Sunday Was a Busy Day for Weddings in New York

  

As you may recall, we were all too happy and excited to help fill one of the 175 requests we get each week to our Jewish Clergy Officiation Referral Service. This one in particular was for Dee and Kate, who would be among the first legally married gay couples in New York this past weekend.

Their marriage was covered extensively  by Newsday.

Another interfaith, Jewish wedding that also received media attention on Sunday: Avenue Q’s (closeted) muppet Rod to his beau. Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum officiated outside the New York City clerk’s office, where CBST, NY’s LGBT synagogue, hung a rainbow flag as a chuppah.

“To have this finally happen for us — especially so soon after Will and Kate — is unbelievable to me,” Rod said in a statement. “I realize there are a lot of broken hearts out there now that Ricky and I are off the market — step back, all you chorus boys! — but I’ve known since day one that Ricky is the husband for me. He’s the furry fellow I want to spend my life with both on and off the stage.” (The Advocate)

But back to real people.

Newsday has a wonderful photo gallery of Kate and Dee preparing for their wedding, then getting married. (All photo credits: Jessica Rotziewicz.) Here are some highlights:

From their home in Patchogue, Dee Smith holds up her phone that has her mother, Randee Smith, of Smithtown, on video chat, so she can talk with Rabbi Lev Baesh via Skype along with her and Kate Wrede. This is the second time the couple is chatting with the rabbi about plans for their wedding ceremony. (July 14, 2011)
Rabbi Lev Baesh, director of the Resource Center for Jewish Clergy at InterfaithFamily.com, draws a photo of the wedding ceremony for Dee Smith and Kate Wrede to see on their computer while using Skype to discuss their plans. (July 7, 2011)
Kate Wrede and Dee Smith of Patchogue choose a glass to break at their wedding ceremony, along with a mezuzah, at Unique Judaica in Syosset. Following Jewish tradition, the couple will hang the mezuzah on the doorpost of the entrance to their home. (July 10, 2011)

Hey, Kate and Dee, if you need help putting the mezuzah up, check out our video and booklet!

Kate and Dee Smith look into each others’ eyes as Rabbi Lev Baesh explains how this is more intimate than the kiss at the end of the ceremony at Viana Hotel & Spa in Westbury. (July 24, 2011)
Kate Wrede and Dee Smith wrap themselves in a blanket as part of their wedding ceremony. (July 24, 2011)

That “blanket” is a tallit (sometimes pronounced tallis), which is a prayer shawl. From our Guide to Wedding Ceremonies for Interfaith Couples: “In some Jewish ceremonies, modeled after Sephardic tradition, the couple may be wrapped in a large tallis during some portion of the wedding ceremony when blessings are recited. It is often used for the final benediction. This ritual is adaptable for any wedding.”

Mazal tov, again, to Dee and Kate (and Rod and Ricky), and to all of the other couples who are now legally able to marry in NY State!

This Weekend, At Midnight, Under The Chuppah

  

We excitedly mentioned that we’ve been able to help Dee and Kate, who will be getting married at 12:01am on Sunday, July 24 (the moment same-sex marriage becomes legal in New York State) find a rabbi to officiate at their (Jewish, interfaith) wedding.

Here’s a video, via Newsday, about the happy couple:

Mazal tov!

As a bonus, we also have an essay that Rabbi Lev Baesh, director of our Resource Center for Jewish Clergy, and the lucky officiant for Kate and Dee’s upcoming nuptials, wrote about this experience:

You might not guess this, but it can be easier to find a liberal rabbi to officiate a same-sex wedding than to find one to officiate a Jewish wedding for an interfaith couple.  This Saturday night at midnight, I will be officiating the first legal gay wedding in the State of NY.  The couple found me in Massachusetts through InterfaithFamily.com’s free Jewish Clergy Officiation Referral Service, after being turned away by several rabbis in the NY area.
 
What never ceases to amaze me is the dedication some interfaith couples have to finding Jewish connection in this important celebration in their family’s life.  It also doesn’t surprise me that a gay interfaith couple, which faces potential discrimination on several fronts, continues to search for that connection as well.  Thankfully we have this web based service, and the dedication of its staff to equality, that makes it possible.

