Jessica & Jason's traditional Jewish and performance wedding

By on Feb. 3rd

You might remember this pair from their superhero invite we featured in a Monday Montage. We're back with the whole scoop!

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Photos by Jonathan Keller

The offbeat bride: Jessica, Actress

Her offbeat partner: Jason, Customer Support Tech by day, Writer by night

Date and location of wedding: John James Audubon Bird Sanctuary, Audubon, PA — September 25, 2011

MermelKnoxInvite1Our offbeat wedding at a glance: In some ways, our more traditional choices were offbeat to our friends and family. My husband and I are huge geeks (we met at a Star Wars Lightsaber Stage Combat Club. Really.) and everyone expected us to have a Batman or Star Wars-themed wedding. We actually had to post on our wedding website that everyone should leave their lightsabers at home, and it wasn't a joke.

We're very serious about our religion, but we really didn't want the cookie-cutter Jewish wedding I had been to so often. Having a religious wedding was never in question, but we still wanted the wedding to be personalized.

We started with our invite to let everyone know who we were right off the bat; while it had the traditional wording complete with Hebrew on the inside, the outside was a personalized design of my husband and me as superheroes running across the Chrysler Building. We had an extensive website with a full FAQ section since this would be most of the guest's first Jewish wedding and I wanted everyone to be as comfortable as possible.

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We also personalized a lot with our food. It was a real challenge to find a kosher caterer who was willing to alter their sushi-and-steak menu, but I found a fantastic company that created an entirely new menu for us! We asked them to mix Southern Black American Culture with Eastern European Jewish Culture, and we ended up with things like Black Eyed Pea Hummus!

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While I'm not a huge fan of flowers, I do love apples, so our table centerpieces were baskets of them!

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I borrowed a page from Moroccan Jews (which I am not) and got full-hand henna for my wedding. I also paid for all my bridesmaids (and some of their boyfriends) to get henna as well. It was a great bonding experience and stress reliever right before the wedding.

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We also personalized through DIY. I made all of the ceremony programs by hand. I also made the table numbers and our escort cards, which were held by clothespins that I decorated with stamps. I built our robot cake toppers (Jason loves robots) and I even crocheted our Chuppah along with four of my fiber artist friends. The Chuppah is a ceremonial household, so I wanted our first home to be made with community and friendship. He walked down the aisle to the end credits from Battlestar Galactica and I walked down the aisle to Binary Sunset from Star Wars. I also started the day off right by wearing by Batman pajama pants while getting my hair and make-up done.

Finally, the way we were most offbeat while staying the most true to tradition was in our reception. In Judaism, the bride and groom are considered a king and queen on their wedding day, and the guests are their court. It is then the guest's job to entertain the royalty in celebration of their union. Mostly, this means the couple sits while their friends dance in front of them, and it's something that's often ignored in modern ceremonies, but it's always been my favorite part of Jewish weddings. Since Jason and I (and most of our friends) are artists, we asked five sets of people to actually create and perform original pieces for our wedding. It was the best decision EVAR! They were some of the most moving moments of our wedding.

Here is a two-minute highlight video where you can see some of the dances:

Tell us about the ceremony: It was very, very long, nearly an hour. As per Jewish tradition, Jason and I didn't see (or have any contact whatsoever) with each other for a full week before the wedding. No Facebook, no texting, nothing. It was the longest we had ever been apart. So when I saw him at the end of the aisle for the first time in a week, a thrill went through me that I wasn't expecting. While I held it together, Jason broke down into tears, and was holding on to his best man for support, because his legs started to buckle.

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Also per Jewish tradition, I walked around Jason seven times at the beginning of the ceremony. As a little girl, I had never imagined my wedding day, never imagined the dress, never imagined the man, but I did imagine walking seven circles around him, and when I found myself actually doing it, that was the moment I felt like a wife instead of a bride. The whole time I was walking, I was listening to our Cantor sing my favorite song, Etz Hayim (Tree of Life). She's operatically trained, and knows us well, since we sing in the choir at our Shul (temple). Our ceremony was intensely traditional, mostly in Hebrew, though the Cantor did explain everything she was doing in English.

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Hearing each other's vows was very intense. We had both been over-worried about our personal vows, and if they would go together. But they were perfectly in sync. His words took my breath away. The vows happened in the middle of the ring ceremony (which is the actual moment we're married, though there's a lot more ceremony left after that). You are not supposed to wear any other jewelry under the Chuppah, and the rings with which you get married have to be plain gold, without any jewels. Since my actual wedding ring has diamonds on it, Jason and I were married using the same exact rings that my parents used at their wedding ceremony. As soon as Jason finished putting the ring on my finger, he whispered "That's it. You're my wife."

2fAfter the Jewish ceremony (and a little time alone), Jason and I entered our reception and promptly jumped the broom. Here's what Jason said about why we did so at a Jewish wedding:

"The Broom Jump is an African American tradition that has been handed down from generation to generation so that we will always remember that there was a time when ours vows would not have been legally recognized. The bristles of the broom signify the family and friends which have helped shape and create this new family. The handle of the broom signifies Hashem, the Almighty from who all blessings flow. The ribbons around the broom signify husband and wife united in their love. From the Hebrew slaves in Egypt to the African American slaves in America's recent history, we remember. We remember that even as recently as 2009 in Louisiana, a Justice of the Peace refused to marry an interracial couple. We remember that in many of the states in this country our LGBT friends and family are still refused the right to marry. We remember all this, and express our gratitude, that we can marry today freely in the sight of our friends, family, and the Lord."

