You’ll find any number of resources online with information about planning a destination wedding, and you should absolutely review those articles, and also speak with an experienced destination-wedding planner. Planning a destination Jewish wedding, however, is something that very few have written about. In this short posting I’ll identify those items that you might choose to add to your otherwise typical destination-wedding checklist. The secret to a successful destination Jewish wedding, like any wedding, is knowing what to consider and planning well in advance.
Your Location: Do They Know Jewish Weddings?
How familiar is your destination hotel or resort with Jewish weddings? Do they own a chuppah (wedding canopy), or can they construct one to your satisfaction? Do they understand your Jewish sensitivities and overall worldview? For instance, do they understand the differences between Conservative, Reform and Orthodox Judaism and how those differences might be expressed with respect to your meal? If you tell them you want a “kosher-style” meal, do they know what you mean? Or, if you eat shellfish, the catering manager shouldn’t be confused by what s/he read about Jewish dietary laws. Ask lots of questions, be clear about what you expect, and get it in writing.
Engage Your Rabbi Early In Your Process!
Just as you need to inform your invited guests early about your destination plans (so they can prepare for travel and time away from home), so too do you need to interview, meet with, select and engage your rabbi as early as possible. S/he also has to plan to be away from work, home and family. Chances are your destination wedding will require him/her to be away for at minimum of three days, just like your guests. Your rabbi will also need time to research with you and review your destination’s requirements for legal marriage, including witnesses, marriage license applications, blood tests, proof of immunization, etc. For that matter, don’t assume that, because you were married legally in a foreign country, your marriage will be recognized in the US. Be certain to get on your rabbi’s calendar early!
Budget For Your Officiant!
Remember to budget for the cost of accommodations and travel expenses (R/T airfare, transfers, visas, etc.) for your rabbi. Officiants expect that you will cover their expenses, in addition to their fee, and will frequently require round-trip expenses for a spouse as well. (The incentive for your rabbi to travel with you—and forsake work and home for three or more days, is the opportunity to bring a spouse along for companionship.) Your rabbi may, depending on his/her work schedule and familiarity with your destination, be flexible with respect to fees. Take this conversation with your officiant early in your process.
What Additional Value Can Your Rabbi Contribute?
While three to five days in the sun, or skiing in the Alps, with lavish food and drinks, is fabulous, some of your guests will like to mix it up. Will your officiant offer any additional services, such as a talk about the local Jewish population and its history? What can you offer your guests to enrich their experience? Perhaps there’s an historic synagogue in the area that is worth a visit one afternoon, after a day of fun and sport in the sun? Will you have a gathering for those unable to travel, prior to your departure, or a reception upon your return? Perhaps your rabbi can offer some inspiring words at that event? Consult with your officiant for suggestions that will enhance the overall experience both before and after, and while on location.
Make a Charitable Contribution in Honor of Your Guests
A destination wedding is an expensive proposition for both you and your guests. Some celebrants will forego a gift registry to show guests that their presence is their gift. Still, your guests are going out of their way to celebrate the two of you! Shouldn’t you also go the extra mile in honor of them? Consult with your rabbi about honoring your guests by making a contribution that will further sanctify your celebration. Perhaps s/he can suggest a charitable institution that engages in acts of hesed (Hebrew: loving kindness) that complements the theme of your destination wedding? Notwithstanding the additional expense to you, your guests will talk about how you “even gave thought to make a donation” in their honor. What a lovely way to convey your love for your family and friends, and to show them your appreciation!
The “Local” Rabbi May Not Be Your Best Option
You are investing a lot of time and money in your destination wedding and don’t want to leave anything to chance. A less than satisfactory wedding ceremony could sour your entire experience while on location. Knowing your rabbi well in advance of your wedding celebration and planning your ceremony with him/her guarantees you:
a highly personalized experience from beginning to end;
a religious service suited to your beliefs and your family’s needs, as opposed to the unknowable requirements of the local rabbi;
avoidance of a ‘cookie-cutter’ ceremony that comes with the “wedding package”;
the start of a long-term relationship with a rabbi you’ll want to involve in other life cycle events in the future; and ultimately,
peace of mind.
Saving a small percentage of your total wedding expenses by using a local, unfamiliar officiant isn’t worth the risk. You'll want to meet face-to-face with your rabbi multiple times, to get to know each other, plan your ceremony, select your Ketubah (Jewish marriage contract), and engage in pre-marital discussions. You don’t want to meet your rabbi for the first time when you arrive at your destination. And with all due respect to the “local” rabbi, you don’t know about his/her credentials. Is s/he really a rabbi, ordained by a known and officially recognized seminary? Often times the resort has a relationship with a rabbi who isn’t even local, but is presented as such because of other unidentified considerations.
How Will Everything Get To Your Destination? Keep a List!
For your Jewish ceremony, you’re going to need a Ketubah, a chuppah (in the event that your destination cannot provide one), kippot/yarmulkes (Hebrew/Yiddish: skullcaps), wedding programs, two Kiddush cups, a tallit (prayer shawl), a glass (to stomp), etc. Your rabbi can help you determine everything that you’ll need for your wedding, based on your discussions in advance of your wedding. It’s safe to assume that most of these items cannot be found in abundance—or at all, anywhere near your destination wedding. Figure out how all these small but essential items will get from A to B (and back) with the least trouble and minimized expense. If you’re planning on shipping all your wedding items, how much lead time will you need to ensure that your package gets to your destination in time? Will customs be involved? Create your list early and consider your options with respect to shipping everything to your destination.
Planning well in advance of your destination Jewish wedding is the best way to guarantee a warm, loving and joyous celebration from start to finish.
Mazal tov and nesiyah tovah! (Hebrew for Bon Voyage!)