I have worked with InterfaithFamily.com for several years, but began officiating and co-officiating interfaith weddings 20 years ago.  It was both the high level of acceptance my religious Jewish family had towards people of diversity, and my own struggle as a gay man to find connection in the religious heritage I deeply loved, that moved me to make it easier for people to find connection here as well. Reform Judaism has been full of social justice activities and drive for the world around us, but is only in the past decades seeing the challenge it places on its own committed members and potential members, by not welcoming both GLBT and interfaith couples in a bigger way.

There has been a shift in both the welcoming of GLBT and interfaith families of recent past, but institutional change is slow and haphazard.  Gay, lesbian and transgender rabbis are welcome to study for ordination, but the prayer books, religious school materials and social conversations still refer to heterosexual families as primary and desired.  Interfaith programming has increased and many of the congregations in our liberal movements are more than 40% interfaith families.  However, the leadership of the movement still can’t accept an interfaith married person into the rabbinic school. And, with a nearly 50% or greater number of Jews in interfaith partnerships and marriages nationally, the liberal Jewish movements still see them as a minority when it comes to programming and organizational decision making.

It is both the GLBT and interfaith nature of this wedding, with its high profile status as the first legal gay wedding in NY, that may give us the power to move the liberal Jewish world further in its path toward internal acceptance of all its diversity.  With the liberal Jewish world coming around to the reality it faces, of both interfaith and gay families (some living in the same households) making Jewish choices, there can be great strength in changing the nature of acceptance of diversity on a national level.  As much as this wedding is a triumph for same-sex families, we still have a lot of work to do to bring national value to acceptance of the full diversity of our populous.

May this wedding be not just the first of many in NY, but the gentle push forward that makes room for other states and other religious movements to open their doors wide to the people who already love so much of what we value as a free and inclusive society.

NY: First Gay Marriage!

  

It was with great excitement that I heard the news from the New York Senate a few Shabboses ago: in a vote of 33-29, the state passed a bill allowing same-sex marriage! The bill would come into effect on July 24, 2011. In honor of NY State, we updated our homepage’s news section linking to our newly updated LGBT Resource Page.

Like many, I started hearing about the colorful plans for weddings, non-profits and individuals alike doing what they could to prepare for the throngs of couples who will want to take advantage of the new law shortly after it comes into effect. (One of my favorites? The “pop-up chapel” planned for July 30 in Central Park.)

But then, via our free Jewish clergy officiation referral service, we received an email requesting a rabbi to officiate at what will be New York’s “first gay marriage.” Enthusiastically, we jumped on the task. (Not that we’re biased, but the office was maybe slightly more enthusiastic about this request than the hundreds of others we receive – but only slightly, of course, since we’re thrilled to be able to help out so many of you!)

Our own rabbi Lev Baesh will be in NY to officiate at their interfaith, Jewish wedding. The couple, Dee and Kate, want their wedding to be a wonderful celebration. As such, they’re inviting everyone, even you.

We’re thrilled for the couple, Dee and Katemazal tov!

Updated to add: For more, please read Ed Case’s blog post, Happy and Proud. Stay tuned for more details as we get them…

We Can Help…

  

Sarah Silverman, if the unicorn wasn’t Jewish, we could help you.

Do you know someone who’s looking for a rabbi for their interfaith wedding? Let them know about our clergy officiation referral service, matching couples, individuals and families with Jewish clergy for weddings, bris or baby namings, bar or bat mitzvahs, conversions, counseling*, funerals, and more.

[sub]*Sarah, you and your unicorn might be most interested in this…[/sub]

Life Cycle Innovations

  

A couple recent articles relating to Jewish life-cycle events caught my eye.

For starters, via Jewschool we learned about a  Wall Street Journal piece looking at birth ceremonies. Specifically:

Manhattan lawyer [Epstein] recently asked New York federal judge Kimba Wood to grant him a day’s reprieve in a criminal trial to attend the bris of his grandson. Epstein’s daughter has not yet given birth — so he doesn’t yet know the sex of the baby. But Epstein wanted to give Judge Wood ample notice to consider his request, given that his daughter’s due date is Dec. 3, smack in the middle of the scheduled trial.

