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Posts Tagged ‘Interfaith weddings’


Yesterday, I had the delight of fulfilling a couple’s wish of incorporating some quotes from Star Trek: The Next Generation into their wedding service.

Who says weddings should be all serious and no fun?

As someone who once had a life-sized cutout of Jean Luc Picard in my living room, this was one request I was all too happy to fulfill. After a few hours googling around the vast terrain of famous Star Trek quotes online, I settled on two that worked perfectly for their love story.

First, some background information: Rob and Lynn were married at a hotel ballroom in King of Prussia northwest of Philadelphia. It was a 25-minute marriage ceremony built around the traditions of an Irish Handfasting ceremony. After a variety of readings (by me and others), sharing from a cup of wine, and a homily sharing how they met and their love story, we ended with a ring exchange and fasting of hands. In the midst of all this were our two chances for a little laughter:

270px-ST-TNG_The_Inner_Light

Jean Luc overlooks his home village in the episode “The Inner Light.”

1) While giving some brief advice for their newly married life, I offered this wisdom from Patrick Stewart’s character, Jean Luc Picard, who said: “Seize the time. Live now; make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again!”

It was a happy coincidence that this line comes from one of the best ST episodes EVER: Called “The Inner Light,” the story centers on Jean Luc who is knocked unconscious by some sort of space probe. When he wakes up, he is on another planet, living the life of an elderly grandfather and master flute-player. His home world is about to be destroyed by its own star, which is going super nova.

(To learn more about this episode, read here.)

While he lives this other virtual life, Picard becomes a literal time capsule for this dying planet’s entire culture — he is what survives. A beautiful folk melody he learns while living this alternate life was featured in a later ST episode; he plays the song with a fellow musician in a Jeffries Tube on the Enterprise. It is this later rendition clipped from YouTube at the start of this blog post.

This was way too much of an insider reference to explain in the wedding, but it was all the more cool that in this episode, Jean Luc learns what sounds to be like an Irish folk song. I chose the quote because of its content — it was the perfect sentiment to say at that moment in the ceremony. But it literally gave me goose bumps when I started looking into which episode the quote came from, and to find out it happened to be from the one single episode in 15+ years of ST episodes that had an Irish theme to it. The couple who got married found me to be their officiant because I was the one person they could find who had an understanding and love for the Irish handfasting ceremony.

It’s as if the stars all aligned in the universe to say: “Yes, these are the words meant for these special people at this special moment!”
I love it when the mysterious workings of the world reveal themselves!

2) The other ST quote I used in the Irish Handfasting wedding was this one, which required a little framing. In explaining how the groom, Rob, fell in love with Lynn, I said: “In other words, as our friend Lt. Commander Data would put it, ‘Your neural pathways had become accustomed to her sensory input patterns’ — and that is no small thing!”

~~ pause. wait for the chuckle. ~~

It was fun. While officiating a wedding, it is always fun to say something small, and silly, that nudges the audience a little bit out of their loop! :)

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It has been several years since I had the invitation to get zany in a wedding ceremony. The last time I had this chance was for a lovely couple (who now has a beautiful baby!) to incorporate their super hero, Indiana Jones, into their traditional egalitarian Jewish wedding ceremony. Here is how I was able to do that during the “love story” portion of their ceremony:

“Jacob and Sarah, although you two have only known each other a few years, you have taken to heart the motto of your hero, Indiana Jones, which he shared in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. “It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage!” From co-ed softball and kickball teams to hiking trips to canning eight batches of applesauce in one summer — you have become an integral and supportive part of each other’s lives. Your love story is a reminder of how ordinary, and yet how extraordinary, true love really is.

Going forward, you will, no doubt, face new challenges and lessons. As Indiana Jones said to his students in the Last Crusade, “We do not follow maps to buried treasure, and X never, ever marks the spot.” You will have to blaze your own trail into the wild unknowns of the future — be it career changes, health challenges, and the greatest challenge of all — parenthood.

But nurtured by the love you have cultivated for each other,  the patience, kindness and attention you have shown, you will no doubt be able to reach places in your own individual lives that you would never have reached on your own.

 

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To write your own wedding vows, or not to write your own vows: That is the question. About half of the couples whose weddings I have officiated have wrestled with that question. Most of them, in the end, decide not to.

What are the pros and cons of writing your own vows? What are the different ways it can be done?  This blog post strives to answer those questions, by offering some examples of successful vow exchanges I have seen.


