When it comes to acts of loving-kindness, plenty of rabbis talk a good game. But Rabbi Ari Sytner has put his entire self into the endeavor. To the rabbi, the person in the adjoining surgical suite in December 2011 was still a virtual stranger. He knew she was a 45-year-old Israeli mom with three kids and a kidney disease that had sapped her strength. Ronit Havivi's prognosis was not good, unless a donor could be found quickly. Fast forward five years. Against all odds, in a wedding hall in central Israel Feb. 20, Rabbi Sytner’s voice sang out the blessing under the chuppah as Havivi’s daughter married her childhood—an occasion Havivi might easily not have lived to see without the rabbi’s kidney.
Yaakov and Marsha Motzen were joined in holy matrimony in a ceremony that adhered strictly to the Jewish wedding traditions and kosher laws that they both hold dear. Unlike most religiously observant couples, however, they chose to get married on the open seas. “Our ketubah (marriage contract) may be the only one in the world to list under location of the wedding, ‘Between Fort Lauderdale and St. Thomas,’” Marsha says of her cruise ship wedding. More Jewish couples are opting to exchange vows in gorgeous destinations around the world—without sacrificing Jewish tradition in the process. Taking this trend to the next level, a leading kosher cruise and travel company, Kosherica, is now partnering with the Atlantis Paradise Island resort in the Bahamas to create a program for picturesque Jewish destination weddings and other celebrations. Atlantis is now providing everything from a decorated chuppah overlooking the vivid blue Bahamian waters, to a local rabbi, to kosher cuisine prepared by world-class chefs.
Judging from its ritual text, the ketubah (marriage contract) that is read aloud during a Jewish wedding ceremony isn’t the most exciting, romantic or joyous document. It spells out a husband’s fundamental obligations to his wife—food, clothing, conjugal rights—and guarantees the sum that the husband will pay his wife in the event of a divorce. Yet increasingly, today’s ketubah designs are anything but dry and transactional. Going beyond placing a plain document in a basic picture frame, or using common designs such as a view of Jerusalem, ketubah artists and consumers alike are developing more elaborate and personalized tastes. “My official reaction and what I tell [customers] is, ‘Whatever makes you happy.’ What makes the world a wonderful place is that different people have different preferences,” says Buenos Aires-based Morgan Friedman, chairman and “lead muse” of thisisnotaketubah.com, reflecting on unique ketubot such as one that his business designed for a dragon-loving couple who are “Game of Thrones” fans.
Whether progressive or traditional, religious or secular, Jewish weddings almost always include the breaking of a glass. At some weddings, and certainly historically, people used light bulbs or wine goblets wrapped in cloth napkins. Today, however, there are many artists designing vibrant, trendy, and often hand-blown Jewish wedding breaking glasses, and ultimately imaginative keepsakes in which to keep their shards. What exactly can you do with the shards? JNS.org offers seven ideas.
Mazal Tov. Mabrouk. Congratulations. No matter one’s religion or language, a wedding is a joyous occasion. While there is no apparent consensus, varying reports say that between 60 and 80 percent of all marriages in the United States are performed in a religious ceremony. Where do the religious wedding traditions come from? What are the similarities and differences across faiths? JNS.org examines the marriage traditions of the three Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Every bride wants her wedding day to be special, whether it’s her first or second nuptials. There are many more considerations the second time around. Often, there are children involved. Usually, the couple is paying for the ceremony on their own, so finances can factor in more. But there’s one topic that every bride-to-be considers: what to wear. When a woman gets married the first time, it’s traditional to wear a white bridal gown. For wedding No. 2? The message from second-time Jewish brides and their stylists is that anything goes. “The bride should wear what she feels most comfortable in,” says Nicole Borsuk of Nicole Borsuk Personal Shopper in Atlanta, Ga. “It all depends on the bride.”
It’s already known as the “start-up nation.” But can bridal fashionista Berta Balilti turn Israel into the dress-up nation? Balilti, owner of Berta Bridal, presides over an internationally successful business, creating luxurious and glamorous wedding gowns sold worldwide. From her fashion house in the southern Israeli port city of Ashdod, she exports gorgeously detailed gowns to boutiques and stores in more than 20 countries. You can feel the love on the company’s social media sites from more than 1.2 million followers—most of them (875,000) on Instagram—who routinely gush over brides from around the globe pictured in her dresses. This isn’t your mother’s wedding dress. Balilti is known for her shapely modern designs with signature daring bare backs, dramatic trains, and intricate lace and tulle.
