When I was a child, wedding planning was a breeze.
Every Sunday morning, perched on the wooden pews at St. Mary’s, I would imagine my wedding day during Mass. There was always a cloud of diaphanous white gauze draped from the eaves of the apse, and the white marble altar was festooned with pink and yellow lilies.
Every Sunday morning, I had The Perfect Church Wedding.
Of course, when you’re an 8-year-old girl, you tend to overlook some of the finer points of wedding coordination, including the all-important detail of who your groom might turn out to be–or what his religion was.
I knew Mike was Jewish when we met, but it wasn’t until a year into our relationship that he told me how important it was to him that we raise our children Jewish. It was a statement I hadn’t been expecting him to make–but I think he was even more caught off guard by how excitedly I agreed. Although I was raised by Catholic parents and I love our family priest, I consider myself more spiritual than religious.
A few days before Christmas that same year, Mike whisked me off to an elegant Japanese restaurant and proposed by the fireplace. It was a night I’d never forget; not just because the terrible service forced a nervous Mike to pop the question over remnants of our sushi-boat platter, but because in the back of my mind, I knew it was finally time to tell my very Catholic parents about their future Jewish grandchildren.
Weeks passed, and although I knew how much my parents adored Mike, my nervousness over telling them about my choice grew. One day, while visiting my parents for the weekend, my mom asked me when I’d like to go see Father David to discuss our upcoming nuptials.
“Mom, we’ve decided to raise our kids Jewish,” I blurted out, a little louder than I intended. This was not at all the adult, composed conversation I had mentally prepared. And her reaction to my outburst was probably on par with the abruptness of my announcement.
She was shocked, to say the least, and unhappy that I had not consulted her or my father on the matter. Our visit home that weekend ended not long after that strained discussion.
As more weeks passed, it became clear that our desire to raise Jewish children was having a serious impact on the wedding planning “fun” I had spent so many of my childhood years fantasizing about.
Determining the location was definitely an obstacle. Mike wasn’t very comfortable getting married inside a church, and since we had decided against taking Pre-Cana (a requirement for a Catholic marriage that involves signing a document promising to raise your offspring Catholic … and I’m not about to lie to God), a church wedding was no longer an option.
We settled on a beautiful ski resort near my hometown in The Berkshires of Massachusetts. We set the date, my father put down the deposit and I wondered to myself, “Now that this is out of the way, who in the world is going to marry us?”
An interfaith rabbi, one who saw our differences of faith not as a challenge to overcome but as a blessing to be thankful for, seemed like a natural choice to Mike and me, but my parents were harder to convince. It wasn’t so much that a rabbi would be marrying their only daughter, but that there would be no personal representation of their faith at my wedding (particularly strict laws in St. Mary’s diocese prevented Father David from co-officiating).
We decided a Justice of the Peace would be an acceptable compromise, and I spent the rest of my wedding planning efforts folding traditions from Judaism and Catholicism together–a chuppah constructed of birch saplings, my grandmothers’ antique rosaries wrapped around my bouquet, Old Testament readings by my godparents.
It was a challenging effort to meld these two belief systems, but together Mike and I were able to get all religious elements perfect well before the big day, including the Hebrew engraving on his wedding band: “Ani li dodi vi dodi li” (“I am to my beloved and my beloved is mine”).
Everything else–from the fiery Leonidas roses I chose for my centerpieces to the rockin’ swing band we had hired for the reception, and right down to the champagne raspberry wedding cake we served our guests–was exactly how I wanted it. And on Saturday, Nov. 1, 2008, I finally had My Perfect Wedding. The air was crisp and the sun was brilliant, and for the first time in so many months, no one seemed anxious or offended.
Right after the breaking of the glass, I snuck a glance back at my mom, who was still standing within the four walls of our autumn-themed huppah. She was absolutely beaming. I later saw the same expression of silly joy on both my parents’ faces as they engaged in their first-ever hora–something I will never forget.
I’ve been married less than a year, but I know this for certain: It may be the marriage that counts in the long run, but the wedding planning gave me the wisdom to know when to compromise, the patience to understand the foibles of those I love and the strength to accomplish both without losing who I was in the process. And that’s something I know I’ll use to make my marriage count for the next 75 years.