Archive for the ‘WEDDINGS!’ Category

To write your own wedding vows, or not to write your own vows: That is the question. About half of the couples whose weddings I have officiated have wrestled with that question. Most of them, in the end, decide not to.

What are the pros and cons of writing your own vows? What are the different ways it can be done?  This blog post strives to answer those questions, by offering some examples of successful vow exchanges I have seen.

Pros to writing your own vows:

● You get to say exactly what you want to say.

● It’s a chance to show off your fine verbal skills – and your sense of humor.

● It is sure to make half the women in the audience cry.

● It is sure to make half the men in the audience struggle really hard NOT to cry.

Cons to writing your own vows:

● It’s hard. Really hard. How do you boil down such sweeping concepts as “love” and “eternity” into the English language? That’s why we have poets. Not everyone is cut out for this work.

● It takes time. And time is one of the few things couples have before weddings. Don’t you have some centerpieces that need stuffed? And where in the world is grandma’s old blue garter belt anyway? Has that been found?

● You don’t just have to write it. You have to read it. Out loud. In public. Without making a snot-filled fool of yourself. Hey, if you can get through it, you have my endless admiration. I can never get through a wedding without losing a tear or two myself, and I’m the officiant. I’m the one person who is supposed to have it pulled together! So if you can write and deliver your vows and keep your composure while doing it, my kippah is off to ya!

Here are three different ways of writing your vows:

1)      The groom reads his words. Then the bride reads her words (or vice versa). Below is a draft of one groom’s vows to his wife, which I found particularly lovely. With his permission, I am pasting them below. The vows were kept as a surprise to the other party; I looked over them to make sure they were similar in length and tone, and made slight editing suggestions to make them “match up.”

2)      The groom and bride alternate sentences. This came off really well; the crowd was touched, and everyone laughed a lot too.

3)      The groom reads; then the bride reads. The couple planned their vows together, to play off the same words and phrases. The guests loved these vows too.

OPTION No. 1: Surprise Vows

Groom reads. Then bride reads. (Or vice versa). Only the officiant has checked their vows before the big day. Here is just what the groom wrote.


Example from their Jewish wedding, replete with military honor guards, at World Cafe Live:

Alanah: Two-and-a-half years ago, I asked you out for coffee, out on our first date and thankfully, you said yes. After that date, we so effortlessly became entwined in each other’s lives, it was easy to picture this day ahead.

Eighteen months ago, while on a very long distance phone call, I asked you to move with me from California all the way here to the East Coast, and thankfully, you said yes. It was a leap of faith for both of us; a fantastic storyline still unfolding.

One year ago, while on vacation in paradise, I asked you to join me up here, witnessed by our family and friends, under this chuppah we’ve since created together, to take my hand and be my wife, and thankfully, you said yes.

So now, in front of our family and friends, I have another question to ask, one that you spend the rest of our lives answering:

Will you forever be my partner in this adventure of life and lend your endless patience to help me create a loving household where mutual respect, communication and unconditional love reign over all. Will you continue to be an everlasting source of deep personal strength, the rock by my side through trying times and stay the reassuring voice of better times ahead. Will you forever be the smiling face by my side every morning, to lighten my days with the sweetness of your personality and continue to be the most genuinely kind person I’ve ever met.

Though we walked up here separately, in a few minutes you and I will take hands and walk down off this stage, and down the aisle past our family and friends, and into our future as partners, as husband and wife. I can’t wait.


OPTION No. 2: The Planned Back-And-Forth

(The couples exchanges one-line vows, which they clearly wrote together. Groom in bold. Bride in plain script.)


Example from their secular wedding at a funky nightclub in Manyunk:

Groom: With this ring, I promise to be your best friend

Bride: With this ring, I promise to be your best friend

I promise to cook for you

I promise to try your cooking and bake you treats

To have family dinners every night

To ask you about your day and tell you about mine

To listen and hear your point of view

To respect you

To always be honest

To tell you how I feel

To play with your hair

To fold your socks and do the dishes

To support you in achieving your goals

To be your biggest fan

To compromise

To share my bowl of ice cream, and other things in life

To control my temper

To always say ‘I’m Sorry’

To hold you in good times and bad

To make you laugh

To let you have the window seat on the plane rides home

To take lots of pictures so we can always remember the good times

To tell you that you’re beautiful

To love you even in the moments when I don’t like you

To take care of you

To try new things

To never stop traveling the world

To be open minded

To be the best father I can be

To be the best mother I can be

To always put family first

To kiss you every morning

And tuck you in every night

I love you

I love you too


OPTION No. 3: The Planned Paragraph Vow

(The couples takes turns reading their half of a script, which the pair clearly wrote together. The upside is it creates and plays off of the parallel structure and promises. The downside is, neither bride nor groom is surprised in the moment.)   


