Maya Lemberg is a licensed mind-body therapist, self-proclaimed dancer and “yogini.” Her husband, Scott Houston, is a DJ, musician and podcast creator. The Atlanta-based couple had an intimate Jewish wedding in their backyard on September 21, 2019. Like any wedding, figuring out details can be stressful. And for interfaith, intercultural and interracial couples, there are added challenges. But with the extra planning and care given to their ceremony, come extra rewards in the form of an incredibly unique, thoughtful and beautiful wedding unlike any other.
Here’s how Maya and Scott navigated their wedding planning to make sure their special day was a true reflection of the two of them.
When searching for someone to help both partners honor their traditions on their wedding day, Maya’s mother suggested the couple contact Rabbi Malka Packer-Monroe, a lifecycle officiant from 18Doors with interfaith wedding experience. According to Maya, Rabbi Malka “was the most eclectic rabbi I’ve ever met and I love everything she stands for: diversity, inclusion and honoring differing faiths and traditions. She wove ours together in a unique and beautiful ceremony. We felt very seen and honored by Malka through the process.”
Embracing and celebrating their diversity as a multiracial and multifaith couple was an integral part of wedding planning for Maya and Scott, and having the right person to officiate helped bring their vision to life.
Judaism, like other religions, has some unique wedding rituals. Finding an officiant who feels comfortable incorporating two or more cultures can be difficult, but don’t get discouraged. Just do your research and don’t give up. 18Doors has a referral network of clergy all over the country and Canada who can officiate interfaith weddings.
Maya and Scott’s ceremony followed the structure of most Jewish weddings while also reflecting their backgrounds through carefully selected Jewish and African American symbols and rituals.
Maya explains: “We signed a ketubah (Jewish wedding contract) with our family before the wedding. We circled around each other. We drank wine. We said the blessing of the rings together. Our friends did the seven blessings. We were under a chuppah (Jewish wedding canopy). And our parents wrapped us in the tallit (Jewish garment).”
Maya adds that they “also had a candle for our ancestors that could not be here. The setting up of the small medicine wheel and honoring the directions was not Jewish, and is something that we did before the ceremony.”
The couple’s medicine wheel honored the Native American tradition of embodying the four directions (North, East, South and West); the four seasons (winter, spring, summer and fall); four stages of life (birth, youth, adult and death) four aspects of life (emotional, intellectual, spiritual and physical) and/or four elements (fire, water, air and earth). This Native American symbol, sometimes referred to as the Sacred Hoop, is said to help connect with the forces of nature and bring healing.
At the end of the ceremony, Maya and Scott jumped the broom (a common ritual at many African American weddings) and broke the glass (common at Jewish weddings)—entering their married life with both of their cultures represented.
The ketubah, or Jewish marriage contract, is a traditional document that shows the partners’ commitment, and is traditionally signed by the partners, witnesses and the officiant before the ceremony. (Learn more about it here.)
One way to connect as a couple is to find language that is appropriate and representative of the both of you. Whether this means finding a balance of Hebrew and your spoken language or just choosing one—or reworking traditional marriage ceremony wording to reflect the needs of your own relationship—create a ketubah that feels meaningful to you. It’s a great way to represent your commitment to appreciating the uniqueness of each other and your life together.
Created by artist Nava Shoham, Maya and Scott’s ketubah is in the shape of a hamsa—a traditional Jewish symbol for protection and good fortune—and features a juniper tree to symbolize luck, love, attraction, beauty and protection. Their document is in both Hebrew and English to honor the tradition and make it accessible to all.
When it came to the ceremony, the vows were important to Maya and Scott. Although they are not actually a traditional part of a Jewish wedding, many couples include vows in their ceremony. Rituals help make the moment meaningful, and the vows are intentions being set by the partners for the rest of their lives together.
These intentions are powerful, as Maya so beautifully captured when she said to Scott, “I vow to be committed to living our truth together… to nurture yours and my individual paths of awakening and self-actualizing, returning again and again to our divine nature and the immense power of our love.”
An oath to live a life that appreciates the individuality of each partner is a promising way to start any lifelong relationship, and especially an interfaith one. When two people join together with different backgrounds, they may have different needs. Vows are a perfect place to acknowledge this as a promise to spend the rest of your life by your partner’s side.
When planning a wedding—regardless of the religion or ethnicity of each partner—it’s easy to get carried away by the stress of figuring out guest lists, seating charts, venues and more.
Maya and Scott’s advice for other interfaith and/or intercultural couples is to “surrender and trust that all [is] going to be OK; let the planning bring you joy. Let it delight and ignite you! And let the ceremony truly touch your heart…don’t let the details take that from you.”