I got married last month in what I call a “mixed Jewish wedding” – I am a Modern Orthodox Brit, born and raised in London, while my stunning wife is a Reform Jew from the northern suburbs of Chicago, U.S.A.
When we got engaged, Jorie and I had very different expectations of how our wedding would look. I saw in my head an Anglo-Orthodox affair – the type of which I had been a guest at for many of my friends. Jorie had envisioned a non-religious American wedding full of whimsy and vintage vases.
Very early on we realized something needed to be done in order to prevent the horror stories we’d witnessed at the weddings of other couples of mixed religious backgrounds. We just weren’t willing to have our own family feuds and embarrassing episodes like those we’d seen and cringed at.
We started out by saying to one another what elements of the wedding were most important to us. Rather than compromise on everything, we each decided on what we were willing to let go of for the sake of the other, and what we were absolutely adamant about.
After much discussion and deliberation, we agreed on some key points: a childhood friend of mine would marry us under the Orthodox tradition; the food would be kosher, but dairy in order to have real wedding cake; and there would be mixed dancing throughout, with a Jewish band for the first dance set and a DJ for the rest.
Like all brides, Jorie took care of the look and feel of the wedding. My opinions on all décor issues were at best tolerated, and we managed to translate to my British family the expectations of an American wedding party.
We spent hours working with our families on the program, to make sure all our guests would know what was going on at every moment. In doing so, we made sure I could have the tisch and bedeken without Jorie’s guests feeling like they had walked into Mea She’arim.
With the rabbi prepped to be slightly more explanatory than normal (without being patronizing) the tone was set for the chuppah to be a relaxed affair with Orthodox overtones.
Though Jorie was terrified that no one would know what to do in the first simcha dancing set, the enthusiasm of my siblings coupled with the energy of my mother-in-law made for a crazy dance floor. Everyone – no matter their religious denomination (including our numerous non-Jewish guests) – got involved. The key was Jorie and I grabbing people from around the dance floor, anyone and everyone, and throwing them into the mix. It’s very hard to say “no” when a bride or groom grabs you to dance.
After the first dance set we switched to a DJ, who accompanied us for the rest of the day. The enthusiasm generated by the first dance set spilled over and filled the dance floor for the rest of the celebration.
After a great dose of wild and celebratory dancing, the relaxed tone of the chuppah was recreated for benching, so as to close the meal traditionally, without alienating those who were not used to it.
The lynch-pin to the success of the day, however, was our understanding and willing families, always there to bend over backward to make sure the other side was comfortable with what was going on. From our parents to our siblings and cousins, they all put in the extra effort, knowing how odd their traditions must seem to the other side.
Of course it was very stressful and tense at the time, but thanks to the care and consideration of our families, their patience and understanding, we had a beautiful Orthodox wedding that managed to suit the needs of everyone involved.
Since not all families are as accommodating as ours, I would recommend mapping out issues as early as possible and working through them sooner rather than later, as well as keeping a constant eye on the comfort levels of your guests. That should ensure a “mixed Jewish wedding” that is accessible and enjoyable for all.