Example from their secular Jewish wedding at Morris Arboretum:


Standing with you here today, among our family and friends, I cannot wait to begin this journey into the rest of our lives, with you by my side and my hand in yours.

I promise to listen. I will listen to your thoughts, your worries, your dreams and your concerns.

I promise to look after you. When you have a knot in your back, I will kneed it. When your head has a fever, I will cool it. And when you need ice cream, I will help you eat it.

I promise to treasure what you treasure. From furry and mischievous kittens to your interests and hobbies, I will help you enjoy life and experience it fully.

I promise to accept and embrace your idiosyncrasies. I will remember that our quirks make us who we are. When you wake up with only breakfast on your mind, I will steer you to Kashi. When we are out of Kashi, I will make you eggs.

I promise to support you emotionally. I will give support as you seek out your goals, when you are successful and when you fall short. When you achieve your goals, I will be there to celebrate. When you do not, I will be there to comfort.

I promise to not take our relationship for granted. I will actively nurture ‘us’. I will continue to communicate and check-in, to keep us stronger together than we are apart.


Standing with you here today, among our family and friends, I cannot wait to begin this journey into the rest of our lives, with you by my side and your hand in mine.

I promise to listen. I will listen to your zany, impossible ideas, your worries, and your dreams.

I promise to look after you. When you can’t figure out how to use our kitchen appliances, I will help you.  When you have a bad dream, I will comfort you.  And when you crave the mushroomy thing I make that you love, I will make it for you.

I promise to treasure what you treasure. From kittens, to data analysis, to moments of peace and quiet, I will help you enjoy life and experience it fully.

I promise to accept and embrace your idiosyncrasies. I will remember that our quirks make us who we are.  When you get so hungry that you forget to eat, I will bring you a snack.  When you need to double check something one more time – just to be sure – I will smile and remember that your careful nature is a wonderful part of who you are.

I promise to support you emotionally. I will be there with you as you pursue your dreams.  I will celebrate with you when you are successful, and I will comfort you when you fall short.  I will never let you forget how exceptional you are.

I promise to not take our relationship for granted. I will actively nurture ‘us’. I will continue to communicate and check-in, to keep us stronger together than we are apart.

Read Full Post »

The Jewish New Year is upon us, making the time ripe for a wistful reflection on all those beautiful, stunning, heart-felt vow exchanges I had the pleasure of officiating and witnessing this past year in metropolitan Philly.

Do you have wedding coming ahead in the 2014 calendar year? If so, here are a few of my Favorites, for all things related to weddings. By the way, none of these places or businesses are giving me any “kickbacks” for endorsing them — they are, quite simply, my favorite sites and sounds for weddings in Philadelphia!

Drop me a line at Joysa@aol.com if you’d like information on hiring me to be your officiant. I specialize in Jewish and interfaith weddings, as well as secular/nontheistic weddings for couples coming out of any religious tradition.

#1: Best Philly Wedding Venue: Sweet Water Farms in Glen Mills takes the cake as most elegant. sophisticated, and yet tuned-into-nature venue of anywhere in metro Philly.

The former summer home of the infamous Grace Kelly, Sweet Water farm today acts as a winery, a small-scale B&B, and a rustic venue replete with an old-time wooden water well, a two-story farm house decked out in twinkly white lights, and rolling views overlooking horses, wild flowers, and a heated pool and jacuzzi.

The 50–acre historic estate features 14 guest rooms: three in the original 1734 Quaker farmhouse wing and four in the 1815 Georgian wing.  The original carriage house, greenhouse and caretaker’s cottage have all been transformed into seven guest cottages, five of which are pet– and child–friendly.

Other amenities for a perfect getaway are a swimming pool, outdoor hot tub, golf chipping range, nine-hole disc golf course, private massage room, fitness room, walking trail and a friendly family of horses, sheep and goats.

Check out their online photo gallery here, to get a complete picture of this beautiful property!: http://sweetwaterfarmbb.gracewinery.com/property/property.php

#2 Best Wedding Dress Shopping Online: BHLDN.

When it comes to shopping for that perfect wedding dress, you can’t do better than BHLDN. Their beautiful, flowing — and most important of all — UNIQUE gowns flatter every body size and can work with nearly every budget.

When it comes to wedding dresses, BHLDN has captured my soul. This Kauai wedding dress costs only $800 and is probably one of the most unique, imaginative dresses I’ve ever imagined walking down the aisle in!

While the form flows free, elegant details like intricate embroidery, an asymmetrical hem, and a slender braided neck ribbon with crystal button closure ensure this dress is anything but ordinary. Can’t you just picture it on a seashore wedding, walking barefoot in the sand?

This Lita Gown (below right) sells for a bit pricier at $2,400. But it is made of pearly beads that trim the edges of a gauzy, attached coverlet above a sleek dress of luminous silk charmeuse. Though not pictured here, a thin, self-tie string of silk at the nape of the neck ensures sleeves won’t slip off your shoulders.

