Ten Steps to a Successful Interfaith Wedding from a Brand-New Bride:

  1. Get excited—it’s the best way to have fun with what may otherwise be a super stressful process:)
  2. Have a good foundation—talk about everything you can, learn about everything you can, explore ALL the issues; attending things like the Interfaith Couples Workshop, Intro to Judaism and Tying the Knot really helped
  3. Pin down your officiant(s) as early as possible, and keep ‘em in the loop (if you don’t have any yet, contact Jean Graubart at the 16th Street J and she’ll point ya in the right direction)
  4. Don’t be afraid to make it your own—interfaithfamily.com has some great sample ceremonies
  5. The most important thing to remember isn’t compromise, its respect—and as long as you’ve got that, you’ll make the right decisions
  6. Make programs so your (and his) family can follow along—it helps to have phonetics of the “heblish” translations so people don’t congratulate you on the beautiful “choopa”
  7. There are a million different meaningful explanations for everything (especially Jewish traditions!) mix and match, cherry-pick what fits you best or combine a few different interpretations—with so many options, no one’s ever wrong!
  8. There are also a million different ways to do a Ketubah (if you decide you want one) and some great interfaith texts out there (check out modernketubah.com for examples)—just don’t wait ‘till the day-of to print it!
  9. Plan away, but remember, “it’s the little imperfections that make the day so special” (this is from the Brand-New Groom)
  10. Finally, don’t forget to have fun!! Enjoy all the little things, big things and the in-betweens; there are sure to be ups and downs, but in the end, you’ll have created memories—and a partnership—to last a lifetime.
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Why “Will Chelsea Convert?” Is the Wrong Question

It drives me crazy.

No sooner had word of Chelsea Clinton’s engagement to Marc Mezvinsky hit the news, than the question, like a mah-jongg tile gone supernova, exploded sending shockwaves across the internet and into the hearts of our communal neuroses.

So let me say this right now: I don’t care if Chelsea Clinton converts. Her spiritual decisions are not some ethno-religious trophy we should seek to display like a white rhino head next to Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and Ivanka Trump. If you need this point underscored take a stroll through The Daily Beast’s slide-show of converts and celebrity flirtations with Judaism (kicking-off with an always-classy nipple shot of Britney Spears). The accompanying article matches this level of sophistication with a plumb of a quotation from Ed Koch suggesting that Chelsea Clinton acquaint herself with Chinese take-out menus. Although to be fair, it does get some slightly more thoughtful comments from the likes of Ruth Wisse, Rabbi David Wolpe and Joyce Antler (who was here a few years back with her book You Never Call! You Never Write! A History the Jewish Mother). Yet it still misses the point entirely.

The question is not whether Chelsea will convert, but how important is living a Jewish life to Marc Mezvinsky? And to be really honest, I don’t truly care how important it is to Marc Mezvinsky specifically, as I do to the thousands of Marc Mezvinskim who are going to marry non-Jews in the coming years, most of whom will not be presidential offspring. Despite all the progress that has been made in how the Jewish community deals with intermarried couples, we still view a conversion decision as a make or break moment. While that decision is an important, and often desirable one, it is but one on a spectrum of decisions an individual and then a couple make in relation to Judaism in his or her life.

It is great that Chelsea went with Marc to Yom Kippur services. But if that was the only Jewish connection Marc was going make this year, either with or without Chelsea, then it doesn’t really matter if she converts. However, if Chelsea never feels like taking a dip in the mikveh, but they light Shabbat candles, observe the yearly rhythms of the Jewish holidays, make themselves knowledgeable in Jewish history and practice, and decide to communicate these values and practices to any children they might have… then I think we as a people will still come out ahead.

What about halachah you ask? If Chelsea doesn’t convert then any children of that marriage will not have a Jewish mother and thus not be Jewish. You’re right. There are parts of the Jewish community that will not accept that child as Jewish. But the same would be the case if Chelsea does convert, but does so through the Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist movements. And there are growing sections of the Jewish community that will welcome that child, and contrary to the doomsday predictions of some, the Jewish community will be stronger for it.

So let’s stop acting like this is 1959 and the acceptance of the Jewish community by the “mainstream” needs whatever help it can get — and if that help comes in the form of Eddie Fisher marrying Elizabeth Taylor so be it. That was 50 years ago, and while tolerance and pluralism can never be taken for granted, neither should we be overly impressed when the elite of the elite decide to marry the elite of our elite. The kid is the son of two former members of Congress — it’s not like she’s marrying Motel the tailor.

I presume Marc and Chelsea will be setting-up shop in New York, but they should know if they decide to get digs in DC that they can come to our Pre-Marriage workshop beginning in January. If they don’t have the time to commit to that, then they should consider coming to the Washington Jewish Film Festival screening of Love and Religion: The Challenge of Interfaith Relationships this coming Sunday, December 6. The film is by Dr. Marion Usher who has been running our Interfaith Couples groups for the past 15 years. She’s been way ahead of the curve in reaching-out to intermarried couples and encouraging them to make Jewish choices, while still respecting the beliefs of the non-Jewish partner.

Chelsea. Marc. Dr. Usher is awaiting your call.

Preparation!!

Last night Jon Stewart noted, “It’s Sukkot, which is the Hebrew word meaning, “How many holidays can Jews fit into one month?”

Truly, the Jewish holiday season is non-stop action – from the reflective mood of Rosh Hashanah to the boisterous dancing at Simchat Torah, the holiday where we celebrate the yearly completion of the reading of the Five Books of Moses.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

How do we get the most out of this holiday season? I believe the preparation is the answer. And not only material preparation (shopping, cooking, etc.) But spiritual preparation.

Taking time to examine our behavior and our relationships brings deeper meaning to the High Holidays. And Sukkot, when we build and dwell in portable homes (Sukkot)  offers us an opportunity to reflect on the many blessings of having a permanent home – particularly in this year of foreclosures economic troubles.
Taking time to prepare enables maximum experience.

This fall, the Washington DCJCC is offering a different kind of preparation opportunity,   “Tying the Knot:  Pre-Marriage Workshop for Couples.” Wedding preparations can be stressful and overwhelming. And yet how much time do we devote to our spiritual preparations for the big day? “Tying the Knot” offers engaged couples a safe space to explore issues central to forming a healthy and happy marriage in a Jewish context.

Sarah Gershman is the Jewish Education Associate for the Leo and Anna Smilow Center for Jewish Living and Learning at the Washington DCJCC. Her children’s book The Bedtime Shma won the Sydney Taylor Book Award.

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