Officiating virtual weddings during a pandemic is a far cry from business as usual for rabbis and cantors. But many clergy are finding ways to adjust during this unusual time and still give couples a meaningful wedding ceremony, even if it’s not in person. We’ve compiled some helpful tips and advice for officiants–from officiants–about Zoom weddings from rabbis and cantors who are a part of 18Doors’ Jewish Clergy Officiation Referral Service network.
Practice makes perfect.
While Rabbi Sarah Tasman in Maryland doesn’t usually do a rehearsal with couples before the wedding, she recommends it for virtual ceremonies since they present new challenges and require a little more coordination than usual. She recommends that the officiant discuss with the couple who is the “host” of the Zoom meeting. Will it be the couple, another designated person or the officiant? “For one wedding, we did it as a Zoom meeting so all the guests were visible, but for another wedding the couple preferred to set it up as a Zoom webinar so only the couple and myself would be visible”, Rabbi Tasman explained. The couple can also send out a digital program and best practices/virtual meeting etiquette to let guests know any important information. “This can include if there is a virtual waiting room, if guests will be muted except at the end when they will be unmuted and should say ‘Mazel Tov!'”.
Cantor Cheryl Wunch in Toronto usually works with couples eight months to a year before their wedding so she can really get to know them. But when a couple reached out early on during the pandemic and told her that their officiant could no longer do their wedding since they pushed up their wedding date, she felt she needed to help. She officiated the ceremony over Zoom from her car in the parking lot of the local park the couple and their parents were at.
For officiants doing a virtual ceremony from a distance, Rabbi Tasman recommended the need to be more directive when officiating. Saying things like “And now the couple will wrap themselves in a tallis” tells the couple what they should do next.
Keep it simple.
“Zoom fatigue” is real. Cantor Wunch shortened and simplified the wedding ceremony she officiated virtually. In this case, the couple wanted to save many of the Jewish rituals for the big ceremony they still hope to have when this is all over. Cantor Wunch says to remember that most of the Jewish rituals are tradition, and not required by law.
The rules for obtaining and signing a marriage license varies by location. Rabbi Tasman explains: “Each marriage bureau has their own set of rules so couples and officiants need to make sure to find out the rules for the location where the couple will be for the ceremony. In some places the couple can be married virtually by the marriage bureau and the rabbi or cantor could then officiate the religious ceremony over Zoom, or the couple can drop off the marriage certificate or mail it to the officiant to sign.”
Rabbi Tasman suggests talking with the couple beforehand about when the Zoom call should end. Does the zoom meeting end after they kiss, or does the couple do a brief virtual champagne toast with guests before they sign off? Coordinate when the host should end the call, or if another family member will stay on to chat with guests. Rabbi Tasman adds, “I usually do the announcements before the breaking of the glass and the kiss because it’s easier logistically, since the guests are usually cheering after the kiss and it’s also more meaningful to end with a ritual moment than logistics.”
It will be special.
Rabbi Melissa Buyer-Witman in New York, who is part of the upcoming cohort of 18Doors’ Rukin Rabbinic Fellows, was blown away at just how special a virtual ceremony could be. She was at first apprehensive about Zoom weddings, wondering if they would be able to create a meaningful and memorable ceremony with guests participating virtually. After officiating her first Zoom wedding, she was amazed. “Weddings are our biggest symbols of hope. The couple is saying, ‘We believe in our future,’” Rabbi Buyer-Witman said. Right now, we need moments of togetherness and hope. She said, “The whole wedding felt like a big injection of love.”
Go for it.
After experiencing officiating a beautiful wedding over Zoom, Rabbi Buyer-Witman is now encouraging couples she’s working with to do it. She shares that the couple can always save aspects of the ceremony for a future in-person celebration. One couple she’s working with decided to save breaking the glass and their personal vows for a later date.
Have a piece of advice for officiating Zoom weddings to share with other officiants? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want to become an 18Doors officiant? Start here.