The gown has underwire and bust cups, silk tulle and silk charmeuse shell, as well as a silk charmeuse lining.


The company sells all sorts of other keepsakes useful for a wedding. For example, check out these beautiful, antique-looking gifts for the bridal party, as well as picture holders that could be used to decorate tables in a reception room.

This beautifully articulated  shining scallop opens to reveal a single pearl to hold the wedding bands. Handmade from silver, nickel-plated brass and pearl, they measure 1.5”H, 2.75”W, 2.75”L.

More decors can be viewed here: www.bhldn.com/the-shop-decor-keepsakes/.

For more on Jewish weddings, please see some of my other posts:

Read Full Post »

This is the world’s greatest wedding engagement! Wouldn’t it be fun to work this directly into the ceremony itself, have the crowds separate to reveal an entire banquet area, chuppah, officiant waiting under a chuppah, the works? Engagement and wedding all in one!

It was would a lot of work to execute, and you’d need to have a pretty laid back couple and in-laws, but it sure would be fun!

Read Full Post »

woman wearing red and gold dress holding up handsA few times a year, I am contacted by a couple looking to find two officiants to marry them, usually a rabbi and a priest or minister of some stripe. The idea is such a complicated and multi-faceted one, I have written this blog post as a way of offering a fuller, “all you could ever want to know” on this topic.

The short answer is “Yes, I will co-officiate” but if feel like I would be shirking my ethical obligations by not inviting these couples to think more deeply about the question. Because having co-officiants will definitely cost more money, and it has the potential of becoming a very complicated and unhappy process (although I have not personally experienced that, thankfully. But I know people who have …). So, here are the issues:

If you are thinking you want two officiants for your wedding, the first thing to ask yourselves is: Why? Why do you want TWO officiants? Your reasons matter, because they determine whether it is really worth the extra effort and expense of having two officiants.

A few things to consider:

* Hiring two officiants is going to cost you double the price of hiring one officiant. Why? Because you are hiring the time of two people, not one. Unless Daddy Warbucks is financing your wedding, this may incline you to try to negotiate prices with both of your officiants that is considerably less than what he or she would be earning if they were doing the ceremony on their own.

* From the officiant’s perspective, this creates a quandary, for both of them. Leading half of a wedding is actually MORE work, not LESS work for your officiants because it involves trying to coordinate with an unknown other person who may or may not be easy to work with. The officiant’s travel time is the same and their monthly marketing costs are unchanged. (Mine are over $500 a month, in case you were wondering.) It especially creates a dilemma if your wedding date is in a busy month, like May or October.

If, for example, I were to accept a co-officiation gig for May 8, at half my normal fee because I’m one of two clergy — and then I get a call for a typical one-officiant wedding on the same day — I’ve suddenly missed out on hundreds of dollars! This is very painful for your officiant because weddings are a hugely cyclical business. There are about 6 months out of the year when we don’t officiate any weddings at all (but we’re still having to pay our online advertising fees.)

* Some rabbis are not allowed to co-officiate, based on the rules of their ordaining religious organization. This is why people often have a hard time finding the rabbi-half of a co-officiation equation.

Rabbis ordained in the Reconstructionist or Conservative movements are prohibited by their rabbinical assembles from co-officiating. (The reasons for that decision are another story). Such grads make up perhaps 60% of all rabbis in America. Orthodox rabbis make up another 15%, and they definitely won’t co-officiate (they won’t even officiate at an intermarriage.) That leaves you with about 25% of ordained rabbis who even have the permission of their ordaining institutions to consider your request (regardless of their personal feelings on the matter).

Also, buyer beware. Every “rabbi” is not created alike. There are handful of rabbinical groups out there that are not respected in the field. They aren’t quite as bad as “Internet ordination” but their programs demand about 5% of what a traditional rabbinical college demands of its students.

Legitimate rabbinical programs to look for (which DO allow co-officiation) are Aleph (Renewal movement) and IISHJ (International Institute for the Society of Humanistic Judaism). Aleph and IISHJ grads are allowed to co-officiate, and I can personally vouch for the legitimacy of their training programs. Contact the colleges and ask for a list of their graduates and their locations. The Reform movement allows its rabbis to decide whether they would like to co-officiate.


Let me pause here and clarify a few terms: Co-officiation means having two clergy of two different faiths jointly conduct the ceremony. This is different from a simple interfaith ceremony, which has o

nly one person officiating, but has both faiths being honored and incorporated in some way.

You have many more rabbis to choose from if you are looking for a straight interfaith ceremony with only one officiant, versus trying to orchestrate a co-officiated two-clergy-person ceremony.


All that said, let’s get back to what you said you want: co-officiation.


