraged either), and there were many options easily available, so we started exploring our possibilities.
Unfortunately, none of the usual options seemed to fulfill our needs. A traditional Jewish wedding was out of the question: even if we did find a rabbi who agreed to officiate, the very idea of my parents and sisters feeling like outsiders made me reject it. A co-officiated ceremony was discarded too since, although at first it seemed like a nice and easy enough way of honoring my Catholic family, it would have been insincere and even disrespectful of me, given my lack of identification with Catholicism. A ceremony held by a civil judge was also considered, but the absence of spirituality made it seem somewhat shallow. We even consulted two experts who specialized in tailor-made wedding ceremonies and actually thought we had found a winner... But when we attended a ceremony created and officiated by them, we went right back to where we had started. At that point, the wedding was only four months away and everyone’s anxiety started to rise.
All in all, however, we were not completely back where we had started. After months of “ceremony-shopping,” at least we had identified the few things that were essential to us: we wanted our ceremony to be spiritual yet not religious, and we wanted whoever officiated it to really mean what they were saying. We wanted a ceremony that spoke to us and one that also spoke about us. It sounded great, but who could perform that marvel?
Then something wonderful happened: discussing these worries over the phone with a dear friend of mine, she asked me if we had considered having a ceremony officiated by friends. I told her we actually had at the very beginning, but we had thought it would be too stressful for whoever we “honored” and that it would likely be very messy. She told us that she had officiated herself before... and she offered to do it for us on the condition that she neither create nor officiate the ceremony on her own. My face lit up and so did Gaby’s when I told him. Needless to say, we accepted her generous offer. We immediately called four more close friends we considered good candidates and told them about the idea. They were all touched by our request and accepted our invitation to be part of this peculiar “Dream Team,” and we started working together right away. We had finally found an option that made sense to us!
Our parents, however, weren’t as thrilled when we told them. My mom still resented the fact that no Catholic elements would be part of the wedding; she had hoped that we would finally end with a co-officiated ceremony. Gaby’s mother had come to terms with the absence of a rabbi, but she felt the person in charge had to have some kind of authority, if not religious then legal, for the ceremony to be legitimate. She also was very concerned about how it would come out and felt more secure having a professional officiate. We promised to acknowledge their concerns in our own way, but were firm about our decision. We just knew it was the right choice for us.
Over a series of weekly meetings--and millions of e-mails exchanged with the Dream Team--we carefully designed the ceremony, passionately discussing every single detail so that nothing could go wrong that day. There would be four speakers, including Gaby’s brother as a representative of our families, each of them in charge of their own speech, which was kept secret from us until the actual ceremony. Gaby and I would write our own wedding convenant (an idea inspired by the ketubah, the Jewish wedding contract), which would be signed by six witnesses, and our own wedding vows. No religious symbols would be used. There would be a quartet playing the music--we got external assistance for selecting some non-traditional themes. Each member of the team had a specific role and responsibilities were clearly distributed and understood. We were ready.
The Big Day: Sunday, March 28th, 2004
I am walking down the aisle holding my dad’s arm. It is a beautiful sunny day and I see the faces of dear friends and relatives smiling right back at me. The chairs have been arranged in a semi-circle, so I can see almost everyone. Gaby is waiting for me, under a simple canopy built with cane and white linen, and I am touched by the look on his face. Our parents and siblings stand near us, their eyes as shiny as ours. I feel blessed.
One by one, our friends take turns standing behind the table covered by a lace tablecloth my grandma used at her own wedding, over fifty years ago. They speak about us, our love, their own feelings for us, God, life and their wishes for us, with astonishing beauty and accuracy. When we look into their eyes, we see how moved and genuinely happy they really are for us. Tears roll constantly down my cheeks as I hear their words, but they make me laugh through them with a timely joke. Gaby’s hand gently squeezes mine. The ring exchange is done with our own heartfelt words and the moment couldn’t be more perfect. The reading and signing of the convenant we wrote is accompanied by a sweet Celtic melody, the wordless way in which we honored my family’s heritage.
The ceremony is almost finished. It has been wildly beyond any expectations or fantasies we might have had. Looking into Gaby’s eyes, I see the same expression of awed emotion that I know I have. We are overwhelmed by so much love, by such tremendous gifts.
Few eyes remain dry and when we finally turn around and face all the attendants they burst into a huge applause. We climb into a car that takes us for some minutes of privacy while most guests head for the reception eagerly (it’s two p.m. and many have skipped breakfast).
Alone at last, we share a moment of speechless wonder: it is difficult to express such intense feelings. We are finally married, and there could have been no better start for this journey than the one we’ve just had.
Creating our own wedding ceremony brought us a great deal of extra work and stress, but it did pay off. I am not sure I can say we had the wedding ceremony of our dreams because I don’t know if we could have dreamed up the one we had. What I do know, though, is that seeking the right ceremony for us has been incredibly rewarding and certainly made us grow as a couple. Talking about it months later, we both agreed that being an interfaith couple has awakened the seeker in each of us, thus making everything we share and everything we build more meaningful. I am grateful because being in an interfaith couple has prevented me from taking religion and spirituality for granted and pushed me to keep seeking and asking. I have grown as a person because of it.