Posts Tagged ‘Interfaith’

I’m so excited.  This is a divine weekend, for sure, and I have been so looking forward to its arrival.  There is such an amazing story about how I got here, which I will tell later, but, for now, the beauty of the fact that I am here is enough.

So, tonight begins Max’s Bar Mitzvah experience.  I’m in Montvale, New Jersey, and we are holding the ceremony tomorrow evening at the Unitarian Church.  Who’d-a-thought?  Audrey, Max’s Mom and I have only seen each other a few times through a unique video-chat setup in their home, so Audrey wasn’t sure we would find each other as I arrived in baggage claim, in Newark, but as soon as I stepped one foot into baggage, we knew immediately who each other was.

Have you ever had one of those times, where you met someone for the first time, but felt sure you had known them all your life?  Well, this is Audrey.  But, it shouldn’t surprise me, because we must not forget that I am connected to Audrey, because of Sharon, my soul-sista from Yelena’s wedding in the DR.  And, there’s a whole story about how I got connected to Yelena, (through Rabbi Andrea in New York) so this whole thing is one big insane Law-of-Attraction story that nobody will really ever believe.

But what’s important, is that I’m here.  I’m here to keep a boy connected to Judaism, whose family has left 4 synagogues, because they never felt welcome, in fact, quite the opposite.  I’m here to let a boy know that his Jewish heritage will never let him down, as long as he stays connected to it, and that the effort he makes is worth way more than the quality he performs with.  I’m here to bring a Jewish and Non-Jewish family together, to help them see the richness of our faith, and the blessings we receive when we embrace it.  I’m here, because G-d brought me here, and I couldn’t be more proud.

Max, I can’t wait to share this moment with you tomorrow.  Audrey, thank you for dinner tonight, and for making me part of your family.  Sharon – I adore you.  You are more my soul-sista tonight than ever.  Rob – you’re an amazing father and husband, and I’m honored to be part of this simcha.  Stay tuned…Max’s Bar Mitzvah, live, Friday night!


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I just read Rabbi Lev Ba’esh’s post over on www.Interfaithfamily.com, one of my most favorite Interfaith relationship resources, and was touched by how similar our experiences and positions are on performing Interfaith ceremonies.

Anyone who reads my story on my website, www.mypersonalcantor.com, knows that when I married Wayne, my Christian ex-husband, the list of available Rabbis to perform our wedding was a very short one, at best.  I can’t remember his name, nor do I have a good memory of him at all.  Looking back, he struck me as someone who would marry a cat to a dog, for a check.  Uninspiring, to say the least, but he certainly did not help the Jewish factor in my marriage, as my husband formed a strong impression about him, and related that impression to the faith, overall.  Bad mistake.

I can’t even begin to recount the numerous run-ins we had about how judgmental, critical, conditional, and exclusionary the Jewish faith was, which couldn’t be farther from the truth – but you know as well as I do, that perception IS 100% of our reality.  Sad.

Today, I, like Rabbi Lev, feel I have a completely different impact on the families I touch by my ceremonies.  Also, like him, I am more frequently approached by the Jewish guests than the Non-Jews, with comments about how much I taught them about their own faith.  As Jews, we learn to do and say very certain things, but never learn why.  We don’t learn the meaning in our lives, we don’t learn why.  Our traditions are beautiful.  The fundamental message of our religion is “Do the right thing”.  Read the words to the V’Ahavta – the prayer that follows the Shema, the most important prayer a Jew can utter.  The words tell us to love God, to speak of Him, remember Him, and take him with us in our hearts every day.  If we do that, we will surely make decisions that prove that we were made in his image.  We are beautiful people, with a rich, touching history, and being Jewish is a magnificent thing.  Unfortunately, too many people aren’t shown the beauty of being Jewish.

My ceremonies include lessons about why we do what we do, and what the meaning is in our lives.  I always try to relate a Torah portion or lesson from the Torah in my ceremonies, so everyone can take a piece of God home with them.  In this way, nobody feels excluded, nobody feels alienated, and even the Jews learn just a little more about our beautiful faith than they knew before.

The end result, hopefully, is that everyone who attended that wedding, or even Bar or Bat Mitzvah feels the beauty that eminates from Jewish lessons.  When a couple has decided to marry, it is not up to the officiant to judge that decision, but it is our responsibility to strongly and proudly represent our faith.  It is up to us to hold our heads up and take a stand for why this Interfaith family should NOT turn their backs on Judaism.  It is up to us to put being Jewish in their hands, however we can make that happen.  We should NOT try to force anything on anyone, but I just don’t see how strongly representing something so beautiful could possibly be looked down upon.  If we believe that God brings man and woman together, what gives Rabbis the right to second-guess his decision?

