Jessica & Emet's queer Orthodox Jews in a Reform Temple wedding

December 4 2014 | offbeatbride  
Photos by: Jennifer Emerling Weddings
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Photos by Jennifer Emerling Weddings

The Offbeat Bride: Jessica, Grant Writer

Her offbeat partner: Emet, Technology Teacher

Date and location of wedding: Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Los Angeles, CA — August 31, 2014

Our offbeat wedding at a glance: We are a queer, observant Jewish couple who met and got engaged in Jerusalem. I'm from Atlanta, and Emet is from LA, and we had no idea that we were going to have to go across the world to meet our bashert (soul-mate)! We dated very intentionally and got engaged after five months, though I knew after two weeks that I was going to marry Emet.

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When we were planning the wedding, we knew we wanted to keep it mostly traditional, but that was hard since we are also a queer couple. We did a lot things from Jewish tradition that most people who grew up in a Reform or Conservative Jewish home would not have known about.

We had a vort, which is a time traditionally that a plate is broken to signify the seriousness of the engagement — just like the plate cannot be made unbroken, our commitment to each other has reached a point of no return. Our mothers broke the plate, and Emet and I said a few words of Torah. This is typically done with gender segregation, but we decided against that because we are a same-sex couple and don't abide by the rules of gender segregation.

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We made all of the decorations and table centerpieces ourselves. Thanks to the 99cent store and IKEA, we made our own table assignments (pomegranate cut-outs on lollipop sticks), match books (we had stamped our names and faces of all 200 matchbooks), papier-mâché pomegranate card box, and a pomegranate bean bag to toss in place of a bouquet toss. We had no flowers, no bouquets, and no bouquet toss. It was important to us to have kosher food, too. We had a great DJ who helped us think of alternatives to the typical bouquet toss, and we hired my dad's friend's son who is in film school to do the videography. We wanted to make sure that each of our vendors knew us personally and understood who we were as individuals and as a couple.

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Tell us about the ceremony:
We worked with our rabbi to maintain a traditional ceremony with a queer twist. A friend of ours designed the ketubah that we signed before the ceremony, and Emet put the veil on me to signify that she will always strive to protect me.

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Our parents walked us down the aisles holding tall candles. The cantor sang a few traditional songs, such as "Mi Adir" and "Od Yishama." We wrote our own vows and included Hebrew in them because it was important to us. We also changed the wording of the traditional Sheva Brachot (taking out references to the bride and groom and not adding in bride and bride because it didn't feel right to us due to our gender presentations). Our teams of awesome (my two sisters and Emet's sister and niece) along with Emet's dad's partner read from our Sheva Brachot, blessings for the wedding couple. We both stepped on the glass. After the ceremony, we spent 30 minutes in yichud, which means that we were alone for the first time without any chaperones after we got married. We ate a few appetizers and had a breather before we had to go up for the reception.

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Our vows:

I commit myself to you, my bashert. I will strive to love you unconditionally, care for you, support you, communicate with you, share my life's happinesses and burdens with you, and establish and maintain a Jewish household with you. I will learn with you, be honest with you, fulfill your needs, respect you, and be kind, patient, and forgiving while keeping a sense of humor and encouraging you to be the best that you can be. I will try in every way to be worthy of your love.

I will betroth you to me forever
I will betroth you to me with righteousness
and with justice and with kindness and with mercy
I will betroth you to me with faithfulness

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Our biggest challenge:
We wanted to maintain as much tradition as possible, but we also recognized that as a queer couple, our marriage would not be recognized under Jewish law. We worked with our non-denominational rabbi to navigate the expectations of what a traditional Jewish wedding looks like and what works best for us.

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My favorite moment:
In Orthodox Judaism, the couple getting married does not see each other for seven days prior to the wedding. We maintained that tradition, and since we were already living together, I stayed with my cousin's in-laws while we were both in Denver. We talked on the phone once that week, but it was too difficult, so we kept with only texting. The night before the wedding, my parents hosted a dinner in the hotel, and we were very creative so that the two of us wouldn't run into each other the halls.

Neither of us saw each other in our wedding attire prior to the wedding, even though I witnessed her fitting at the NY airport on a layover from Jerusalem.

