Alice Waugh lives in Newton, Mass., and works as a communications officer at MIT. She converted to Judaism in 1998, aided by Rabbi Moshe Waldoks of Temple Beth Zion in Brookline, Mass. She and her husband Ben have two daughters.
How I Honored My (Sort of) Christian Parents at My Jewish Wedding
My marriage to Ben, in July 1998, brought together two families with very different backgrounds and cultures. Ben's parents are both the children of Russian/Ukrainian immigrants, while mine are from WASP families who've mostly been in America since colonial days. My father has many Jewish colleagues and is comfortable with the American Jewish culture, but my mother is a bit less familiar with it, having grown up outside the U.S. and lived in England since 1972. She doesn't know some of the Yiddish words that have crossed over into mainstream American lingo, and I'm pretty sure she's never tasted a bagel. However, they are both quite used to interacting with people from many nations and have respect for cultures different from theirs.
Most importantly, though, my parents so genuinely shared my happiness and were so fond of Ben (and I think his parents felt the same way about me), that whatever we wanted to do was pretty much okay with them. Perhaps because we were in our mid-thirties, Ben and I also knew what we wanted, and we planned and arranged almost everything ourselves, without parental assistance (though they were very generous in helping to pay for our two-day social event in the woods of northeastern Massachusetts).
Before meeting Ben and considering the whole issue of religion, I had been essentially an atheist. During our engagement, my religious beliefs began evolving (which they continue to do). After taking some classes to learn more about Judaism, I decided to convert and did so a month before our wedding. So we had a Jewish wedding ceremony, but that still left us with a lot of decisions.
What Ben and I did was to create a ceremony with many of the traditional Jewish elements, including a chuppah or wedding canopy, Hebrew blessings, a broken glass at the end, and, of course, a rabbi -- but one who was modern, inclusive, and open to alternative interpretations wherever possible. Ben and I wanted to make everyone -- his parents and our guests as well as my non-Jewish parents -- feel comfortable and honored.
You'll notice I refer to my parents as "non-Jewish" rather than "Christian." I guess if they had to be pigeonholed into any religious category, it would be Christian (their own parents were some sort of non-church-going Protestants), but in fact they're both staunch atheists. So we were fortunate that we didn't have to worry about trampling on religious beliefs or traditions that were in conflict with those of Judaism. They were going to participate in our ceremony, and it probably would have made them uncomfortable if they had had to say things that indicated a belief in God -- any God.
We had our rabbi, Moshe Waldoks, recite the sheva brachot -- the traditional seven blessings -- in Hebrew, but we then had seven friends and relatives read translations by Rabbi Daniel Siegel that we found in Anita Diamant's The New Jewish Wedding. For example, Diamant notes that a fairly traditional translation of the second blessing is "You abound in blessings, Adonai our God, you created all things for your glory." But we chose Rabbi Siegel's alternative, which says, "We acknowledge the Unity of all within the sovereignty of God, realizing that each separate moment and every distinct object points to and shares in this oneness."
Ben and I like this concept of oneness or unity, as opposed to the notion of a God who is a separate, sentient being who "created" the universe. And, of course, it's an easier concept for two people like my parents, who are firm believers in evolution and reject any literal reading of the Bible's creation story.
In addition to the seven blessings, we also had friends and relatives give us seven "best wishes" they had written themselves. Most had humorous elements, but they reflected the speakers' individuality and were very touching in their affection for Ben and me.
Finally, we included the traditional blessings that parents give their children. Ben's parents repeated the Hebrew after Rabbi Waldoks, and then added their own thoughts in English. My parents followed, omitting the Hebrew but again offering their own warm thoughts and wishes for our happiness. Likewise, when Ben and I exchanged rings, we said the traditional Hebrew ("by this ring you are consecrated to me in accordance with the traditions of Moses and Israel") and then spoke vows in English that we had written ourselves.
Before the breaking of the glass, there were remarks by Rabbi Waldoks, who is himself a rather nontraditional rabbi. In fact, he was recently installed as rabbi of Temple Beth Zion in Brookline, Mass., which is now unaffiliated with a particular movement of Judaism but is being shaped by his own inclusive style and that of the growing congregation.
The best way to honor people in an unfamiliar setting, I believe, is to give them a role in what's going on, explain what's happening, and refrain from making them do or say anything that would make then uncomfortable. This is what Ben and I tried to do while still retaining traditional elements and being true to our own beliefs, and I think we succeeded.