It was 18 years ago that I married the love of my life, my then-Catholic husband, Jay. We were young, passionately in love, and we didn’t want to make waves, so we had the traditional interfaith wedding: the justice of the peace kind.
At some point, though, we began to reflect on that decision. Although my husband had long since converted to Judaism and our daughter, now 12, is being raised Jewish; and although I, a product of a cursory Jewish upbringing, now feel revitalized as a Jew, we still felt like there was a gap in our lives. The question was how to fill it? My husband and I agreed: How about renewing our vows–in a Jewish wedding ceremony?
It seemed like a great idea. There was just one problem. Neither of us had ever been to a Jewish wedding, or knew anything beyond the hora and the glass breaking. OK, make that two small problems: My husband and I were on a tight budget of $2,500. But since we had decided to have a Jewish wedding, we went ahead with it. We began the process in appropriate Jewish fashion: We started reading.
The first two Jewish wedding books we found were The Everything Jewish Wedding Book, by Helen Latner, and The New Jewish Wedding by Anita Diamant. So far, so good. Then we did the modern Jewish thing: we kept reading on the Internet. There is a difference between Jewish law and Jewish custom, we discovered, and it can get confusing. What were we to do with all this information? How were we to choose among the plethora of rituals and customs?
Well, it was like tending a healthy garden: you grow what you like, and favor what grows in your climate. And so we did. According to what we read, you do not need a rabbi to marry you; you marry each other. The groom must give the bride a ring that is worth more than a drachma (about 10 cents), and there is a marriage contract called a ketubah, with witnesses. Also: you must consummate the marriage. And that’ s it. Pretty straightforward.
From there, however, it got complicated. When it came to actually choosing the customs we wanted to include in our ceremony, we were very selective, as we wanted our ceremony to be spiritually meaningful, inclusive and reflective of our love for one another. So we made a list, and then devised a plan of how we could make it happen on a very limited budget.
First, we planned our guest list, making sure to invite everyone we loved. This time, for our second wedding, we didn’ t need to invite anyone because our parents said so, or because we wanted to impress them. The final tally came to 120 guests. Suddenly, our budget wasn’ t looking so realistic.
So we start thinking of friends who could help us. One friend was a former florist; another has a beautiful singing voice; a third is a fabric artist. We had a friend who sings and plays guitar, a friend who likes to take pictures, friends who bake, friends who can read in front of a large group and friends from Outreach. Plus family members. Plus ourselves.
It was difficult to ask so many people to be involved in the ceremony, but to our surprise, each person was enthusiastic. We had no idea that people would give so freely of themselves, and how it would help us.
But help us it did! Here’ s how we managed to have a full and fulfilling ceremony, and still come in under budget:
When it came time for the big day, everyone played a part. My sisters, my brothers, and our foster daughter held up our huppah poles. My Catholic brother-in-law and his fiancée walked our ketubah down the aisle. My husband and I asked our long-time friends to be our ketubah witnesses. Our good friends baked for us and gave readings during our ceremony. Our daughter blessed us under the huppah and our good friends’ daughters were our ushers.
My family had no Jewish wedding experiences–but there is a perfect fit for everyone if you just look. We had a DJ on a Monday night, as it was our exact anniversary, and we served cake that my husband baked with all of his love. To celebrate loved ones who have passed away, we used my grandmother’ s dining room chairs during the hora, hoisting them joyously into the air.
And finally, our rabbi, Rabbi Matt, not only explained each part of the ceremony to those who attended, but included some of our special “personal” stories. We created an eight-page wedding program to explain everything and give meaning to the day, and the result was everything we’ d hoped for: a ceremony that was comfortable for our guests, meaningful for us and unforgettable for everyone involved.