Let’s say you DO find a rabbi you like who is willing to co-officiate. Now let’s get back to my question: Why do you need two people? If the goal is to have some Jewish elements in your wedding, then a savvy minister or priest, educated in pluralistic values, can create a genuinely interfaith ceremony w/o a Jewish clergy present.

Alternately, if your goal is to just have a Jewish “figure” as part of your wedding, you can invite an elderly grandparent, for example, to come up and recite the Kiddush over wine. He would delighted by the honor, and you don’t have to pay him anything.

It works the same way in reverse. If you hire a rabbi to do your interfaith wedding, the right rabbi knows all the things to do to make the service comfortable and meaningful to both Christians and Jews. And, to compensate for the “official Christian presence” issue, you can invite a family member to come up and do a reading from Apostle Paul, Book of Corinthians, for example, to add a specifically theistically Christian flavor to your event.

In other words, it is completely possible to have one officiant conduct an interfaith ceremony where both religious traditions are honored and represented. You just have to hire the right person.

Why is Co-Officiating Difficult?

bride and groom walking down the aisle

Co-officiating a ritual is tricky because you basically have two people trying to jockey the job of one person.  It is the role of the officiant to meet with the couple, present you with a variety of readings and ritual options, and then to let you, the couple, come back with your decisions. (At least, that is how any officiant who is worth the money you are paying them conducts the process. There are people out there who just use the same canned script for everyone, but that is never how I would prepare a ceremony.)

For example, I give couples a 38-page file of poems and readings to choose from, many from explicitly Christian and Jewish traditions — as well as many more from secular sources. I also offer the same array of rituals to choose from. There are 8 elements in a typical Jewish wedding, so we review and discuss all of those.

Then we look at rituals from Christian tradition, such as a unity candle, sharing from wine, the Greek Orthodox crowning ceremony, and the handfasting ritual. Then we look at rituals from secular American culture, such as the sand ceremony, the time capsule, and the tree planting.

Lastly, we look at rituals borrowed from other cultures and still other religious traditions such as jumping the broom, a Quaker minute of silence or the Quaker “minute of joyful noise”, the Celtic ringwarming, and the Swiss log-cutting ritual.

These are the kinds of things the right officiant, schooled in interfaith weddings, can offer you. And none of them require two people to do them.

In the end, this is what you are paying for when you hire an officiant — you are paying for someone who has combed the world’s literature and can offer you a wide range of options; you are hiring someone’s expertise and experience working in interfaith groups. You’re hiring a person who will be able to make every person in the room, no matter their faith tradition, feel “heard” and “represented.”

By adding another chef in the fire, you potentially have two people basically playing tug-of-war over who writes what section, who reads what section, etc. Here are some conflicts that sometimes arise:

* What happens if one clergy wants to do or say something that the other clergy believes will make part of the audience uncomfortable?

* What if one of the pair refuses to show their half of the ceremony to the other officiant?

* Who gets the final “read” or “say” on the whole ceremony? Do you want to get involved in that, and NOT have the words and blessings of the ritual be fresh and be a surprise on your wedding day? (Most couples like that element of surprise and mystery, so I don’t recommend the couple “proof” their ceremony in advance.)

* If you ask each officiant to do a part of the ceremony, how do you ensure it flows together? How can you be sure that the ritual has a range of quiet, speaking and ritual, and that it doesn’t come across like chopsticks — words and rituals just piled on top of each other?

Conducting a wedding is like conducting a theater piece. Would you hire a director to do Act I and another director to do Act II? Of course not. That would be just … odd. It could potentially be disjointed and jerky.

… That’s often what it’s like to have two ceremony officiants. Yes, a wedding can be done with two people and, sometimes it works, depending on the officiants involved. And, I’ll be honest, I’ve heard stories. Sometimes, it’s a nightmare.

My Own Experience


Most of the time when couples first contact me saying they want two officiants, they end up deciding one will do just one, and not one of these couples has ever regretted their decision. On only two occasions has a couple decided that they really did need two officiants, and in both instances, they were couples who were not stressed about their budgets. 

Both of the ceremonies went fine, and I am still friendly with one of my co-officiants. I would be happy to recommend her to any couple and work with her again. I can also report that I probably spent 40% more time preparing that ceremony than I would have if she had not been involved. It wasn’t because she was hard to work with — to the contrary — but it simply takes time for two people to blend and meld their own distinct ideas and styles into one cohesive ceremony. We sent our ceremony back and forth probably 10 times before we came up with one flowing whole that we both felt happy with.

In the end, it was a beautiful ceremony and no one had any regrets. But the experience confirmed for me that the one thing dual officiants will never be is time-efficient! For this reason, co-officiated ceremonies is the only type of ceremony where I am unable to offer discounts on my fee.