Jewish, done right, is a magnificent thing.  Judaism is the cornerstone of my life.  It is my road map to God.  It is my light that guides me, teaches me right from wrong, and holds me up when all else fails me.  Why wouldn’t I help someone else have that feeling?  We cannot be afraid as Jews.  We cannot run away.  We couldn’t run away in the past, and we must not run away today.  We must stand up proudly, and teach our Interfaith couples that Judaism is beautiful, and can be the light that guides us all.  Thanks, Lev.  You reminded me again how amazing it is that we have the opportunity to do what we do.  I am so grateful.

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What is a Lyceum, you might ask?

Well, Wikipedia tells us:

A Lyceum can be

The precise usage of the term varies among various countries.

But, for me, the Lyceum in St. Petersburg was the location for my most recent wedding, and it was so much fun!  A bit different from most, David and Katie’s wedding was a fun, sincere, down to earth, REAL, and beautiful wedding weekend.  I really liked them both when I met them in Aventura several months ago, and having spent time with their family this past weekend, I am so happy to have had the chance to work with them.  For starters, I left home early Thursday morning, and drove as fast as I could to St. Pete, and met them and their wedding party at the Mirror Lake Lyceum for the rehearsal.  Immediately after the rehearsal, David’s Dad hosted the bridal party, friends, and family at Cafe Aura, in downtown St. Pete.  I had the pleasure of sitting with Ken, David’s Dad, and his 2 sisters and brother in law.  They were a lovely family, and so sweet.  Lunch was delicious, but it was the ambience of this little downtown cafe that really hooked you!

From there, I had the evening to myself, and experienced one of the nicest evenings I’ve had in a while.  David and Katie had 2 hotels for their guests, the Marriott Courtyard and The Ponce deLeon Hotel, and they chose the Ponce deLeon for me.  (YAY)  What a treat this was!  From the moment I walked in, Erica greeted me at the desk, and was the most vivacious hostess I had ever met.  (Except for my Mother in Law at The House of Sea and Sun!).  The hotel is an adorable vintage style guest house directly across from the Marina and Park, and I had hours upon hours to walk and take in the beautiful downtown scenery in St. Pete.

A great place to stay!

A great place to stay!

While I was walking, I came across an adorable floating chapel – a perfect location for a wedding!  I have to give them a call to see if I can possibly officiate there!  (Maybe it’s an idea for a new angle of my business??)

in the Harbor in St. Pete

in the Harbor in St. Pete

For dinner, I went to Ceviche, and could not recommend it more!  It was a great night!  (But, this is not a travel review, it’s a wedding review – so on to the venue!)

Brian at the Lyceum was also an amazing participant, and he led the rehearsal and managed all the details with impeccable style.  David and Katie did a great job of blending their Interfaith wedding, not to mention step parents, and extended family.  David’s Mom had passed away several years ago, and so Katie’s Mom walked David down the aisle, with his Dad, Ken.  Since Katie’s Mom had remarried, and her Dad and Step Dad were both there, she chose to walk down the aisle with both of her Dads.  It was so sweet, and it paid tribute to all of the parents, in just the right way.  I was touched at their ability to blend and adjust the way they had.

David and Katie chose a sand ceremony, and we signed the Ketubah in the presence of their guests.  Their ring exchange was the traditional Jewish style, where we first place the ring on the right Index finger, and move the rings over to the left ring finger after the vows are repeated.  They had a beautiful wedding party of 5 bridesmaids and 5 groomsmen, with 2 junior bridesmaids and 2 ring bearers.  Everyone was dressed in black, and they looked beautiful.

David and Katie are a beautiful couple, inside and out.  They had a simple style, and a strong commitment to each other as a couple.  I have faith that this will be a long lasting relationship that will flourish and grow, and I’m so happy to have been a special part of their weekend!  Thanks, David and Katie!

At the Lyceum, after the wedding

At the Lyceum, after the wedding

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Gee, another month I just pulled down from the calendar.  It seems like yesterday I was getting ready for Rosh Hashanah, but a full month has flown by, and the end of the year is coming up so quickly.  I couldn’t step into November, without writing about the rest of October.

