Defining Renewal

Reader, I married them.

I'm a romantic; I get jazzed every time two people decide to take the leap of faith involved in committing to spending their lives together. I'm also a liturgy geek; I love the endless variations that are possible on the wedding theme. And I'm a poet with a longstanding interest in the potential transformative power of language, so it lights me up when people pay close attention to how the words they speak can change their lives. It stands to reason, therefore, that I would love doing weddings even more than I love attending them. All of the above pleasures apply, plus I get to apply my time and energy to making the phenomenon happen in a way that's simultaneously customized to the two people involved, and consonant with their tradition(s) and their understandings of God.


I like all weddings, but last night's stands out, both because it posed such fascinating challenges, and because it was so darn much fun. Last night I married Wendy Koslow (of now-defunct blog The Redhead Wore Crimson) and Joey "Accordion Guy" Devilla. Their story reads like a fairytale. They were introduced by Reverend AKMA at the first BloggerCon a few years back. Despite the distance between Toronto and Boston (and between their two families and backgrounds -- Wendy is Jewish and American, Joey a Catholic Filipino-Canadian) they fell in love. I was thrilled and honored when they asked me to officiate for them, though I knew this ceremony would stretch my skills; it's not like I have a vast repertoire of Jewish/Filipino wedding liturgies to draw on!

I consider myself as a kind of bespoke tailor of wedding ceremonies. I work with the couple to choose beloved things that matter to them and I stitch them into something beautiful and uniquely theirs. Where interfaith ceremonies are concerned, I aim to walk the fine line between honoring each tradition's uniqueness and integrity, and finding ways for our differences to be complementary. But I'd never tried to harmonize elements from two such disparate traditions before; would the seams show?

To my deep pleasure, several people said that the ceremony was beautiful, meaningful, and felt like it was made from whole cloth. (Download it here in .pdf form.) The ceremony came together over the course of many months, countless emails about Jewish and Filipino wedding traditions, and a delightful weekend spent together comparing ceremony drafts and talking about Wendy and Joey's religious identities, questions, and needs. It was fun to assemble, and fun to perform.

I expect many of the ceremony's elements were unfamiliar to the Filipino guests. We stood beneath a beautiful flower-adorned chuppah; we began with havdalah, then blessed wine which Wendy and Joey shared from a familial kiddush cup. I read aloud the English translation of the text of their stunning ketubah, which they had signed before the ceremony. At the close we joined our voices in a shehecheyanu, and after the glass was broken shouts of "mazal tov!" rang throughout the room. Immediately after the wedding the couple sequestered themselves for a brief yichud, a chance to connect with each other in privacy before re-entering the joyful throng of the party.

Then again, many of the ceremony's elements were unfamiliar to the Jewish guests too (and, for that matter, to me, at least until now). There were a dozen sponsors who alternately acted as godparents for the union and helped out with the ceremony. Two sponsors, and the happy couple, lit a unity candle symbolizing the marriage of two lights, two lives, two families into one. Two other sponsors assisted with the exchange of arras, a string of golden coins, used by Joey's parents and grandparents before him, symbolizing the abundance the couple will now share. Four more sponsors lent their hands to the cord and veil ceremony, linking Wendy and Joey beneath one cloth.

Despite the divergent roots of these elements, I think combining them worked. The cord and veil echoed the chuppah's message of a single sheltering home for these two remarkable individuals; the unity candle and the havdalah candle both shone with flames brighter than the sum of their wicks.  And I think AKMA and I worked well together, too; though I'm a better-than-average homilist, last night we were in the presence of a master. From the moment AKMA intoned, sonorously, "The internet is what brings us together, tonight" I knew we were in for a real treat. (Read his homily here. I deeply enjoyed not only working together but also having the pleasure of several conversations over the course of the weekend; this is a collegial friendship I look forward to continuing.)

After the ceremony was over, Ethan and I relaxed with AKMA and Margaret and toasted a job well done; then came a beautiful dinner, excellent food, adorable monogrammed M&Ms, and hours of music provided by a rocking nine-piece band (which became a ten-piece band briefly when Joey, true to form, picked up his accordion and joined them.)

During the round of champagne toasts, Wendy's mother welcomed the Filipino guests with a few words of Tagalog; Joey's mother reciprocated, closing her toast with "L'chaim!" White satin kippot went beautifully with shiny embroidered barongs. "A marriage of two cultures" is usually metaphor, but in this case it was literal -- and I've never seen anything more beautiful. (Enjoy Ethan's wedding photoset for a glimpse of just how lovely the whole affair was.)

Perhaps my favorite moment of the night came after dinner, when the radiant couple was visiting tables and came over to visit us. "Thank you," Wendy said. "I didn't know this could be so much fun."

Wendy and Joey, I wish you happiness and long life, laughter and music. Being a part of your wedding was a blessing for me; may that blessing be multiplied in your life together!

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