Planning a wedding is almost always both an exciting and a daunting endeavor. Aside from the massive amount of coordination required, and the pressure of creating an event that is both public and deeply personal and meaningful, there are many expectations to be managed. Couples planning an interfaith wedding often find themselves managing even more expectations than other couples. Here are some tips to navigate those feelings and decisions.
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1. Plan for the day after the wedding.
Your wedding is only one day. Your marriage, hopefully, will last much longer. Many engaged interfaith couples will already have spent time discussing the issues of navigating a multifaith relationship, but as you begin to plan a wedding, theoretical ideas can become more “real” and can be thrown into greater relief. It’s helpful to engage a therapist or clergyperson who can help you envision your life together and explore the unique choices you’ll face as a multifaith couple. Learning to talk about how you might observe holidays or Shabbat, the presence of religious or cultural symbols you each want in your home, how you wish to raise children, what kind of schooling you’ll choose for them, what role religious community will play in your lives, what values and traditions will shape your family and many other important matters will not only support your relationship long-term, but will provide crucial dialogue and listening skills for launching your life together.
2. One, two or none?
Your wedding officiant will not only lead your marriage ceremony but will, ideally, lead you to it over months of meaningful discussion and learning beforehand. These conversations should not only open you to the beauty and wisdom of different wedding traditions but also help you both prepare emotionally and spiritually for marriage. So it matters who you choose. Will you have a rabbi, a rabbi and a clergyperson from another faith, or perhaps a friend or colleague who is deputized to perform the ceremony? Still others might choose to have one officiant but to involve other clergy in the ceremony by having them offer a reading or a blessing in a manner that respects the chosen character of the wedding. Each partner and/or their families may have deep ties to their clergy that transcend the religious tradition they represent. How you honor that relationship while planning a specific wedding ceremony requires attention and consideration. The choice of an officiant is not all-or-nothing as it relates to the presence of another heritage, but it does set the tone and spirit that should bring everyone together with love and respect.
3. It’s not all about you.
Of course this is your special day, but not exclusively. Your wedding is a dramatic moment for your families, too, especially your parents. While they may be overjoyed with the love you’ve found, some relatives may be less comfortable with the notion of you marrying someone from another faith or cultural tradition. Some may worry about traditions being lost or rejected. Without ceding all control, invite your parents into the process of planning the wedding and commit to being as inclusive and respectful as possible. Regardless of the type of ceremony, everyone there should feel welcomed and at home, or should at least know that you’ve tried to make them feel that way. It can be challenging to find the right balance, but talking with them about the choices you’re considering, the values you’re embracing, and the feelings you’re being mindful of — not to mention being open to some of the requests they might make about the wedding plans — will be an effective way of preserving closeness and trust during a sensitive time.
4. Make a date.
Scheduling a meeting between your parents (and grandparents) with your wedding officiant can create a wonderful opportunity for them to ask questions and learn about the traditions chosen for the wedding. It can also be a valuable space for families to share their own traditions that they fear may be set aside, and to gain insight from the officiant as to why some observances may be included and why some won’t be. Information goes a long way toward cultivating understanding, patience and compassion.
Making people feel useful is a great way of including them and disarming discomfort. Especially when people from beyond the Jewish community may be unfamiliar with the wedding traditions and rituals, giving them a task will help them to find a connection to this new part of their world. If they’re crafty, maybe they can knit kippahs; if they’re artistic, maybe they can help design an invitation; if they’re skilled in the kitchen, maybe they can host a rehearsal dinner. Think of people’s strengths and talents and engage them as a way of building what can become lifelong partnerships and closeness.
6. Write a book.
Not a novel, but a booklet for the wedding day explaining all the different traditions guests will observe at the ceremony. Regardless of what the ceremony includes, there are bound to be guests for whom much of it is new — and if there’s lots of Hebrew, maybe even unintelligible. Create an outline of the formalities, explain the origins and symbolism of the rituals, translate any Hebrew, and offer whatever support you can to help people follow along. There are many templates for this type of booklet online and in print in Jewish wedding books. You’ll learn a lot from the process, too. Ask your officiant to translate any words spoken or blessings made in Hebrew (or any other language) during the ceremony.
7. Chicken, fish or sirtaki?
We’re all accustomed to dinner parties accommodating carnivores, vegetarians and flexitarians, but let’s take it one step further. Kosher? Dairy? Some families might not keep kosher at home but wish for their Jewish lifecycle celebrations to abide by the tradition. To others that might seem inconsistent, and expensive, given the financial burdens of throwing a wedding, but it may represent something very important — deeper than food. It may be a way of infusing an interfaith wedding with more Jewish flavor. If the alternative being suggested is explicitly non-kosher, either non-kosher meat and fowl or more Jewishly-provocative foods such as pork or shellfish, it can raise all kinds of emotional alarms for parents or grandparents who may feel some conflictedness about a multifaith wedding to begin with. Showing sensitivity around these choices is a mark of respect and maturity. Again, it’s not a zero-sum decision. The budget might not allow for a kosher caterer, but serving dairy or fish could be, for some, a welcome compromise.
The choice of music at both the ceremony and the reception can also be a powerful way of acknowledging and honoring the different cultures being united by this marriage. Sirtaki, a popular Greek wedding dance, could make a Greek family feel at home at a Jewish/Greek wedding while rousing all the experienced Hora dancers from the other side. There are many different ways that families who speak different languages of faith and culture can communicate together in love and celebration.