Becky + Femi / Our Interracial Interfaith Jewish Wedding Ceremony in Atlanta

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Meet Becky + Femi.

Becky is a high-energy class clown who loves to sing and cross things off her to-do list. Femi is a loveable nerd who is a mechanical engineer by day, and a video/board game-playing writer, artist, and composer by night. They swiped right on each other in 2014, and never looked back.

This love-filled wedding at Terminal West, captured by Bri McDaniel Photography, reflected the bride and groom’s style, taste and cultures perfectly.

Here’s how Becky + Femi personalized their wedding ceremony and planned their big day:

Choosing an Officiant

From the bride, Becky: While we got engaged right before I started working at IFF, we had been talking about wedding plans long before that. Knowing that interfaith ceremonies can be challenging, we had initially decided to have a friend perform the ceremony.

Once I got to know Rabbi Malka Packer-Monroe professionally and personally as her Associate Director, I knew that having her perform the ceremony was the right option for us. When you hire a clergy person to perform a lifecycle event, you’re paying for their years of training, expertise, and creativity. Malka was the whole package. She guided us through all the religious elements of the wedding and was completely open to any changes we wanted to make.  As the bride and wedding planner, it really helped to take work off my plate knowing that Malka was handling the ceremony.

InterfaithFamily advice: Your wedding ceremony should feel as unique to you and your partner as any other part of the day.  It’s important to advocate for those special touches with your officiant because it will make a significant difference between a cookie-cutter ceremony and a night to remember for the rest of your lives.

Need help finding a rabbi? Our free service can connect you to qualified clergy in your area. Get started here.

Our Ceremony

From the bride, Becky: Honestly, we had no idea what we wanted our ceremony to look like after we got engaged. It can be overwhelming to think of all the different elements of the entire experience, and as a result some things get downgraded in terms of importance. That’s why it was so nice to work with Rabbi Malka because she made sure we were giving the same effort and energy towards our ceremony as to the other elements of the day.

As far as choosing a Jewish ceremony, there are many elements that have such positive representations of love, partnership, community, blessing, etc., that it felt right for us to have a Jewish ceremony, outside of it having a personal connection to me religiously. There are ways to honor Jewish values and rituals without being entangled in religious representation. It was important for me to continuously check in with Femi as we built the ceremony to make sure he was comfortable and confirm with Rabbi Malka that wedding guests who didn’t identify as Jewish wouldn’t feel on the outside during the ceremony. Yet another way she came through for us!

InterfaithFamily advice: For those of us in the thick of wedding planning, we know that there are plenty of opportunities to customize your day: invitations, flowers, favors, colors, music, garments, etc. But don’t forget that the ceremony and its associated elements can be customized as well! Often Jews feel like there’s one prescribed path to doing something “right” and deviating from it is “wrong.”

Check out our Guide to a Jewish Wedding Ceremony.

Hebrew

From the bride, Becky: Femi doesn’t know Hebrew. I barely know Hebrew aside from prayers I only know by rote memorization. Very few of our guests know Hebrew. The language isn’t meaningful to us the way it is to other people. So, we have decided not to include it in our ceremony, or on our ketubah. It’s important to have that conversation with your partner in case they feel the same way but they don’t feel they can speak up about it. This also means there could be other languages you can include in your ceremony depending on the background of you and your partner.

InterfaithFamily Advice: If including Hebrew in your ceremony is important to you and you’re wondering how to customize your ceremony for those who don’t know Hebrew or are not familiar with Jewish wedding traditions, use your wedding program to make sure your guests aren’t in the dark.

Looking to create a wedding program? Here are the essentials to include.

Ketubah

Becky: Ketubahs are as unique as snowflakes, no two are alike. They’re an excellent opportunity to showcase your relationship creatively and substantively.  The ketubah is meant to be showcased in your shared space with your partner, so make sure you pick something you like to look at! Femi and I were drawn to this Etsy artist who was big on customization, which is helpful for interfaith couples. Often you find a ketubah text that you like, if only it weren’t for that one line! It is becoming more common for ketubah artists to allow couples to customize their text, so that aspect shouldn’t be hard to find.

In our case, Atlanta is a city that is near and dear to our hearts. We met and fell in love in Atlanta and will build our home and family there as well. When we found a piece with the Atlanta skyline, we knew that was the one for us. As for the text, the internet is a great resource for different styles of ketubah text. Remember this your marriage contract that you and a witness sign, so make sure that the language you’re choosing really resonates with you and your partner.

We ended ours with a quote from one of our favorite comic books, so feel free to think outside the box! Creating the ketubah is only half the fun, the signing ceremony is also a wonderful addition to the already special day. It was a nice chance to be with our family for a relatively quiet and reflective time before the ceremony.

As you can see from the picture, I chose not to wear my wedding dress because Femi hadn’t seen me in it yet, and that’s different for everyone. It was a relatively simple ceremony, Rabbi Malka reminded everyone what the ketubah represents, we read it aloud, signed it, and then Femi and I high fived to get ready for the next part, getting married!

InterfaithFamily Advice: In past generations, the ketubah was a simple document supplied by the rabbi, signed before the ceremony and filed away with the secular marriage certificate. Today, the ketubah has become a work of art and a visual testament to the love and commitment of a couple. For this reason, many interfaith couples choose to have a ketubah and even make it a focal point of their wedding, reading it as part of the ceremony and displaying it on an easel for all their guests to view.

Need help choosing an interfaith ketubah? Check out our recommendations.

Kiddush

From the bride: You might be thinking, “Becky, it’s the kiddush, it’s a holy prayer and a cup of wine, why mess with it?” Well, I’m glad you asked. When Femi and I met with our officiant, we asked her about the significance of the prayer and why it’s included in a typical Jewish wedding ceremony. She told us it celebrates the sweetness of the occasion, which is a lovely sentiment.