Let me leave you with two ideas, which may or may not be provocative to you:

1) Trying to hire two people for a job that can easily be done by one person might be an indication that you don’t have faith or confidence in any one person you spoke with to do it right. If that rings true to you, then I encourage you to keep looking. There are people out there who are masters at weaving multi-faith ceremonies; I’ve seen it done, and I’ve done it myself.

2) Your desire for two officiants could also be an indication that you two, as a couple, have not fully processed how you are going to live a blended faith home together. If any part of that idea rings true to you, I implore you to go back and start talking about it, perhaps with a clergy person or a couple’s therapist, to facilitate the conversation. Your feelings need to be aired NOW, before the wedding day, and before the first baby comes! If you are both really solid and confident about how your family is going to blend your faith traditions, then I think you will feel much more comfortable hiring just one officiant.

More Than Just the Officiant

anniversary birthday cake celebration

One final thought to consider: Interfaith weddings are about much more than just who does the officiating. They are also a statement, a reflection, of the kind of future you envision.

When I get a call asking me to co-officiate — and then I find out the wedding venue is in a CHURCH, I confess, it leaves me slack-jawwed. A church? Really? Could you not find a more neutral wedding venue? If your wedding is in a church, you’ve made the decision that your family’s primary religious identity (as a unit) is Christian — which is perfectly fine — but it also means you should hire a minister or priest to officiate your wedding!

The same thing applies to a synagogue. If you goal is to create an interfaith home, you should avoid having your wedding at a synagogue. If you book in a synagogue, I would say your goal is not to raise an interfaith family; your goal is to raise a mainly Jewish one, maybe with a few Christian holidays sprinkled in here and there that “Daddy” (or whomever) is technically celebrating. That’s OK, that’s your choice, but be courageous and acknowledge it from the get-go by hiring a rabbi to officiate. Don’t begin your married life with a bunch of mixed, contradictory messages.

Create a wedding ritual and wedding day that reflects the future home you intend to build together.

Here’s another way of framing the question: Are you sending your future children to Hebrew school or Sunday school? Because they both happen on Sundays, and you can only choose one. How you answer that question might help you answer what kind of officiant you hire for your wedding.

I hope some of this helps! Good luck!

And, if you have any questions, I’m always happy to talk these ideas over with people (at no charge), so just drop me a line.

Finally, I heartily recommend a nonprofit association called interfaithfamily.com. They have great resources for interfaith couples about not just wedding ceremonies but all aspects of interfaith family life. They are a wonderful organization with many great resources free of charge.

Read Full Post »

Prince-William-Kate-Middleton-Preparing-Baby-BirthOh I so love this creative wedding processional, with all the bridal party dressed up to look like the different members of the royal wedding. Can you spot Pippa? Prince Harry?

What a fun way to get a marriage started! Do you have the guts to totally cut-up during your wedding processional?

Oh, lest we all get too hopeful, it turns out the whole thing was staged as a T-Mobile production. But hey, I’m still waiting for that cool, gutzy innovative couple to come to me and say “Ya! Let’s ROCK that processional line!”

Read Full Post »

In Judaism, we don’t have a tradition of mothers or fathers giving a speech after they walk their daughter or son down the aisle. Here, however, is an example of how it can be done so beautifully, with the right person and the right words.

The video clip is a few minutes long, and really worth watching — especially if you want an example of a perfect way to deliver a speech during a marriage ceremony!


Read Full Post »

Magohany bimah with sand flooringWith only one synagogue operating in the Caribbean, it’s easy to imagine why a Jewish destination wedding to the Caribbean gets quickly cut off the list.

I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, destination Jewish or interfaith weddings can offer fabulous, unique, never-to-forget events at prices you can’t begin to approximate in the U.S.

You do, however, need to start curacao mapthinking creatively.

In exploring the question “Can you can a Jewish wedding in the Caribbean?” I will also share with you what happened to me, when I tried to plan such a wedding.

With a little research, you will learn that the only functioning synagogue in the Caribbean is on the island of Curacao. The congregation, called Mikvé Israel, dates from the 1650s, and was founded by Spanish and Portuguese Jews from the Netherlands and Brazil. In the 19th century, there was a breakaway Reform community (Emanu El); the two merged to form the present community in 1964.

curacoThe synagogue (pictured at the top of the post) is built in the Sephardic style, which means it has 360-degree seating with the bima in the center, from where the rabbi or hazzan recites the prayers. The best part is, the synagogue’s floors are made up entirely of sand. Imagine – what a photographer’s delight! As you can see in the picture above, some of the main “cities” in Curacuao look like a quaint, beautiful seaside villages.

Jewish Pirates of the CaribbeanFor you history buffs out there, you might love reading Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean; Curacao made an appearance, as did many other of my favorite Caribbean haunts!

