Wedding book puts comfort before demands

Synagogue or sailboat? Bride and groom or same sex? Orthodox or interfaith?

Whatever your leanings, if you want a Jewish element to your wedding or commitment ceremony, have I got a book for you!

“The Creative Jewish Wedding Book” by Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer, helps couples tap into their creativity and design the wedding that really suits them. Kaplan-Mayer inspires readers to honor their own comfort level of style, taste, emotional and financial resources, and Jewish observance.

How do you and your partner begin to decide whether to have a ketubah — a Jewish marriage contract — in gender-neutral language, or in the 2,000-year-old traditional text? Or, what if you’ve never even heard of a ketubah?

What if your life partner, like Kaplan-Mayer’s husband, is rooted culturally in Judaism and spiritually in Buddhism?

Or, perhaps of lesser import, but also problematic, are klezmer and Motown mutually exclusive forms of entertainment?

Where should you compromise, and when do you stand firm?

Kaplan-Mayer acknowledges the infinite range of her readers’ situations and then, amazingly, finds a common ground to respectfully guide them through the planning and personalizing of their Jewish wedding.

After her engaging introduction and general orientation, Kaplan-Mayer presents a step-by-step, chapter-by-chapter process for making choices about a wedding. With logic, intuition, inclusiveness and savvy, she demystifies this intimidating concept for her readers.

Each chapter deals with a particular custom or ritual in three ways:

First, down-to-earth explanations and translations from Hebrew establish a baseline grasp of the custom or ritual for the couple.

Second, a series of thought-provoking questions seeks to instill in the couple a strong sense of themselves before they consider their options. While the author embraces incorporating the expectations of family and friends into the wedding, she wants the couple to have a firm grasp of their own boundaries before they start to consider pleasing others.

Third, the chapters’ themes are illustrated through the author’s personal examples and other couples’ stories.

“The Creative Jewish Wedding Book” offers techniques for crafting everything from the chuppah to the gift bags for out-of-town guests. It encourages exploring every angle of the wedding ceremony from the music to the level of spirituality. It recognizes facing squarely the inevitable challenges in the planning process. It continually reminds the reader to remain joyfully centered around the big picture and the future.

The appendices alone contain a wealth of information, particularly for unaffiliated couples.

Appendix I, “Books and Online Resources,” leaves no stone unturned with Web sites and books on: weddings, invitations, ketubah artists, Judaica, music, interfaith resources, Israeli products and much more.

Appendix II, “Wedding Planning,” has three sections: A one-year organizational timeline with each countdown division subtitled, including Jewish issues, creative planning and practical concerns. There’s a wedding task checklist and even instructions for developing a wedding Web site.

Appendix III covers alternative Sheva Brachot (Seven Blessings).

Kaplan-Mayer states early on that “The Creative Jewish Wedding Book” is intended to be a “secondary resource,” and she refers the reader to other books for more intensive study of the historical meanings of Jewish wedding customs and rituals.

But a deeper understanding of Judaism doesn’t appear necessary to make fine use of the book. Inclusive and current to the max, “The Creative Jewish Wedding Book” seems to stand on its own as an invaluable planning mechanism for just about any two people intending to share a life together.

“The Creative Jewish Wedding Book, A Hands-On Guide to New & Old Traditions, Ceremonies & Celebrations” by Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer (254 pages, Jewish Lights Publishing, $19.99).