Rabbi David Stav, the driving force behind the Israeli Knesset’s passage of legislation allowing Israeli Jews greater flexibility in choosing a rabbi to officiate at their wedding and permitting couples to register their marriage outside their municipality of residence, believes the disunity created by the Jewish marriage debate in Israel has implications as far-reaching as security. “Israel has to be a place where Jewish identity is intact,” Stav tells JNS.org correspondent Jeffrey F. Barken. “Otherwise, we face a divided society. ... The highest motivation for Jewish soldiers is the notion of a Jewish homeland. I cannot imagine solidarity among soldiers who are Jewish and those who question their Jewish identity.” Barken recounts, and reflects on, his recent meeting with Stav in New York.
About 50 percent of married adults in America get divorced at least once, meaning the likelihood of being a stepparent is becoming increasingly high. It can work, but raising someone else’s children poses uncharted challenges and opportunities for blended families. “The children are older, and we don’t want them to feel like someone is [swooping in] to be a new parent,” says Chayim Lando, who is now on his third marriage and has 19 children and stepchildren between the ages of 5 and 28. “It’s a message of, ‘You have a father and a mother. I am just here to help out, make your life better.’”
After Bernie and Yonah Miriam Schulman’s wedding in 2004, the Baltimore couple took off for their dream honeymoon—in Israel. “We couldn’t imagine being anywhere else,” Bernie says a decade later. “And with the natural beauty, the feeling of being in a Jewish country with Hebrew all around us, and the people, too, the entire experience turned out to be even more amazing than we’d imagined.” From Tiberias in the north to Eilat in the south, JNS.org presents 10 options for Holy Land honeymoons that will satisfy the varied interests of any newlyweds.
With destination weddings a popular option of late, why not tie the proverbial knot in Israel? It turns out that this tiny country has it all: natural beauty, scrumptious food and fine wines, affordable facilities to rent, and the magical ambiance of starting your life together in the Jewish state. “Getting married [in Israel] is a total spiritual experience, even if it’s in Tel Aviv,” says Osnat Eldar, an event planner who has put together countless weddings for Israelis and others. “And it supports Israel’s economy and brings over families and friends who may think we live in a war zone until they come over and see what it’s really like here.” JNS.org presents a sampling of the wide array of destination wedding options in Israel.
With the spring and summer months being the most popular time of year for weddings, many brides are now beginning to search for their ideal gown. For Jewish brides, depending on their denomination, there are also special considerations of modesty to take into account. “Modesty is not about being oppressed, but just the opposite—an opportunity to fully express the inner light and beauty of the divine and refine woman through fabric, silhouette, and texture,” says Sharon Langert, who runs Fashion-Isha.com, a blog dedicated to fashion for Orthodox Jewish women. Rachel Leonard, fashion director for Brides.com, makes suggestions on bridal fashion in 2015—tips that can apply to Jewish brides of all denominations.
One of the most significant trends within the American Jewish community over the past few decades has been the continued rise of intermarriage. For many Jewish seniors who were raised during a time of strong anti-intermarriage messages coming from the Jewish community, the growth of intermarriage presents a unique challenge to the values they were once taught. New programming from synagogues, Jewish federations, and nonprofits seeks to help Jewish seniors to adapt to these new realities while still maintaining the values they wish to pass forward.
Since 2005 nearly six in 10 American Jews have married a non-Jew, up from 46 percent in 1990 and 17 percent before 1970. This statistic rocked the Jewish world last fall when it was revealed in the Pew Research Center’s “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” survey. Is intermarriage the new norm for American Judaism in the 21st century? While Jewish leaders and organizations debate that question, interfaith couples continue to cope with their differing traditions in the wedding process, and then try to integrate their mixed-background family into the modern melting pot that is America.
JNS.org interviews Tova Weinberg, co-founder of the Jewish dating website SawYouAtSinai.com, which after a decade of existence has made nearly 1,000 successful matches.