I first met Alli at Sarah Lawrence College, where we were studying poetry. A year or two later, I ran into her and her boyfriend at a poetry reading in New York City. I remember looking at their smiles, seeing how they were holding hands and thinking, “these two happy lovebirds are going to get married one day!” And they did.
Here is the story of a “Jewish girl from Long Island” and a “British man with a Christian upbringing” getting married and discovering how differences can be similarities. I think you’ll particularly love the readings they chose and the vows they wrote themselves.
Thanks for sharing, Alli!
Ed and I are not two people who you’d say “stand on ceremony.” We are not terribly traditional. Our backgrounds could easily have pigeonholed us as such—me, a Jewish girl from Long Island, and he, a British man with a Christian upbringing—but put us together and we’re a pair of odd ducks. Take, for example, our engagement: he had no ring in hand and I had a mouth full of lox and bagel when we decided, at our dining table, one Saturday morning in late August 2007, to get hitched (not to mention I actually had gotten tipsy and proposed to him the night before!). We immediately decided that the person to officiate our ceremony would be a neutral, non-religious, justice-of-the-peace type. Heck, what about having one of our friends ordained for the occasion? Let’s throw in some henna, recite the whole thing in iambic pentameter, hire a flutist, and so on. (I’m actually joking about almost all of these things.)
About a week later, my whole family was helping my sister move into her first apartment, in Brooklyn. Sometime in between laps to her 3rd floor walkup apartment, my father said to me, “So, you’re going to have a rabbi.” Something in his voice made me realize that was not a question. “Uh…” I stammered, searching my fiancée’s face for help. My dad explained to me that there were no options in this situation; we would have a rabbi marry us. Strange, I thought, we’re not even a religious family. I believe his next words were, “He can be a Hare Krishna for all I care, but we will get someone who is called rabbi.”
And then Ed, god love him, piped in. “Well, then we’ll have to have someone to represent my side.”
Thus began our quest. Both of us, while atraditional, love our families completely. We wanted everybody to be happy (also remember, this was the beginning of our engagement), and my father rarely makes absolute requests like that.
We thought back to a wedding we went to in 2005, for our friends Sherrill and David. They were also an interfaith, international couple (Sherrill is a friend of mine from elementary school, David was born in Brazil and moved to New York when he was a teenager). Their rabbi, we remembered, gave a beautiful ceremony, blending religions and languages—he delivered his words in English, Spanish, and Hebrew. The sermon was not overly religious, and was careful to include both families, whatever their beliefs. I got his phone number and called right away. Rabbi Frank, I learned, was raised in an Italian interfaith family; his father was Catholic and his mother was Jewish. He had decided, after learning much about both religions, to explore his Jewish side and become a rabbi. This was after teaching high school Spanish and Italian for over 30 years. He called himself a “humanistic rabbi.”
Rabbi Frank sounded like the one for us! I booked an appointment for us to meet him. Our meeting went smoothly as he asked us questions about our relationship, what we wanted out of life and marriage, and how we envisioned our ceremony. He also made one of the most generous offers I’ve ever received: that he would not only be our rabbi for the wedding, but through life, as we would indeed have questions in the future about how to incorporate religion into our family.
We told him that we were looking for another officiant, one who could represent Ed’s upbringing, and asked if he worked with anyone regularly to provide this service. He said he didn’t, and actually told us a couple of horror stories about working with various priests and ministers who, let’s say, didn’t see eye-to-eye with him on his humanistic way of officiating weddings.
So our next order of business was to find a Catholic priest who a) would perform a wedding ceremony outside the church, and b) one who would perform an interfaith ceremony at all. I had awful visions of didactic priests who would malign me on my wedding day, or worse, reprimand Ed in front of our guests that he was committing a sin by marrying me. We did internet searches and wracked our brains for a few weeks. One afternoon, Ed was chatting on the phone with his mum about our dilemma when she asked him a question that should have been obvious to us: “Why don’t you just ask your cousin Michael, the vicar, to marry you?”
Cousin Michael is an Anglican Reverend in Sussex, England, and we should have thought of him right away, except for this: Ed was raised Catholic by his Irish mum and was only thinking he’d have to find a Catholic priest. Ed asked Michael if he would do us the honor, and he graciously accepted. Problem solved!
There was the new problem of having a rabbi and a reverend who lived 3,000 miles apart try to coordinate the particulars of a complicated wedding ceremony. We spoke with both of them extensively about the traditions of both faiths, what was the usual order of events, which religion held which parts of the ceremony most dear, and many other things. Apparently, in the Jewish faith the rings are the most important part of a marriage ceremony, and in Christianity it’s the vows. We decided we’d definitely incorporate some traditional Jewish elements: we’d drink wine from the same glass, get married under a chuppah (canopy), and Ed would stomp on the glass (what Rabbi Frank stated was “the breaking down of barriers” and also symbolic of “happiness as abundant as the number of pieces of glass and problems that are as easily shattered.”). On Rev. Michael’s end, he’d deliver the all-important declarations and vows.
It was wonderful getting to know both clergymen through phone and email, especially Michael as he would soon be my cousin, too. This also gave us the freedom to work outside the boundaries of a typical Jewish or Christian wedding. We would get to have our wacky ceremony after all!
We also knew that we wanted secular readings, rather than religious ones. Since I am a poet, and Ed is also a fan of good literature, we asked our sisters to choose literary readings they would perform at the ceremony. They both chose gorgeous pieces, which almost made me cry when they read them on our wedding day. Tami, my sister, read “Sonnet #17” from Pablo Neruda’s 100 Love Sonnets. Lavinia, Ed’s sister, read “Marriage” from The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran.
So after several months of planning, and one very funny and delicious lunch meeting between our families and both clergymen the day before our wedding, we were all set. Oh! But I’m forgetting the most important thing: our vows.
We decided since we were floating in and out of the boundaries of tradition, we’d write our own vows based on the traditional ones and memorize them for our wedding day. I was a little reluctant to share them with all of you, since they’re very personal. But considering I already declared these words in front of almost 200 people, here they are:
Alli/Ed, I love you with all of my being, and I vow to respect you as my wife/husband, share with you as my equal, and honor our marriage.
I will be generous with my happiness and laughter, celebrate your accomplishments, and treasure our life together.
I pledge to honor your freedom and individuality.
I promise to protect, comfort, and support you. I will always be your friend.
Let us strive for excitement, adventure, and passion in everything we do.
After we said these words to each other with no trace of hesitation or faltering, we exchanged rings, shared wine from the same glass, received the final blessings, Ed smashed the glass into a thousand pieces, and we were pronounced Mr. Brydon and Mrs. Shaloum-Brydon…
…your typically atypical husband and wife.
Alli Shaloum-Brydon is a children’s book editor and poet. She meets fabulous, creative people all over the place, but thinks her new husband is the most interesting person she knows.
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