Throughout history, gay and lesbian relationships frequently have become life-partnerships. In some cultures these unions were accepted, and even encouraged. However, throughout much of the history of Western civilization such unions have been illega l and continue to be so today in most places. Since the 1960s, the gay liberation movement has pushed for the social and legal recognition of these unions. increasingly, lesbian and gay couples have chosen to celebrate their unions in traditional and non traditional ceremonies.
To affirm their ethnic identities as well as their lesbian union, Yael and Luana Silverberg-Willis created a ceremony using the wedding customs of their two heritages. What follows is Yael's story of the event:
We are family members in a gay synagogue called Sha'ar Zahav, so we decided to have our synagogue's rabbi, Yoel Kahn, perform the ceremony. After we talked to him, we knew that he Would meet our needs perfectly. While understanding my desire for a Jewish ceremony, he also voiced the concern that we create a ceremony in which Luana's needs would be hilly met as well. We loved him from that point on. We met with him once a month for six months as he led us through lessons of personal growth, dream sharing and conflict resolution. Later we would understand that this process was, in fact, the wedding.
As extravagant women, we decided to have a formal event. We each wanted to wear dresses, and we decided that our attendants would wear black tuxedos. As we moved into gear, it became evident that we would each have to deal with our emotions around not having our families there to help with the process. There was no emotional and, of course, no financial support. It was through putting together this enormous event that we gradually changed our definition of "family." Every need that arose was answered by a core group of friends. One embroidered our chuppah (the canopy under which we were married), another planted all the flowers, another arranged all the bouquets, another baked a three-tier carrot cake and ran our reception. There was als o a bridal shower and a bachelorette party; the community was getting ready for a much needed public statement of powerful love and commitment.
I had decided not to tell my family until two months prior to the ceremony. Luana and I had little luck in getting any positive responses from them, and we didn't want six full months of negative feelings. Why did I tell them at all? Because I wa sn't going to hide my passages. The only members of either family that were supportive were Luana's youngest brother, Robert, and my Aunt Terry. Luana decided to have her brother walk her down the aisle, and I chose to go it alone.
The writing of the ceremony was the most difficult part. We worked hard to create a ceremony which integrated our individual cultures as well as our beliefs as a couple. Linda Tillery sang gospel under the chuppah, we drank wine from a kiddush< I> cup and a kikombe (unity) cup from Kwanzaa, and we wrote our own interpretation of the Jewish seven blessings which spoke of our eight most important values. We created a ketubah (a Jewish marriage license) and called our ceremony a kiddushin (a sanctification ceremony), not a wedding. We put together a pamphlet which explained the ritual objects we were using as well as our beliefs. This was important, because our friends' cultures are as diverse as ours.
Ritual is integral to the survival of a people. Support and love are integral to making that survival healthy. We learned, as did our friends, that we must look beyond the limited definitions that exist in both the gay and straight communities. Ou r ceremony left all one hundred and fifty guests changed. There was such an extraordinary feeling of love filling the synagogue; there wasn't a dry eye left, and everyone's perspective was broadened.