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Feeling Jewish: A Conversion Narrative

posted by Arielle Angel on October 29, 2013
Hora

Image from Ketuv’s “Chairs Ketubah” by Giliah Litwack.

I spent the weekend at the wedding of dear friends of mine that I’ve known since high school. The groom was raised in a Jewish home, while the bride, who was not Jewish, was raised secular. I won’t say too much here–I’d like to let the bride tell her own story–but as I’ve watched the couple work through the issue of conversion over the 12 years of their relationship, I have been extremely moved by her internal transformation: from uncertainty and feelings of being an “outsider” to her unequivocal experience of herself as a Jewish person. This “conversion narrative” was written before her conversion, which took place about a month before the wedding. It is an honest and meaningful document, and I am reprinting it here in its entirety. The wedding day was unique in that most people in the room had known both the bride and groom since they were teenagers, or even before. And complementing that deep sense of history was the fact of the bride’s taking on a new history. When I saw them both up on the chairs during the hora, each holding the ends of a scarf, I felt that her conversion intensified the usual feelings of newness and transformation at a wedding. And also, somewhat paradoxically, that this was a celebration and confirmation of something that had always been there, growing and strengthening since birth. The idea that she had a Jewish soul began as a bit of a joke between the couple, but became very real to both of them through the process of her conversion. Her Hebrew name is Neshama, which means soul. Without further ado:

I was raised in Miami Beach. My father and his parents are staunch aetheists, but I was raised mostly by my mother, who is spiritual in her own way: she believes in spirits, past lives, guardian angels and things of that sort. A Protestant mother, a Southern Baptist grandmother, and a Jewish stepfather raised her, though she likely would identify herself as Agnostic. Growing up, we celebrated Christmas as a secular tradition with presents, decorations, and a family dinner.  We painted Easter eggs, but we also went to our cousins’ Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. We didn’t have a religion but there was an implicit flexibility and openness in our home to the potential for one.

Throughout my childhood and adolescence I was surrounded by Jews. Jewish friends, teachers, and neighbors. I went to Passover Seders, Shabbat dinners, and would light Chanukah candles with my friends and their families.  My fiancé and I have been together for 12 years, since we were teenagers. He comes from a strong Jewish home and I have spent a lot of time as part of it. I always knew that my fiancé wanted his eventual wife to be Jewish, to have Jewish children, to create a Jewish home, but for many years I didn’t consider what that meant to me. I didn’t reflect on the ways in which I had been close to, but still outside of this community that many of the important people in my life belonged to. I felt connected to Judaism, comfortable in certain ways, and yet still distant in others. Converting was a decision that I made, that I embarked on without my partner, because I wanted to feel Jewish, to be Jewish, and to live Jewishly. Conversion has been a deeply personal process that I chose to engage in so that my family, my relationship, my sense of myself as a Jewish person, and the way in which I structure my life would be grounded in knowledge, intention, and meaningfulness.

Since beginning this process, I have moved from observation to active participation in Jewish practices. Things like tradition, prayer, Shabbat, Mitzvot, Hebrew, Torah, shul, and God have all taken on new meaning for me. My house began its transition into a Jewish one—candles are put out on Shabbat, Kiddush cups are in the cabinet, and sweet wine in the fridge. There are books about Jewish theology and siddurim on the shelves. We plan for Shabbat: time is set aside, services are attended, television is shut off, blessings are made, and money is not spent. We have been keeping Shabbat, extending the extent to which it is “kept,” since beginning the conversion process. I stopped buying pork and shellfish. When I cook, I try to be conscious of not mixing meat and dairy.

I struggle with these Mitzvot, too. I work Saturday evenings and it forces me to leave before Shabbat is over, and I also find myself struggling with saying no to other things because of a religious commitment. This balance between work and Shabbat is a negotiation I am still working through. Kashrut is particularly difficult; in many ways, it’s a work in progress. However, I feel that having dietary laws that shape my kitchen and contribute to the Jewish quality of our home, helps to establish our home, defining it as Jewish. It also encourages that I be more present, more attuned to the choices I make. This new mindfulness contributes to my thinking about the type of life I want to establish for myself and my family, and the traditions themselves connect me to a larger community of people, who together and independently help shape the values and choices that structure a life.

