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The Golden Rule of Interfaith Weddings: Try Not to Offend

Like many brides, I approached my wedding with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. The idea of planning such a big, pivotal event was thrilling; my fiancé and I were finally getting married after a five-year courtship and a two-year engagement. But it was also daunting; all those people, all those details, all that money!

Amy Elkes' wedding

Unlike the average bride, however, I had an additional issue to contend with: religion. For those of us in interfaith relationships, the "religion issue" follows us around like an unwanted stray dog. It is always there, but at no time is the "religion issue" more evident than during the planning of a wedding. This is understandable, given that weddings typically represent the formalizing of a union between two people not only before the state, but also before their families and God. It is an occasion when many otherwise non-religious people eagerly pull out all the religious stops, making promises before priests and rabbis, in church and under the huppah, and seal the deal with a variety of religious symbols from jumping the broom to smashing a glass.

When my fiancé, Nathan, proposed to me, my response was nothing but joy. I can't say the same about the wedding planning, however. I would have liked to stay lost in bridal magazines, dreaming of the perfect gown and the momentous walk down the aisle, but I was distracted by the daunting task of creating a wedding that would be fun and meaningful for us, without being offensive to any of our family members.

A critical first step was realizing that I had already outlined a plan by setting those very goals: 1) Create a wedding that is fun and meaningful for Nathan and me, and 2) Try not to offend our families. I had only to make a wedding that would reflect Nathan and my tastes--not anyone else's--and accept the fact that, while we were unlikely to please everyone, a little thoughtfulness would go a long way toward not offending anyone. This realization made the planning process much easier. Not easy, but easier.

It also helped that Nathan and I chose to pay for the wedding ourselves. This put greater budgetary constraints on us, but it also freed us from feeling obligated to shape the wedding according to anyone else's preferences.

After seven months of visiting venues, revising guest lists and hunting for the right dress, we managed to create a wedding that was, as many of our guests said, "totally us." It was relatively informal and very intimate, with only 50 guests at a small inn in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. In addition to loving the White Mountains, we chose New Hampshire because it is Nathan's home state. It seemed fitting to have the wedding in a place that represented such an integral part of Nathan's identity, especially since we planned a Jewish ceremony to represent an equally integral part of mine.

While Nathan, who was raised Protestant but is now agnostic, was supportive of my wish to have a rabbi officiate our ceremony, it was important to both of us that the rabbi strike the right balance of tradition and open-mindedness. We were fortunate enough to find Rabbi Lev Baesh, a Reform rabbi in New Hampshire (and director of InterfaithFamily.com's Resource Center for Jewish Clergy), who was not only willing to perform an interfaith ceremony, but also to customize it to our particular tastes. For example, in keeping with our simple, outdoor venue, we chose to have the ceremony under a basic arbor, rather than a traditional cloth, chuppah. We also decided to have a moment in the ceremony where we presented flower bouquets to each of our mothers--a Japanese tradition we were particularly touched by when we attended a wedding in Japan. Rabbi Baesh happily added these elements, and removed others that we were not comfortable with. Perhaps even more importantly, he explained each part of the ceremony so that Nathan's family and other non-Jewish guests would understand their significance. I know this was something that was appreciated by all of our guests, as many of them remarked on the fact that Rabbi Baesh's explanations made them feel they were not just watching the ceremony, but rather that they were a part of it.

In the end, our wedding was more meaningful and enjoyable than either of us could have imagined. All of our anticipation could not prepare us for the wonderful feeling of bringing together so many people we love, in a place we love, to witness our formal commitment to each other. Would my parents have preferred that Nathan wear a yarmulke? Sure. Would Nathan's family have liked it better if we said our vows in English, rather than Hebrew? Probably. But these were exactly the small concerns we had to let go of in order to focus on the bigger picture of creating a wedding that represented us as a couple, while also paying homage to our distinct cultures and histories. And that is exactly what we did.

Yiddish for "skullcap," also known in Hebrew as a "kippah," the small, circular headcovering worn by male Jews in most synagogues, and female Jews in more liberal congregations. Traditional Jews were kippot (plural of kippah) all the time. 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. A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
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.
Amy Elkes

Amy Elkes and her husband live in New Jersey. They were married in June of 2007.

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