Rabbi Gloria Milner
Rabbi Gloria Milner
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Rabbi Gloria Milner
On the NYU Journalism Projects Newsroom site, Rabbi Gloria was featured in an article about Independent Rabbis performing Interfaith Ceremonies. Here is an excerpt:
“When Ashley Howard, 33, and Ramit Singh, 35, married in September, they had two ceremonies – one Jewish, one Hindu.
Although they originally planned one ceremony combining customs from each religion, their parents did not approve of the arrangement.
‘They said, ‘either have no tradition at all, or do it right’,’ Howard said.
The couple opted for tradition, with modern modifications. A priest conducted a Hindu ceremony in both Hindi and English. The Jewish ceremony was lead by Gloria Milner, an independent, Manhattan-based rabbi who is unaffiliated with a standard Jewish denomination.
Rabbi Milner is one of more than a dozen independent Jewish clergy in the New York area who specialize in officiating for interfaith couples, according to TheKnot.com. A majority of American Jews are married to someone outside the faith, according to a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center, and officiants like Rabbi Milner fill a void often left by traditional Jewish institutions.
Orthodox and Conservative rabbis are not permitted to marry interfaith couples. Reform rabbis, who represent American Judaism’s largest denomination, according to Pew, may do so at their own discretion. Just over half do, estimated Rabbi Hara Person, chief strategy officer at the Central Conference of American Rabbis.
However, mainstream Judaism’s reluctance to accept intermarriage has not stopped its prevalence. The intermarriage rate rose every decade between 1970 and 2000, and stabilized at 58 percent between 2000 and 2013, according to Pew.
A recent analysis released in June by the Jewish People Policy Institute utilizing Pew’s data found that nearly three-quarters of married, non-ultra-orthodox Jews in their 30s have a non-Jewish spouse. That rate still holds true today, according to Steven M. Cohen, research professor of Jewish Social Policy at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion.
Rabbi Milner, who has been officiating for eight years, presides over about 20 weddings per year, and she estimated that 70 percent of the couples she officiates for are interfaith. She frequently co-officiates with clergy from other faiths.
Several years ago, she conducted a ceremony combining Jewish and Greek Orthodox wedding traditions for a couple who had trouble finding a traditional officiant from either faith. She penned a blog about the ceremony after. ‘I became this expert in Greek-Jewish weddings,’ she said, ‘so a lot of people contacted me that had this same problem.'”
A year ago I was contacted by a couple that was referred by another bride and groom I married in the past. He was Indian, multi talented, being a lawyer, entrepreneur, and band manager all rolled up in one. She was Jewish, a world traveler, and yoga consultant to corporations.
We met at my apartment and started planning the service. I then met her mother who visited her from Florida and got to know another family member. The Groom’s mother was deeply interested in having a traditional ritual Indian wedding and the Jewish family wanted a spiritual Jewish service as well.
The couple decided that the Indian service would be in the morning with a Hindu priest officiating in English as well as using Sanskrit prayers. He would explain all the rituals in English. It would start with the groom atop a white horse coming to the venue and then dismounting and walking to the ceremony with his parents.
The Jewish service was humanistic with prayers over wine, thanksgiving prayer, and seven blessings. The benediction was given at the end and the glass was broken. I attended the Indian service in the morning and was able to incorporate what I witnessed into my service that afternoon. There were so many commonalities. The canopy Jews call a Chupah was a Mandap in the Indian service. They circled around as the Jewish 7 circles. The groom stepped on a clay pot in much the same way as the Jewish service has the breaking of the glass. And the parents sit under the mandap as the parents participate under the chuppah.
I was blessed to officiate this wedding and learn so much about the Hindu religion and service. The destination was Beacon NY which was picture perfect September weather. The day before I visited DIA Beacon, an amazing modern art museum and walked the beautiful country paths. How lucky I was to be a part of this wonderful weekend wedding!
A couple contacted me over a year ago and asked if I would officiate an interfaith wedding in Cape May. The Bride’s family owned a vacation home there and she had been going to this town since childhood. I had always wanted to visit this historic Victorian village myself and in meeting with the couple was impressed with their warmth and sincerity. It was a go.
We worked on the service at my apartment in NYC and theirs in Brooklyn. We talked about the closeness they felt for their respective families and the Christian/Jewish backgrounds they came from. Finally our collaboration produced a wonderful service. Part of it was a section where bride and groom wrote a series of paragraphs about each other. Using humor and pathos they fashioned a profile of the other quite personal and heartfelt. The picture included here reflects this.