This new feeling of mindfulness and community has become especially evident for me when I attend services. The experience of going to shul has really evolved for me since starting this process. Every year, for a while now, I would go for Kol Nidre and then the following morning service with my fiancé.  We didn’t fast and frankly the notion of fasting wasn’t even in mind. During the morning service, my feelings of discomfort would inevitably surface as a hyperawareness to not knowing what was happening. When people reached out to touch the Torah as it passed, or when everyone stood to recite the Amidah silently to themselves, hitting their chests as they came to the confession of sins, I felt the disconnect. I would leave soon after, leaving my fiancé behind, where he felt comfortable and present. I had a very different experience this year. I had been attending evening and morning Shabbat services regularly— sitting, reading, singing, and following along in the service. I had established a connection to the people around me and to the history and the stories that establish and maintain the Jewish people. I had begun to look forward to stepping inside the synagogue on Shabbos and leaving the week, and all that it can entail, behind.

This year, on Yom Kippur, I was now a member of the synagogue. I knew the rabbis. I felt connected to the people around me. I was able to participate with the transliterated prayer book. I reached out with my prayer book and finally touched the Torah being carried through the room. I took part as a member of the synagogue in opening the Ark. I spent time thinking about myself, my choices, and what I believed in. As I stood reciting the Amidah, after having done it already a few times, I for the first time hit my chest as I read through the confession of sins. I was letting go of the restraint in me, the sense that I wasn’t Jewish, the feeling that others might sense or think that I was just trying this on.

In this intense process of converting, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Judaism and what it would mean for me. I would notice myself, and how I was close to or different from what I imagined it would feel like to be Jewish. In this regard, spending Yom Kippur in shul during the ending of this conversion process was incredibly meaningful and pleasantly surprising in many ways. I recognized that I was participating, and wasn’t checked out, uncomfortable, or apart. I was there for me, as someone who felt and will be Jewish, and not for my fiancé. I felt that I was where I was supposed to be.

The notion of not feeling like an outsider, not living as an outsider, has been significant. I think that at first I was concerned that other Jewish people would see me as different. Like they could see a sign on my head that said: potential convert. What I have come to recognize though, is that other Jewish people relate to me as a Jew more and more because I have come to internalize the notion, embody the feeling that I am Jewish. This is very significant for me, it is very special.  It gives meaning to my life and a fullness to my future.

When I think about my Jewish future I think about family. I continue to formulate my ideas about God, continue to struggle with issues of Kashrut. I wonder how my own struggles and questions will be affected by having children who will have questions about religion, spirituality, and who will look to me and my fiancé for explanations. The conversion process has really required that I think a lot about myself and the religion: to keep a structure, to note my struggles, to think about God, which is something I never really did. It has been difficult in ways.  My notion of God was a man in the sky that I definitely did not believe in. This notion made it difficult to open myself to other ideas, to incorporating prayer into my life. My Jewish future entails more of this working through. I have become more attuned to and thoughtful about how I live, how I move through the week, and how I can make a meaningful life. This for me has evolved out of living Jewishly and it is an active process that I plan to carry through into my future.

NEW ketubah, Chairs #3 (Two Brides)

posted by Arielle Angel on March 13, 2013

By popular demand, Ketuv artist Giliah Litwack has expanded her “Chairs” series for two brides! Check it out! Chairs #3 is now available in our shop for all you lovebirds! And don’t miss Giliah’s Chairs #2 ketubah, featured prominently in last week’s Washington Jewish Week, pages 55-56!

