The Hardest Part: Choosing Our Officiant

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Wedding venue

Many people, myself included, have considered what their wedding might look like someday. Some even plan it out, with scrapbooks or Pinterest boards. And, while I did have a Pinterest board labeled “Wedding,” full of cute things I had seen, there was no unifying theme or vision. I had simply been collecting cute pictures somewhat related to an event that I was not certain would ever be something I participated in.

And then James asked me to marry him.

So, there we were—with two cultures, two religions, two countries—trying to somehow reconcile the differences to build a ceremony that worked for both of us. Since we had such a distance to bridge, we decided to begin by figuring out what kind of ceremony we wanted. Pretty early on we vetoed the idea of a Christian ceremony; I would not be comfortable with it, James isn’t particularly religious, and neither of us had any potential contacts for an officiant. After some back and forth, we decided on a Jewish ceremony, with James insisting on it because he knew it mattered to me.

Ketubah
Elle and James’ ketubah

With that in mind, we asked the rabbi of my former congregation, who had presided over my naming ceremony two days after the mikveh, if she would officiate our wedding. It was an interesting conversation, considering that James and I had not been together for very long and that we did not discuss our relationship publicly during most of that time. While we had been waiting to make our schedules align, James and I had found an interfaith ketubah we liked, so the rabbi and I went over it together. After some back-and-forth about the language of the ketubah, and a lot of searching for a date that would work for us and would not be during the Seven Weeks (from Passover to Shavuot) so she could officiate, we had a date: May 25.

Next, it was time to look at venues. Despite being from large families—James is the youngest of five and, between half-siblings and step-siblings, I am one of 10—we both agreed that we wanted to keep it as small as possible, with 50 guests as our max. Our friend Kat, who introduced me and James, suggested throwing us a post-wedding party the next night at a bar where we’d attended an event together earlier in our friendship. We agreed—we knew that it was the only way we could celebrate with all of our friends while still having a small, intimate wedding. With that head count in mind, and after a fortuitous walk near my alma mater, we settled on the small, lakeside lawn in a nearby park.

We filled out the petition for alien fiancé (their words, not mine), beginning the process of immigration for James. Everything was going pretty smoothly—until the rabbi let me know that she would not, in fact, be able to officiate. Let’s just go to City Hall, I said, not for the first time. We would still be married. And, like he had done every other time, James shook his head on our video call. “That’s not what you actually want. You’d regret it.” So, back to the grind it was—we still had a wedding to make happen.

The invitations
The invitations (Elle’s full name is Leiram)

As we waited to hear back from immigration, we took a look at our checklist. Just about everything had been booked or decided, relatively easily—from food to attire. The elephant in the room, then, remained the officiant.

My unofficially-adoptive Jewish dads offered to get ordained so they could officiate, and a close friend—who had already agreed to be our cantorial soloist—said she’d look into the possibility. However, they all agreed I should follow my rabbi’s recommendation and meet with the rabbi she’d suggested, so I set up a meeting. In the meantime, I researched Jewish wedding traditions and ceremony examples, and began writing a ceremony draft in case a friend or relative ended up officiating for us.

We also worked on a Spotify playlist for the reception, got a friend to agree to make a custom chuppah cover for us—we were using the poles my dads used at their wedding—and commissioned a custom paper cut-and-watercolor ketubah from an artist whose work I had been looking at for years.

Rabbi Ari Moffic and I met at the synagogue after hours. I knew she had been involved with InterfaithFamily/Chicago, so I knew she would be willing to officiate our wedding, but I had never met her before and I was afraid we would not have the chance to really develop good enough chemistry for it to feel comfortable. Yet, 15 minutes into our meeting, I was sold—she was the one for us! The most exciting part was that she asked me to finish the ceremony I’d started. “It’s your wedding,” she said. “Provided it has all the necessary parts, everything else is up to you to customize.”

So, rabbi crisis averted, we waited. Our initial immigration petition was approved, so we gathered the paperwork for the second petition, James’ fiancé visa application. The initial application for the venue opened just before my work’s winter break, so I submitted that and then returned to Ireland to spend the holidays with James. The night before our trip to London to meet up with friends for the New Year, we got the notification that our venue request has been approved.

Everything was falling into place, time was flying, and, as soon as James’ fiancé visa was approved and he was stateside, it was time to do it for real: get married!

Searching for an officiant

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About Elle Henderson

Elle is a bilingual educator and doctoral student living in Chicago with her Protestant husband, their agnostic roommate and a sassy cat named Kiwi. A Jew by choice, Elle is passionate about interfaith advocacy, Jewish education and preserving the Ladino language (which she is trying to teach herself). After an intercultural, interfaith, and intercontinental romance, she and her husband are navigating immigration following their May 2018 wedding. They are looking forward to continuing to grow together and building a home that reflects both Irish and Puerto Rican culture so that they may honor their homelands.