Last weekend, I officiated my first double-wedding-weekend.

Saturday night, I performed a wedding for Sebastian and Moran.

Sebastian and Moran

Sebastian and Moran

They were the sweetest young couple, and as always, the experience of working with them brought incredible joy and happiness to my heart.  Sebastian contacted me from my website, and he told me that he was looking for the perfect person to officiate their small, intimate wedding ceremony.  I thought he sounded so young!  (he was!)  But, we met in Aventura one afternoon, and I began getting to know this couple, and we were connected right from the start.

They have the cutest story – He is from Argentina, she was from Israel.  They met while he was traveling in Israel, and then, they bumped into each other again a few weeks later – 200 miles away from where they met.  They carried on a long distance relationship for a while, and then, Moran moved to Florida.  She really didn’t know anything about planning a wedding (who does??) but, over the time we worked together, Moran really did a great job and learned so much, and she and Sebastian made the most lovely wedding ceremony at The Bath Club, in Miami Beach.

It was a small, intimate ceremony, and I’m so excited that because they didn’t really have a chuppah, I decided to make one of my own, so, at their wedding, we used my beautiful, handmade chuppah for the very first time.  This is one more couple that really became very special to me, and I hope we all stay in touch for a very long time!

My chuppah

My chuppah

Sebastian & Moran’s ceremony

So – at about 8:30 p.m., when the ceremony was over, I jumped in the car, and drove to Jacksonville, for the wedding of Ian & Lindsay, at the Ramona Pavilion in Jax.  (of course, the ceremony was the next morning)  The weather was beautiful, and it was such an amazing day.  Lindsay also worked so hard on making her day just right, and she did a great job.  Ian and Lindsay’s wedding was an Interfaith wedding.  He was Jewish, and she was raised as a fairly devout Christian.  We wanted to make sure we incorporated the fundamental Jewish rituals, without being too over the top for the non Jewish guests.  We incorporated a sand ceremony, adapted the processional a bit to meet everyone’s needs, added a few non Jewish traditions, like giving away of the bride, etc., and the wedding was great.  Everyone felt comfortable, and was so happy with the turnout.

Ian & Lindsay’s ceremony

It’s not easy to create the perfect service for everyone.  I really believe that while it is about the bride and groom, it is also about respecting their immediate family, and making sure everyone can be comfortable with the outcome.  Even in a full Jewish wedding, like an Interfaith wedding, both sides often have different expectations, and it’s important to consider and balance everyone’s needs.  It can be done, and it can be fun!

So, for November – a wedding in St. Pete (David and Katie), another Havdalah Bat Mitzvah (Rachel and Mara), a trip to Punta Cana (Yelena & Lenny), an Orlando wedding on Thanksgiving weekend (Michael and Megan), and a Memorial service here at home.  Another busy month to come, which I am so thankful for!

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I just can’t figure out how each ceremony I do becomes my favorite!  I have so many favorites, I just don’t know how to classify them all, and this past Shabbat morning was no exception!

E&Z – A brother/sister team that shared their special day quickly worked their little ways deep into my heart, bringing me to tears of joy and sadness as we stood on the bimah together at the end of their ceremony.  I worked with E&Z for about 9 months.  Every week, we gathered around the dining room table, and did our thing.  Every week, E brought the most amazing enthusiasm and desire to please, while Z – a bit quieter and less interested in pleasing did his share.

It was actually strange, looking back, to realize that very quietly, somehow, Z’s interest took hold, and he began to change through this process.  Suddenly, his work was done perfectly.  His effort increased, his memorization and trope improved immensely, and I could see – he was actually taking pride in what he did.  Both E and Z always strived to understand the material, and make it meaningful to them, rather than just accept at face value what they were supposed to be doing.

I especially enjoyed working on the 10 Mitzvot with them.  They really took those personally, and I could see they began to mirror the lessons we were working on, and becoming even better and more responsible teenagers as they recognized they were becoming more accountable for their actions.

R – their Mom, well…what can I say?  This woman runs her household with impeccable diligence, rules, structure, humor, and grace.  There was always an upbeat air to her household, yet, you just knew that she juggles a lot.  It’s not easy for a single Mom to handle the kids’ schedules, a job, and planning a B’Nai Mitzvah, but she did such an incredible job.  At the end, she and the kids gave me an absolutely amazing gift that I just want to say thank you AGAIN for – another sign of her caring, generous heart and soul.

