Rabbi Gloria Milner
Rabbi Gloria Milner
Rabbi Gloria Milner
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.
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 trouble finding 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 couple called me to officiate the baby naming of their daughter who was celebrating her first birthday as well. They lived in Brooklyn and selected a Russian bar named Karloff in Cobble Hill for an afternoon ceremony. I met with them at their apartment and stayed to see them feed Eve, the baby. She was an adorable little girl who loved the healthy vegetable puree her mother had prepared.
I learned some of the people for whom she was named were great grandmothers who had suffered many hardships and for whom family closeness was paramount. One was the family matriarch who worked in a sweatshop on the Lower east side and was a player in the Yiddish theater. They chose the name Eve for its simplicity and power. The first woman on the earth and the one who gives life to all. Her middle name was chosen in honor of her grandfather Howard who was a man with a ready smile and sense of adventure. They already see evidence of these traits in Eve.
It was a warm and loving ceremony with all family members participating. Rob, the father of the baby, used the tallit from his bar mitzvah. A kiddish cup was used from a family wedding as well. And they used an old Hasidic tradition at the end of the ceremony. Family and friends were supposed to shower the child with candy and other sweets to symbolize their wishes that both the child and parents have a sweet life. So, all who attended received a little bag of candy to take home.
The Brooklyn bar setting at Karloff’s was intimate and contemporary at the same time. The bar was beautiful and the waiters and waitresses accommodating. Lunch was served with drinks, of course, and everyone was so relaxed and welcoming. This may be setting a great trend as Brooklyn is now doing in food and community.
Thanks to Michelle Murray, photograher.
A good friend of mine, Harvey Averne, enjoyed a wonderful career as a multi-talented vibraphonist, band leader, producer and record label owner. His best friend was Larry Harlow, who is a renowned salsa-music performing composer and producer. His mother was an opera singer and father a band leader at the Latin Quarter nightclub in NYC. Falling in love with the Spanish sound, Larry left to attend school in Cuba. He went on to produce over 260 albums for Fania Records.
Among his contributions to music was his insistence on creation of a Latin Grammy award. In 2008 he was presented with a Latin Grammy Lifetime Award.
Larry planned to marry a lovely woman who had first started coming to his concerts in Cuba when she was just 15. She had been a runner there and has a striking face and athletic dancer’s body. I was delighted to officiate the interfaith wedding for them.
We held the wedding ceremony in his apartment in New York City with a few close friends. I lent them my husband’s tallit to use as the chuppah. The bride was not Jewish (as Larry is) but wanted a Jewish wedding ceremony. They did the circling to all of us singing a Yiddish wedding song, recited the Kiddish Prayer and Shehechyanu and I did the benediction at the end. It was a very emotional experience for the people present; tears of happiness streamed down the couple and friends’ cheeks. We broke out a bottle of champagne and toasted l’chaim.
The moral of the story: It is never too late to find love in your older years.
I recently had the good fortune to officiate an intimate, but spectacular interfaith wedding ceremony at one of the premier event spaces in New York City: Gotham at Broadway and 36th st. It was, in its former life, Greenwich Savings Bank, built in 1922. It occupies an entire city block, boasting a spectacular domed stain glass window and dozens of Star of Davids on the ceiling, added by the Jewish builder. It is the kind of place you see in the movies; set up with flowers, candles and decorated tables, it looked amazing.
The couple getting married came from different worlds. The bride was a Jewish NYC woman brought up by sophisticated parents. She attended private school and grew up in an urban lifestyle. The groom, on the other hand, hailed from a small town of 15,000 people, in Northern England, where sheep were as common as the pigeons are in NYC. They met in the airport on the way to an event in Cabo, in Mexico. Working in Public Relations, she was covering the event for a magazine, and he was playing in a rock band at the same venue. Their friendship began and seven years later they decided to make it official.
I enjoyed getting to know them. They invited me to their apartment and we had an easy time over wine and cheese as I got to know their cat. Then, we went on to my apartment for more drinks and cheese, and wrote the service. The bride’s parents happened to live a few blocks from my apartment and invited me to dinner with them. We fell into conversation as though we had known each other many years. His parents came to NY a few days prior to the wedding and I met with them as well. His stepfather was a Vicar in England and they had asked him to read from Corinthians during the service. He had never met a woman rabbi just as I had never met a vicar. All these meetings brought a personal feeling and intimacy to the service, even though it was a large space with 250 people attending.
The capper was a Yiddish wedding song, “Tumbalalaika,” which the groom’s best friend (a band member) sang while they circled each other during the service. I worked with his friend who was singing with the string trio. Even though he was an accomplished singer, he welcomed my input. The result was moving and beautiful.
They invited me to stay for the star-studded reception and while I danced the night away, I thought how lucky I was to have such a personal glimpse into their lives and to welcome them into my life as well.