Ideas for Inclusive Jewish Wedding Ceremonies
Ideas for Inclusive Jewish Wedding Ceremonies: Honoring Both Partners’ Faith, Family, and Cultural Traditions
Rabbi Julie Zupan, email@example.com
Every family has its own culture and so every marriage is a merger of multiple cultures and traditions. Below are a collection of tips and ideas for recognizing and honoring both partners’ family backgrounds in your wedding ceremony and celebration. Compiled with interfaith couples in mind, these ideas can benefit all couples.
1) Choose the right officiant for you. An officiant with an inclusive approach will open up possibilities and work with you to create a meaningful wedding ceremony that will resonate throughout your married lives. Your officiant will be your best guide for creating the ceremony you desire.
2) Reach out to your parents and grandparents, inviting them to share with you what is most important to them to include in your wedding ceremony. Let them know that while it’s your wedding, you are eager to hear their thoughts and ideas. Tell them that it is your intention to be inclusive, and to honor both partners’ traditions.
3) Create an opportunity for parents to connect with the officiant. This is especially important when the officiant represents just one of the partner’s faith and/or cultural backgrounds. For example, I usually meet with the couple and their parents a few days prior to the wedding to introduce myself, to answer any questions and allay any concerns, and to invite parents to reflect on the values they hope to have passed on to their children. I have found that parents are most appreciative of this opportunity.
4) Ask your officiant to explicitly acknowledge your two faith backgrounds during the ceremony. For example, s/he might acknowledge that the partners bring together two family traditions, and express the prayer that these two traditions will continue to be a source of strength and support throughout their marriage. Or, s/he might acknowledge two different faith backgrounds with many shared values, and then name some of those mutual important values that the couple has identified in their premarital counseling.
5) Check that your officiant plans to share Hebrew blessings also in English translation.
6) Create a personalized wedding program that explains some of the key rituals and symbols of the ceremony. This written program is an appropriate place for couples to express thanks to both families for the values with which they were raised, and which they plan to bring into the new family created by their marriage. It is also a place to mention any ceremonial items that were provided by loved ones.
7) With your officiant’s input, invite beloved family and friends to share blessings and poetic readings during the ceremony. Choose readings that are from no particular faith tradition or readings that are shared between faiths (for Jews and Christians, selections from Song of Songs from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament are popular).
8) Incorporate meaningful items from each partner’s family. For example, at Jewish weddings couples typically drink from two - sometimes three - wine goblets. Perhaps there is a special glass or goblet that each family can lend for the wedding. If there is a special family Bible which has been used at other family milestones, an honored guest can read from that Bible during the ceremony, or the Bible can be placed on the table underneath the wedding canopy.
9) Include loved ones from both families by asking them to gift you with special wedding items you will need or might want, such as the glass that is broken during the ceremony or a special cake knife and server that will become a family heirloom and will be used on happy occasions throughout your marriage.
10) There are many non-religious, yet significant, opportunities for loved ones to participate. These include serving in the bridal party, offering wedding toasts at the celebration, serving as witnesses for the civil wedding license (in states that require witnesses), hosting bridal showers before the big day, and serving as ushers.
11) Jewish wedding ceremonies take place under a chuppah, or wedding canopy. For the roof of your chuppah, you might choose to incorporate significant textiles from each partner’s family, e.g. an embroidered handkerchief or tablecloth, a christening gown, a swatch of fabric from a grandmother/sister/mother/aunt’s wedding gowns, a prayer shawl. Alternatively, invite guests or family members to create a “quilt;” send them squares of fabric to decorate and then stitch them together.
12) Invite parents and grandparents from each partner’s families to offer a marriage blessing. I typically provide this opportunity when we gather to witness and sign the ketubah (religious document), immediately prior to beginning the formal ceremony.
Rabbi Julie Zupan is privileged to accompany and guide couples and individuals on their spiritual journeys. She serves on the staff of Reform Jewish Outreach Boston. She recommends that interfaith couples consider enrolling in Yours Mine & Ours, a supportive counseling program, as they prepare for marriage.