But – then…The event.  She did such an amazing job.  It was held at Jacaranda Country Club, and the room looked beautiful.  The chairs were done in a lime green and turqoise blue, and it looked so beautiful.  She had more than 55 kids, and 130 adults, so we were a full house, but it was warm, and you couldn’t help but feel the positive air as you walked in.

I made sure that I set the proper tone for the day.  I knew I had a lot of Jewish and Non Jewish family members in the audience, and it was important that I made all of them feel comfortable and welcome.  I reminded them that it wasn’t about how much (if any) Hebrew they knew, but about the positive prayer they held in their heart for Z & E, that mattered.  We sang, we prayed, we laughed, and rejoiced, as the kids took their spots as adults in the Jewish faith, and in the eyes of G-d.

For me – it became another favorite, but one that will live long in my heart.  Thanks, R, for sharing your beautiful children with me, and for giving me a piece of your family.  I will cherish it forever!

Mazel Tov to The Family!

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I have a rich and varied background that brings me to where I am today. As a child growing up in a Conservative Jewish community, I was mesmerized and transformed by the musical experience of singing in synagogue with my family. Our Jewish holiday celebrations and lifecycle events became the most special moments in my life.
Brought up in a musical home, I followed my passion to sing while growing up, however, never realized how I could combine my love for music with work that would inspire and transform me.

In 1987, I met and married the man I fell in love with, however, much to the chagrin of my family, he was not Jewish. I had no idea how I was going to raise a family, much less an Interfaith family, but I had faith that I knew would carry us through. As our family grew, so did our need for spiritual worship, and as a parent – a JEWISH parent, I felt drawn to the worship experience I grew up with.
I was immediately faced with the harsh reality that Interfaith couples and families are not welcomed with open arms by the traditional houses of worship that exist today. Sure, even the most liberal synagogues open their arms in terms of membership, but when asked to actually facilitate the lifecycle events of the Interfaith family – now THAT was a different story…

I raised my children in our Reform synagogue in Weston, Florida, and served as a faithful congregant for years. But over the years, I have found that almost 80% of South Florida’s Jewish community is unaffiliated, and therefore unable to participate in a Jewish communal experience. They have little or no access to warm, meaningful Jewish lifecycle events. One cannot be Jewish alone, and while many people believe that synagogue life is the best way to be part of a Jewish community, not everyone feels the same way, I hope to serve as a connection for unaffiliated families to their Jewish roots and community.

In 2004, I met Rabbi Joseph Gelberman, the founder of the All Faith Seminary in New York. Rabbi Gelberman is the most amazing man, almost 98 years old, and sharp as a tack. My friend, my mentor, and my inspiration, Jerry Cohn introduced me to Rabbi G. That day, having lunch, in a Chinese Restaurant in Tamarac, Florida, he asked me to chant Debbie Friedman’s “Mishebeirach”. That moment was the most transforming moment of my life, as he asked me to found a Cantorial program with his seminary, and of course, through years of study with him and his staff, I became the first student to achieve a Cantorial S’micha, through the New Seminary.

Now, remember – I am still and will always be a congregant in my own synagogue. My worship needs are completely fulfilled by the Jewish community I am part of. But today’s social environment has created challenges that the Jewish community is unable to provide solutions to. For whatever reasons, 80% of our Jewish population does not, nor will ever, belong to a synagogue. And because of that, it’s possible that unlimited future Jewish generations could be lost forever, unless someone works to help these families maintain their Jewish connection.

So in 2004, I chose to become – Your Personal Cantor. A spiritual leader, a coach, a singer, a cheerleader, and a teacher. All in one. Yes, I believe that to be Jewish, you must be part of a Jewish community, but as our society expands, so does that Jewish community, and if I help you connect to your Jewish roots, then the likelihood of your future connection remains strong. I am committed to helping families, couples, and individuals remain connected to Judaism, in any way possible.

Call me today to find out how I can help you.. B’Shalom. Debbi

Email: Debbi@mypersonalcantor.com or call 954-646-1326

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As if helping people, working with them at their happiest times in life, and traveling all over the world isn’t good enough – there’s yet one more reason why I absolutely LOVE what I do. That reason is my friend Liz’s family, for whose family I have truly become “Their Personal Cantor”. Let me tell you more….