So Epstein was stuck in the slightly awkward position of asking Judge Wood for a day off if, in fact, the baby turns out to be a boy. If it’s a girl, well, no bris, no day off needed.

Wrote Epstein, in this letter filed with the court on Thursday:

“Should the child be a girl, not much will happen in the way of public celebration. Some may even be disappointed, but will do their best to conceal this by saying, ‘as long as it’s a healthy baby.’ … However, should the baby be a boy, then hoo hah! Hordes of friends and  family will arrive … for the joyous celebration … known as the bris. … My presence at the bris is not strictly commanded, although my absence will never be forgotten by those that matter.”

Judge Wood, in a note written at the bottom of the letter, granted the request. But she did Epstein one better. Wrote Wood:

“Mr. Epstein will be permitted to attend the bris, in the joyous event that a son is born. But the Court would like to balance the scales. If a daughter is born, there will be a public celebration in Court, with readings from poetry celebrating girls and women.”


Fantastic!

I then learned of virtual bar mitzvah studies via the NY Times:

If dating, shopping and watching TV can be revolutionized by the Internet, why should bar and bat mitzvahs be immune? Parents who once might have turned to their local synagogue for Hebrew lessons and spiritual guidance are now turning to Google…

It was interesting but it’s too bad that they focused on the downside of group learning – or highlighted the ease of individual learning. Learning with others (chavruta especially) holds many benefits for both religious and secular studies.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that our clergy referral service isn’t just for weddings – we can direct you to clergy for all life cycle events, from a baby naming or bris to bar or bat mitzvah to weddings and funerals.

Starting the TV Season with Interfaith Couples

  

I admit that ever since the dramatic season finales of ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, with its disgruntled widow shooting spree, and its spin-off Private Practice, with the  death of Dell Parker by a drunk driver, I was wondering how they would begin the new seasons. I was happily surprised to find both episodes dealt with life-cycle events for interfaith couples on last Thursday’s season premiers.

On Grey’s Anatomy, Dr. Christina Yang (Sandra Oh) married Dr. Owen Hunt (Kevin McKidd). As described on Judaism/2009/08/Jewish-TV-Characters.aspx?p=2">BeliefNet, Christina considers herself Jewish; the character converted as a child when her mother married a Jewish oral surgeon, Dr. Saul Rubenstein. Christina has, from time to time, brought up her Jewish background. Both of Dr. Yang’s engagements were to non-Jews; it would have been great to see her plan/have an wedding that reflected her Jewish identity.

Dr. Yang’s first wedding, which was planned, but never happened, was to happen in a church with no Jewish clergy present. This wedding was planned by Dr. Yang herself, and not by a future mother-in-law, which gave Christina the perfect opportunity to have included a local rabbi in her ceremony. (InterfaithFamily.com has several rabbis and Jewish professionals in the Seattle area to whom we could have referred her.) I am disappointed that the recent season premier episode completely ignored her faith as well. This was a missed opportunity to portray how meaningful an interfaith wedding could be.   

On Private Practice, Drs. Cooper Freedman (Paul Adlestein) and Charlotte King (Kadee Strickland) start the season making love while discussing how Charlotte’s pastor wants to talk to Cooper’s rabbi.  I hope the powers that be take the opportunity to explore the dimensions of an interfaith wedding for them!

Looking forward to where the season will take these shows… And hoping to see some interfaith issues explored by the two couples!

A New Year of Creative Ferment

  

Summer ended this weekend and I was thinking it would be nice to ease into the Jewish New Year, spend some time quietly introspecting on the past year and what’s to come. Instead all signs are for a year of creative ferment in attitudes in the intermarriage world, started perhaps by
my August op-ed in the Forward, The Missing Mazel Tov, which expressed my dismay at the reaction of Jewish religious leaders to Chelsea Clinton’s wedding, and continuing in the debate between Rabbis Leon Morris and Evan Moffic over weddings on Shabbat.

Our friend Paul Golin, associate executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute, has written one of the most important essays in years, God’s Covenant, Judaism and Interfaith Marriage. His essay in the Huffington Post provides a well-reasoned theoretical/intellectual basis for why Jewish leaders should have embraced Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky.

