When people start planning their weddings, they often think about the decorations, attire and maybe the food. My first task? Finding Jewish clergy to officiate.
Joe, my fiancé, doesn’t belong to any particular faith practice, and since I’m very invested in living a Jewish life, he agreed that a Jewish wedding with a rabbi or cantor made sense for us. That said, Joe and his family are not Jewish, so we want the ceremony to be accessible to those who aren’t familiar with Jewish rituals. As a visibly LGBTQ+ couple, on top of being interfaith/multicultural, finding someone who could respectfully and accurately honor our marriage was on the top of the to-do list.
We started by asking the rabbi at our local Hillel—a dear friend to both of us and my former professor. He told us that he absolutely wanted to, but since he’s ordained as a Conservative rabbi, he was not allowed to perform interfaith marriages. He even tried to plead his case to the Rabbinical Assembly so he could officiate for us, but he still couldn’t.
Upset over this snag in our plans, we turned to the congregational rabbi at the progressive synagogue I’ve worked at for the last few years. Queer and Reconstructionist, we knew that officiating our non-traditional wedding wouldn’t present any issues. Unfortunately, she told us that she’ll be on sabbatical on our wedding day. We then asked the other rabbi who works at the congregation, but the cost of her services was just too high for us as our wedding is on a tight budget.
Frustrated, I turned to my boss and good friend who works as an independent cantor; she doesn’t serve a synagogue but works with individuals in the community instead. Given her experience, I asked what the industry standard is for clergy to officiate a Jewish interfaith wedding, and I was heartbroken to hear that the cost is so high.
I felt like I couldn’t fully engage with my Jewish heritage or begin married life in the most meaningful way simply because I’m not spending thousands of dollars on my wedding. When she heard how upset I was, my friend offered her services as a gift. If we could fly her out to Oregon, where we live, she’d officiate our wedding. Stunned by her kindness, we were both honored to accept her gift, but not without great consideration first.
You see, I want to do what my friend does: I want to be a rabbi who works independently. I understand the vastly important work that people in the field do and how valuable their time and services are. Having Jewish clergy officiate a wedding—or any lifecycle ritual—can be a profoundly moving experience, worth every dollar. If money wasn’t an issue, I would pay my cantor friend double what she usually asks for a wedding. She takes the time to immerse herself in Jewish ritual and tradition, and then she completely personalizes it for the couple. She dedicates countless hours to helping you feel like your place in the greater Jewish family truly matters.
Now that we’re about eight months away from the wedding, we’ve begun working with our cantor on crafting the ceremony. After just one Zoom call, I am already thrilled with how Joe’s and my silly, queer, interfaith/multicultural relationship is being honored. At the same time, I’m equally touched by how meaningful our wedding is shaping up to be for my Jewish soul.
Judaism is a 4,000-year-old tradition that didn’t always account for relationships like ours or queer and trans people like me—as such, finding ways to engage in this tradition meaningfully is an ongoing process and one that takes a lot of time. As I enter into the next stage of my life and commit myself as a lifelong partner to Joe, I am beyond grateful to be guided by someone so knowledgeable and gifted.
I’ve never understood why things like food, decorations and attire are often the focus of weddings and wedding planning. In my mind, the most important part is the union of the people getting married—so finding an officiant for the ceremony seemed like the obvious place to start. (After all, if you plan everything else first, and then you can’t find an officiant to marry you on that day or in that place, you’re out of luck.)
Just as it takes time to build a genuine connection with your partner, it also takes time to represent that relationship accurately at your wedding. The more time we spend with our officiant, the better relationship we’ll build with them, and our ceremony will be more authentic and meaningful. I’m excited to continue working with our officiant in the coming months so that Joe and I can enter married life in the most “us” way possible.
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