The 10 Questions Every Couple Wants to Ask
We’ve received countless questions from engaged couples about planning their wedding ceremony, so we brought in an expert to help navigate one of its key aspects: the wedding officiant. We spoke with Hazzan Bonnie Streigold, the Cantor at the Hewlett-East Rockaway Jewish Centre, to find out more.
Elana: What is the first question a couple should ask themselves before starting their wedding officiant search?
Bonnie: What do you imagine the ceremony to look like? What traditional aspects of a Jewish wedding are appealing to you? Which are not? What is your dream wedding?
If you come in with a ton of ideas and feedback you have a better chance of the officiant being able to see your vision.
Elana: Have you seen cases where conflicts arise between the bride, groom, bride’s parents, groom’s parents, other family, and/or friends about what type of officiant should be chosen? What are some examples you have seen?
Bonnie: Yes, I have seen multiple occasions where conflicts arise between various family members about the type of officiant. More religious families prefer men whereas more modern or less observant do not have a gender preference. Occasionally there is a situation where both families have someone they want to officiate whether that is their Rabbi or Cantor, or a family friend. In these cases it is typical for there to be two officiants under the chuppah. The more the merrier!
Elana: How would you recommend couples navigate this?
Bonnie: Talk open and honestly about what you want in an officiant with all members of your immediate family. Only with an open conversation can you get to the bottom of the concern and find a solution.
Elana: How does it work when the bride and groom and their families come from different Jewish backgrounds/sects of Judaism?
Bonnie: Compromise is necessary on both sides of this coin. Observant families need to be able to bend a bit when halacha [Jewish law] is not being compromised and less observant families need to bend when it is. There are a lot of pieces to a Jewish wedding that are minhag [custom]; these can be flexible. Those issues directly relating to halacha cannot be changed if the couple wants a kosher wedding.
Elana: What are some ways that an officiant can blend these various traditions?
Bonnie: There are many wonderful conservative variations to the Jewish wedding ceremony that takes into account halachic needs as well as including a modern twist. I find these suggestions to be happy compromises between families.
For example, a bride traditionally walks around her groom 7 times, for a modern twist we have the bride walk around him 3 times, the groom walk around her 3 times and they walk the last circle together.
Elana: What are some good questions a couple should be prepared to ask their potential officiant?
Bonnie: Ask them to speak to someone they have performed a wedding for in the past. Reviews and references are necessary to find an officiant. Generally, it is more about the feeling and vibe of the officiant you want to know more about. Do they adapt well with sudden change? Can they be flexible in their own expectations of what a wedding should be? Are they willing to personalize the ceremony to the couple? Do they like to give a dvar torah [talk/sermon about a section of the Torah] under the chuppah or are they more straightforward with the ceremony? Do they sing? (Big one!!) Are they willing to share the ceremony with friends and family members (if this is something the couple wants)?
Any question is a good question. Come prepared to all meetings.
Elana: How early and how often should a couple meet with their officiant before the wedding?
Bonnie: I would contact your potential officiant as early as possible for them to save the date. I would have your initial meeting over the phone about 6-8 months before just to be sure it’s the right person for your ceremony. In-person meetings should begin 3-4 months before the wedding. Generally, 2-3 meetings are more than sufficient. After the first in-person meeting, the rest can be done over the phone, through skype, or even by email.
Elana: How much flexibility is there with the length and contents of the wedding ceremony?
Bonnie: This all depends on what the couple wants and what the officiant feels is necessary to include. Wedding ceremonies can vary from 20 minutes up to an hour. There are many variables that affect the length of a ceremony.
Elana: Are officiants paid the same way as other vendors? Is a tip expected?
Bonnie: Officiants are paid by check the day of or before. The fee is standard and includes a tip. If the couple chooses to give more, that is always appreciated.
Elana: How would a couple know that their officiant is a good fit for them?
Bonnie: Only they can answer this question. The best questions to think about include: Would you invite them to the wedding? Could they be a friend of yours? Do they understand you and your significant other’s needs?
Elana: Do you have any additional advice when it comes to planning for the wedding ceremony?
Make sure you are happy with all the decisions because in the end it is your wedding and ultimately you and your spouse to be need to be happy. You will remember this day for the rest of your lives, so make it as special and as meaningful as you can.
Hazzan Bonnie Streigold is the Cantor of the Hewlett-East Rockaway Jewish Center.
For additional questions, comments, or wedding officiant inquiries, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.