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Breaking the Glass in North Carolina

November 16, 2009

Growing up in Maryland, I really did not lead a very Jewish life. I went to a Jewish summer camp for many years, was Bar Mitzvahed, and went to High Holiday services, but did not belong to a synagogue. In the town of Columbia that I spent most of my childhood, there were Jews all around and everyone would get off school for the High Holidays. My four years spent at the University of Maryland were in a Jewish population of approximately 20 percent of the students.

David and Jenny Elstein
David and Jenny Elstein at their wedding.

I became "more Jewish" when I moved to North Carolina--not a hotbed of Jewish life--in 2005. Since I did not know anyone, I needed to find ways to meet people. So I went to informal Friday night services in the houses of young adults. I volunteered with the Durham-Chapel Hill Jewish Federation in many ways, from planning service projects to writing for their newspaper. I signed up for Jdate. Many of my friends I have made down here were Jewish, which is not the easiest thing to do.

While I dated Jews and non-Jews, I fell in love with Jenny. She considers herself Christian. She was baptized Catholic, has a number of Mormon relatives, and went semi-regularly to a Baptist church in North Carolina. (My one and only trip to a church was to this one when we saw American Idol Clay Aiken there as his family has been members of that church for years.)

Early in the relationship, we talked about a possible future together. I wanted a Jewish wedding and if we had children, to raise them Jewish. She agreed.

Jenny started joining me in Jewish activities, whether it was attending services, hosting a seder at our place or volunteering, and she really liked aspects of the tradition. (Our friends enjoyed this as well as she has gotten many compliments on her challah and kugel.) We even attended a three-month long Introduction to Judaism course offered by local rabbis.

After we got engaged, one of the first things we did was find a rabbi. Most rabbis we encountered did not want to perform a Jewish ceremony for an interfaith couple, and in North Carolina, there are only so many rabbis. After searching the internet, I came across Interfaithfamily.com.

I was given the name of two rabbis I should talk to. After the first rabbi did not answer our phone call at the predetermined time (she later apologized), we were hoping that the second one would be good. What else would we do?

There was no need to worry once we spoke with Rabbi Andrew Ettin. He is a long-time professor at Wake Forest University and has been performing weddings and officiating other Jewish activities for years, and was ordained several years before we met him. Ironic that we found our rabbi at a Baptist university.

After having a great first phone call with Rabbi Ettin, he sent us over two sample ceremonies. One was a traditional Reform Jewish ceremony while the other was an interfaith one. We looked through both of these and picked certain aspects of each that we wanted for our ceremony. Interestingly, Jenny--who did most of this--picked more aspects from the Reform one.

A month or so later, we met Rabbi Ettin and his wife for dinner as they were in town for an event. (He lives about 90 minutes away.) They couldn't have been any nicer. He answered all of our questions about the wedding, everything from the actual service to what would happen if he got sick the day of the wedding. His wife was also helpful, telling me I should practice breaking the glass before the actual event. (This is a very important thing. I chose two cheap glasses we had to test. One broke easily while the other didn't.)

Rabbi Ettin was always quick to respond to our emails and came to our house before performing another wedding to go through our ceremony.

We--or at least I--were nervous what people would think of the ceremony. A majority of the people we invited were not Jewish and many of those people knew little if anything about Judaism.

As someone who has planned events of all sizes, I was nervous about the day. I checked on the florists to make sure the chuppah looked good and double checked that the kiddush cup was where it was supposed to be.

My biggest concern was that Rabbi Ettin would be at the wedding at the appointed time. It was nothing against him; I just like to worry. Many things could go wrong that day but we needed a rabbi to legally marry us. He was actually waiting for us, which was wonderful, looking very professional. The immediate family and wedding party met in a small room prior to the wedding to sign the ketubah and civil license.

The ceremony went well. While Rabbi Ettin is professional, he makes everyone feel at ease. Everything went as planned during the ceremony. (I did, however, probably step on the glass too hard as pieces went several feet.) After that, we left to the tune of Siman Tov--a perfect song to end a wedding.

After the ceremony, everyone was up on the dance floor doing the horah. While Jenny said she would not get picked up in the chair, we have great photos to prove that she did it. We had so many people, especially non-Jews, tell us how beautiful the ceremony was.

It was a great day for us. But I do not know what we would have done without the help of InterfaithFamily.com.

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." A bread that comes in a few different varieties; its most common variation is a braided egg bread, though there are water challahs that don't have eggs, and there are whole-wheat challahs which sometimes also don't have eggs. It is customary to being Sabbath and holiday meals by saying blessings and eating challah. 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 "document," a legal document that is both a prenuptial agreement and a certification that a Jewish marriage has taken place. Hebrew for "sanctification," a blessing recited over wine or grape juice to sanctify the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. Hebrew, derived from the Greek word for "dance," a variety of dances done in a circle, popular in Israel (and the Balkans). Yiddish word for a savory or sweet pudding made from either noodles, potatoes or matzah. Hebrew for "order," refers to the traditional course of events, or service, surrounding the Passover and Tu Bishvat meals.
David Elstein

David Elstein is a writer living in North Carolina who has written on a wide range of topics, from cancer to agriculture to Jewish issues. He is a proud graduate of the University of Maryland.

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