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Our biggest challenge: I had two major challenges associated with this wedding. One was trying to keep a handle on my own perfectionism. I am an over-achiever. I have to do everything myself, but it's impossible to plan an entire wedding by yourself. Even if it was possible, I wouldn't want to do it, because my husband was so vocal and active in the process. There were parts of the wedding that he really cared about, and he wanted to take the lead on those things. I was so happy that my man was super involved in the planning process, but there were times that we had screaming matches over what decisions to make.

It took a lot of work, but I slowly disengaged myself from controlling the whole thing. I learned to say the phrase "I don't care," and my mother and husband knew that statement meant that it was okay for someone else to take care of it.

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My second problem was nothing less than obsession. I was engaged for a year and a half, and for most of that time, I was unemployed. So while I spent a lot of time applying for roles and going on auditions, for the most part, I was free to work on my wedding. Without a job to apply myself to, I became OBSESSED with my upcoming nuptials. I filled all my free time with my wedding. Soon, I started having panic attacks at the thought of my life after the wedding; what would I focus on? What would I have to look forward to? I was so consumed by my wedding, with no other distractions, that I actually feared what my life would be like once it was over.

That's when I had to do some serious perspective work. Instead of talking to my bridesmaids about my wedding, I asked them about their lives. I banned wedding talk between my mother and I when my husband wasn't there. I refused every impulse to update about my wedding on Facebook. And, whenever my father would begin to panic (guess where I get it from) about the importance and gravitas of the wedding, I firmly reminded him that it was going to be "just a really great party." I was talking to myself as much as him.

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My favorite moment: I'll detail the ones that came from the performances. Five times, the unexpected beauty of our friends stunned me. Our friend Angela choreographed an original dance with music by her boyfriend, that came along with a scrapbook that she had half-filled with feathers from Israel, where she had just come back from living for a year. Showing us the book was part of her dance, and the second half of the book was reserved for feathers that we were going to find when we went on our Honeymoon to Israel a month later. The dance was graceful and hopeful, reaching towards a future she couldn't see.

My best friend and Maid Of Honor, Rachel, sang us a song, and her voice gave me tingles. I've always loved her voice, and since she moved to the opposite coast after college, I missed it so much. It was a real gift to hear her sing.

Jason's close friend J. Michael wrote a spoken word poem about an athlete lost in a dream, chasing butterflies. It was a beautiful allegory for how Jason chased me for five months before I agreed to date him. While the words were beautiful, the way J. Michael spoke them is what made the moment last in my heart.

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The last performance was my parents, whom I had convinced should write us a song. They were in a band in the 60s, and though they fought me, I knew they were going to have a great time writing it together. The end result was crazy sweet, very clever, hysterical, and totally accurate. They called it "The Color Of Love."

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Probably the single most meaningful moment came from the dance Damon and Molly performed. They're both in the world-famous dance group Pilobolus, and they choreographed and performed the most amazing gift. I wish I could share this with everyone. Their movement, their passion, their version of our story.

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They are very close to us, and they put everything they had into that dance, and I'm not sure at what point I started crying, but I do know that I wasn't the only one. I saw at least a dozen people openly weeping, and four different strangers came up to hug the performers when they were done. Damon cried into my shoulder the same way I once cried into his chest many years ago. It was transcendent.

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My funniest moment: The funniest moment came from the bouquet/garter toss. That's not something normally done at Jewish weddings, but Jason really wanted it. My friend Melissa caught the bouquet, and the garter was caught by our Kung Fu teacher, Damon. Damon was one of the performers, and had already become super popular at the wedding with his movement skills. But they hadn't seen the real Damon yet!

He didn't hesitate for a second, and started to slowly unbuckle Mel's shoe! That's the moment she started turning red. He kept solid, constant eye contact with her, while he rubbed her foot, slipped the garter over it, and gently lifted the hem of her skirt. Everyone was dying laughing as he raised his eyebrows up and down, and used a sudden jolting dance move to pull Melissa closer to him, to finish off the job. Mel was laughing so hard, she had tears in her eyes. Everyone was so relieved when Damon finally stopped, because we had no idea how high he was willing to go! It was hysterical.

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Was there anything you were sure was going to be a total disaster that unexpectedly turned out great? The bottom line was that most of our guests were not Jewish. Since Jason's side of the family, and indeed most of our friends, are not Jewish, I was worried that people would be intimidated by a culture they were unfamiliar with. I had a lot of friends who didn't feel comfortable with organized religion at all, much less the expression of it. I was tearing my hair out that some people might refuse to wear a kippah (yarmulka), or be upset at all the Hebrew in our ceremony, or give each other confused looks when we were lifted up into chairs at the reception. I was convinced we'd get static from our guests at this strange and unexpected show of religion.

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However, I was completely blown away by the amazing reception all of the traditional Jewish elements received. Absolutely everyone wore a kippah, and proudly, throughout the entire wedding, not just the ceremony. People tried super hard to dance to the hora, they scrambled over each other to be one of the eight people lifting us up in the chairs, and they listened to the Cantor while she explained what the Ketubah (Jewish Marriage Contract) stated in Aramaic.

A little known tradition is that the mothers of the bride and groom break a plate at the Ketubah signing, and people can take a piece of the broken plate, which is supposed to bring them their true love. I was worried that this would raise eyebrows, but instead it raised hands! My mom had to break the pieces into smaller pieces to keep up with the demand!

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My advice for offbeat brides: Weddings can grow out of control faster than you can imagine. Figure out what things you REALLY care about, and focus on those. When you find things that are not so important, just forget about them. Relegate them to someone else, do something cliche as long as it works, or skip them altogether. Also, you will fight with your fiance. You just will. That's okay. Don't panic. You're in this together.

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Care to share a few vendor/shopping links?

Enough talk — show me the wedding porn!

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