Almost nowhere among Jewish leadership — even in the liberal movements — has there been a full shedding of the preference for in-marriage. And that preference for one type of family over another inevitably must lead to a lesser welcoming for intermarried families.

You simply cannot say, “We welcome everybody equally, but we prefer one kind over another.” Maybe the difference in the way people are treated doesn’t always manifest on the surface level, but it bubbles up. This is not to say that we can’t discuss the challenges of raising Jewish children when one parent is not Jewish; what I’m talking about is the open preference for one type of couple over another, even when both may choose to raise Jewish children.

I urge you to read the entire essay. Here’s the conclusion:

Over the last quarter-century, nearly as many American Jews have married non-Jews as fellow Jews. Today, there are more intermarried than in-married households in the U.S., perhaps by as large a ratio as 60%-40%. The high rate of intermarriage can be seen as the defining opportunity to transform the Jewish community from an insular, tribal entity to a diverse and expanding peoplehood based on key common causes and beliefs. But first we have to make sure our common causes and beliefs are the right ones to be shouting from the mountaintops (hint: “don’t intermarry” isn’t one of them), and then we have to let go of the fear and begin genuinely welcoming as equal all who would select Judaism for themselves or their children.

Next, Rabbi James Ponet has written a very important piece for Tablet, Into the Jewish People: The rabbi who co-officiated at the Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding on his journey to accepting intermarriage. True to his word, Rabbi Ponet does not talk about the wedding in his piece, but instead describes the evolution in his attitudes over the course of nearly forty years. Rabbi Ponet clearly is a very thoughtful rabbi with a very serious respect for Jewish tradition. Before becoming Yale Hillel director in 1981, he writes, he

had come to understand that halachah reflects not so much the truth of God as the pragmatics of attempting to live in the world connected to divine norms whose claim, by definition, eludes one’s ability fully to realize. This understanding has guided me as a practicing rabbi as I have been called upon to make practical decisions, especially in areas where there is no precedent. Like intermarriage.

Until five years ago, he worked with intermarrying couples do design a ceremony but would not officiate himself. Then

I began to acknowledge that my legal scruple about officiating or co-officiating at such a wedding was not consistent with my willingness to discount many other traditional norms. The halachah’s non-recognition of a particular action had never restrained me from praying in an egalitarian minyan where a woman might serve as cantor, for example, or joining in a service at which instruments were played on Shabbat….

My problem with intermarriage, I now realize, is based on legitimate fears about the survival of our people, period. But what if our people is in fact evolving into new forms of identity and observance? What if we are indeed generating new models of Jewish commitment and engagement with the world? …

Again, I urge you to read the entire essay. Here is the conclusion:

I submit that it is time for Judaism to formulate a thoughtful, traditionally connected ceremony through which a Jew may enter into marriage with a non-Jew, a prescribed way or ways by which a rabbi may officiate or co-officiate at such a wedding. I believe we are the ever-evolving people and that there will always be among us those who are rigorously attached to ancient forms. I believe it is critical that there will also always be among us those who vigorously dream and search for new vessels into which to decant the sam chayyim, the living elixir of Torah. If we only look backward as we move into the future, we will surely stumble. We need scouts, envoys, chalutzim, pioneers to blaze new ways into the ancient-newness of Judaism.

Perhaps for example we might note that there may be stages of entrance into and levels of engagement with the Jewish people, which might find liturgical expression both in the wedding ceremony and at other lifecycle events going forward. After all, becoming a Jew, like becoming a person, takes a lifetime. And just as we want to be able to invite our ancestors to the weddings and brisses and bat mitvahs of the present generation, we want our grandchildren and great-grandchildren to feel drawn to the love and joy of being connected to the Jewish people. We want them to know that we have not forgotten that the Jewish people is “a covenant people, a light of nations.”

