You might remember last year when my now-husband and I decided to postpone our wedding because of COVID, or perhaps when we had a tiny backyard ceremony and wrote our own interfaith ketubah (Jewish marriage contract).
Why, then, did we need a second pandemic wedding? I joke and tell people it’s so I could finally wear my wedding dress and have that first dance Evan and I were waiting for. The real reason, though, is that we missed our community and the traditions of a religious ceremony that connect us to generations before us.
Except for our ketubah, we didn’t really include anything religious in our first wedding. Evan was raised Unitarian Universalist, and I come from a long line of Ashkenazi Jews. When we married last summer, we felt a sense of dread alongside our joy; it wasn’t the wedding we’d dreamed of, and it certainly wasn’t the one I had started designing on Pinterest when we first were engaged.
How could I skip a ceremony under the chuppah (Jewish wedding canopy), and the chance to use my great-grandmother’s beautiful tablecloth on the wooden beams of the structure? We were ready to drape her fabric above us and create a new symbolic home just as my sister and her husband had done with that same cloth.
And would my husband not smash a glass in celebration of our marriage? That was one of the most recognizable symbols of a Jewish wedding to Evan, who wasn’t previously aware of the many Jewish wedding elements.
For me, so much of being Jewish is about tradition and community. Sure, the state of Massachusetts recognized our legal union, and yes, our immediate families were there. So many important people (and items) were missing from that day: our wedding party, extended family and the dress that I not-so-secretly had fallen in love with before Evan even popped the question.
When I introduced Evan to my parents, he was the first person I seriously dated who wasn’t Jewish. I assured my parents they had nothing to worry about; this Unitarian Universalist kid from the Boston suburbs knew that being Jewish was important to me. I told my family that no matter what, I would be Jewish and I would have a Jewish wedding. You better believe I needed to follow through and have that Jewish wedding I promised both my parents and myself.
Before our ceremony, we gathered our wedding party, parents and some family members into a quiet room to read our ketubah. For over a year, this very ketubah hung on the wall in our apartment with one set of witnesses signed, and another space left blank in anticipation of our second wedding. Sometimes COVID seemed so stressful that we considered not having another pandemic wedding, but those lines reminded me of how important it would feel to have our community witness us choosing each other forever.
During our first pandemic wedding, Evan and I each had our grandparents sign—Evan’s grandpa and my grandma. This time, our best friends signed their names as witnesses, and Evan’s Uncle Geoff marked his name as officiant. Between my sister painting the ketubah, our friends and family signing it, and Evan and I reaffirming our commitment to one another, it felt perfect.
One of my favorite parts of our second wedding was our seven blessings. We chose a set of blessings we found online that were traditional enough for my liking, and humanistic enough for Evan to feel comfortable with them. In a funny coincidence, we discovered they were actually the very same set of alternative blessings my sister had used in her wedding—an interfaith wedding officiated by a rabbi we had found through the 18Doors Jewish Clergy Officiation Referral Service. I had gone through each of the blessings, hoping to assign a blessing to a person or people in our lives who would read them during the ceremony.
After printing the blessing on decorative cardstock, I lost them the day of our wedding. All was OK, though, and everyone helped to write the blessings on index cards found in a nearby office. We had our final blessing written on our wedding program, placed on each seat. When the time came, all of our wedding party and everyone we love were able to bless us as a group, exactly the way I had imagined it.
A Jewish wedding wouldn’t be complete without dancing the hora, a traditional Jewish wedding dance, which is something we certainly didn’t do at our backyard wedding. For years, I had waited for the day my spouse and I would be lifted into chairs in the middle of a circle of our friends and families.
In the weeks leading up to the wedding, I expressed excitement and concerns about dancing the hora—at an interfaith wedding where probably only a third of the room is Jewish or has been to a Jewish wedding, would people know what to do as “Hava Nagilah” began to play? Would people understand what was happening when they saw the chairs brought to the dance floor? Would they know to lift us?
Getting the chairs raised up in the air felt like a lifetime (and those panicky thoughts really flooded my brain, “Oh no! They don’t understand!”), but I was assured it was truly a split second. I swear, flying through the air on a banquet chair is one of the scariest things I have ever done. In some of the videos of the evening, you can hear me screaming above the music, “I’m done, I’m done, I’m done!”
Leading up to our wedding, Evan and I looked at each other multiple times and expressed a desire to just be done with wedding planning already. We planned two weddings in two years, and it was exhausting! There was so much buildup and we wanted the moment to just arrive already.
I am so extraordinarily grateful to our family and friends for encouraging us along the way to go through with wedding number two—I finally had the Jewish wedding I wanted and needed. The only question now: Which anniversary do we celebrate?