Planning a Jewish wedding can be tricky. Planning an interfaith Jewish wedding? Even trickier. That’s why I’m so happy to share my latest Facebook Live all about how to plan your perfect celebration, one that combines your two backgrounds in a unique way that’s totally, 100% you.
On this Live, I spoke with Rabbi Robyn Frisch and Nicole Wasilus of 18Doors, a wonderful organization dedicated to empowering interfaith couples and families to engage in Jewish life. No one knows more about interfaith Jewish weddings than these two, and I learned so much from speaking with them.
If you’re in the midst of planning your own interfaith celebration, or suspect you might be soon, you can’t do any better than to watch the recording of this fantastic session – and for easy browsing, I’ve recapped the highlights for you below.
There’s so much information to be gleaned from this Live, but if you’ve got a particular question that isn’t answered, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the wonderful 18Doors team – they’ve got 26 rabbinic fellow spread throughout US and Canada, and they’d love to help you out however they can, wherever you are in the world. 18 Doors’ sole mission is to help interfaith Jewish couples and families, so this is really what they’re here for!
Read on for some of Rabbi Robyn and Nicole’s interfaith wedding wisdom…
Rabbi Robyn and Nicole emphasized that, at the very beginning of wedding planning, it’s important to start by talking to your partner and hearing what they have to say. You should do this before you reach out to officiants, and before you start involving your families.
What exactly might you want to discuss? Consider talking through the following:
- Which traditions from your background are important to you, and are there any that aren’t?
- Is there anything about your partner’s tradition that you’d especially like to include, or that would make you uncomfortable to include?
- Is there anything you especially liked or didn’t like from other weddings you’ve attended?
- Are there any important people you’d like to honor in your wedding? What are some ways you might like to do that?
Rabbi Robyn and Nicole also recommend checking out Anita Diamant’s The Jewish Wedding Now for reference and ideas.
Above all, it’s important to start having these conversations early, and to keep communication open throughout the planning process.
Choosing an Officiant
Choosing an officiant is one of the most important steps you’ll take in planning your interfaith wedding.
First off, know that there are lots of options. You could choose to work with a rabbi, or with a clergy person from another faith, or one of each (this is known as co-officiation – not all clergy will do it, but 18Doors has a list of rabbis and cantors willing to co-officiate that they’d be thrilled to share with you). You could also choose a friend or family member to officiate. Regardless of who you choose, you can include Jewish elements in your ceremony – whether or not a rabbi or cantor is involved.
In choosing your officiant, think about what’s important to you as a couple. Sometimes family members have strong opinions (and aren’t hesitant about sharing them), but Rabbi Robyn and Nicole emphasized how important it is for the two of you to keep the focus on your priorities and values.
It’s smart to be aware that every rabbi or cantor has their own guidelines as to what they’re willing to do (and not do) in terms of Jewish traditions at interfaith weddings. Rabbi Robyn will do just about everything, but she has couple say something different from the standard Jewish statement recited during the ring exchange. Instead, she gives her couples a variety of texts to choose from, like biblical verses, or they can also come up with their own.
Also, don’t feel like you have to use the first officiant you talk to! You need someone who’s happy to conduct the kind of ceremony you want to have, sure, but you also need to feel comfortable working with the officiant you choose. The more questions you can ask an officiant when “interviewing” them, the better you’ll be able to assess whether they are a good fit for your wedding.
But how do you go about finding an officiant to interview in the first place? Start out with 18Doors’ fantastic Jewish Clergy Referral Service, run by Nicole. Find a Rabbi is a directory of rabbis and cantors throughout US and Canada and beyond. After answering some basic questions, you’ll receive a list of relevant clergy so you can check out their profiles and see who looks like a good fit. Then, you can message your chosen officiant(s) on the site. This service is FREE for both couples and clergy, so do take advantage of it if you’re in the market for an officiant!
Dealing with Family
One of the trickiest parts of wedding planning can be dealing with family. When things get dicey – and just about all of us will have at least a few moments when they do – Rabbi Robyn and Nicole recommend that you try to consider your parents’ perspectives (because let’s face it, it’s usually parents). Try to be understanding of the fact that it may be hard for them that your wedding looks different than what they’d envisioned. For some families, therapy can be helpful.
To the extent you can include your parents in your decision making process – even though final decisions should ultimately be up to you and your partner – it can be helpful, even just in terms of keeping them informed.
When Rabbi Robyn officiates weddings, she likes to meet parents, in person or virtually, before the wedding but after the couple has already planned their ceremony. She wants to make sure parents will be familiar and comfortable with her on the day, and she’s happy to be on hand to mediate some of the difficult conversations that can come up, but she finds it’s best to do this after the fact, planning-wise. She also recommends talking to family with statements rather than questions – inform them of your plans, don’t ask for approval!
Working with Jewish Wedding Traditions
Next, Rabbi Robyn and Nicole talked us through key elements of the Jewish wedding ceremony and discussed ways you might consider incorporating them into your day. There are so many ways to stick with the basic idea of the Jewish ceremony while doing something non-traditional that reflects who you are as a couple.
In Rabbi Robyn’s experience, almost all of the couples she works with opt for a ketubah. First off, they’re gorgeous pieces of art – who couldn’t use more of those? – and second, the symbolism of the ketubah as an agreement where the couple accept each other’s differences as they enter their marriage is so meaningful. These days, there are beautiful text options specifically written for interfaith couples – ketubah.com has some great options – and there’s also the option for the two of you to write your own text.
A chuppah is such a beautiful symbol of the home you’re building together as a couple, it’s no wonder many interfaith couples opt to wed under one. The chuppah is also a great place to add personalization to make it meaningful for you – though lots of traditional weddings will use a tallit as the canopy, there are so many other options! You could use a family quilt or tablecloth, something handcrafted by you and your partner or by loved ones – the sky’s the limit!
Smashing the Glass
Obviously we love the tradition of smashing the glass at the end of the ceremony! And Rabbi Robyn and Nicole mentioned that the symbolism of breaking down barriers makes it a perfect fit for interfaith weddings, too – love that!
While some interfaith couples opt to have the traditional Seven Blessings read in English and/or Hebrew, others opt for creative interpretations, like writing their own personalized blessings, or having loved ones write them to share with you on the day. 18Doors has some great resources on creating your own blessings, as well as other alternatives.
It’s a Jewish tradition for the newlywed couple to spend some time along right after the ceremony – this is known as yichud. Religious meaning aside, it can be a really wonderful opportunity to take some time together just for the two of you on what can be a very chaotic day!
Including Your Guests
Next, we chatted about ways to make your guests feel included in your wedding, regardless of what background they come from or their level of familiarity level with your wedding traditions.
The most important thing is to keep guests in the know about what’s going on. Your officiant can explain wedding traditions aloud as you go along, or you can provide a written program for your guests – either virtually (you can include it on your wedding website for guests to peruse beforehand) or in print to give out on the day. A program allows you the space to explain the choices you’ve made in your ceremony and the symbolism of the traditions.
More from 18Doors
We talked about some of the wonderful services 18Doors offers, but there’s so much more. On their website, you can find personal blogs and articles and virtual and in-person programming. The major demographics they serve are engaged and newlywed couples and couples who are expecting or have young children through age 6 – so if that’s you, do check them out!
While 18Doors primarily serves the US and Canada, they’d love to help interfaith couples from anywhere in the world in whatever way they can, so if you’re from elsewhere in the world please don’t hesitate to reach out!
Get in Touch with 18Doors