When my husband, David, and I were planning our Jewish and Nigerian wedding, it was important that the celebration reflect our unique relationship and the richness of our backgrounds. Like many others, we met during the pandemic. Since our entire courtship occurred during this challenging time, our own family and friends never had the chance to meet each other or see our relationship grow. We wanted the first time that our families met and gathered together to be very personal. We remained quiet about our plans and kept some surprises hidden. We also had an unconventional schedule to the day with our ceremony taking place after the reception.
We live in a country where two people from different backgrounds can meet each other and get married—and we’re grateful for that. We arranged a program that combined my Jewish roots and his Jamaican ancestry and African American culture. By planning everything together, we learned more about each other’s cultures.
We were blessed with a beautiful, sunny day. David donned a suit and I wore a cocktail dress; together, we greeted our guests as they walked arrived at the Oceanview of Nahant. We welcomed everyone to the cocktail lounge and David led a Christian prayer. Then, the DJ played “One Love” by Bob Marley, and explained how the song’s theme of inclusivity is meaningful for us and our gathering of loved ones. A traditional Jamaican Black Rum Wedding Cake baked at a local restaurant was plated and served with cocktails.
We wanted to ensure that our love of Africa was celebrated during our wedding. After the delicious cake, we changed into traditional Nigerian outfits. Before the wedding, David found out he was 50% Nigerian. I’ve traveled extensively and my work in public health brought me to many countries in Africa. On one visit to Nigeria, I had a long, loose boubou—a traditional Nigerian robe—made from colorful fabric I’d found at a street market. This memory inspired me to search for matching outfits for our wedding, and I was excited when I discovered Nigerian tailors on Etsy. We selected a couple’s design and fabric, sent in detailed measurements and our beautifully packaged outfits arrived from Ibadan, Nigeria, to my porch near Boston three weeks later!
While we changed, the venue staff handed out packs of play money and recruited some fun, female guests for a Nigerian wedding custom. As our West African drumming and dancing trio played, I paraded into the lounge accompanied by exuberant drumbeats and my crew of ladies. Then David marched back in and we danced together.
Guests tossed colorful bills at us—a custom at Nigerian weddings—and they fluttered to the floor. The women spontaneously recognized an opportunity to do the hora, a dance enjoyed at Jewish celebrations. Dancing the hora to the beat of African drums was a successful culture meld.
After the dancing, David and I conducted a reciprocal foot washing ceremony, a Christian tradition, to symbolize our commitment to love and care for each other.
When our foot washing was done, we took a microphone to share that we were both taking new last names. David had wanted to change his name for many years, wishing to cut any association with the men and women who’d owned his ancestors. Further, his last name was his mother’s ex-husband, whom he’d never met. My last name came from my father’s father, who abandoned his family when my father was two years old. Considering our family stories and a desire to share a last name, we’d chosen an African name whose sound and meaning we both liked: Kabonga, which means family-oriented, among other things.
We moved to the ballroom for the main meal and reception, which took place before the ceremony due to our rabbi’s schedule. Though this order may seem unusual, it worked well for us. To end the meal, we had a traditional tiered wedding cake and a smaller vegan wedding cake from Party Favors in Brookline. Both were delicious and beautifully decorated, topped with our new name and silhouettes of our family in laser cut wood.
When planning our Jewish and Christian wedding ceremony, we decided to have officiants from both our religions lead. David’s mother is a minister and he immediately asked her to marry us. David also helped us find a rabbi; he discovered 18Doors by searching online and our first use of the organization was to find a rabbi. We were looking for a rabbi who would marry us on Shabbat, an important weekly Jewish holiday when Jewish weddings don’t typically take place, and who would agree to co-officiate the ceremony. To further complicate matters, the available date at our chosen venue that avoided other events we had scheduled during the warmer months was in the middle of the High Holy Days. This is the holiest period of the Jewish year when many rabbis are busy with their own congregations.
That’s why we were so fortunate to find Rabbi Joe Eiduson. He took time to get to know us and sent us sample Jewish ceremonies. David adapted a Christian ceremony and we merged our traditional languages together into one program.
At one of our several Zoom sessions, Rabbi Joe said, “I want to compliment you on this ceremony. It’s a good balance between Jewish and Christian language. With most couples, I’ve found that one partner or the other controls it and one religion really dominates, but not in your case.” I was confident we’d achieved our goal of blending our traditions when he asked if he could use our program with other couples in the future. “Absolutely,” we said.
I wanted some Jewish wedding practices at our ceremony and for us to get married under a chuppah (a four-post canopy, topped by a cloth, but open on the sides), to sign a ketubah (wedding contract), to have blessings over cups of wine and to include some Hebrew prayers. We built a chuppah with cloth from a friend and chose a ketubah that was appropriate for interfaith couples.
Throughout the ceremony, Rabbi Joe explained the various traditions we’d selected, and included a few words about the High Holy Day period since we were married in the middle of them. And our witnesses to the ketubah signing—which is more personal rather than official—were both Christian.
The rabbi and minister took turns leading the ceremony. I read the first essay I wrote for 18Doors that explained the development of our relationship.
We decided on non-traditional music. David loves R&B and chose Luther Vandross and Tevin Campbell to walk down the aisle to while I chose disco and ’80s music for my entrance. I waited behind closed barn doors to enter the ceremony, my parents hooked on either elbow. “September” by Earth, Wind and Fire floated out through the speakers. Without consultation and behind the barn doors, my parents and I started bopping in place. We could hear the guests seated on the other side clapping to the beat. As the doors swung open and we entered, I would later realize those minutes with my parents were some of my favorites during the spectacular day. The song was uplifting and it was September after all.
At the end of our Jewish and Nigerian wedding ceremony, per Jewish tradition, David stepped on a glass to shatter it. Then we joined hands and jumped over a broom, as enslaved Africans in the United States did when they were prohibited from legally marrying. I was happy to learn that the practice is appropriate for interracial couples. We joined hands and walked down the aisle to “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves. The song was a perfect end to a sunny wedding.
Rather than an “interfaith” wedding that met somewhere in the middle, our goal was a multi-cultural, multi-faith wedding embracing various elements of our backgrounds and aspirations. Based on all the lovely cards, texts and calls from our loved ones, we think our wedding achieved the unique celebration we hoped for.