Our Chewish Programs: The Text

Dear dissertation committee:

I regret to inform  you that I did not get much done on my dissertation this semester. Lest you think I have just been sitting at home watching "The Real Housewives of New York City," I would like to let you know that I wrote a book; I've titled it "my wedding program."

Will that count toward the completion of my degree?

Sincerely yours,
Ms. Hot Cocoa

Photo credit: Leigh Miller Photography, Luna Photography, & Della Chen Photography

Our programs were a labor of love (or maybe just laborious) but so important to us for two reasons: first, we worked hard to make our ceremony into an expression of our personal cultures and histories and of our combined Chewishness, and we wanted to share with our guests the significance of the rituals; and second, since we had a number of guests (including my grandparents) who didn't speak or read English, we wanted to have a trilingual program (English, Chinese, and some Hebrew) so that all of our guests would feel included. 

The program begins with a list of the wedding party and readers:
The main text is as follows (Jewish and Chewish brides and grooms, please feel free to borrow):

The Ceremony

Music by Mr. Hot Cocoa

Arrival of the Bride
Music by Mr. Hot Cocoa


Jewish weddings customarily begin with the bride circling the groom three or seven times. Mr. and Miss Hot Cocoa will perform an egalitarian version of this tradition: they will each circle around the other three times and then complete the seventh circle together. This doubled circling symbolizes their intention to orient their lives around their relationship and family, all the while traveling on complementary yet independent paths.

Under the Huppah

The ceremony takes place under the wedding canopy, or huppah. Open on all sides, the huppah represents the home that the couple will create—a sanctuary, but also a space welcoming to family and friends. To signify the Jewish-Chinese household created by this union, Mr. and Miss Hot Cocoa’s huppah is decorated with cherry blossoms, a symbol of love and beauty in Chinese culture. The roof of the huppah is constructed from a tablecloth embroidered by Mr. Hot Cocoa’s maternal grandmother who passed away in 2007.

The Ketubah
Mr. and Miss Hot Cocoa’s first task under the huppah will be the signing of the ketubah, or marriage contract. Their ketubah consists of the traditional Aramaic text, which has bound Jewish brides and grooms since ancient times, as well as an English interpretation, written by the couple and reprinted on pp. #-##, which elaborates on their commitments to one another and to their families. After the wedding, Mr. Hot Cocoa’s twin sister, Elizabeth, will paint the couple’s ketubah.

Four witnesses will also sign the ketubah: Mr. and Miss Hot Cocoa’s grandmothers, as well as groomsman David and best man Adam.
Erusin (Betrothal Ceremony)
The wedding ceremony is divided into two parts, Erusin and Nisuin. Erusin is the formal betrothal; in ancient times, it often preceded the wedding by a year.

Kiddush (Blessing Over Wine)
One of the blessings said during Erusin is the blessing over wine. Mr. and Miss Hot Cocoa will honor their joint heritages by drinking wine from the teacup they used to serve their elders tea during the Chinese tea ceremony that took place earlier in the day.

Kiddushin (Ring Ceremony)
The couple will then exchange rings as a symbol of their commitment to one another. They will also recite the traditional marriage formula, which is translated as: “By this ring you are consecrated to me in accordance with the traditions of Moses and Israel.”

Nissuin (Wedding Ceremony)
Nissuin is the wedding ceremony. It consists of the sheva b’rachot, seven traditional marriage blessings. Mr. and Miss Hot Cocoa have asked some of their friends and family to read the blessings in Hebrew and English. Their voices represent the whole community of people who have come together to support and bless this marriage. The blessings are translated on p. #.

The couple will then share a second glass of wine, which will be drunk from a Kiddush cup given to them by Mr. Hot Cocoa’s parents.

Pronouncement and the Breaking of the Glass
It is customary to end Jewish weddings with the breaking of a glass. There are a variety of explanations for this tradition. For Mr. and Miss Hot Cocoa, the breaking of the glass acts as a reminder that even in a moment of great joy, there is still pain and violence in the world, and they have a responsibility to help relieve some of that suffering. The breaking of the glass also serves as an implied prayer: “May your marriage last as long as it would take to put this glass back together again.”

After the glass is broken, guests are invited to say “Mazel Tov” and
“Gung Hay” (“congratulations” in Hebrew and Chinese).

“Simon Tov u’ Mazel Tov”

Immediately following the ceremony, the newlyweds will spend a short period of time alone with one another. This period of seclusion gives them an opportunity to reflect in relative tranquility on the ceremony and to enjoy each other’s company for the first time as husband and wife.  After some time together, they will rejoin their guests for a festive cocktail hour.
We followed the English text with a Chinese translation.  We also had some appendices (what kind of grad student would I be without appendices?!), including the text of our ketubah and the sheva b'rachot in Chinese, English, and Hebrew.  
We concluded with acknowledgments and the following quote:

The opportunity to establish an officially recognized family with a loved one and to obtain the substantial benefits such a relationship may offer is of the deepest and utmost importance to any individual and couple who wish to make such a choice.
The quote is from In re Marriage Cases, 183 P.3d 384 (Cal. 2008), which is the case in which the California Supreme Court held that marriage was a fundamental right under the state constitution and that the denial of such a right to same-sex couples was unconstitutional.  This ruling was invalidated by the recent passage of Prop. 8.  

Not too long ago, anti-miscegenation laws would have prevented the two of us from marrying in many states.  And since Mr. HC is from Connecticut and I am from Massachusetts, two states in which same-sex marriage is recognized, we found it especially poignant to be marrying in a state that did not. As with the breaking of the glass, this quote served as a reminder of the fact that even in a moment of joy and togetherness, much work remains to be done.

Whew.  That was one looong program.  If you are still with me, you deserve a medal.  And a sneaky peaky at our recaps, which will start with my next post:

What special elements will you incorporate into your programs?

Anonymous –   – (May 9, 2009 at 8:11 PM)  

Hey thanks for posting this--we want to write a similar "guide" to the various Jewish traditions as well and I like your wording a lot. It's a big help to see how you did it.

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