Pros to writing your own vows:

● You get to say exactly what you want to say.

● It’s a chance to show off your fine verbal skills – and your sense of humor.

● It is sure to make half the women in the audience cry.

● It is sure to make half the men in the audience struggle really hard NOT to cry.


Cons to writing your own vows:

● It’s hard. Really hard. How do you boil down such sweeping concepts as “love” and “eternity” into the English language? That’s why we have poets. Not everyone is cut out for this work.

● It takes time. And time is one of the few things couples have before weddings. Don’t you have some centerpieces that need stuffed? And where in the world is grandma’s old blue garter belt anyway? Has that been found?

● You don’t just have to write it. You have to read it. Out loud. In public. Without making a snot-filled fool of yourself. Hey, if you can get through it, you have my endless admiration. I can never get through a wedding without losing a tear or two myself, and I’m the officiant. I’m the one person who is supposed to have it pulled together! So if you can write and deliver your vows and keep your composure while doing it, my kippah is off to ya!


Here are three different ways of writing your vows:

1)      The groom reads his words. Then the bride reads her words (or vice versa). Below is a draft of one groom’s vows to his wife, which I found particularly lovely. With his permission, I am pasting them below. The vows were kept as a surprise to the other party; I looked over them to make sure they were similar in length and tone, and made slight editing suggestions to make them “match up.”

2)      The groom and bride alternate sentences. This came off really well; the crowd was touched, and everyone laughed a lot too.

3)      The groom reads; then the bride reads. The couple planned their vows together, to play off the same words and phrases. The guests loved these vows too.


OPTION No. 1: Surprise Vows

Groom reads. Then bride reads. (Or vice versa). Only the officiant has checked their vows before the big day. Here is just what the groom wrote.

 

Example from their Jewish wedding, replete with military honor guards, at World Cafe Live:

Alanah: Two-and-a-half years ago, I asked you out for coffee, out on our first date and thankfully, you said yes. After that date, we so effortlessly became entwined in each other’s lives, it was easy to picture this day ahead.

Eighteen months ago, while on a very long distance phone call, I asked you to move with me from California all the way here to the East Coast, and thankfully, you said yes. It was a leap of faith for both of us; a fantastic storyline still unfolding.

One year ago, while on vacation in paradise, I asked you to join me up here, witnessed by our family and friends, under this chuppah we’ve since created together, to take my hand and be my wife, and thankfully, you said yes.

So now, in front of our family and friends, I have another question to ask, one that you spend the rest of our lives answering:

Will you forever be my partner in this adventure of life and lend your endless patience to help me create a loving household where mutual respect, communication and unconditional love reign over all. Will you continue to be an everlasting source of deep personal strength, the rock by my side through trying times and stay the reassuring voice of better times ahead. Will you forever be the smiling face by my side every morning, to lighten my days with the sweetness of your personality and continue to be the most genuinely kind person I’ve ever met.

Though we walked up here separately, in a few minutes you and I will take hands and walk down off this stage, and down the aisle past our family and friends, and into our future as partners, as husband and wife. I can’t wait.

 

OPTION No. 2: The Planned Back-And-Forth

(The couples exchanges one-line vows, which they clearly wrote together. Groom in bold. Bride in plain script.)

 

Example from their secular wedding at a funky nightclub in Manyunk:

Groom: With this ring, I promise to be your best friend

Bride: With this ring, I promise to be your best friend

I promise to cook for you

I promise to try your cooking and bake you treats

To have family dinners every night

To ask you about your day and tell you about mine

To listen and hear your point of view

To respect you

To always be honest

To tell you how I feel

To play with your hair

To fold your socks and do the dishes

To support you in achieving your goals

To be your biggest fan

To compromise

To share my bowl of ice cream, and other things in life

To control my temper

To always say ‘I’m Sorry’

To hold you in good times and bad

To make you laugh

To let you have the window seat on the plane rides home

To take lots of pictures so we can always remember the good times

To tell you that you’re beautiful

To love you even in the moments when I don’t like you

To take care of you

To try new things

To never stop traveling the world

To be open minded

To be the best father I can be

To be the best mother I can be

To always put family first

To kiss you every morning

And tuck you in every night

I love you

I love you too

 

OPTION No. 3: The Planned Paragraph Vow

(The couples takes turns reading their half of a script, which the pair clearly wrote together. The upside is it creates and plays off of the parallel structure and promises. The downside is, neither bride nor groom is surprised in the moment.)   

