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Honor both sides to create an inclusive interfaith wedding

Interfaith weddings are an age-old quandry for Jews, but recent headlines suggest they may be becoming more accepted. Two prominent New York rabbis, trained at the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary and members of the movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, announced in June that they would begin to perform intermarriages, breaking with the movement’s long-held prohibition.

As perceptions of intermarriage modernize, so do the wedding ceremonies celebrating couples about to embark on their lifelong journey together. There now are more options and variations than ever for couples looking to host an inclusive interfaith wedding.

Rabbi Keara Stein is the Los Angeles director of InterfaithFamily, a nonprofit designed to support interfaith couples exploring Jewish life while also seeking inclusivity in Jewish communities. Part of Stein’s role is to field requests that come through the officiation referral service at InterfaithFamily. She also personally officiates one or two interfaith weddings per month throughout Southern California.

As a general piece of advice, Stein said that no matter what, all aspects of the ceremony should be meaningful to the couple.

“A wedding, no matter what the religion, symbolizes the coming together of two unique individuals, and I want everything we do in that wedding to include that,” she said.

Stein outlined six tips for having an interfaith wedding that will make both sides feel comfortable while respectiving various traditions.

1. Create an educational program

The program not only should outline the timeline of events, it should explain the significance of the traditions the guests will be experiencing during the ceremony.

“This is not a spectator sport,” Stein said. “Everyone should be included. I encourage a couple to make a program for their wedding, and I usually help them do so by explaining the meaningful aspects of the different rituals.”

2. Choose rituals and readings that either are common to both traditions or do not offend either one 

Stein cited the example of lighting a unity candle or, in one specific recent instance, a couple who asked to be wrapped in a tallit along with a handmade blanket made by the bride’s grandmother.

3. Consider an interfaith ketubah

There are many websites devoted to ketubot — Jewish marriage contracts — and to the artists who create them. Many of these artists have created works of art, suitable for framing, with customized language that can honor any partnership, ranging from LGBTQ couples to interfaith unions. InterfaithFamily has several versions of inclusive statements for the creation of the ketubah on its website (interfaithfamily.com).

4. Have in-depth conversations with your parents

Stein readily admits the biggest hurdles for couples to overcome often arise from the parents on both sides.

“It can be very difficult for parents to come to terms with the fact that the [wedding] day might look different than they had initially imagined,” Stein said. “I like to have conversations with couples about how to talk to their parents about the types of rituals they want at their wedding.”

5. Find the right officiant 

“I speak with a lot of couples exploring which type of officiant they’re going to have, and I try to find out where their desire is coming from and what is driving their search,” Stein said. “Is it a deep appreciation for ritual, is it family pressure or is it somewhere in between?”

She has co-officiated wedding ceremonies, although it was a difficult decision.

“Some rabbis have hard lines against co-officiating with other religions. Ultimately, it has been one of the most beautiful, profound experiences for me because there have been couples who would not have had any other Jewish elements at their special day if I had decided against it.”

6. Talk to other intermarried couples

Stein highly recommends that couples planning an interfaith wedding should discuss with others in their community what did and did not work for them on their big day.

“Reach out to other interfaith couples through organizations like ours or synagogues in the area,” she said. “Talk to other people and see how they’ve done it. The wedding sets the stage for the marriage. All of the people attending a wedding are there to show support of a union, so show them what that means through inclusivity and love.”

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