The most emotional and meaningful moment was seeing Emet for the first time after seven days. We both cried. I was a little nervous to see her because I hadn't seen or touched the person I was marrying and going to spend my life with in seven days. The longest we had spent apart was when I had visited the US the summer before, just after we started dating. It was worth it to be separated, despite how difficult it was emotionally.

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My funniest moment:
A couple of our family members gave toasts, and Emet's sister included a part about how Kevin Bacon said that the key to a successful marriage is clean fights and dirty sex. The kids' table (kids under 17, but most under 10) lost it. They were laughing so hard, and we all thought, "Oh, no! Do they understand the joke?" We found out that they were laughing because they thought it was ridiculous that someone's name was "Bacon."

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Care to share a few vendor/shopping links?

Enough talk — show me the wedding porn!

  1. I am Jewish, so great to see a traditional Jewish with a twist! You guys can't be any cuter. I love the big lighted OY. Now I want some strawberry cake.

    9 agree
    • Thank you! We felt it was absolutely possible to do it traditional with a twist. One of the rabbis had the OY sign in his office, and when we saw it, we immediately knew we wanted to take pictures with. The picitures turned out great, and we're so glad we did that!

      6 agree
  2. We are Conservative Jews who had a same sex wedding (1 partner IDs as genderqueer, the other butch). SO nice to see other Jewish queer couples on here and to see how you made it all work. Also, the Kevin Bacon joke is hilarious. Treif!

    7 agree
  3. I have followed OBB and APW for six months, and I have never commented before, but I had to break my silence to comment on this incredibly moving and beautiful wedding! I love how much thought and care you put into your wedding. It totally comes through; I feel like I was there. (And I wish I actually had been.) Thanks for making my morning. Congratulations to you both!

    2 agree
  4. Yay, and Mazal Tov! Of course you are not the only ones like you. That's why you should be happy to hear that you are so wonderfully wrong in thinking you did "things from Jewish tradition that most people who grew up in a Reform or Conservative Jewish home would not have known about." It's a unfortunate prejudice that un-orthodox means uneducated. Many Jews across the spectrum know and practice the traditions you mentioned. You are not nearly as alone as you think.

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    • I said that because for example, my parents, while married in an Orthodox synagogue, did not know about traditions such as the vort, the 7 day separation, and the Sheva Brachot. I also did not know anything about them. I grew up in a Conservative Jewish household, and while we didn't keep kosher or Shabbat, it was a very Jewish home. I first heard about Sheva Brachot at my friends' queer Reform wedding, and they made the blessings unique for them. Emet and I used the book, Meeting at the Well by Nancy H. Wiener and Daniel Judson, during our engagement, and the book touched on the vort, too. I think more and more these traditions are becoming more known in the other denominations, which I'm excited for! They are great traditions and I hope they will continue into the future!

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      • We actually did a full betrothal a year in advance and broke the plates then (I knew my Grandma wouldn't make it to the actual wedding so I wanted a full pretty dress ceremony she could attend). I keep meaning to frame them and put them up with that contract, but it seems kind of redundant once you have the Ketubah and glass, ya know?

        • What a great idea! We had engagement parties, but didn't break the plate until the day of the wedding. One of our guests was an artist who took the pieces of the plate, but we didn't think about doing anything with it beforehand. I think even with having the ketubah framed, if the pieces of the plate are important to you, then I know there are so many art projects you could do with them!

  5. "we were alone for the first time without any chaperones after we got married"
    I am endlessly fascinated by the concept of courting ( for lack of a better word ) with chaperones and never being alone until after you fall in love and make a lifetime commitment. I would love to hear how it felt to make and follow through with this decision, how it impacted your "intentional dating" and how awesome it must have felt to finally be alone! Would you ever consider writing a post on that topic?

    1 agrees
    • We used the yichud more symbolically because we had been alone together – we were living together – but because of the dynamics of the day, it was the first time since we had seen each other alone in seven days. Yichud went by really quickly, too. We didn't have time to process anything and only had a few minutes to eat something, even though we allotted 30 minutes for yichud!

      1 agrees
  6. Maybe it's just past my bedtime and I'm a little emotional, but I seriously cried more than I'd like to admit at those first-look photos. The raw emotion and love in those photos is just too beautiful and I can't handle it!!! Ack! <3

    1 agrees
  7. Your vows are my favorite of all the many many vows I've read here on Offbeat bride. And I absolutely LOVE your dress and veil. Beautiful wedding!