I became invested as a Cantor in 2004, and shortly after my investiture, my friend Liz, who I worked with professionally at the time, was also single, and dating. Since I was a bit older than she was, I always had to check out who she was looking at and talking to, and give my approval to. Well, in a separate post you can read about Scott & Liz’s courtship and marriage, but – because I was so closely involved with their first meeting, they asked me to marry them, and I did! I had performed weddings before, but this one was SO special. She was my friend, and now, so was Scott.

Almost immediately, as was their plan, Scott and Liz got pregnant with Jordyn, the cutest little girl ever! (Well, except for my niece, Alexa – sorry guys…) As her pregnancy was moving further along, Liz called me and asked me to officiate her baby naming, which I would have LOVED to do, but she did it on Thanksgiving weekend that year, and I had already been hired to officiate a naming in Atlanta for a friend, so I was unable – that made us very sad, because it just wasn’t going to be the same. “Next one”, I promised…and they agreed.

Since I had worked with Liz, I got to know her mom, Debra, who is one amazing woman. I love her. She is rough and tough on the outside, and as soft as a marshmallow on the inside. Debra would give her life for her kids, and I’m sure, many times, she felt as though she did. Through my relationship with Liz, I also got to be quite friendly with Jamie, Liz’s brother, who also worked with us in the same office. (We were all in the recruiting industry at the time. They still are, but obviously, I left to follow my heart..)

Jamie’s dating adventures were frequently topics of interest in our conversations, but one day, Jamie met Camille, and the rest was history. Camille is stunning – inside and out, but I’ll talk more about her later. As I got closer with this family, I always knew Liz and Jamie had a super special relationship with their grandma, Agnes. Agnes lived an amazing life, and was so fortunate to live a long one, full of love, children, family, and good times. She died just a few months ago, and at the time she passed away, Liz called me to tell me about her grandmother, and asked me to officiate her funeral. The family couldn’t possibly want anyone else to do it, she said, and I was there. I put all of my other work aside, and immediately became immersed in this family, the brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, everyone. No different from any other family in mourning, but this was somehow MY family, and I felt their pain as if it were my own. I chanted El Malei Rachamim at the funeral, and when I sang this beautiful melody, I was transported to a different place somehow. My feet on the floor, but my heart rose above, and again, I knew, I was in the perfect place. Helping this family through a difficult time, I somehow felt that I could take some of their pain away, and I hope they would tell you that I did.

Well, we all knew at the time of Agnes’s funeral that we had happier days to look forward to together. Jamie and Camille’s wedding was scheduled for June 7th, and we were so excited! Just knowing we had that happy occasion to celebrate made everyone feel better, in joyous anticipation of the day that they would walk down the aisle, and of course – I would officiate their wedding.

Ok, so, back to Camille. Last December, I officiated a Bar Mitzvah for a mutual friend of ours on a RCCL cruise ship, and Jamie was a guest on that cruise as well. I knew he was bringing Camille, but he hadn’t yet officially proposed. I was excited to meet her, and she was everything everyone had said – and more. She was the perfect balance for Jamie – fun, beautiful, a little bit bad girl – but mostly good – and very grounded. She had a little boy named Gaige, who Jamie had really become a father figure to, and they had just bought a house together, and were getting ready to move in. I told them I wanted to do their wedding, but that was a bit off in the future, and they weren’t ready to think about that yet.

Until a few months later, when they were settled in, and then I got the call from Liz. “Jamie and Camille got officially engaged, and you need to call them”, she said. So I did. Jamie and Camille wanted a very different wedding than what Scott and Liz had, but, it was still beautiful, warm, spiritual, and most of all – it focused on what was important. The very special love between Jamie and Camille, that anyone can see when they are together. It was simple and non pretentious, but it was personal, and all about Jamie and Camille. That’s how I want my weddings. Camille called me yesterday to say they had just gotten back from the honeymoon, and to thank me for performing a beautiful wedding. There’s no greater feeling than to stand at the union of two very special people, feeling their love for each other, and everyone’s love for them as a family, and to know that I made it official. But not only did I make it official, I became even more so, this family’s “personal cantor”, friend, family member, and spiritual partner. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to be part of their lives in this way, and now, I’m looking forward to next week, when Liz gives birth to her 2nd child on June 27th. (a boy this time… Again, I won’t get to do the ceremony, but I will get to say a few prayers) Of course, Liz had to go schedule the bris on another holiday – so July 4th, when everyone is lighting fireworks, we will be welcoming a beautiful little boy into the family, together. Truly a cause for celebration…

Jamie & Camille\’s wedding ceremony

Scott & Liz\’s wedding ceremony

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