The wedding day was glorious weather wise and they were married at a yacht club overlooking the water. Low key and elegant the wedding was a joy to attend.
I had been invited to a brunch the next morning at her parent’s home which was a large well appointed house. Her 85 year old grandmother and I bonded and I met many new friends there I hope to see in the fall. All in all a beach vacation of sorts for me and a labor of love.
One of the first weddings I facilitated, over six years ago, occurred on the Jewish holiday of Purim, a joyous and festive one. The couple had met on Purim and wanted their wedding in Manhattan to be an outdoor rooftop celebration. I worked with them for a few months leading up to the affair and we grew to become great friends. The wedding was wonderfully spirited and full of life.
Of course, a wonderful part of the holiday involves eating hamantaschen, pictured here. We enjoyed delicious pastries in the shape of a three-cornered hat. That was the hat of Hamen, the villian of this story, who wanted to destroy the Jews. The heroine was Queen Esther, who appealed to the King to save her people, and prevailed.
You are getting married. You have been together and have made the big decision. You come from different backgrounds or perhaps different countries. Your family has accepted/made peace with the decision/ empowered you both/ or is very troubled. Pick the option that fits you or add your own.
Now the search begins. As you may or may not know most synagogue rabbis will not marry an interfaith couple in the synagogue itself. As an independent rabbi in NYC, I know that reform rabbis can at their discretion perform the ceremony in an outside venue. Ministers generally will have an easier time than Catholic priests who often have to get permission to preside outside of the church. These are generalizations and of course there are many New York City officiants who don’t fit into these categories If you know friends or family who have had such a wedding you should of course ask for recommendations. This is the single best way of knowing who you will work with since the couple is happy with him or her. If you don’t know anyone from a personal referral on to the internet.
So now armed with your iphone, ipad, laptop, etc. you start searching the net for interfaith officiants. It is important to check out their sites carefully, finding out how long they have been officiating, where they were ordained and of course what their philosophy on marriage and ceremonies is. Hopefully you can see pictures of them in action and testimonials. If any of this resonates with you both you should email or call the person and have a conversation on the phone. That will tell you a lot about the person and also whether you are comfortable with what they say. Are they willing to do a service that is creative and personal to you? Are they comfortable to work with a co-officiant if your fiance wants the other religion represented as well.
Next step is meeting the person. You should have an emotional connection with the wedding ceremony officiant. After all, it is your wedding and you want someone who relates to both of you and listens to you. Listen to your heart. There are many people out there so you can interview a few but go with your gut feeling. Make sure you have a contract that itemizes date, time, fee and is signed by both parties. That way your date is reserved during a busy summer wedding season. You should try and meet together a few times to fashion the service and be comfortable that it is respectful to both faiths.
The picture below is of an interfaith wedding ceremony I performed in the beautiful island of Bermuda.
Try and give yourself as much time before the wedding to do this search. The ceremony should be the core of your special day and you want to employ the best person for you. All this takes time and some effort on your part but is well worth the time. I have officiated at many interfaith weddings the last three years and have helped to make the day magical to many couples.
This summer, I had the pleasure of officiating at a wonderful wedding in Bristol, Rhode Island, a charming town half hour from Providence. I was able to spend a day in Providence before the ceremony, and this allowed me the opportunity to tour this wonderful college town, the home of Johnson and Wales, the famous hospitality university. I so enjoyed sampling some of the great restaurants.
The bride was from Boston originally and she and the groom lived out in New York City, so this location, in Bristol, was picked for accessibility of all the guests. It turned out to be a restored 19th-century mention now used as a museum and event space. Linden Place is the name and both the interior and the lovely garden in the back where the ceremony was held were used.
Original paintings, furniture, and chandeliers were on display in the rooms, with explanations provided. One could take a tour, reading about the famous guests who stayed there, such as Ulysses S Grant and the Barrymore family. The hall was used as a filming location for the 1974 movie, the great Gatsby. We did the Ketubah ceremony in a magnificent dining room where one could only imagine the many festive dinners that had taken place with exquisite silverware and dishes.
The ceremony was held behind the mansion under a grove of trees on a picture-perfect day. The bride was born in Russia and had put herself through college and Columbia business school – a self-made woman. The groom hailed from Michigan and is working in digital advertising, a gentle and warm person who has a lively family. We had met several times in the city and all three of us instantly connected. I felt they had opened their hearts and minds to me and officiating the service was a joy.
