Rites of Passage
October is a busy month for me this year. I had known for several months that I would be officiating a Simchat Bat (Blessing of the Daughter), but all of a sudden I had a wedding to officiate and another baby blessing!
The wedding was for a couple that I didn’t know at all, and unlike all my previous wedding/commitment ceremony experiences we didn’t have months to prepare; we had a week and a half. It’s important to me not to be some lame “rent-a-reverend” who gets the name of the couple wrong during the ceremony. Even with the short time, I wanted to be sure the couple had as much of the experience as I could give them. Considering this was an interfaith couple, the challenges of creating a ceremony for them in the short time were scary. I had very little time to figure out who they were, what was important to them, and what they really needed. They want to have a Jewish ceremony, but really didn’t know what that entailed, which added more challenges. I needed to quickly explain the elements of a traditional Jewish ceremony, and what was and wasn’t appropriate for an interfaith couple (from my perspective). I really want to be able to work with interfaith couples, since this is something I have personal experience (9th anniversary this year!) with and know that finding truly supportive clergy can be a challenge for a couple.
The outcome was a lovely ceremony, which I would call “interfaith Jewish.” The order was very close to the traditional Jewish ceremony, but there was a dual ring exchange and instead of the Ketubah reading there were vows. The family of the couple gave the Sheva Brachot (Seven Blessings), which were based on about four different translations. We also found a way to work the teenage son of the bride into the ceremony in a way that I think he really appreciated. Having been through several of my parents’ weddings, I know this can be really important.
The couple’s enthusiasm and spontaneity made the whole event very sweet and heartfelt. I think they kissed three times before we got to the official kiss. All in all, a wonderful experience that I feel blessed to have been a part of!
A friend from work asked me to officiate her baby blessing. They didn’t know the gender of the baby until it was born, so I was truly relieved it was a girl. That seven day prep for a Brit Milah was really scary for me. But because we were preparing in case it was a boy, I met with the couple long before the baby was born to discuss ceremony options. During the conversation, I realized what I really needed to talk to them about was “why?” Why do this? What is it about this event that is important to you? What is is about Judaism that you want your child to learn? We had great conversations about what being Jewish meant to them, so I could ensure that the ceremony set a good foundation for their family’s future.
After the girl was born, they decided to wait a few months before the ceremony. The mother really took to reading up on Simchat Bat options and found Celebrating Your New Jewish Daughter to be her favorite guide. She’s a copywriter by trade, so she was a breeze to work with. She sent me a list of priorities and what she liked and loved from the book. Since I felt like I really had a good understanding of the couple and what they wanted, it made crafted the ceremony much easier than I expected.
The ceremony was on Shabbat evening, so we ushered the baby girl into the covenant through Havdalah. From all I can tell the family, both immediate and extended were very happy. I stumbled over a little of the Hebrew, which makes me less happy. But — that’s me critiquing me, and as long as the family experienced what they needed to — that’s what is important. For myself, I need to do a better job of preparing with the Hebrew when it’s unfamiliar.
What I’m really excited about now is my growing rite of passage book of ceremonies. Next week is yet another baby blessing. This time it’s two kids, a boy and a girl of different ages. The more ceremonies I am blessed to officiate, the easier this all gets. It will be lovely when I can say, “here are several I’ve done, I think this one is a good fit for you to start with.” I also know it’s all about practice. I’ve been writing and leading rituals for years, but this is different. This is “officiating” and it’s different than leading a group ritual for a holiday. There are different things to worry about and that are expected. I’m grateful for these opportunities to practice my calling. It really is the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done. In the end, I’m not sure if this is all a bigger rite of passage for me or for them.