Next is a news article that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, about Rabbi Noa Kushner (daughter of our own Karen Kushner), Judaism for Gen X: Get your Jewish on. Not ostensibly about intermarriage, Rabbi Kushner’s approach may be exactly what would appeal to young interfaith couples. Her motto is “Do Jewish stuff” and her goal is to get people to explore Judaism beyond traditions like services and seders, particularly the young families in her Marin County community. She created Nita (a project of Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael), a group made up of primarily Gen Xers who meet periodically and informally for occasions from monthly Pop-Up Shabbats (featuring great music and takeout so no one needs to cook), to Havdallah House Parties and Storahtelling. She also created Lift Kits – a portable collection of items (including Shabbat candles, organic soap, a hot pink mezuzah and a directory of Jewish organizations) designed for High Holy Day preparation and to help people celebrate traditions wherever they happen to be. Here are some of Rabbi Kushner’s comments, and again I urge you to read the entire article:

Gen X’s less-than-enthusiastic response to synagogue life simply means there’s a new generation stepping forward, one that needs to figure out how “do Jewish” on its own terms.

There is a big distinction between somebody’s religion by birth and what they are willing to do. We are careful to note: Anybody can do Jewish stuff. I am not interested in lineage and pedigree. I am only interested in what someone is willing to do right now, Jewishly speaking.

Similar to yoga’s metamorphosis, if we want people to grow Jewishly, we need to encourage them to do Jewish. I am not asking anyone to sign on the dotted line or join a group. There is no identity shift.

Just a couple of other things to mention, with Rosh Hashanah imminent. Reboot has started a national project, 10Q, that asks people to answer a question a day online for ten days during the High Holidays, beginning on September 8. Visit their website to participate.

Finally, and I’ll have more to say about this later on – I have been nominated for the Jewish Community Hero award, given by the Jewish Federations of North America. They start with an online voting contest; the top twenty vote getters are then judged by a panel, which selects one winner and four other honorees, each of whom receives a grant for their organization, all announced at the General Assembly in November. Please vote for me on their website. You can vote every twelve hours, so vote early and often!

Right now I’m number 17 in the voting. I don’t care about winning an award for myself. But the JFNA hasn’t talked about intermarriage much in the past. I wish the other candidates well – but most of them come from the traditional Jewish world. It would be great if the federation world recognized not me personally but the cause of engaging interfaith families in Jewish life – especially when we are in a time where a new, heavily intermarried generation needs to figure out how to “do Jewish” on its own terms, when we are evolving new models of Jewish commitment and engagement with the world, and when we have an opportunity to transform the Jewish community from an insular, tribal entity to a diverse and expanding community based on key common causes and beliefs.

To all who are welcoming in the New Year, I wish that it is a happy, healthy and sweet one for you and your families. Shana Tova!

The Signficance of Chelsea Clinton’s Wedding

  

In my last blog post, The Jewish World Reacts to the Clinton-Mezvinsky Wedding — and It Isn’t Pretty,  I said I was still reflecting on the significance of Chelsea Clinton’s wedding, and would have more to say about it.

Well I did reflect on it and I wrote an op-ed and the Forward published it today: The Missing ‘Mazel Tov.’

I would love to quote the entire piece here but please read it on the Forward site. In a nutshell, I think the significance of the Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding is because of their celebrity the way they conducted their wedding could inspire many other interfaith couples to seriously consider incorporating Jewish practices in their weddings – like Chelsea and Marc did so prominently – and hopefully in their lives together after their weddings. In addition, I think it was very fortunate that Chelsea and Marc were able to find a rabbi of the stature of James Ponet to co-officiate the wedding with a Methodist minister.

Instead of an enthusiastic, hearty “Mazel tov,” the reaction of Jewish leaders, as detailed in my last blog post, was to pronounce the wedding as “not a Jewish event.” This was the worst possible response to express, because it can only serve to discourage and push away not just Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky, but the thousands of other interfaith couples who are watching.

Because of space limitations, the Forward cut two paragraphs, which I’ll include here:

“There is a serious disconnect between what young couples want and what our religious leaders want to provide. Thirty to 45% of the requests made to InterfaithFamily.com’s Jewish Clergy Officiation Referral Service are for rabbis who co-officiate. In recent research done for us, rabbis who do not officiate reported overwhelmingly that they are able to successfully tell couples they can’t officiate without alienating them; but interfaith couples emphasized that a rabbis’ refusals to officiate are likely to turn them away from their congregations.”

