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My Big, Fat, Multi-Ethnic Jewish Wedding

My Big, Fat, Multi-Ethnic Jewish Wedding

"It was a spectacular night of loving and being loved."

The author on her wedding day

I’m a half-black, Jewish woman who grew up with her Italian grandmother and German grandfather in the suburbs of Chicago. My husband, Charles, is a Jewish New Yorker whose grandparents came from Poland and Austria. Our backgrounds couldn’t have been more different, but we found ourselves at the same college sitting in the same area of the cafeteria for breakfast every morning.

Since college, we’ve built a life with Judaism at its center. When the time approached for us to get married, we knew we wanted our wedding to be a reflection of us and for our families to be woven into the details.

That’s how we ended up with our beautiful, meaningful, big, fat, multi-ethnic Jewish wedding on January 13, 2018.

The Chuppah, His Dad, and My Grandpa

Charles’ dad, William “Bill” Epstein, z”l, was the smartest person I ever met. Every wall of his family’s apartment was lined with books, and he’d read every single one. Bill was kind, and he loved without conditions. After a life of being a Jewish learner, a patient and supportive father, and an all-around mensch, Charles’ dad passed away on July 7, 2015. His memory has been nothing short of a blessing. We think about how excited Bill would be to see the way Judaism has added so much light to our adult lives.

When we got married, Bill’s tallit (prayer shawl) hung above our heads as part of our chuppah (wedding canopy), and my grandpa Denny helped make the rest of our wedding canopy. My grandpa is a bright- blue-eyed German man who taught me how to start a conversation with anyone. When I told him I converted to Judaism, he said he was so happy that “found something that felt right” to me. We asked him to make the poles for our chuppah, and he delved into the project despite it being a tradition he knew nothing about. He read chapters of books we sent him, texted us with questions, found the perfect wood, and spent many nights making sure the poles turned out as beautiful as possible.

Together, my German grandpa and Charles’ Jewish dad built our chuppah – our wedding home.

The Wine, His Mom, and My Grandma

My grandma Marian is a fierce 5’2” lioness of an Italian woman whose fingers always gently tried to comb my afro while we watched Oprah on summer mornings. Charles’ mom Patty is the badass professional, mom, and Jewish woman I aspire to be. She became a bat mitzvah at age 56 and stands as a testament that our Judaism truly is a lifelong journey.

We knew that the time in our ceremony for our Birkat Erusin (blessing of engagement and fidelity) was also the perfect time to honor my grandma and Charles’ mom. We picked a kosher wine made in Sicily, Italy, where my grandma’s family is from, and our first Kiddush cup was the cup Charles’ mom got on her first trip to Israel.

These were the women who made us each who we are today. Together, my Italian grandma and his Jewish mom blessed us into our marriage.

The Music and Us

The wedding music seemed like a perfect place for us to show the many facets our colorful Jewish identities. Together, we walked to the chuppah to “Por Ti Volare,” our favorite Italian opera song, and it continued as we circled each other seven times, a Jewish wedding custom.

Bob Marley was my first introduction to black music, so he held a special place in my heart. If the world ever started to feel like a little too much, Charles would sing Marley’s “Three Little Birds” to calm me. That song played in the background as we signed our ketubah (wedding contract). After the ceremony, the evening continued with the horah and our first dance. It was important to me that we had a strong black woman represented in some aspect of our wedding, so we danced to Tracy Chapman’s rendition of “Stand by Me.”

Our wedding captured my journey as a black, Italian, German, Jewish woman in so many important ways. It tied Charles’s and my and lives together with the Jewish journey we embrace as adults. Our big, fat, multi-ethnic Jewish wedding was a spectacular night of loving and being loved.

Getting married? Mazal tov! Learn more about Reform Jewish wedding customs at reformjudaism.org/weddings.

Tani Prell Epstein is the director of Jewish learning and engagement at Emanuel Congregation in Chicago, IL, and a student at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership, where she is pursuing a master’s degree in Jewish professional studies. She previously was an arts educator for a Chicago charter school, a Teach for America corps member, and a creative writing major at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN. She believes that developing inclusive spaces for members of the Jewish community to learn and grow together is vital to ensuring that our future is filled with critical and compassionate thinkers. In her spare time, she enjoys writing, sci-fi, theater, and brunch; an ideal day would include a combination of all three. 

Tani Prell Epstein
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