When my husband read an early draft of this essay, he asked, "Why doesn't her partner have to support our daughter? After all, they agreed to raise children as Jews." What does it mean to raise a Jewish child?Go To Parenting
July 16, 2010
In December 1999, I went to Israel on a Birthright Israel trip. After those two transformative weeks, I felt dedicated to Judaism. I could not imagine marrying someone who was not Jewish. After graduate school, I was going to get an internship with Hillel, and eventually I'd find the perfect man to stand beside me during a traditional Jewish wedding ceremony. There would be no question about how to celebrate the holidays and no concerns over how to raise little ones when and if they entered the picture.
|Allan tying a tartan wrist band around Cheryl's wrist under the huppah during their wedding ceremony.|
As fate would have it, I met the perfect man before I ever made it out of graduate school. But he wasn't Jewish. He was the son of a Presbyterian minister, and an agnostic.
Our difference in religion was never an issue in the four years we dated. He was willing to raise Jewish children, my parents didn't care who I married as long as he made me happy and his family never made me feel uncomfortable about being non-Christian. It wasn't until we began planning our wedding ceremony that the differences between our beliefs, and those of our families, became more pronounced.
My then fiancé would have been happy to have a secular wedding. As a believer, it was completely out of the question for me to have a ceremony in which G-d wasn't acknowledged. I knew his family felt the same, but as a Jew, it didn't feel right for me to include Jesus in our day. I bought every book about interfaith weddings that I could get my hands on, stressed about how to find a compromise that would be acceptable to all.
As we pored over books, websites and programs from favorite weddings we had attended, we realized that our best option was to write our own ceremony. Both my soon-to-be father-in-law and my chosen rabbi were fortunately willing to officiate an interfaith ceremony and to give up creative control of the wedding ritual. That's not to say the officiants weren't included in the writing process; we frequently consulted with them, and they each added their own remarks. By going to them, though, with draft in hand, they were quickly able to see which prayers and traditions we were comfortable with and which ones we wanted to avoid.
In the end, we included a few Jewish traditions I couldn't do without: signing the Ketubah, marrying under the huppah, saying the Shehecheyanu and Kiddush, and breaking the glass. The elements we embraced to incorporate my in-laws' beliefs were nondenominational and respectful to my Jewish relatives. Furthermore, these additions: the call to worship, the prayer of faithfulness, the affirmation of guests, and the prayer over the vows, are rituals that, looking back, meant just as much to me as the Jewish traditions I insisted on having. Perhaps the best part of our ceremony was the secular practice that my fiancé suggested. Instead of lighting a unity candle, my father-in-law joined our hands with a tartan wristband, which was both unique and beautiful, as well as a nod to my fiancé's Scottish heritage. Our officiants did a wonderful job of explaining the rituals and prayers as we did them, helping our guests understand the aspects of our ceremony with which they might not have been familiar.
My husband and I have been married for over four years now, and to this day, we still have family and friends--Jewish, Christian, and atheist--kvelling that our ceremony was one of the most beautiful and moving they had ever attended. Perhaps my favorite comments, though, are the ones made by my Christian in-laws about the Jewish traditions and vice versa. Both sides were introduced to new rituals and came away with a greater understanding and respect for one another's religion. Looking at everyone's smiles as they danced the Horah together, you'd never know there was any difference between us at all.
Post-nuptials, my husband and I have found a comfortable balance between our families' religious practices, celebrating Chanukah with my family and Christmas with his. My Jewish relatives send my husband Christmas cards, and my Christian in-laws keep a menorah beside the Christmas tree.
Our children (when we have them) will be incredibly blessed with a rich religious history. I know that there will probably be confusion and a lot of questions to navigate without stepping on each other's beliefs, but I also know that our kids will have a unique, well-rounded view of the world. I look forward to the day we can show them our wedding video so that they can see how beautiful it is when multiple faiths come together.