“JTA quotes Jewish sociologist Steven M. Cohen as saying that we should celebrate the marriage of these individuals, but not the type of marriage it represents. The head of the Conservative movement said “intermarriage is not ideal” but we “must welcome interfaith families.” This have-it-both-ways response simply won’t cut it with young couples. If you were Chelsea Clinton, considering whether to get more involved in Jewish life, how would you feel?”

I hope you will read the entire piece and welcome your comments and suggestions here.

The Jewish World Reacts to the Clinton-Mezvinsky Wedding — and It Isn’t Pretty

  

It’s been a long week at InterfaithFamily.com, starting with the news last Saturday night that Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky had a rabbi and a minister at their wedding with very evident Jewish traditions. In this post I’m going to try to just summarize the coverage. I’m still reflecting on the significance of it all, and will have more to say about that.

At the beginning of the week the media coverage from the Jewish angle focused on what happens next for newly married interfaith couples. On Monday there was a story on ABCNews.com, Chelsea Clinton’s Interfaith Marriage Challenge: Kids, Holidays, Soul-Searching.The writer, Luchina Fisher, noted that the wedding featured many Jewish traditions: the couple married under a chuppah or canopy; the groom wore a yarmulke or skull cap and tallis or prayer shawl; friends and family recited the Seven Blessings typically read at traditional Jewish weddings. She then quoted me:

“To me that’s an indication that the groom identifies Jewishly,” Edmund Case, the head of InterfaithFamily.com told ABCNews.com. “It’s also apparent that Chelsea must have been fine with it or it wouldn’t have happened. Also, given the prominence of her family, they must have been accepting of it.”

Cathy Grossman also had a story on Monday, Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding reflects mix of religions in USA. Cathy noted,

The website InterfaithFamily.com offers DVDs for a Love and Religion course created by Marion Usher, a marriage and family counselor who has run workshops for interfaith couples for 16 years at the Jewish Community Center in Washington, D.C. DVD sales soared after Usher began offering advice online timed to the Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding.

On Tuesday I had a second post on the Huffington Post, where I tried to answer the question,Chelsea Clinton’s Interfaith Marriage: What Comes Next?.

Later on Tuesday, though, the coverage from the Jewish perspective turned away from what couples like Chelsea and Marc face, and started reporting on negative reactions to the wedding in the Jewish world. Jacob Berkman had a story for JTA, which is starting to be widely re-printed in local Jewish papers:  Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding raises questions about intermarriage. After a great introduction – “Is it possible that the first iconic Jewish picture of the decade is of an interfaith marriage? Photographs taken Saturday show the Jewish groom wearing a yarmulke and a crumpled tallit staring into the eyes of his giddy bride under a traditional Jewish wedding canopy with a framed ketubah, a Jewish wedding contract, in the background.” – Jacob starts quoting Jewish leaders expressing ambivalence.

First, Steven M. Cohen tries to have it both ways: “we should celebrate the particular marriage of these two fine individuals, but we ought not celebrate the type of marriage it constitutes and represents.” Then Rabbi Eric Yoffie reportedly told JTA, “The Reform movement frowns upon its rabbis conducting weddings on the Sabbath.” “Rabbi Steven Wernick, the CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said intermarriage is certainly ‘not ideal,’ but that the Conservative movement in 2008 decided that it must welcome interfaith families and ‘help their spouses along their spiritual journeys.’” At least Rabbi Yoffie also said, “I look at the couple and my response is, ‘I hope they will make a choice to raise their children in a single religion and tradition and second, as a Jew and rabbi, I hope it will be Judaism.”

It was left to me to make an unequivocal statement: “Case said that accepting this marriage and welcoming this intermarried family into the Jewish fold could help pave the way for the Jewish community to be more accepting of others.” I was also quoted as saying that “the Clinton wedding certainly had stirred interest in intermarriage, noting that traffic to his website was up 35 percent in July compared to the same month last year. “

Also on Tuesday, Julie Wiener put up her article that would appear in the New York Jewish Week, which focuses on co-officiation. Julie says that “Even as the number of liberal rabbis willing to preside at weddings of Jews to gentiles appears to be growing, co-officiation with clergy of another faith, while hardly unheard of, remains taboo.” Julie quotes me:

