I’ve always known I wanted a Jewish wedding. I choose to live a Jewish life every day, and falling in love with my husband—who isn’t Jewish and has supported all of my religious desires—didn’t change that at all.
So when it came time to plan our wedding, it was never a question whether it would be Jewish, but how to make sure we were both represented while still maintaining the Jewish essence of our wedding.
With the support of our community, the planning process and the wedding itself fed my neshama (soul) with Jewish meaning, while honoring the unique and beautiful nature of our queer and interfaith/multicultural relationship.
Here’s how we planned an eco-friendly wedding that centered around the Tree of Life, had the wedding officiant of our dreams and created a ceremony that perfectly reflected “us.”
I thought that choosing an officiant would be easier, considering that we knew right out of the gate that it would be a member of Jewish clergy and I am a Jewish professional. I know just about every rabbi and cantor in the area (and there aren’t that many from Eugene, Oregon, to begin with).
After looking into multiple local options, we felt extremely discouraged; we either couldn’t afford the rates or the person couldn’t officiate an interfaith wedding. We were genuinely concerned we wouldn’t have Jewish clergy officiate our wedding.
I turned to my former employer and good friend, Cantor Debbi Ballard, for her advice as she has years of experience officiating Jewish lifecycle events. Debbie didn’t just give us advice, she generously offered to officiate our wedding if we flew her to Oregon.
Joe and I knew Cantor Debbi would help us craft a wedding ceremony that was perfectly “us.”
If you find yourself in a similar predicament, looking for an interfaith-friendly rabbi,18Doors has a free tool that connects you with local rabbis. Just answer a few questions and they’ll be in touch.
Joe and I always wanted our wedding to reflect our individuality, collective personalities and values. We decided to make the wedding Tree of Life-themed. Important in both Jewish and Celtic mythology, the Tree of Life also symbolizes our commitment to tikkun olam, repairing the world. Not only was this symbol the theme of our decorations and ritual items like our chuppah and kiddush cup, but it was also the inspiration to have an eco-friendly and community-supported wedding.
Joe and I wanted our wedding to be an opportunity to give back to the land and community that supported us. We had paperless invitations and thank-you notes, and our friend created the chuppah using thrifted fabric. We also crafted centerpieces with plants from our neighborhood, and asked for tzedakah (charity donations) in lieu of gifts. Our cake and ketubah were all made by friends with small businesses, and our mothers gathered the food from local markets (other than the Bubbie’s pickles…those were a special treat for me!).
Though we both knew nothing is ever perfect, we put in a lot of effort to make sure our wedding had the smallest carbon footprint (and greatest impact) that it could.
Like the rest of our wedding planning, finding the right words for our ketubah was, admittedly, difficult. Ketubot are traditionally crafted for heterosexual partners who are both Jewish, and while there are luckily more options for same-gender or interfaith couples, options for queer, interfaith couples with one nonbinary partner are slim.
Thankfully, a colleague of mine is a Jewish artist who often makes ketubot, and she was generous enough to share her hard work with us for our special day. The artwork of the ketubah was designed by an incredibly talented mutual friend of mine and Joe’s who is also our go-to tattoo artist. I actually have one of their tattoos on my leg, a beautifully elaborate chamsa, in the same style as our ketubah.
The ketubah, like many other legally binding contracts, is required to be signed by witnesses to be considered valid. Deciding on these witnesses, people in our lives who we trust to be objective yet loving supporters of our marriage, was a little easier. We chose my aunt Jodi and Joe’s sister Courtney; someone who is Jewish and one who isn’t, one given and one chosen family member. In choosing Jodi and Courtney to sign their names next to ours, we celebrate the diverse nature of our family.
Our wedding ceremony followed the traditional format of most Jewish weddings, with a couple of additions that made it uniquely “us.”
As we stood under a beautiful quilted chuppah crafted by a dear friend (which now serves as a blanket on our bed), we were wrapped in a tallit (prayer shawl), shared the Kiddush wine and Cantor Debbi recited the seven blessings. However, after the Hebrew, we adapted the English interpretations of the seven blessings to include queer (and a few silly) references, just like us.
After saying our vows, we chose to do a sand ceremony; Joe and I each held a cup with different colored sand and poured them into the same vessel. This was a physical representation of the fact that while our lives may now be intertwined, unable to be separated into their original colors, you can still see each one’s individuality when combined. We also selected readings from the Hebrew Bible that exemplify queer life, including Ruth and Naomi, and David and Jonathan.
At the very end of the ceremony (which was attended by about 40 guests in person and another 40 via live stream) Cantor Debbi reminded us that we’d forgotten one important piece of planning when she whispered to us both, “So…which one of you is going to step on the glass?” I looked and Joe and he shrugged, so I whispered back, “The Jewish one.”
Similar to the rest of our wedding ceremony, Joe and I adapted our vows from a more traditional option. We both said to each other:
“I give you this ring to wear upon your hand as a symbol of our mutual commitment. You are my beloved, and my best friend. I take you to be my husband [I said]/partner for life [he said], together to love, to work and share, to bother and comfort and to discover a fuller, richer life.”
We decided to include a little nudge and vow “to bother” each other for life, because frankly, it’s realistic. We aren’t under the impression that marriage is easy; sometimes (often, actually), spouses really get on each other’s nerves. We figured we may as well start our marriage with the acknowledgment in hopes of establishing a pattern of open and honest communication for the rest of our lives together.
As we said these vows, we each placed the other’s ring on their left index finger as Jewish tradition dictates. Then, after saying “I do,” we each personally moved them to our own ring fingers to symbolize the consensual choice to be married, a choice we both make every day.
Determine what matters to each of you individually before making any decisions together.
All couples, but particularly partners from different cultural backgrounds, have different needs and desires when it comes to celebrating a life-changing milestone. Understanding what is truly important to you and what you may be willing to compromise on can help you and your partner have compassion for each other and plan a wedding that honors all parties equally. I couldn’t be happier with how it all came together.