 

Example from their secular Jewish wedding at Morris Arboretum:

Lauren:

Standing with you here today, among our family and friends, I cannot wait to begin this journey into the rest of our lives, with you by my side and my hand in yours.

I promise to listen. I will listen to your thoughts, your worries, your dreams and your concerns.

I promise to look after you. When you have a knot in your back, I will kneed it. When your head has a fever, I will cool it. And when you need ice cream, I will help you eat it.

I promise to treasure what you treasure. From furry and mischievous kittens to your interests and hobbies, I will help you enjoy life and experience it fully.

I promise to accept and embrace your idiosyncrasies. I will remember that our quirks make us who we are. When you wake up with only breakfast on your mind, I will steer you to Kashi. When we are out of Kashi, I will make you eggs.

I promise to support you emotionally. I will give support as you seek out your goals, when you are successful and when you fall short. When you achieve your goals, I will be there to celebrate. When you do not, I will be there to comfort.

I promise to not take our relationship for granted. I will actively nurture ‘us’. I will continue to communicate and check-in, to keep us stronger together than we are apart.

Stephen:

Standing with you here today, among our family and friends, I cannot wait to begin this journey into the rest of our lives, with you by my side and your hand in mine.

I promise to listen. I will listen to your zany, impossible ideas, your worries, and your dreams.

I promise to look after you. When you can’t figure out how to use our kitchen appliances, I will help you.  When you have a bad dream, I will comfort you.  And when you crave the mushroomy thing I make that you love, I will make it for you.

I promise to treasure what you treasure. From kittens, to data analysis, to moments of peace and quiet, I will help you enjoy life and experience it fully.

I promise to accept and embrace your idiosyncrasies. I will remember that our quirks make us who we are.  When you get so hungry that you forget to eat, I will bring you a snack.  When you need to double check something one more time – just to be sure – I will smile and remember that your careful nature is a wonderful part of who you are.

I promise to support you emotionally. I will be there with you as you pursue your dreams.  I will celebrate with you when you are successful, and I will comfort you when you fall short.  I will never let you forget how exceptional you are.

I promise to not take our relationship for granted. I will actively nurture ‘us’. I will continue to communicate and check-in, to keep us stronger together than we are apart.

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(This is a continuing article from the blog post above.)

Here are some simple words of advice as you shop wedding officiants:

●    Never hire someone to officiate your wedding if you don’t like them as a person. Make come calls, and check your chemistry – and your gut! Do you like them? Do they seem intelligent and sincere? This is a wedding officiant; not an auto mechanic. Chemistry does matter.

●      I know you have questions for the officiant, but do you like the questions the officiant is asking you? I recently officiated a wedding for a couple who had met with another rabbi for the first time, to discuss their wedding. This rabbi apparently only had two questions for them in their meeting: A) How much money do you have? (Obstensibly because the No. 1 problem in marriages is money) and then B) How is your sex life? (That’s just so wrong … I don’t even know where to start. Save my incredulity for another blog post, I guess.)

●      Does the officiant treat your liturgical requests like something they genuinely want to provide? Or do they have the attitude that you are bugging them by asking them to depart from what they usually do, or act disapproving that you are departing from “tradition?” (Personally, I think life is too short and weddings are too important to get into all this.)

●     Will the officiant be able to communicate well with your guests, and in particular your parents, who probably care a lot about who their kids’ wedding officiant is?

●      Check the person’s references. I have a ton posted on my web page, and I’m always happy to give out email addresses of previous clients to anyone who asks.

Other Ways to Save on Your Budget

No one becomes a rabbi or a minister because they want to be rich. More than anything, we love working with people and helping them honor the major milestones in their lives.

At the same time, we also have to make a living. Ours is a precarious career that does not afford the protections many jobs provide: health insurance, retirement plans, paid sick leave.

If you find an officiant you like, but are hesitating over the price, take a simple look at your larger wedding budget and see if it is as “fixed” as you think it is. Here are two simple cost-saving ideas:

  • You can buy a hand-held chuppah for $250 versus renting a free-standing chuppah for $800-$1000. You can pay for the cost of your officiant just by using a less-expensive chuppah (and the hand-held ones, by the way, are beautiful!) Alternately, if your venue has an arch with flowers build into the décor somewhere, that can count as an arch, and that would come at no extra cost!
  • Reconsider your venue. There are beautiful venues out in Glen Mills that can be rented for $3000. That’s a far cry from the $6000 or $10,000 routinely charged in Center City. In fact, some of the most beautiful weddings I have attended have been the lower-budget varieties, including a few that were held in the backyards of friends’ homes.