NEW Ketubot by Rachelle Tolwin!

posted by Arielle Angel on

Ketuv is pleased to announce the inclusion of two sweet, domestic new ketubot by Rachelle Tolwin! The first is the Geometric Ketubah. According to Rachelle, this ketubah is inspired by the symbol of the chuppah, a transcendental entranceway to a new phase in the life of a couple, where the transformative act of marriage occurs. The second is Growing Together, about “planting the seeds for your life together, as you journey side by side, growing and supporting one another.” We just love how both of these ketubot make use of symbols that center on the idea of “home” — the chuppah, a lovely pair of house plants. What a wonderful way to signal the transition into wedded bliss!

Monika and Jonathan’s Intimate Maui Wedding

posted by Arielle Angel on December 20, 2012

Just had to share these pictures from Monika and Jonathan’s Maui wedding. I always love the simple talis chuppah–that’s really all you need. And get a load of that BHLDN dress. It’s customers like Monika– an artist herself who had trouble finding a ketubah she could relate to before coming across the work of Ketuv artist Paola Andrea Ochoa— who make it worthwhile for us! All photos by Gordon Nash.

Ketubah Signing at Lovely Mountain Nuptials

posted by Arielle Angel on November 13, 2012

Just had to share these beautiful photos of the ketubah signing from Josh and Danielle’s lovely mountain nuptials, taking place at the Banner Elk Winery in North Carolina. The ketubah is Rachelle Tolwin’s Petals Ketubah. Gotta love the post-signing newlywed high five (followed by a kiss, of course)!

I won’t spoil any of the details of this gem of a wedding–you’ll be seeing them on one of your favorite wedding blogs real soon!

All photos by Robby Campbell.

 

The Ketubah, The Tish, The Chuppah

posted by Arielle Angel on July 10, 2012

We just received these lovely images from Jackie and Ronnie’s wedding and we just HAD to share them. Traditionally, before the bride and groom go to the chuppah, the groom has a Tish, where liquor is drunk and the ketubah is signed by two male witnesses. Ronnie’s looked like one helluva party!

Jackie and Ronnie chose Alice Scott’s Pomegranate Gem ketubah. Ronnie is Persian and cited the importance of pomegranates in Persian culture. Jackie’s birthstone is the ruby, which sparkle from inside the pomegranates. It felt personal to both of them, and they both liked the way the ketubah took a traditional symbol and mixed it up a little.

Some couples choose to put their ketubah on an easel. Still others forget this detail altogether and must handle the unprotected ketubah. Jackie and Ronnie dealt with this very cleverly. They had the ketubah framed before the wedding, but without the glass, to allow for signatures. After the wedding, they went back to the framer and added the glass. (If you don’t want to frame beforehand, you can always get your ketubah matted for the wedding and frame later.) The frame without the glass was also light enough for Jackie’s mother to hold the ketubah during the ceremony, which had a very intimate look and feel.

Entertaining the Bride and Groom

posted by Arielle Angel on April 23, 2012

Recently, we profiled one of our favorite wedding bands, The Prenups, but we know that one New York wedding band can’t be everywhere at once. And anyway, don’t Jewish and multi-ethnic weddings have special concerns? That’s why this week, we’ve got Marta Segal Block, the mastermind behind GigMasters.com, a one-stop-shop for all your event entertainment needs, to drop a little knowledge. Remember, at Jewish weddings, there is a commandment to entertain the bride and groom at their wedding. This means that in addition to a band or DJ, clowns, magicians, dancers, fire breathers– they’re all fair game! Take it away, Marta.


The Entertainment: They may be in the background, but they can make or break a party!

Unlike non-Jewish weddings, a Jewish wedding reception is considered part of the wedding itself. There’s actually a commandment that you should celebrate and have fun after a wedding!

A traditional, religious Jewish wedding starts before the ceremony with a Tish. During the Tish the groom attempts to teach a bible passage, while his friends drink and try to distract him. Many modern couples are turning the Tish in to a co-ed event. This is a great time to bring in some entertainment. Clowns, magicians, or singers can all add a festive and modern feel to this tradition.

The Tish is followed by the unveiling of the bride (Beddekin) and the signing of the Ketubah. It’s perfectly appropriate to have a harp or other soft music in the background during this smaller, more intimate ceremony.

