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.
Fast forward, six years, and they had moved from East Village to Long Island City to New Rochelle. They now had an almost two-year-old daughter. They wanted a baby naming ceremony for her and of course it had to be on Purim, which was March 12th of this year.
We all gathered in their living room and I saw the family I had met six years earlier. The little girl was happy to join in the songs and listen to her Hebrew name. We all said the prayers together.
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.
Witness the crown on the little girl who represents our modern day Esther, growing up to be a strong woman.
How lucky I was to share this Purim Babynaming and holiday with old friends and bring a little girl into the Jewish world.
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.
Finding an interfaith wedding officiant
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.
A couple emailed me a year ago to ask if I would be interested in officiating a wedding in Lake Como Italy in April 2016. What a question? Where do I sign up? It turns out they were a medical and engineering student couple from Ohio State based in Columbus, Ohio. We Face-Timed and set up a time for me to visit them in Columbus that winter. On one of the coldest weekends of the winter I flew out and stayed with them. They toured me around the campus of OSU, had meals with them and spent time hearing about their backgrounds and upcoming service. I left with a strong idea of who they were and had established a relationship with them.
The spring arrived and I had organized a mini vacation around their wedding. Arriving in Milan first and touring around, I drove to Bellagio where they had set up accommodations in a cute Bed and Breakfast on the water. The scenery was spectacular: Lake Como against the snow-capped mountains of Switzerland. I met the extended family and had time to visit some magnificent gardens near the inn that were in bloom. The lushness of the landscaping was breathtaking.
The rehearsal dinner was at a restaurant on the water where we were treated to a dinner of wonderful fish, vegetables and deserts. The wine offered was, of course, quite special. Toasts and conversation flowed and again I was treated like one of the family.
The wedding day was picture perfect spring weather. The venue they selected was Villa Balbiano, an Italian landmark featured in such movies as Star Wars and Casino Royale. It is necessary to take a boat to this private island villa, then walk up to what feels like a top of the mountain with a breathtaking view of the entire lake area. We set up the ceremony on the top under the arches with chairs facing the amazing panorama. Officiating there was one of the high points of my career as it is so extraordinarily beautiful and the couple felt like my children.
We toured around the villa gardens which had amazing statues and flowers then went back to the inn where a wonderful dinner was waiting. Cocktails first in the garden overlooking the water and then a wonderful meal. What can one say except it was too short and over too soon. This was a destination wedding made in heaven.
As an independent rabbi, I have done many interfaith wedding ceremonies over the last few years. Usually I meet with the couple a number of times, script the service, counsel and work with the respective families. It has become more and more popular to have two officiants at the service. The bride and groom each seem to want a member of their religious background present to represent them.
This has been wonderful and life affirming for me. As an independent rabbi in NYC, I welcome the opportunity to co-officiate and have become a bit of an “expert” in this field. I usually contact the other officiant first via phone or email and discuss our backgrounds and ideas for the service. Then I try and schedule a meeting of the four of us after preparing an outline. I try and be proactive and prepared before meeting so that the couple and officiants have a guide to work from. If the other officiant is in the area I host the meeting in my NYC apartment. If not, we have connected by conference calls, set up in advance.
Then, I will email a script based on the meeting to all and ask for comments. We can meet again in person or email to firm up the service. I will usually call the other officiant to make sure we are on the same page.
Chemistry between officiants is of utmost importance, as the couple and audience are looking for signs of respect and communality. So, the the two of us usually get to the wedding early and spend time one-on-one . I might take his or her arm when we walk down the aisle and try to incorporate the minister or priest in some of my rituals.
If a couple does not have an officiant of the Christian faith, I often help them find one; I have worked with many wonderful clergy over the last number of years. Most people, following such a wedding, remark to me, “The service was so warm! Did you know the other officiant for many years?” Some actually tell me that we should “Take our show on the road.” Or start a television show!
If you need a co-officiant for your interfaith wedding ceremony, it would be my pleasure to help you.
A lovely couple contacted me many months ago to officiate their wedding. These two people were very interesting: she a lawyer with poise and creativity, he a college teacher who was originally a psychology major but now was completing his PhD in mathematics. They had known each other for 17 years and seemed already married; they were extremely easy with one another.
We first met at my apartment in NYC and then it was my turn to visit them at their house in Long Island . I love these visits because it tells me so much of what the couple is about: the treadmill machine in the den confirmed they are both runners; and all the art work on the walls – she actually sketched the drawing for her chuppah. He had traveled through 42 states in the U.S, and she had toured around Europe.
Over wine and cheese we spoke about their life together. She said her high school teacher advised her to “marry someone smarter than you and you’ll live a happy life and never be bored.” She thinks over the years they have discovered that each of them is smart in different ways and their differences make them a stronger couple. How wise. The groom wrote that his bride to be is a woman who cares for him fiercely and gives him a sense of security the like of which he has never known.
The actual wedding took place on a picture-perfect day in June at a beach club on Long Island. Seventy friends and family watched as I officiated the service that the couple and I had written together. A low-key, warm and welcoming ceremony, it was a true reflection of this wonderful couple.
The mother of a groom contacted me over a year ago from outside of Baltimore. She was Greek Orthodox, and was experiencing considerable troublefinding a Greek Orthodox officiant to work with a Rabbi. The bride’s family was Jewish and open to having both faiths represented. The groom’s mother, having read my blog from a few years back about combining these two faiths into one ceremony, believed I would be the right officiant for the couple.
So, we started the “get-to-know-you” process. The bride and her sister took a bus into NY in the dead of winter and we began to draft the service. Then, this spring, I traveled down by train to Baltimore to sit down with the families. We had many telephone conversations, all the while developing a warm and close relationship.
The Greek woman, a religious person, sent me links to Greek Orthodox wedding customs; I read 50 pages of texts and, thanks to her, learned a great deal about their customs. I was amazed to see the similarities to Judaism: in circling, wine drinking and treating the bride and groom as king and queen for the day.
I drove down to the wedding this Memorial Day weekend and felt like I had known these people for a long time. The best man, or “kumbaro” in Greek, did the exchange of crowns for the couple. The crowns are joined by a ribbon which symbolizes the unity of the couple as royalty for the day.
I recited the Kiddish Scheckyanu and Seven Wedding Blessings and we said the benediction in both Hebrew and Greek. It felt like a seamless ceremony and as the groom broke the glass the audience yelled Mazel Tov and Syncharintiria, the Greek equivalent. How wonderful to be able to be present in this moment in time for two special families who will be my friends going forward!
A loving and vibrant person, Rabbi Gloria creates positive energy for everyone she encounters. Whether creating Jewish or interfaith weddings, or conducting baby-naming ceremonies, she takes the extra time to consider the thoughts and dreams of the participants. Her clients feel she is part of their family! GloriaMilner@gmail.com