    • Thank you! I had specific ideas about what I wanted in my dress, and I found just the one for me (after going to about 6 stores with no luck). The day I found this dress, I had given up on finding one that would work for me!

      2 agree
  8. I've never commented here before, but as another queer Jew (OTD), I have to de-lurk to say how beautiful you both are, and beautiful your wedding was! I'm all teary. Mazal and bracha to you both!

  9. Did you end up doing a tisch or bedeken? And if so, how did you do so in a way that felt appropriate for your gender identity and that didn't feel weird for people who didn't know these traditions? We're queer jews, too, and our families will not be as familiar with some of the traditions we like.

    Besides a program, how did you provide information to your families/friends?

    • Yes, we did both a tisch and a bedeken. For the tisch, we had considered doing it gender-segregated, but it didn't make any sense logistically or meaningfully. We were going to have already seen each other, and it felt weird trying to keep separate spaces. In the end, we did the tisch during the cocktail hour before the ceremony. During the tisch, our mothers broke a plate, and Emet and I both gave a short d'var Torah, along with our rabbi. Then the wedding party went inside the synagogue to a small room off the sanctuary, and we signed the ketubah, immediately followed by the bedeken, in the same room, while everyone else made their way into the sanctuary. Emet put the veil on me, and I fastened a kippah on her. One thing that we didn't plan for but ended up being great was that just after the bedeken, the rabbi encouraged our mothers to give us a blessing. It was really sweet, and our immediate families were there along with the ketubah witnesses to see.

      We did not print programs. Instead, we only had a poster board set up just outside the sanctuary that showed the timing of the day and had pictures of the wedding party. We were fortunate to have a fabulous rabbi who talked through everything for the audience.

      My advice in making sure that you feel comfortable with traditions is talking it out with your partner and your rabbi/officiant. Do what feels right to you. We came to our rabbi prepared with what we wanted and questions concerning the things we weren't sure how they would work, and she encouraged other questions for us to consider. We knew we didn't want to have references to bride and bride, so we changed it – and I think having a rabbi who understood these issues really helped us because we could change things easily. I have heard that some officiants have a set ceremony and they don't like to change it, so I would really recommend making sure that your officiant will work with you to create a ceremony that you want. We also found a lot of internet resources on traditional same-sex Jewish weddings, which influenced our own decisions. I hope that's helpful. Let me know if you have other questions. I'm happy to answer the best I can!

    • Having a rabbi who can talk through the traditions with out sounding like he's teaching a Jewish Weddings 101 course is very important. Otherwise, I found the program the most effective way to make sure everyone knew what was going on ::shrug:: The best part about using the program was getting to specify what the various traditions mean to *you*. For example, there are about a half dozen interpretations for why we break the glass, but only a couple speak to me.

      https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-dG0gTjqfquQ/TbX7javgV1I/AAAAAAAAP24/QJyXQumVaZY/w380-h828-no/Brochure1.jpg

      https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-9nw53WSYbfc/TbX7jqFm3bI/AAAAAAAAP28/S_GJ8cYzZEA/w371-h828-no/Brochure2.jpg

      Of course, for people IN the wedding, having a rehearsal helps.

      • Our rabbi incorporated a lot of how we saw the traditions in her discussion.

        We had an interesting rehearsal since Emet and I couldn't see each other. Emet, the rabbi, the coordinator, and both of our families figured out the ceremony without me, and then I just ran through the finished product. I agree with you, Anie, having a rehearsal is very important. We didn't know what we would have done without it!

  10. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful and meaningful wedding! I'm also Jewish and had a relatively traditional ceremony and found it so meaningful to stick with traditions (and had to make fewer choices too, bonus!). Mazel tov to Jessica and Emet!

  11. Your wedding is wonderful!! Mazel tov to you both. I know the joy of finding my bashert in the most unexpected of places and circumstances, and was lucky enough to marry him as well. We walked the path of planning an interfaith, intercultural wedding and it was an important building block in our life together. I love reading and seeing the contemplative joy that you both took in finding the right and true road through the traditions. You both look radiant in the photos, rarely have a seen a couple with more toothy grins on here. 😀

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