The bride and groom offered me a taste of the life lived in this mansion, if only for an afternoon.
One of the co-officiants I worked with a year ago recommended me to a couple who planned their interfaith wedding ceremony to take place this past October. They had decided to make it a gorgeous, special wedding at the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx. The colors were at peak in the area and the couple was lucky that they missed the beginning of Hurricane Sandy by one day. They had lovely weather with temperatures in the 60’s for their early evening ceremony.
The bride was an English teacher working on her doctorate in English. She worked with the other officiant and me choosing readings and music. Being a former English teacher myself I was delighted to see a reading from e.e. cummings and a second poem of Shakespeare’s. She even had an excerpt from the Book of Ruth set to music. She had sung the very same lines herself at her cousin’s wedding.
The night before at the TriBeCa Grill restaurant (owned by Robert de Niro) I met both sides of the family. The bride’s family hailed from Charleston, South Carolina and it seemed as though every member from a few month old girl to an 80-year-old was present. The groom’s family was scattered over the states and people from Michigan, and a number of other states made the trip. The priest had been a long time family friend of the bride’s mother and so it was a family affair.
The procession and recession were down a beautiful walkway of fall flowers. The trees around the wedding site were shimmering gold and there was even an usual fuzzy moon hanging low in the sky. Picture perfect fall evening for this lovely couple who chose the venue due to their deep appreciation of nature.
I met with a couple this summer who came from very different worlds but were determined to start a new life together. He is a PhD Virologist that was married and the father of three children. Now divorced, he met a lovely and smart lawyer whose family hailed from Israel and of course she was fluent in Hebrew. We met in the city and then I visited them in Sunnyside Queens where they were living, temporarily, before moving into a house on Long Island. His children visited them there, and I was impressed with the closeness she had with them and what an amazing father he is.
The wedding was set at his parents’ house in Point Lookout, Long Island, on September 4th. All the preparations were made, including creating a chuppah on the deck and the backyard set up with tables for 50 guests. The living room of the house was used as a buffet station. It was a beautiful house that his mother had redone with her decorating skills.
All was set, except for the forecast which was calling for a tropical storm/hurricane, supposed to hit that day and the Long Island shore was potentially vulnerable. We were speaking about Plan B a day or two before, as this storm or hurricane was widely reported on the news and the beaches were closed. I even had to plan for a railroad trip out there instead of driving so I could make sure to show up.
Fortunately, the storm did not take the path that all were sure it would and the day turned out to be a picture-perfect sunny and low humidity winner. All went as planned and the best part was that his two-year-old daughter, standing under the chuppah held by her grandmother, stole the show!
A couple emailed me several months ago and asked if I could officiate their wedding in Jersey City. They were indeed an unusual combination of backgrounds. The groom was from the Netherlands and was working for a company who had offices in New Jersey. He spoke several languages and was raised Catholic. The bride was a Russian beauty who had been in the States a few years and spoke perfect English
They invited me over to their apartment in Jersey City for dinner and we spent a lovely evening getting to know each other. They were wonderful cooking together and served a delicious fish dinner. We spoke about the service which was for the most part a Jewish one with the groom wanting to wear a tallit and Yamulke. Both sets of parents were flying in from Netherlands and Russia for the event .
They planned the service in a park near their apartment in Jersey City. Afterwards everyone was to be shuttled to a restaurant in Soho for a reception dinner. I was invited to be a part of the party and was pleased to be a part of this small and intimate wedding
The day of the wedding forecast was rain on and off, sometimes heavy. At the last minute, the groom changed the park they would use for the wedding ceremony. The new park had a large gazebo that would shield us all if the rain became heavy.
I arrived early and met up with the singer and guitar player. A friend of theirs was decorating the gazebo and setting up 20 chairs. Although we felt a few drops of rain, the weather held up. The bride, looking like a Russian princess, came down the abbreviated aisle and the service began. They did circling to Etta James song “At Last,” which was amazing.
The parents gave a blessing in their native tongues, Dutch and Russian and the brother and sister translated it into English. He broke the glass and there were congratulatory wishes in many languages.
After the ceremony, we all boarded a party bus to Manhattan and the bus came complete with psychedelic colors and champagne. Rap Music was played and we soon were treated to a wonderful dinner and dancing at a Soho restaurant. The happiness and warmth their friends and family exuded was infectious. It was a memorable event.