Being engaged isn’t all mimosas, bridal showers, and monogrammed t-shirts. Once you start sporting an engagement ring you might as well hang a sign around your neck that says, “please give me unsolicited advice”. All of that advice was really overwhelming to me. Not only because I’ve never been a bride, but because I wanted a Jewish wedding, and without Jewish parents I wasn’t sure what advice to take or who to listen to.
Common sense would tell you to “listen to your gut”, but what if your gut is sensitive? And what if your choice from the age of 18 to explore, and eventually convert to, Judaism already tells you that you are different from the rest of your midwestern family? Not to mention the self-imposed pressure to impress your new in-laws who hail from Dallas and have a whole different set of social norms. It’s enough to make anyone meshuganah!
It took less than three days for people to start asking us when we were getting married. We were shocked, and decided to take a quiz to help us find a starting point. It became clear that as a couple we valued three things: the space, the spirituality, and the vibe.
The ceremony space was the easiest place to start; we both knew it could only be Plum Street Temple. For me it was all about Cincinnati history, the similarities between the synagogue and a Catholic cathedral, and my connection to the congregation. For my fiancé it had to do with the founding of the Reform movement and the fact that less than a year after our wedding he would be standing on the same bimah being ordained as a rabbi.
Until the year of our wedding my parents had entered a temple one time, and knowing a rabbi would be officiating our wedding created all sorts of questions. It wasn’t unusual during the first few months of wedding planning to get a call from my mom asking slightly confused questions like who was going to hold the poles of our ketubah or sign our chuppah. These questions seemed silly at first, but I realized quickly that she was coming from a place of care and concern. She wanted to feel connected, and to understand the traditions behind the rituals.
Having to explain Jewish wedding traditions to my parents made my husband and I really consider what we wanted to include on our wedding day, and since we weren’t tied down to any of my family traditions, we were able to make our own. We made the chuppah out of Zachary’s mother’s wedding dress, we ordered our Ketubah from Bat Sara Press an artist we met at the Ish Festival, and lastly we turned my bedecken into a lady tisch.
As the date got closer there were more decisions to be made, and I started to feel grateful that I was able to lean on and learn from my friends. Many of my close friends got married last year, and it began to feel like I had my own mini-sisterhood of brides. We were all able to empathize and support each other through all the fun (and not so fun) parts of wedding planning. One friend even went with me to the mikvah to celebrate the moment that I officially (and magically) transformed from just another engaged girl into a kallah (bride).
The day of our wedding was easily the longest and happiest day of my life. Every part of the day went off without a hitch, and after a beautiful and laughter-filled ceremony (thanks Rabbi Danziger) we headed to the reception where we were surprised by a 12 piece band playing “All You Need is Love” a la’ “Love, Actually”. I thought it couldn’t get any better until my dad stood up to make the welcome toast and finished it with “I think I’m supposed to say...Mazel Tov!” and the room exploded in applause.
Planning a Jewish wedding with my not-so-Jewish parents wasn’t easy, but it created a conversation about ritual. It helped us understand how our Judaism fits into our household together, and with our families at large. It’s been two months since our wedding and I’ve found myself moving on and looking forward to a new year. Of course, I’ll miss the surprise gifts in the mail, excuses to go on girls only lake house weekends, and the immense love and support we received from our families. I also know that the whole point of a wedding is to begin a healthy marriage, and I feel lucky to know that’s exactly what we’ve done.
Katie Goodman is a lifelong Midwesterner with a love of baking, hiking, yoga, and playing Settlers of Catan. She is married to Zachary Goodman who is a fifth year student at HUC-JIR.