Friday, October 16, 2015

Here Comes The Bride

Many of you know I officiate at weddings. I've told some people I marry people and they've said, "You mean like a wedding planner." Sometimes I say, since I am Jewish, no, like a rabbi. Some people nod knowingly while others look perplexed. Then I add, "Like a priest." Only then do I get the smiles.

When Verna and I decided to get married and we knew it wasn't going to be in a church or synagogue, a teaching colleague suggested we ask a friend to get her credentials through the Universal Life Church, a non-denominational spiritual center based in Seattle. I called it the Matchbook Ministry because the "church" advertised on the back of matchbooks along with art contests.

Six years after we tied the knot, a friend of mine, then an administrative assistant at the private Jewish school where I taught, asked me if I would officiate at her wedding. I went online and became a minister. Samantha is Catholic and Evan is Jewish. The ceremony was held besides the shimmering green-gold waters of the San Francisco Bay, and most of the attendees were drunk. Verna was several weeks pregnant, I was working, and Samantha and her 80-something grandmother rarely imbibed, so there were probably four or five of us who were sober.

I've lost touch with Samantha and Evan, but I know they have three daughters and are still married. I've performed over sixty ceremonies, and only three so far have ended in divorce. I wish I could tell you the secrets to a successful marriage. I often see how the couple gazes at each other, the tiny smiles that curl across their lips, the hands grazing, the public proclamation of love and devotion.

But I remember my first ceremony largely because I recited the priestly blessing in Hebrew, the one where the couple is blessed so God's face will shine upon them and grant them a life of wholeness and peace, and Evan's mother cried because she'd feared her son's wedding was going to be totally removed from their Jewish roots.

A year after Samantha and Evan, I ran into a friend who shared she was having trouble finding anyone to do her interfaith ceremony and the one rabbi they'd found charged way too much. I said, "I can do it. No charge." Dina said, "Really?" I saw Dina, Paolo, and their son this past summer, and they are as happy a family as can be, the love just oozing and the friendship shining forth between them all.

What got me thinking about weddings and performing the ceremonies tonight was I came across the Facebook page of a couple whose ceremony I did about 18 months ago. Getting to the venue nearly cost me my life. As I was driving in Sonoma County, less than five miles from the hotel where they were getting married, I glanced to my right at the cool-looking WWII biplanes. Suddenly I looked back to the road only to see that the traffic had slowed. I slammed on my brakes and my car rocketed forward down the muddy embankment, swerving and finally skidding to a stop right near a utility pole. The backside was ripped off, one rear tire was scraped, and the car was stuck.

The owners of the small airport that housed the biplanes rushed over and asked if I needed medical attention. Then they called a tow service and made arrangements with two clients to get me to the ceremony on time. I said to them, "Please give me your business card so I can send you a proper thank you note."

Instead one owner came back with an envelope and gave me a free biplane tour of Sonoma and Napa counties. I waited to share the harrowing story of my near tragic accident with the bride until after the ceremony.

So tonight as I looked at their Facebook photo, the dad holding his nine-month old daughter, I remember how he teared up as he recited his vows and shared some personal thoughts with his partner. And I felt then and I feel now that they are destined to remain married forever.

Obviously I know there are no forevers. Whenever I look at the savings bonds Verna tucked into the birthday cards she wrote for the kids (until they are each 18) before she died, I remember how those bonds were going to be for a cross-country trip when we retired.

But some couples I marry just leave me feeling giddy and blessed and supremely confident that their relationship will last, endure, thrive, and succeed. I cry at weddings, I toast at weddings, I dance, I hora, I hug the grandmothers. If I am alone I usually leave early (and undetected if possible) because I start feeling wistful. If I am with Maya, then I may stay longer if she is in a party mood. I've attended one or two with Tricia, and we stay a little longer as well because it is usually a festive and funky night out.

All in all, being a wedding officiant has been a blessing and one I continue to look forward to and enjoy.

Party on.


  1. I loved this! If my grandfather wasn't already officiating mine, I know who I'd call …

  2. Lindsay, first, mazel tov; second, you are very sweet. Thanks.