But back to your wedding: Here’s the problem. Actually, there are a lot of problems … The synagogue hires a cantor, and when I asked for more information, they sent me a list of “rules” that looked like they had been copied straight from the Middle Ages.

1. For starters, no intermarriages. That’s right, if you are one of 60% of American Jews marrying outside the tribe, you are a second-class citizen who can’t use their building.

2. The cost to rent the facility and hire their cantor is $2,500. That is perfectly fair. Maintaining such an exquisite building in such a hot climate has got to be expensive, and the community surely relies on the infusion of off-shore funds to keep the place running. But what upset me is that we didn’t need their officiant. As a rabbinical student, I had a whole cadre of rabbis and would-be rabbis on my guest list. I wanted to work with a rabbi whom I have a close bond with, and who would frame things and say things in the way that I would want them said.

They were okay with that — but they were still going to charge the $2,500! Their fee was their fee, no matter how much or little we asked them to do.

star of david3. Then, number 3, they require couples  to exchange wedding rings that are solid gold bands. The rings, they said, can’t have any jewels or stones of any kind, or any engraving on them.

For my partner and me, that rule ended the discussion right there. We didn’t have rings with stones; but we did resent some synagogue committee intruding its opinions on our fingers and telling us what we could and couldn’t wear on them! Any Why exactly is it their business?

I have nothing against a solid gold band. But with so many beautiful rings out there now, why would anyone want to limit themselves to that?

Yes, it is a Jewish wedding tradition to exchange rings that are not “broken up” by stones. The idea is that a couple’s love is continuous, and a solid band symbolizes that. It’s a lovely tradition, and it is also just that: a tradition. There are good 100 other Jewish wedding traditions and most couples do not choose to follow all of them, either. Talk about arbitrary.

4. Then there was the issue of dress. The Curacao shul requires that all women have their shoulders covered in the interest of tsniut = modesty. Meanwhile, all the men have to wear formal attire. Yes, you read that right: Ties and SUITS … in a tropicial paradise whose humidity level probably tops 110!

What is the value we are communicating here? It seems to me the value they are communicating is this: “We wish to convey a certain sense of decorum in our holy space. We define ‘decorum’ using the standards that the occupying white culture imposed on native island people 400 years ago. We don’t define ‘decorum’ based on contemporary values of gender equality, or based on the environmental/temperature realities of where we are standing today.”

Let me just say it: That is annoy annoy annoy annoying.

I offered what I thought was fair middle ground. How about I arrange a tour of the synagogue earlier in the day, as an “outing” for my guests, for which their building and cantor would recieve a fee? We would do the ceremony the way we wanted, with the officiant and the sentiments we desired, overlooking the ocean, in the clothes we felt were climactically appropriate, over at a hotel?

That was fine they said. But it would still cost $2,500. And they wouldn’t help us coordinate with the hotel.

All things considered, we concluded that getting married in the only functioning synagogue in the Caribbean just wasn’t meant to be. If these restrictions don’t bother you, Curacao might be a perfectly great option for you.

If, however, you want more ritual freedom, there are plenty of other ideas you might consider:

Looking Beyond Curacao

curaco marriot resort1. First off, Curacao is still a beautiful place and judging from this picture I found from the Marriott Resort in Curacao, their hotel knows how to build a chuppah for a Jewish wedding! Hire a rabbi and bring him/her with you, and hold your wedding at the Marriott hotel. Your guests can choose to tour the synagogue as one of many excursions they have to choose from on the island.

2. Curacao isn’t the only island with great beaches. And really, the only two things you need to make a wedding “Jewish” is a Jewish officiant, and a chuppah. You can bring the officiant with you, and small, lightweight handheld chuppahs can be made for under $200. (Email me; I can help you figure out how.)

My fiance and I briefly entertained a wedding in Jamaica. I have several friends who married there, and the island’s hotels are great at putting together package vacations. Their beaches are amazing, and the temperature of the ocean feels like bath water! They also offer resorts that cater to families with small children who are not yet potty-trained — a big issue for any guests you may have coming who have very young kids. (Look at Beaches and FDR resorts for starters).

Ritz_Dove_Mountain in TucsonAnother idea I wish we had thought was one a little closer to home: the Ritz Carlton in Tucson. I recently officiated an exquisite wedding there replete with hiking, majestic views and 5-star vegetarian fare all rolled into one.

Whatever “destination” you consider for your “destination wedding,” most hotels offer wedding packages with discounted room rates for their guests (which you don’t have to pay for). Many resorts outside the U.S. offer all-you-can-eat buffets for meals.

For another $1,000 bucks or so, resorts also provide photographers, videographers, and even a cake. I wish I could get married over and over again, just to have reasons to go to beautiful places like Turks & Caicos, the Bahamas, and a diver’s paradise, Bonaire!

ritz_carlton_dove_mountain_marana_arizona-mainResorts that offer wedding packages always include a local minister or pastor to officate the ceremony itself. There are, no doubt, great officiants out there, but if you are looking for something Jewish, or something theistically unconventional (such as –secular or nontheistic), you probably need to bring an officiant with you.