If you’re not having a Tish, you can still make the most of your entertainment options. Most Jewish weddings happen on a Sunday, which may open up a variety of options financially since performers will be more likely to agree to shorter performance times or even special deals on a day when they aren’t likely to get other bookings.

This can be a real boon to interfaith couples, as it leaves extra money for a special dance or musical performance that honors one of the partners’ cultures, in addition to their band or DJ. Jewish families are often full family affairs and hiring a magician or clown to entertain the children is a great way to keep the day civilized.

When it comes to hiring a band or DJ, most bands and DJs are familiar with the Hora. If you simply wish to nod to Jewish tradition adding this dance to your normal playlist will be fun and exciting for all guests. But, if you’re having a completely Jewish wedding we recommend asking the DJ or bandleader about his or experience with Jewish weddings. The rhythm of a Jewish wedding reception is slightly different than that of a Christian wedding and having some experience is helpful. If you fall in love with a band that hasn’t worked a Jewish wedding before, consider a wedding planner or day-of coordinator with Jewish wedding experience.

No matter how much experience your planner or band has, make sure that both you and your vendors are clear about any rules of modesty or kashrut that you, your rabbi, synagogue, venue, or family have. There are many levels of observance and what seems obvious to one person may be a new concept to someone else.

Looking for more wedding advice? Check out GigMasters’s Wedding Blog.

The Custom Ketubah

posted by Arielle Angel on March 16, 2012

Custom Map ketubah by Rachelle Tolwin

We know that commissioning a custom ketubah can be intimidating. That’s why we recently shared our tips with Jewish wedding experts, The Wedding Yentas. We had so much info on the topic that the post comes in two parts, Part I and Part II. If you’re considering a custom work, definitely follow the links to the post as a whole, but either way, here are some excerpts that will give you a sense of the process. Figure out what your ketubah is about: Talk to your partner about what aspects of your relationship you would like your ketubah to highlight. They should be the things that you feel are truly special about your relationship. You may want to think about the stories that are important to you as a couple: how you met, the moment you “knew,” a trip you took together. Your ketubah can depict, say, the park bench where he proposed, or a map of all the New York City apartments you both lived in before you met one another. Start thinking about color: This could be as basic as wanting the ketubah to echo your wedding colors, or the colors of your home, or it could be more symbolic. Figure out what you like: There is no special formula to finding the right artist, and you don’t have to know about art to have an experience with it. Look around. When you like something, listen to yourself. Collect images of the artwork you and your partner like, and look at all the images together to see if there is a pattern emerging. Communicate: Let your artist in on the details of the conversation you had with your partner, and share your little folder of inspiration images, taking him/her through your vision for your ketubah. In one case, a couple even sent me a crude version of what they wanted, which they sketched out themselves in crayon!

The client’s sketch to the artist’s rendering

As we told The Wedding Yentas, this may sound like a lot of work, but we believe that you and your partner can figure out the basics of what you’re interested in over the span of a dedicated afternoon. It might also be fun, an opportunity to literally “visualize” your relationship. Don’t forget that your artist will also bring something to the table. You don’t have to have everything figured out in order to start the conversation! Again, for the full post, including more information about ketubah text on a custom work, as well as the details of the agreement between artist and client, please visit The Wedding Yentas, and Ketuv’s posts, Part I and Part II!

People of the Book: A (Jewish) Book Themed Wedding

posted by Arielle Angel on November 28, 2011

I have to admit, I’m a faithful reader of the New York Times Wedding and Celebrations section, mostly because I find it really inspiring the way that love happens in all different ways, at different times for different people. Recently, I read this article, about two Jewish writers who found one another on OKCupid. The article makes mention of the fact that the writers used antique books as their wedding centerpieces. It’s hard when you’re keeping up a wedding blog not to plan your own wedding– even if you’re not even currently dating someone! I love this idea, and I thought I’d do some aggregating for all of y’all looking for inspiration. The great thing is so much of this has the potential to be cheap and DIY.

