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Thoughts on My Interfaith Wedding

I am a rabbi and psychotherapist in Boulder, Colorado. Both my congregation and my counseling practice are filled with interfaith couples and families. It may strike you as odd, but my expertise in this area does not arise from any superior training or special technique. It arises from the fact that I have had my own powerful interfaith experience; I myself was married to a non-Jew for 15 years.

Evan and I were starry-eyed idealists. To us it was spirituality, not religion, that was of ultimate importance in life. There was one God, we believed, and many ways to worship that sacred mystery. To that end, we felt free to select from any and all traditions in creating our wedding ritual. Together we fashioned a wedding ceremony that would embody our eclectic approach. In the end, our marriage moved many people with its brave and pioneering spirit, but it also offended others with its non-conformity.

Our wedding began with the casting of a sacred circle around the room, using water, incense, and flower petals. Then Evan's family walked proudly down the aisle. Evan and I followed, arm in arm, accompanied by Samuel Barber's passionate and somber Adagio for Strings. We had chosen this unconventional entry to make up for the fact that no parents were there to "give me away." My family--all but one sister--had boycotted the event to show their disdain for my choice of husband.

Our homemade chuppah, or wedding canopy, was held up by four friends. Evan and I stood beneath it in a state of awe. We both knew that this was a moment of destiny. As we stood facing each other, with John, our non-clergy officiant at our side, I knew that our wedding pledge to the divine forces of transformation meant stepping into a holy fire. We were willing to be burned by it, and worked over by God's design for us, a design that we could not yet see. I did not know then that by virtue of this marriage to a Christian, I would find it necessary to journey back into my own birth religion to re-investigate my Jewish roots. I had no clue that this journey would result--years later--in my becoming a rabbi.

Before us stood a small altar covered with sacred objects from many traditions: a kiddush cup and a loaf of challah, Evan's Celtic cross, and four dishes containing sand, water, a lit candle and incense. Our wedding rings were passed through each of these four elements. This Wiccan ritual symbolized that our marriage was blessed by the elements but not subject to them. We then recited Hebrew blessings over the wine and bread, followed by the Lord's prayer. When we exchanged our rings, John performed the Celtic ritual of handfasting, binding our hands together in a sacred cloth to signify our pledge to be spiritual friends and helpmates to each other, wherever we found the other through time and space, in this and all lifetimes to come. By the time a small glass was placed at Evan's foot, I was trembling.

"This part of the wedding comes from the Judaic tradition," John announced. "A glass is smashed at the end of a wedding to remind us that even at the moment of life's greatest joy, there is still great brokenness in the world which we must continue to repair. May Evan and Tirzah strengthen each other in their love so that their healing influence in this world is profound!"

Evan raised his foot and stomped on the glass. A loud crunch was heard. A great roar of voices and applause went up from the crowd as we kissed long and hard. Then we were escorted to a private room to have a few minutes to ourselves. We had passed over the threshold and had survived.

The story of a marriage only begins at the wedding, and hopefully travels far beyond it. But a couple's intentions set so much in motion on their wedding day! The elements and mood you choose for your ritual--such as inclusiveness, prayer, or honor for one another's family and traditions--are important because they will continue to reverberate into your married life.

Evan's and my marriage was, as our ceremony portended, transformative and life-changing. It was the beginning of a remarkable journey in which we learned how to negotiate the peculiar challenges of the interfaith terrain. Our marriage did not last "til death do us part," but it did transfom both of us in amazing ways. To this day I bring to my interfaith congregants and clients the highest degree of respect. I learned first hand that whether or not you are a religious person, interfaith marriage presents an ongoing challenge in remaining true to your individual self and roots while simultaneously learning to build the bridges of tolerance and understanding.

Excerpted from With Roots In Heaven: One Woman's Passionate Journey Into The Heart of Her Faith (Dutton:1998)

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 "sanctification," a blessing recited over wine or grape juice to sanctify the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. 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 "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.

Rabbi Tirzah Firestone is a Jungian psychotherapist and founding rabbi of the Jewish Renewal Congregation of Boulder, Colo..

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