For a few nights stay at the hotel, a daily honorarium and a plane ticket, you can find a rabbi or rabbi-in-training who would be happy for the opportunity to enjoy a taste of paradise along with you! Even with this added cost of bringing your own officiant, you will still save considerably less money by having a destination wedding than you would hosting a wedding on your home turf.

Congratulations on your engagement — and if you had a destination wedding of your own, write me here, in the Comment field, and let me know how it went!

Read Full Post »

Are you looking for a wedding or vow renewal ceremony location that is:

* outdoors, natural, and almost totally private

* no facility fee (!)

* for a very small wedding party (under a dozen — no seating provided)

* within 20 minutes of downtown Philly?

After years of officiating weddings in the Mainline area — and years wracking my brain trying to come up with an outdoors location that meets all these criteria — I have finally come up with the perfect venue! I think of it as Philly’s Best Kept Outdoors Wedding Venue Secret. Most amazing of all: It is free.

Rolling Hill Park is an exquisite natural park nestled in the winding roads and soaring mansions of Gladwyne. The park itself is made up of winding dirt paths that travel for about a mile down to a riverbank. The walk passes by several abandoned rock homesteads dating back to the 1800s, which would make fabulous background vistas for photographs. And, because the land is not private (it is owned by MontgomeryTownship), there is no multi-thousand-dollar facility fee.

Wow. All the times I’ve been hiking there, I have never seen a small wedding party there. Heck, I hardly see anyone at all — just the occasional local running his or her dog off leash, and even more rarely than that, an equestrian riding his or her horse on the trails.

Apart from the sound of an airplane passing overhead now and then, the only sounds are crickets, cicadaeas, and a cacophony of birds. If you love nature, are on a budget, and just want a short, sweet, simple wedding — this is the place for you.

Keep scrolling to see some snapshots I have taken of different places where you could gather to exchange your vows, as well as idyllic places to pose afterward for pictures.

I am able to offer short, simple but heartfelt wedding ceremonies or vow renewal rituals that are either “spiritual” in nature, or lean more toward the secular humanist side of the spectrum (ie, no “god” references). Email me at joysa@aol.com for rates, date availability, and more details.


This is the first place, near the parking area, where you could exchange vows. It’s a very short walk, so is ideal for a group in which guests have limited mobility. The woods extend behind it, and there are usually no people here.


This is an old sawmill the operated in the early 1900s on the river beside it. It was abandoned in the 1970s. It would make a cool backdrop for photographs, along with the river and abandoned homesteads nearby. (About a 0.7 mile walk into the woods from the parking area.)


This is an area along the trail, by the river, where a group could gather to hear you exchange your vows. The sound of the trickling stream is right beside you here.


If you were feeling really adventurous, everyone could take off their shoes and you could wade out into the rock bar and exchange vows in the river itself! On the day I was here taking pictures, a few friends were hanging out and playing guitar.


I love this as a place to exchange vows. It is one of the abandoned homesteads that had been occupied by the families that worked at the sawmill. You could stand here, with this as your backdrop, looking at the river while you exchange vows. Nestled in the trees, it reminds me of a set from Lord of the Rings or a Grimm’s fairytale.Image What was this? An old cellar? Not sure. Another nice backdrop for a photo.


On the way back to the parking lot (away from the river), you pass by this wood-made stairway, cutting up the hill. It would make a beautiful place to stage a wedding party or stage wedding guests for a group photo.


I am able to offer short, simple but heartfelt wedding ceremonies or vow renewal rituals that are Jewish, “spiritual” in nature, or lean more toward the secular humanist side of the spectrum (ie, no “god” references). I have suggestions on places where you could go afterward with your wedding party to eat, as well as practical suggestions for making this venue idea work for you and your guests.

Read a few reviews from happy couples I have worked with at the Knot here. Email me at joysa@aol.com for rates, date availability, and more details. Please state in your subject line/email that you are interested in a Rolling Hill Park wedding (or vow renewal).

Cheers, and congratulations on your happy event!


For more on Philly weddings, please see some of my other posts:

Read Full Post »

(This is a continuing article from the blog post above.)

Here are some simple words of advice as you shop wedding officiants:

●    Never hire someone to officiate your wedding if you don’t like them as a person. Make come calls, and check your chemistry – and your gut! Do you like them? Do they seem intelligent and sincere? This is a wedding officiant; not an auto mechanic. Chemistry does matter.