First some general Inspiration.

The coolest thing about books is the way you can play with color. Whatever your wedding palette, you can do it with books! Check out these book gradients!

Now for the Jewish stuff:

Chuppah

This picture has been circulating on the wedding blogs (from 100layercake):

Seems it would make a perfect chuppah, right? But it is a bit…much. All themes are in some respect performative, but this to me crosses over into theatre. So here are some other suggestions for a bookshelf-inspired chuppah.

Why not make your four posts out of verticle bookshelves like this one from Sapien?

The tall version of this bookshelf is (only?) 76 inches, and at almost $300 a pop, it’s hardly cost efficient for a four-poled chuppah. BUT, there’s no reason, with a little hard work and ingenuity, you couldn’t fashion something similar yourself. What would be the coolest (if you ask me) is an invisible shelf, that makes it look as though the books are precariously stacked one on top of the other. You could also use a metal rod to go down through all of the books, if you’re not worried about losing them. You can drill eyehooks into the top book of all four posts and attach your chosen chuppah fabric that way. (If anyone takes this advice and goes for it, please please please send us pictures! We’d love to see it!)

We’ve already blogged about using garlands from Etsy to make your chuppah. Here are some literary-themed ones that would be great for this purpose.

By hoopdaloop. $10 for a 10-foot garland

By The Pulparazzi. $9.50 for a 53 in. garland

By daisyanddots. $10 for 46 in. garland

Ketubah

Who says your ketubah can’t be in a book format? Just because few people do it, doesn’t mean it can’t be done! Several of the artists on our Ketuv roster work in book arts. Why not commission one to make your ketubah in a book, with the signatures on the last page? I particularly like the idea of a ketubah in a moleskine, a la Catalina Uribe Percy:

Ketuv artist Golnar Adili also experiments with text and documents in interesting ways:

Save-the-Date

Bookmarks, bookmarks, bookmarks!

Imbue You Wedding has some really beautiful ones:


Martha Stewart also has some good suggestions on how you can DIY, with a nice card stock and store-bought tassles.

Invitations

Green Wedding Shoes posted a bride’s account of her invitation within a book. They’re great, but so time consuming they almost don’t seem worth it. Not to mention the exorbitant shipping costs. I much prefer these less bulky, more suggestive designs by Oh So Beautiful Paper.

Name cards

This is tops in my opinion. Totally DIY, and the name cards are personalized take home bookmarks. Only one suggestion: what if the line of books were a color gradient? Sure you might not have all your “favorites” but it would be real purdy.

(Source.)

Centerpieces

Ok, so this has got to be the coolest idea ever:

From Gardenkultur and reblogged by Inhabitat. Thankfully, you can DIY, and Inhabitat has a great tutorial on how to create book planters. May I suggest bonzais?!

Along the same lines:

(Source.)

Other great ideas:

Tutorial from Once Wed.

I’m telling you, people, GRADIENTS.

Simply amazing. Via 100layercake.

Via Wedding Bee

Particularly love these very very old books. Via The Sweetest Occasion.

Ring bearing

A great idea by Jennifer and Chad from Hartland, MI, as featured in Brides.

Guest Book

The “typewriter guestbook” idea from Martha Stewart:

But what I think could be even cooler is turning an old book into a guestbook by lightly whitewashing the pages with watered down acrylic paint or gesso, and leaving certain text or images un-whitewashed, to show through. Your guests will sign right on top of the whitewashed pages. Here’s a tutorial that teaches you to do something similar. I’m not suggesting the scrapbook option, though you could do that, too, but rather that you use the text or images that were originally in the book to spruce it up. You could use a book of love poetry or a book of illustrated fairy tales, for example (or feel free to use something entirely less cheesy, of course). If you try it, send us a pic!

