How to Throw an Interfaith Wedding
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For those planning an interfaith wedding, Shah says, the most important thing is to sit down early on with your fiancé and have a very candid conversation about what's important to you. "You need to figure out how much of a role you want religion to play, and what's important to your families," she continues. "For a lot of the couples I work with, the religious ceremony is more important to their parents than it is to them, so the trick is to find a balance that will make everyone happy."
For Los Angeles couple Benton Jordan Weinstock, who is Episcopalian, and Darren Weinstock, who is Jewish, the solution was to fold both of their religions into one ceremony at their oceanfront wedding at Bacara Resort & Spa, in Santa Barbara. "For our families and ourselves, we wanted to have a priest—my family priest for over twenty years—and a cantor perform the ceremony," says Benton, who was raised in the tiny town of Helena, Arkansas; graduated from Southern Methodist University; and had never been to a Jewish wedding—until her own. "We were really making it up as we went along," she says, laughing. "I walked down the aisle with my father toward the priest and the cantor, who stood together." The priest gave a brief sermon, and then the couple was married under an "incredible huppah" made of four thousand white roses. But they created their own vows, which, Benton says, "were spiritual, not religious."
When it came to rituals, there were also places where the couple drew a line. Though Benton was happy to drink from the Jewish cup and have her husband smash the glass at the end of the ceremony, she was not comfortable having the wedding guests hoist her up in a chair for the traditional Jewish dance. "It just didn't feel like me," says Benton, who has now been married to Darren for 10 years and has three daughters, whom they are raising to embrace both faiths. "Our rule of thumb is that if it makes you uncomfortable to do something that's not yours, you don't have to do it."
Another key to throwing a great interfaith wedding, Shah says, is taking the time to explain each ritual ("what you're doing, and why you're doing it") in the ceremony, so all of your guests feel included. Not everyone has a "mixing is great" attitude, but you can go a long way toward easing their concerns by showing them that love, community, and respect for family life lie at the core of almost all wedding rituals—no matter how unfamiliar they may appear on the surface. Adam and Yadey's wedding program, for example, included a detailed explanation of each of the Jewish and Ethiopian rituals they performed. "When people understand and appreciate what's going on, even though it may be culturally very different, they tend to really embrace it," says Shah. "I mean, of course you sometimes have these parents who, when I tell them there's going to be an elephant at the ceremony, say, 'What?!!' But those are often the people who end up having the best time."