●      I know you have questions for the officiant, but do you like the questions the officiant is asking you? I recently officiated a wedding for a couple who had met with another rabbi for the first time, to discuss their wedding. This rabbi apparently only had two questions for them in their meeting: A) How much money do you have? (Obstensibly because the No. 1 problem in marriages is money) and then B) How is your sex life? (That’s just so wrong … I don’t even know where to start. Save my incredulity for another blog post, I guess.)

●      Does the officiant treat your liturgical requests like something they genuinely want to provide? Or do they have the attitude that you are bugging them by asking them to depart from what they usually do, or act disapproving that you are departing from “tradition?” (Personally, I think life is too short and weddings are too important to get into all this.)

●     Will the officiant be able to communicate well with your guests, and in particular your parents, who probably care a lot about who their kids’ wedding officiant is?

●      Check the person’s references. I have a ton posted on my web page, and I’m always happy to give out email addresses of previous clients to anyone who asks.

Other Ways to Save on Your Budget

No one becomes a rabbi or a minister because they want to be rich. More than anything, we love working with people and helping them honor the major milestones in their lives.

At the same time, we also have to make a living. Ours is a precarious career that does not afford the protections many jobs provide: health insurance, retirement plans, paid sick leave.

If you find an officiant you like, but are hesitating over the price, take a simple look at your larger wedding budget and see if it is as “fixed” as you think it is. Here are two simple cost-saving ideas:

  • You can buy a hand-held chuppah for $250 versus renting a free-standing chuppah for $800-$1000. You can pay for the cost of your officiant just by using a less-expensive chuppah (and the hand-held ones, by the way, are beautiful!) Alternately, if your venue has an arch with flowers build into the décor somewhere, that can count as an arch, and that would come at no extra cost!
  • Reconsider your venue. There are beautiful venues out in Glen Mills that can be rented for $3000. That’s a far cry from the $6000 or $10,000 routinely charged in Center City. In fact, some of the most beautiful weddings I have attended have been the lower-budget varieties, including a few that were held in the backyards of friends’ homes.

I’m sure you can find more great budget advice out there, too. Those are just two easy ones that come to mind.

Good luck on your search. As we say in Hebrew, Hazak, hazak, hanithazek: May we all go from strength to strength!

For more on Jewish weddings, please see some of my other posts:

“How can I make my Jewish or interfaith wedding unique, funny or even funky?”

Read Full Post »

Martin S. Jaffee offers the following definition of ‘religion’ in his book Early Judaism.

“Religion is an intense and sustained cultivation of a style of life that heightens awareness of morally binding connections between the self, the human community and the most essential structures of reality. Religions posit various orders of reality and help individuals and groups to negotiate their relations with those orders.”

You may have noticed that this definition does not focus on beliefs or rituals. This may surprise you. Jaffee argues that the idea of religion as a collection of beliefs about divine beings expressed in moral behavior, prayers and various forms of communal worship is actually an idea that emerged out of Europe in the 16th century. It was advanced by philosophers, politicians and theologians struggling to define the role of the Church in the emerging national states of Europe. For that time and place, that definition served a useful purpose: to create societies in which Church and State had separate and distinct spheres of life, enabling citizens of different religious beliefs to coexist as relative equals in society.

This particular definition of religion however, has not been reflective of the many ways in which non-European and non-Christian peoples have constructed their own conceptions of the role of holy communities and their institutions in the larger social and political order. Thus, he offered that alternate definition of religion, broad enough to explain human religious behavior across civilizations and millenia.

According to Jaffee, religious patterns of behavior encourage human beings to interpret themselves as moral beings whose destiny is bound with others in a project that brings them into relationship with the fundamental reality of things. In religious systems, the self identified through personal, autobiographical memory tends to be enlarged or enriched as it is interpreted in contexts well beyond personal experience. Personal identity includes a conception of how all these relationships are connected to generations of the distant past and the far-off future, as well as to the forces and powers that are held to account for the world as it is. (page 7)

Certain types of Buddhism, and even, Judaism come to mind. What all religions share, though, is the desire to participate in the essential structures of the world — to those spaces beyond our immediate world where “God” or “enlightenment” or “consciousness” reside. The ways we conceive of these alternate worlds differs from religion to religion. But constant among all of them is the tendency of religions to puncture the apparent solidity of mundane experience and to privilege intimations of other worlds at more profound levels of being.

I don’t know about you, but I love this way of describing religion. It’s like what Rabbi David Wolpe said: “Life is not an intellectual puzzle. Life is a precious one-time chance to grow. We grow not by solving riddles but by creating meaning.”

I wrote the title on this entry in jest, but it is not entirely a joke. It’s answer all depends on your definitions. Is it possible to be a religious atheist? Well, if you take Jaffe’s definition of religion (above), as opposed to a fundamentalist definition of God (an omnipotent, authoritarian entity invervening in human affiars) — then yes, you can be. And you most certainly can be an “atheist” or a “theistic agnostic” and have a wedding that is decidedly Jewish.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »