In Asian cultures it's considered bad luck when something breaks. So what would my new Japanese in-laws think when my very first act after marrying their lovely daughter would be to stomp a perfectly good wine glass to pieces?
Hopefully they were not concerned after they read the program my wife-to-be Yurika and I painstakingly wrote in both English and Japanese that described the Jewish rituals our guests would witness. The program was in two languages: English for our friends from the U.S. who may never have been to a Jewish wedding before; and Japanese for Yurika's friends and family coming from Japan, none of whom had ever been to a Jewish wedding. It was just one of several cultural bridges crossed on our wedding day.
|Paul and Yurika Golin's wedding program was in English and Japanese.
Yurika and I are called an "interfaith couple" by some in the organized Jewish community, but "interfaith" is not an accurate word to describe us because there is only one faith represented in our holiday celebrations and in our home: Judaism. Our wedding was a Jewish wedding, with "intercultural" aspects.
I'm particularly sensitive to the nuances of language when it comes to this issue, thanks to my work as associate executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute, an organization in its 20th year of helping the Jewish community better understand, welcome, and serve intermarried families. And "intermarried" is the word I prefer because it better covers all the possible configurations of Jews married to people of other backgrounds--though there is still no really great language to describe the phenomenon.
Because my work has given me the opportunity to personally help many other intermarrying Jews, I was able to avoid some of the pitfalls often encountered by "interfaith" couples looking for rabbinic officiation at their weddings. I was determined to ensure that Yurika's first exposure to the organized community would not be among the rude and exclusionary experiences I continue to hear happening all across the country at too alarming a rate for it to be the rare exception.
Yurika, on the other hand, was much more concerned about finding the perfect fairytale setting for our wedding venue--she wanted a castle. Because she's a princess. And a princess needs a castle. (Just humor her on this, trust me.)
It's actually remarkable how many gothic castles there are in and around the New York City area, once you start looking. But the venue we finally discovered was even better because it met both of our criteria: a fairytale setting and a Jewish one.
Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan is the largest synagogue in the world, and it is simply spectacular. Anyone with a connection to Judaism who lives in or visits New York City should check it out, especially since they just completed a multi-million dollar, award-winning restoration of the main sanctuary. It's as close as we Jews come to having our own St. Peter's Basilica!
Getting married in a venue that would completely blow away our guests was certainly enough motivation for us to arrange our wedding there (and become members of the synagogue, which was required), but it was not what sealed the deal for us. Instead, we became confident it was the right place for our wedding by the way the staff warmly welcomed us when we entered Shabbat services for the very first time. There were no judgments, no assumptions made about our Jewish commitment because Yurika is Asian and therefore doesn't "look Jewish" according to the Ashkenazi-centric stereotypes of what a Jew looks like. We were simply welcomed.
At every service, senior rabbi Dr. David Posner reminds the congregation that "Temple Emanu-El is a house of prayer for all people." That message really resonated with us. Rabbi Posner has been at the forefront of welcoming intermarried couples into the Jewish community for decades, and he made us feel completely comfortable when we met with him prior to the wedding. Yurika and I felt particularly at ease with the way he sensitively asked whether Yurika was Jewish, then assured us that it would have no impact on the way he would conduct the ceremony. I'm proud that his name appears on our ketubah (Jewish wedding "contract") under the Hebrew, English, and Japanese text describing mine and Yurika's loving commitment to one another.
The steps we took to include Japanese language during our wedding--including during the reception, where we had a translator for all the toasts--helped Yurika's family feel that they were an important part of the wedding, which was not only their first Jewish wedding but also their first American one. Japanese weddings are quite different; for example, they've never been to a wedding with an 11-piece funky band like we had, or even dancing, so there were many new experiences for them not directly related to the ceremony being Jewish. But the fact that the Jewish aspects were also inclusive of them was very important to me, especially because I also was looking for ways to excite Yurika about creating a Jewish household.
Along with the wedding program and ketubah incorporating Japanese writing, the other main representation of Japanese culture in our wedding ceremony was the beautiful kimonos (traditional Japanese outfits) Yurika's parents wore. Her mom's in particular was beautifully ornate, colorful, and far-and-away the most expensive garment in the building.
Later, during the reception, when Yurika's parents--still in kimono--were lifted up in chairs during the traditional Jewish hora, fully enjoying themselves (they had been warned), I knew that this was the quintessential "Jewpanese" moment. And both Yurika and I felt that we did indeed have our fairytale wedding.