I’m sure you can find more great budget advice out there, too. Those are just two easy ones that come to mind.

Good luck on your search. As we say in Hebrew, Hazak, hazak, hanithazek: May we all go from strength to strength!

***
For more on Jewish weddings, please see some of my other posts:

“How can I make my Jewish or interfaith wedding unique, funny or even funky?”

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This is a series of posts informed by my experiences officiating weddings. Most of my weddings incorporate Jewish traditions – some lightly, some a lot. But others have been fashioned entirely on other faith traditions, and especially from the secular world. 

Here I am sharing some of the most common questions couples have asked me along the way of their wedding journey. 

“We are an interfaith couple. Should a rabbi or minister marry us?”

I think the answer to your question lies not in what’s right for your wedding, but rather what is right for your future household. Your wedding should reflect the spirit or nature of the home you plan on creating together.

So, what kind of home do you plan on creating?

When it comes to identity, people almost never fit into the neat black-and-white depictions I will give here. But hopefully these examples shed light on the larger idea.

 You are NOT planning on having kids, and …

•    the bride goes to church regularly and the groom never goes to synagogue.

~ It sounds like your future home will be more Christian than Jewish, in terms of holiday and ritual expression, so a minister sensitive to a half-Jewish audience would make the most sense.

•    neither couple identifies as “religious.” You plan on celebrating Christmas with the Christian side and a Passover seder with the Jewish side, and that’s pretty much it.

~ It sounds like a secular ceremony (whether officiated by a rabbi or a minister) is the best reflection of your future household. The officiant’s “credential” (ie, whether “rabbi” or “minister”) won’t matter nearly so much as finding the right person. Some officiants have agendas. You need someone who can embrace a multi-faith audience.

 •    the bride cares about her Jewish heritage (though doesn’t religiously celebrate) and the groom is basically atheist.

~ Probably a rabbi is best for you, but a rabbi who will create a Jewish ceremony that emphasizes the cultural aspects of Judaism over the theistic ones. Also, she or he needs to be comfortable working in multi-faith groups (which includes “atheists” – who are their own distinct faith group with their own set of beliefs.)

***

The examples I have given are for a couple not intending to have children. That was intentional. When no kids are involved, it makes the conversation a little easier and more straightforward.

If you are planning on having children, the same principles apply, but the shades of gray get more complex. Your choices after all, will not only affect you as adults, but will also shape the childhood experiences of your kids, as well as have a major impact on their evolving identities.

Please see my additional post specific to raising kids in an interfaith home.

Other articles in this series:

“We are an interfaith couple. Should a rabbi or minister marry us?”

“How can I make my Jewish or interfaith wedding unique, funny or even funky?”

“Can I be a secular Jew and have a ‘Jewish atheist’ wedding?”

Hiring me to officiate your wedding in metro Philly

I love to hear from readers. Please post your comments below. To inquire about my wedding services, write me directly at joysa@aol.com.

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Where’s a Good Yenta When You Need One!? No need to sulk; The Matchmaker Rabbi is in! To see Joysa’s columns for Jdate, visit here. Her forthcoming book on dating in Jewish suburbia is being represented by Red Sofa Literary Agency.

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This is part of a series of posts about my experiences officiating weddings. Most of my weddings are Jewish in one fashion or another. But many incorporate readings from other faith traditions, or even secular tradition.

Many of the couples I work with are devotedly “agnostic” in their beliefs (whether “Jewish” or not). They bristle at the classic hierarchical God language that so dominates traditional blessings and liturgy. Hey, no problem, here; I do too! For me, this discomfort is a bright open door inviting me to create the words that do capture my heart and soul. It is my deepest honor to be asked to do this for others too…

Here, in these posts, I am sharing some of the most common questions couples have asked me along the way of their wedding journey.


“How Can I Make My Wedding Unique, Funny or Even Funky?”

No cookie-cutter weddings here!

Wedding are supposed to be times of great joy – not somber sobriety! They’re a time to bring out the best of our traditions, but not bury ourselves in them. It IS possible to create a wedding ritual that mixes meaningful words of love with joyful, even unexpected elements that will have your guests chuckling about your wedding for years to come.