Femi jokingly says, “Could we do it with beer?” After we wiped away tears of laughter from the amazing joke, our officiant said, “Honestly, you can use whatever you want.” Our eyes lit up! We happen to have a favorite beverage as a couple (because we’re that cute), and that will be the special beverage we will use for our kiddush at the wedding.

InterfaithFamily Advice: Here are some ideas and alternative liturgies for this time.

Vows

Becky: When it came to writing vows, we went back and forth on the idea of writing our own individual vows and delivering them like speeches or writing one set of collective vows and repeating them after Rabbi Malka. Femi, while being a wonderful writer, is a private person, and I knew that reading something personal in front of so many people would make him uncomfortable.

We opted to write a short set of collective vows, using bits and pieces of other vows we found online. They covered the basics of a good partnership, and the importance of choosing love. When we exchanged rings, we used a phrase that is meaningful to our relationship. The first time Femi and I baked something together, I was nervous about getting it right. He turned to me and said, “we’re a team, you and I” and I remember how impactful that sentiment was, even though at that point it was just about cheesecake! It was a nice personal touch to the ceremony.

InterfaithFamily Advice: While a traditional Jewish wedding does not have vows, you may want an opportunity to exchange meaningful words with your spouse-to-be. Besides the obvious idea of writing your own vows, there are traditional Jewish words that you could use at your wedding when you exchange rings. If you’ve been to a Jewish wedding you’ve probably heard “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” It’s beautiful, but not set in stone. If you and your partner have a meaningful phrase that has significance in your lives as a couple, use it!

Seven Blessings

Becky: Femi and I went back and forth on whether to include the Seven Blessings in the ceremony. We were both worried about how much time it would take and weren’t sure the ritual had the same meaning to us as other parts of the ceremony. Once we thought outside of the box on what the “blessings” could be, we had a fun time planning that part of the ceremony. We decided to choose our favorite lyrics from love songs that expressed out we felt about each other. We then chose seven couples/individuals from all different parts of our lives to choose one to read, and it was beautiful. Each reading was unique, and we’re so glad it was in the ceremony.

InterfaithFamily Advice: The seven blessings are a highly customizable section of the wedding ceremony. Check out our page describing not only their meaning and significance, but also alternatives to the traditional blessings.

Don’t be afraid to go even further! Have readings from seven Shakespearean sonnets. Ask the guests to join you in singing the chorus from your seven favorite songs. Choose married couples from your friends and family to share seven pieces of advice for a happy marriage. You have a lot of freedom here to make this section special.

Jumping the Broom

Becky: A few months ago, Femi mentioned that he’d like to add something to the wedding ceremony. Considering that the mention of anything wedding-related to Femi resulted in the heaviest of sighs, I took this as a positive sign. His request was that at the end of the ceremony, before smashing the glass, he’d like us to “jump the broom.” Like smashing the glass, the tradition of jumping the broom has developed many different meanings, ranging from the mundane to the downright Neanderthal (“jumping the broom” signifying a woman’s duty to clean the house, yuck).

Herein lies the beauty of the wedding ceremony: a chance for the couple to develop their own special meaning for each ceremonial element. Because Femi and I are both an interfaith and interracial couple, adding a broom jumping perfectly ties in another layer of our identities to our already unique ceremony.

Breaking the Glass

Becky: Breaking the glass is a straightforward ritual for a Jewish wedding ceremony. There are also ways you can customize it for your ceremony, as Femi and I did. There’s a local glassblowing studio in Atlanta where Femi and I went on dates and made objects like the glass we used for our kiddush. We contacted them about making glass balls for Femi and I to step on at the end of the ceremony. Not only were we able to each choose a color that coincided with our wedding colors, we also brought the broken pieces back to the studio and now have a bowl in our living room. That piece is another physical reminder of our wedding that we’ll forever cherish.

InterfaithFamily Advice: While the physical action of breaking the glass is consistent across the board, the actual glass you break can have significance. If you have access to a local glassmaking shop, see if they offer classes for making your own glass. If you and your partner craft two different pieces, or even purchase two different pieces if a class is not an option (make sure you buy pieces that are thin enough to break easily during the ceremony), you could take them back to the shop or send them away to have a completely new piece made from the broken pieces to display at home.

Check out our page on Breaking the Glass.

Advice on the whole experience

Becky: The wedding ceremony was more magical than I ever could have dreamed. Try not to think of it as the “thing you have to get through” in order to get to the party, craft it with the same thought and care as everything else about your day. If you think about it, the ceremony is the time when the most direct attention is on you and your partner, so take advantage of that time. Be romantic, be silly, be solemn, be creative, be you!

And most of all, question everything. There are a lot of pieces to a “traditional” Jewish ceremony. Be sure to sit with each piece and ask, “is this meaningful to me and my partner?” It’s ok if the answer is no! The experience should not only bring you closer together with your partner, but also allow for meaningful conversations around tradition, religion, family, and love.

InterfaithFamily Advice: Cherish the time you and your partner spend crafting your wedding ceremony. You’ll be happy you did!

We’d love to hear some ways you’ve customized your ceremony—let us know by leaving a comment below. And if you’re looking for more information on planning a Jewish interfaith wedding, InterfaithFamily has lots more here.

 

Their Jewish Vendors:

Ketubah Artist: InkWithIntent on Etsy // Officiant: Rabbi Malka Packer-Monroe // Glassblowing studio for breaking the glass: Janke Studios // Florist for Chuppah Design: On Occasions of Atlanta

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About Becky Sowemimo

Becky is the associate director of InterfaithFamily/Atlanta.