Tales From The Veil: Jewish Destination Weddings

Another “Tales from the Veil” story is brought to us by Rachel Kitt who is the Executive Assistant at the Jewish Federation of San Diego County. She loves to run competitively and for pleasure, bake gluten-free sweets, and hang out with her hubby, a San Diego attorney. After eloping to the island of Oahu in December of 2007, Rachel finds herself looking back on her Jewish destination wedding adventure and laughing out loud. Her story will show you how any bride can take wedding disasters and turn them into wedded bliss. Lemons into lemonade. Grapes into Manischewitz. We’ll be hearing more from Rachel as a regular contributor to The Wedding Yentas.

Tropical weddings are stuff that fairy tales are made of. You fly your family and close friends across the world (or, if you’re me, halfway across the Pacific Ocean) to say your vows in a new and exciting place. The colors are brighter, the ocean more sparkly, and yes, despite the cliche, the grass is even greener.

However, just because you are taking your wedding to a place you choose, it does not mean that your destination is accustomed to Jewish weddings. Or Jewish traditions. Some people at your venue may have never heard of the horah or the idea of signing a Ketubah. Getting married in Hawaii four years ago was a learning experience for all of our vendors.

It started with the wedding coordinator and setting up our “out of the non-traditional box” Jewish wedding and the accoutrements. Explaining the need for a location for the Ketubah signing was a little complex. We realized quickly that even though we wanted to share the important reasons behind the ceremony, that wasn’t going to make it easier for the coordinator. We got to the point where we broke it down by what we needed, who was invited, and how long it would take. Ketubah signing ceremony meant needing a table, an easel (for the Ketubah after it was signed), chairs for the grandparents, and a private area for 30 minutes pre-chuppah ceremony.

Explaining the Ketubah to our videographer was a challenge, too. He had no idea what to expect so when he videotaped it, he was unable to edit it in the same artsy, shmancy, fancy fashion that he did with the wedding ceremony. The video of our ceremony, however, is super artsy.

Yichud proved to be another road block. Again, we went with simplicity with the coordinator. Yichud translated to “we need a private room for ten minutes immediately after the wedding ceremony. Have the caterer bring in a small plate of cheese and crackers.” Done and done. Easy.

My favorite Jewish wedding obstacle in Hawaii was explaining our customs to our disc jockey. While DJ Fudge (could there be a better name?) was not only a native Hawaiian recommended by our wedding venue, he didn’t know nothin’ about Jewish customs, let alone about Jewish people or their needs. However, DJ Fudge was a professional and did a great job following our lead. We hired him three days before our wedding (my dad decided that since the hotel threw in a dance floor for free, we needed a DJ!). Oy. Before we did the official entrance into the reception, we sat outside of the ballroom and explained to DJ Fudge how to pronounce Horah (hoe-rah) and to let it go on and on until the music ran out or we passed out from exhaustion.

So, if you are either a mainland bride getting married in Hawaii, the Caribbean, or anywhere that has one synagogue (or none), here is my advice:

1. Assume they know nothing. Literally nothing. It’s okay. They would rather you over-explain than have a wedding day disaster (like no chairs for the grandparents during the ketubah ceremony, grrrrr, don’t get me started).

2. Try to explain the custom first. If it is difficult to explain or difficult for your coordinator/vendor to understand, resort to simplification. Just explain what you want exactly: what, where, when, and for how long.

3. Go with the flow! Give these places some credit for trying. If you really wanted a super Jewy wedding, you’d be getting married at your family synagogue. Well, you aren’t, so be nice. Trust me, they appreciate it.

4. Do your research! I really wanted to go to the mikvah (ritual cleaning in a religious bath house) before we got married and thought, I’m sure they have one on Oahu. Um, yes, but super far away. Didn’t happen. Should have done it at home.

5. Prepare for your religious relatives. This one requires another story for me as the rabbi I flew in kept kosher, as did my brother. We were able to find a kosher restaurant (halleluyah!) after we got there. We bought our big rainbow-sprinkled challah and all kosher meals from them. That could have been a disaster!

6. Rabbis! If having a rabbi ordinate is important to you, as it happened to be for me, you may need to fly your rabbi with you. That’s right. Rabbi Lewis got an all expenses paid trip to Hawaii as a thank-you for officiating our wedding. Oahu has one rabbi and one synagogue, but it isn’t associated with the Conservative movement, so due to our personal requirements, we had to bring a rabbi with us. Trust me, it comes with a price, but we got the wedding we wanted.

7. The dress. Oh the dress! FYI, you will be carrying your dress on the plane with you. Unless you have a plan to get the dress steamed upon arriving at your destination, the safest thing to do is carry on. That means you’re schlepping that sucker through the airport and onto the plane, doing your best to ignore the fact that your hands and arms are going numb. This is super important, but also a biiiig pain in the tushie. This is not advice. This is me begging you to carry your dress on the plane because who else can you trust more than yourself? No one. Not mom, not dad, and certainly not fiance/soon-to-be husband.

(Cute anecdote: as we boarded the airplane, me with my gigantic wedding bag in front of me, the cute old man in the first row first said, “congratulations” to me as I passed by, then to the fiance, “it’s not too late to run.”)

8. Respect your family and friends. If people are traveling for you, thank them. Help pay for their room, give them a goodie bag, invite them to the rehearsal dinner, invite them to the Ketubah signing ceremony, whatever you can do and afford. They are spending hundreds (or thousands) of dollars to be with you. And no, they didn’t have to. They chose to.

9. Have fun!! You are getting married in your own personal paradise! Live it up, be flexible and remember how lucky you are to have the wedding of your dreams.

  • Lauren says:

    Great post. I got married 3 weeks ago, and our DJ, who was amazing and experienced, even one of the best in Napa Valley, had never done a Jewish wedding. He mispronounced “challah” and our Cantor just turned it into a joke. We probably should have given him more guidance, so this post is great advice! Thanks for sharing!!

  • Jessica says:

    Loved this one, Rachel!!

  • sharon says:

    First of all, I LOVE the rainbow sprinkled challah!
    Rachel, you never disappoint with your gifted story telling. A perfect combo of hilarious adventures and extremely invaluable great advice for destination and home based brides.

  • Tom says:

    As the parents of the bride we had a great time. It was a joyous week without the typical stress. It was way cool to give Rabbi Lewis at free vacation. What a better way to honor this fantastic Rabbi. My daughter really wanted that Challah… I asked the only Kosher restaurant to make us the biggest Challah with sprinkle he could… Yudi really took care of us!