Giveaways/Favors

What do you think of this idea? Every guest brings a book they love, but wouldn’t mind parting with, and they deposit them on bookshelves somewhere in the wedding space. (What about on bookshelves like these invisible ones, from Umbra?) When everyone leaves, they take a book with them that interests them, as provided by another wedding guest. You can encourage How-To books, picture books, comic books, etc. for those who aren’t big readers, so they’ll be able to contribute and exchange with one another. Personal, progressive, and FREE.

Bridesmaid/Groomsmen Gifts

Secret “book boxes” are relatively easy to make, and a great gift. I wouldn’t recommend trying to make them for every wedding guest, unless you’re having a very small wedding, but for your nearest and dearest, I think this is a fun and personal DIY gift. Here’s a great tutorial on making a secret hollow book.

As I said before, I wonder at what point a theme goes overboard and becomes complete theatre. I imagine you couldn’t do all of these things at once, but rather choose the accents you most enjoy. Let us know what you think!

Best of Etsy: Green Growing Favors

posted by Arielle Angel on November 18, 2011

What’s the deal with favors? They’re mostly just manufactured junk, right? That’s why I’m partial to a living, growing, eco-friendly and potentially DIY alternative: plant favors! They’re beautiful, they’re utilitarian, and they’re quite often cheap. A note about eco-consciousness and the Jewish wedding. For whatever reason, conservation has not been championed as a cause by the most religiously and politically conservative members of the Jewish community, but that is not because this value is not in the Torah. It is! All over the place! There are prohibitions against needless waste (Bal Tashchis, Dvarim 20:19-20). There are laws against air, water and noise pollution (Harchakas Nezikin, found in the Talmud). There are many commandments regarding kindness towards animals, and a prohibition on causing them needless pain, particularly those who are going to be slaughtered for food (Tzar Baalei Chaim). There are laws requiring all cities to be surrounded by a greenbelt (in modern terms, this can be read as a way to preserve biodiversity). There are laws that require farmers to allow the land to rest every seventh year (shmitta). There is even a blanket decree that declares us stewards of the land, with a responsibility to it (Devarim 11:10). If we take care of the land, the Torah says, it will take care of us. We hope you’ll keep this in mind while planning your Jewish or inter-faith wedding. Or any wedding, for that matter. The environment is all we’ve got. If you feel inspired, you can attempt to DIY favors inspired by the below. Martha Stewart has some suggestions how (we particularly like slides 3, 4, and 5). What’s great about all of these favors is that most of them are pretty cost efficient and they all have the potential to double as name /seating cards. Air Plants

Air Plant Terrarium by TheTropicalGarden, 4.5 x 4.5 in. $12/per but less for bulk orders. Moss colors are customizable.

Air Plant Boxes by toHOLD. $135/ 20 boxes, customizable colors

From the seller: “Your guests can place them in an old jar from the flea market, old wedding china, or in a cool ashtray. No dirt required! Easy to care for – just run them under water once a week and give them some light (they LOVE office flourescents).”

Seeds

Seed Bombs by BigRockPaperCo. 7-10 seed bombs in each packet, $1.50/per ($1.65 for custom orders). Seeds, ribbon color, and tag fully customizable.

Seed Bombs by visuallingual. Hand-screenprinted personalized pouch (3 x 4.5 in.) with 5 seed bombs of edible herbs: basil, dill, cilantro, chives, and parsley. Price per depends on quantity, but ranges from $6.50/per – $3.50/per.

Wildflower Seeds by thepaperynook. Handmade muslin pouch, seeds, and custom thank-you note tied with rope. $1.95/per.

Potted

This is a personal favorite! Mini Chalkboard Herb Pots by SophisticatedPalate. Comes with 3 pots, chalk, handmade envelope with your choice of seeds. $9/3 pots with seeds, but discounted for use as wedding favors.

Succulents by SucculentsGalore. Succulents with pots wrapped in natural color ribbon. $168/48 succulents with pots.

Lavender Herb Box by favorcreative. 3 x 3 x 2 in. recycled box. Inside: 2 in. peat pot, peat pellet, instructions for planting, and lavender herb seeds. Ribbon color is customizable. Personalized tags sold separately. $35/10 boxes.