There is no “recipe” for creating a funky, unforgettable wedding. It comes about by brainstorming, thinking creatively, and most importantly of all – giving me the license to go! Once I know what you are open to a funny curve ball, I promise you, I can come up with one!

Example 1: “No God, Two Cultures, Please Make ‘Em Laugh”

Eric and Maria wanted a non-theistic wedding that was light-hearted and not overly serious. They were an “older” couple, with grown children, who each had small parts in the ceremony (playing instruments, for examples). I came up with two surprise elements in their wedding that I felt proud of:

1)    First, I read, in Spanish, a poem about love by Pablo Neruda. The bride is Spanish, and I knew her family would be watching the wedding later via YouTube, and would be delighted to suddenly hear some of the ceremony in Spanish. I practiced it for hours and think I got the accent decent enough!

2)    Then, with a little behind-the-scenes sleuthing, I dug up some dirt about the couple’s younger lives. Then, when it came time for the vows, the “repeat after me” part, I mixed in serious vows, with funny ones they totally didn’t expect.

“Repeat after me. I, Eric, promise to not get drunk and wake up naked beside the Colorado River.” {Insert riotous laughter here!}

“Repeat after me. I, Maria, promise to always make you really great mojitos” …

You get the idea. It was the best part of the ceremony!

Example 2: “No Religion, No Time To Plan, the Funkier the Better”

Claire and Collin got a sudden job offer in Europe so they had a quickie wedding with very little preparation time. But they were careful to throw in their own quirky touches in all aspects of the day.

First, my favorite, they had the groom’s sister dressed identically to all the groomsmen, and she was also called a “groomsman!” Then they had a wall of tea lights, before which we conducted the ceremony. It was gorgeous! They also had everyone pitch in. The bride’s 13-year-old sister played all the entry music on the violin; a friend sculpted the bride’s hair.

Their main ritual request was that I not use any traditional God liturgy (either Christian or Jewish). They also had an aunt and uncle whom they wanted to honor by doing a blessing or reading for them.

After giving my rabbi-ly advice on the secrets to lasting love, with quotes from the great poet Kahlil Gibran, I called up their aunt and uncle to dispense their marital advice. That advice, much to everyone’s surprise, was a spirited reading of Dr. Seuss’ “Oh the Places You Will Go!”

The audience loved it. A few days later, I received a nice note from one of the moms, Ruth, telling me that their crowd of Jews, atheists and Christians of all stripes had been touched by the ceremony. As an officiant, I couldn’t have hoped for more!

Example 3: “Christian-Jewish Interfaith … And Honor Both Religions”

My last example is a showcase of how it’s possible to do a wedding that is religious both Jewishly and Christianly, without offending either side.

For this wedding, the couple was not personally religious, but they had agreed to raise their children Jewish. Thus, they wanted a Jewish wedding and rabbi officiant. The groom’s family, however, was very devotedly Christian. While they weren’t upset about having a Jewish wedding, the groom didn’t want them to feel “left out” or to feel like they were watching some alien scene out of a movie they didn’t understand.

I’ve officiated many Jewish or Jewish-lite weddings for interfaith couples. But this was the first time I was asked to do such a wedding actively incorporating something distinctly Christian. The million dollar question was: What to incorporate without totally “crossing the wires” of the two traditions? What Christian thing could we say that was authentic to Christians, but not alienating to Jews?

After much discussion, we did two things:

1)    The mothers came up and lit a unity candle. This beautiful ritual, which symbolizes the creation of a new light by a new family, comes from Protestant tradition. But there is nothing “Jesus-specific” about it.

2)    We also included a reading from the Book of Corinthians on the nature of love. The passage, while from the New Testament, does not quote Jesus, and thus would not have made the Jewish members of the audience uncomfortable.

At virtually every interfaith wedding I have been blessed to officiate, some very old Jewish grandmother or great-grandmother comes up to me afterward with tears in her eyes, grateful that a rabbi officiated. She is, I know, scared for the fate of her grandchildren. Will they still be Jewish? Will the Jewish family lineage live on?

This wedding was the first time I also had the Christian grandmothers come up to me, crying. “Thank you,” they said, “for making our faith feel so respected. We feel so apart of this family now.”

Ah, what a joy. What an honor. I would have made my dear Christian grandmother, Zelda, of blessed memory, proud. I felt proud too.

This is why I love what I do!

I love to hear from readers. Please post your comments below. To inquire about my wedding services, write me directly at joysa@aol.com.

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