A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of connecting with Yehudit Steinberg, the founder of the Jewish Interfaith Wedding Network. JIWN is a unique resource designed especially for interfaith couples looking to create a wedding experience that will reflect their traditions and lifestyle. It was so much fun to connect with Yehudit and hear her story. Check out my interview with her below!
Can you tell me about your Jewish upbringing? What sparked you to want to be so involved in Jewish life?
I was brought up in a post World War II secular Jewish household. Our Jewish identity was based on the foods we ate and the Yiddish my grandma spoke with her friends. I had a brief encounter with Hebrew school around 2nd grade, and it really didn't resonate with me at that time. I just couldn't understand why I was learning Hebrew, we just didn't have any Jewish context in our home other than Channukah candles and presents instead of a Christmas tree. I always yearned for our family to have traditions like my Christian friends in the neighborhood.
Photo Credit: Albert Montenaz
A few years later, we moved from New Jersey to Miami and my mother thought it would be a good idea for me to have a Jewish education. She sent me to Temple Beth Am where I had my confirmation at age 16. To tell you the truth, I never did understand what was going on and had no idea about any of the family and home rituals because we didn't have a Jewish practice in the home. There was this spiritual yearning that started to bubble up in me and I became a seeker, exploring many different faiths and cultures.For Hanukkah one year when I was about 6 or 7 years old, my grandmother bought me the book "World's Greatest Religions, a Time LIfe Book". I would sit for hours looking at all the different religions from around the world in awe and wonder and was just passionate about learning different traditions. This was not very common like it is today. That is why I love where we are in the world today. Borders and walls have come down and barriers of acceptance among people are starting to happen. Yes, there is still a lot of work to do, but the multi-racial and bi-cultural families are becoming a norm.
Why did you start Jewish Interfaith Wedding Network & Sacred Events?
I started JIWN because I wanted interfaith and intercultural couples to have a safe and comfortable place to come and plan their wedding and ceremony. A place where they could receive support and positive reinforcement for their major life-changing decision of marrying someone who was from a different background. A majority of our couples had plenty of naysayers on their way and we wanted to be the place they could come that was a positive experience and celebrated their partner's diversity.One of our parents last year went to 6 or 7 rabbis before they found us. The family was an active member of a synagogue for many years and their rabbis wouldn't perform the ceremony. He was pretty heartbroken and about to give up, and when he found us, he was overjoyed. We created a beautiful ceremony for his son and daughter-in-law. They were so appreciative.
It seems like welcoming interfaith couples is central to your work. Why is this so important to you?
My family has an interfaith component to it, as well. My stepmother, who I love very much, is from a Polish Catholic tradition. She converted to Judaism to marry my dad, which was a requirement back in the early 1960’s. She sent all the children to religious school. One of my half-brothers is Jewish and the other is Christian. My stepmother is considering joining a synagogue, even though my dad has been deceased for over 50 years.
Photo Credit: Luke Snyder Studios
For the past 20 years, I've been married to a rabbi and for the first time in my life, I've discovered the beauty of the Jewish tradition. He teaches a kind and compassionate view of Judaism, a new perspective for me. During the first 10 years together, I studied with many great rabbis who taught the intention and meaning behind the rituals and traditions; Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Rabbi Michael Strassfeld, Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi z’tl to name a few. I experimented with new and interesting ways to practice a Jewish life, incorporating practices I was learning from the Eastern traditions.
Can you tell me about the new blog you are setting up? Who will it be a resource for?
This blog explores the latest trends in designing Jewish, Interfaith and Cross Cultural weddings. Cultural traditions and customs add a meaning as well as beauty to your events. With just a little bit of creativity, you can create memorable events. However, there is a little bit of knowledge that is required to be able to create an authentic Jewish Interfaith/Cross Cultural wedding. By taking a look at the different traditions, we can see similarities between us with a focus on the positive common human emotions expressed at this key transformational event.
The Jewish Interfaith Wedding Network blog features articles on traditional and modern Jewish practices from the different cultural Jewish traditions throughout the world. In addition we explore cultures outside of Judaism in order to become better global citizens and compassionate family members.
What advice do you have to a newly engaged interfaith couple, as they start dreaming about what kind of wedding they want?
Start early with planning your wedding. Take time to get to know each other’s families, join in their holiday celebrations and spiritual traditions, if that is a part of their life. Be respectful and compassionate. Pick your battles carefully. Take time to delve a little deeper if the parents want to have certain traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation. Instead of saying ‘No I don’t want that included', be patient and step back a moment and try to understand from their perspective why certain things are important to them.With a delicate balance and a positive mindset, look at how you can incorporate both your wishes and theirs with slight modifications that can work for both. Most of the time, this can be worked out. There are a few times that one or more of the parties involved are very rigid in their demands, that you have to just not be able to please everyone.
Be sure to check out the Jewish Interfaith Wedding Network for many more resources on planning your interfaith wedding. For further reading on our blog, check out our 4 Tips for a Drama-Free Interfaith Wedding, and our interview about interfaith ketubahs with Daniel Sroka of Modern Ketubah.