“The mainstream of the Reform rabbinate is not with co-officiation yet,” says Ed Case, CEO of InterfaithFamily.com, which since 2007 has run a free referral service for interfaith couples seeking clergy to officiate at their wedding. Despite the mainstream opposition, 40 percent of the almost 400 rabbis and cantors in IFF’s database (some ordained by the Reform and Reconstructionist seminaries, some by nondenominational ones) are willing to co-officiate, and in the past six months 31.5 percent of the approximately 120 couples each month using the service have sought someone to co-officiate. (In 2009, 43 percent of couples contacting IFF were seeking someone to co-officiate.) “I’ve had Reform rabbis say they don’t want to have anything to do with us because our referral service” provides co-officiating rabbis to those couples who want them, Case says.

Julie interviewed Rabbi Ellen Dreyfuss, the president of the Reform rabbis’ association, who said “The rabbi’s presence and officiation at a wedding is reflective of a commitment on the part of the couple to have a Jewish home and a Jewish family, so co-officiation with clergy of another faith does not reflect that commit. It reflects, rather, indecision on the part of the couple… Religiously it’s problematic because [the bride and groom are] trying to create a both and there’s no such thing as a both.” Rabbi Richard Hirsh, executive director of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, also says that “having a co-officiated ceremony points in the direction of a home that won’t be primarily Jewish.”

As Rabbi Kerry Olitzky of JOI aptly points out, however, “the common assumption is that when a couple wishes a rabbi to co-officiate, the couple is going to bring up the future children in two faiths or the couple has not made a decision…. That’s probably a premature conclusion to make.” And I said, about Rabbi James Ponet, who co-officiated at the Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding, “I think it’s really significant that a highly regarded rabbi would be willing to co-officiate and before Shabbat was over. I think it’s positive too. Maybe it will have some influence.”

Julie gives our own Rabbi Lev Baesh the last word:

Lev Baesh, a Reform rabbi and CCAR member who is the director of InterfaithFamily.com’s resource center for Jewish clergy and oversees the referral service, says he co-officiates because, “My view is that any Jew who wants Jewish ritual in their life should have it.”
Even if a couple hasn’t yet decided whether or not to have a Jewish household, “the wedding is a great opportunity to show Judaism is something that has meaning and value for them.”
The hope is that if they have a good experience, then “down the road” these couples will get more engaged in Jewish life.
“I know that I’m not just hoping this, because I also do a lot of baby namings,” Rabbi Baesh says.

Finally, on Thursday, Allison Gaudet Yarrow at the Forward wrote Wedding Blues: Rabbis At Odds With Their Rules, which again focuses on co-officiation. Yarrow’s summary: “Top leaders from all the major streams of Judaism – Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Reconstructionist – were at pains to stress that the Sabbath day nuptials of Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky were not a Jewish event.” She quoted me as saying,

In his work with Interfaithfamily.com, which offers, among other things, a clergy referral service, CEO Ed Case sees a disconnect between rabbis who feel they can navigate the interfaith issue without offending interfaith couples and those particular couples’ experience of interacting with rabbis who won’t perform or recognize interfaith unions.
“For better or for worse, what couples want and what lay people want are different than where the rabbinate is. People don’t feel bound by requirements or traditions, and they want to do what they want to do,” he said.
Case hoped interfaith couples would look at the Jewish rituals in the Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding and think, “If this is good enough for Chelsea Clinton, it’s good enough for me.”

What the Wedding Might Look Like

  

I wrote a feature for the Huffington Post that was published today: What Chelsea Clinton’s Ceremony Might Look Like. It’s written to explain, to people who might not be familiar with Jewish wedding ceremony customs, what they might be seeing if the couple decides to have a Jewish wedding or incorporate elements of a Jewish wedding in their own.

I’ve been getting a lot of calls from the media about upcoming wedding. It occurred to me that the decisions Chelsea and Marc make could have a big impact on the decisions of other interfaith couples. For better or worse, what celebrities do has a lot of influence. Think how many people got interested in kabbalah because of Madonna.

If Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky were to make Jewish choices either for their wedding or after, a lot of other young interfaith couples might want to think twice and more favorably about doing the same for themselves.