I first heard from Jessica and Conor over a year ago. They were (and are!) a very enthusiastic couple, and right off the bat, I knew I was going to enjoy working with them. To begin, their relationship is one beyond simple partnership. They have a dynamism that’s full of energy. They are competitive—especially Jessica! They both complement each other and at the same time feed off of each other’s zeal for life and adventure.
As we got to working together, it was clear that they needed a ceremony that was going to capture the essence of their relationship despite any differences in their upbringing. They shared so many common values, but they also wanted a Jewish wedding ceremony. My approach is to ensure that the ceremony should emphasize what they share and what is strong and good between them, not to point out how they are different. We had several conversations about how they would bring their family traditions into a blended home and how extended family could be welcomed into their lives through the lens of making something even better.
This culminated in bringing the vision of their wedding ceremony to life: It was important that the day be more “Jew-ish” than “Jewish,” that English would take precedent over a lot of Hebrew (that most present wouldn’t understand in any case!), and that the ritual elements would have meaning for everyone present.
The occasion was to be solemnized at a venue called “The Eagle’s Nest” in Bloomingburg, New York. This was in the heart of the Hudson Valley, but I had never driven out there before. On the way, I was getting rather concerned that my GPS was taking me far off the beaten path. I got even more worried because my low tire pressure gauge came on 8 miles before destination! I was not dressed to change a tire! Fortunately, I saw the sign and made it up the winding driveway and was happy to find I had made it.
Jessica and Conor weren’t from the Hudson Valley, but met there in college, and when I saw where the outdoor ceremony was to take place, it all clicked. You couldn’t have asked for a better setting—and weather! Just cool enough. Jessica and Conor, being the sweet and sensitive people they are, made sure there were flannel blankets put out for their guests—such a classy gesture!
I had the pleasure to meet and talk with the parents of the bride and groom: Neil, Arlene, Sean, and Lynn were warm, friendly people, and you could tell instantly why Jessica and Conor turned out the way they did. All the parents—and a very feisty grandfather to boot!—were in the best of spirits and ready to celebrate. We all joined along with the happy couple and their witnesses as we signed the secular and sacred wedding contracts and then lined up along with a bridal party that was itching to march down the aisle.
As for the ceremony itself, the highlight for me is always offering the personal address—words giving voice to the love in the hearts of the groom and bride. I always ask the couple to send me love letters, addressed to one another but sent to me, talking about how the couple met, happy memories, their outlook for the future. Usually, the letters I receive are two to three pages long at the most. The first letter I got was from Conor, who wrote more of a novella at seven pages! Okay, long, but better than too short! But then I got Jessica’s. Nine pages! I would have to take time and digest this material! And on top of these wonderful stories I received, they wrote original vows in the form of an epic poem! Jessica is known to be the poet of the family and the evening would not have been complete had she not included one! Because I’ve gotten to know them for over a year, I was able to cull their material down so that we could still have a 30 (ish) minute ceremony.
As part of the rites and rituals, I like to include personal physical elements from each side of the family to include. Conor and Jessica took even more initiative than I had suggested. Their wedding canopy was homemade and included many photos of the couple from their ten years of being together. The blessings over wine were made over two cups: One from Jessica’s grandfather’s family, an heirloom from Europe, and the other was from Conor’s family from Ireland: It was a glass covered in shamrocks! At the conclusion of the ceremony, I recited the traditional three-fold benediction of the Torah, and also the traditional Irish Blessing. The couple did not want to be overtly religious, so we minimized God language and emphasized the universal values they both treasured. I was especially taken one moment, when reciting blessings over wine, Conor’s father really getting into exclaiming “Amen” after each prayer. Everyone was just so happy for these two long-time friends and partners to be finally and formally married.
The sun slowly setting, overlooking a vast view of the Hudson Valley, Conor stepped on the glass, the couple kissed, and there was a great deal of rejoicing after!
On a professional note, the whole team of vendors who worked at the wedding, from the “day-of” organizer, to the photographers, the videographers, the band… everyone was really in sync and it all made for a memorable day.
Bill from Starlight Productions did a terrific job on the video and has a great highlight reel on his website so you can get a good picture of what happened.
Congratulations, Jessica and Conor!