Preparing for Same-Gender Weddings

All eyes will still be on New York in the coming weeks as the state prepares for marriage equality. I learned a lot in the run-up to wedding mania here in California in 2008, so I thought I would share some tips with those in New York.

Clergy, officiants and recorders: Meet together with your county registrars, who will issue the licenses. Help form a task force to work out the first days, when the big rush will happen. Help them think through their own bureaucracy and, yes, how the forms should and must change. We did that here in Los Angeles County. Our County Clerk Dean Logan and his team met with us and worked directly with a group of us to help ease the rush of the first weeks.

Clergy and other officiants: Know how you will change or modify the words of the ceremony. Will you say husband and husband? Partners for life? Spouses? Will you keep antiquated vows, like love, honor, cherish and obey? Does anyone really still use obey? I certainly don’t.

Couples who plan to get married: Consult an attorney and a tax professional.  There are many fiscal implications in getting married. Sign a prenuptial agreement; it doesn’t mean you don’t love each other. In fact, just the opposite. It does mean you love one another enough to imagine that if it didn’t work out, you have the basics outlined.

The federal government doesn’t yet recognize our unions, and so while you might be married in New York, your federal income tax is as a single. Being in love and getting married doesn’t mean you have to be financially stupid.

Even if you have been together for a long time, consider some premarital counseling. That piece of paper and that ring change things. Don’t just assume it will all be the same. It won’t! You will see yourselves differently, and others will see you differently.

One of the most interesting phenomena of the marriage ceremony is that it takes two unrelated people and makes them next of kin — like blood family. So, poof! You are related! It is a different way to think about this marriage bond. That is why others see you differently. You are a family in a new way, even if you have been together for decades.

Remember, if you are having a wedding ceremony — complete with flowers and cake and maybe a rented hall and caterer — your officiant should be given an honorarium as well. Don’t just assume the local pastor will be available. He or she will have many weddings to perform. The officiant may have a fee. Be prepared. It is not a free service. This is how people make their living, just like the baker, the travel agent who books your honeymoon and the guy in the tuxedo shop who rented you the tuxedos. There is paperwork that has to be completed.  So don’t bristle if your rabbi, cantor, minister or priest has a financial requirement for this service.

Expect everyone to want to attend! In my almost 25-year experience of being a rabbi and performing hundreds of weddings for gay people (both legally recognized and not), the gay weddings are better attended than the straight weddings. Everyone wants to be there! So plan your numbers and your guest list accordingly!

These are just a few tips. But there are many others. On my blog, which can be found at, I will cover a few more. Happy weddings!


Avi Davis is president of Israel Development Group, a business consultancy, in Beverly Hills. He and his family own a home in Safed, Israel. Senior columnist Marlene Adler Marks will return July 3.









With this latest assault on Jewish values and tradition, things have gone just a little awry in the Jewish state.

A Nation Like Any Other

By Avi Davis

The sight of Israeli Minister of Tourism Moshe Katzav being kissed by Israeli singer and Eurovision song contest winner Dana International must have made someone, somewhere blush. But you wouldn’t have known it by reading any of the Israeli papers last week. With the kind of glee that is only reserved in the Holy Land for the smashing of idols, Israeli editorialists pounced on Dana’s victory as further proof that Israel, having produced not just a Eurovision contest winner, but a transsexual one, has finally arrived as a nation among nations. So finally, we have the good word from Israel: Androgyny is in. Ethnocentricism (read Judaism with its intolerance for diversity and priggish emphasis on sexual purity), is most definitely out.

It’s not the first time an Israeli singer has stirred the pot of national pique. Last year, pop singer Noa, in a show of flagrant contempt for her own religion, sang “Ave Maria” to Pope John Paul II in the Vatican. Of course, there are millions of Israelis who champion such acts of self -revilement. Many voices declare that the seeming struggle between internationalism and insularity is in reality a murky battle between tolerance (read secularism) on the one hand and repression (read religion) on the other.

Unfortunately, that translates as little more than an apology for the collapse of one of Zionism’s most fervent promises. For if there was ever a sense that Israel as a nation might have a mission in this world other than material gain or the right of personal expression, it seems to have dissolved in the secular world’s exultation of escape from stifling age-old commitments.

Yet such joy can only be tentative. Because when examined carefully, the hankering after international acceptance reflects no more than a pervasive sense of inferiority and absence of self-worth.

With this latest assault on Jewish values and tradition, things have gone just a little awry in the Jewish state.

Indeed, if he returned today, Joshua, the Jewish people’s first general, might be puzzled to discover that many of the Caananite practices he thought he had eradicated are making their slow but steady comeback.

And although child sacrifice may still not be on anyone’s agenda, there is an eerie sense that in the unceasing effort by Israeli secular society to strip all religious influence from their lives, the moral imperatives that have served us faithfully for so many centuries are being discarded.

It should not have been like this. The early Zionist ideologues struggled with the moral character of the nation to be. Ahad Ha’am, one of the most spiritually inclined of them, declared that the Jewish state would be built on a foundation of Jewish values or it would perish.

Later, David Ben-Gurion made the famous statement that he longed for a normal state with normal problems. However, this expectation of normalcy was never conceived by Ben-Gurion to import the tawdry and banal from other nations at the expense of Jewish culture. Ben-Gurion’s profound respect for Torah and the ethical teachings of the prophets became for him a genuine ideal for the revitalization of his people. For Ben-Gurion, dyed in the wool secularist though he was, the term am segula (treasured nation) came to denote not so much the feat of land reclamation as a reassertion of the Jewish people’s role in the moral development of the world. In his own curious way, Ben-Gurion’s ideas were very much in tune with the vision of the prophets.

Sadly, despite some remarkable acts of charity as a nation (offering refuge to fleeing Vietnamese and providing agricultural aid to drought stricken African nations are just two examples that spring to mind), that’s not the way things have turned out. Everyday life in Israel is beset with acts of dissoluteness and discourtesy. Israelis are often uncouth and vulgar. Rudeness, in stores and on the roads, is a way of life. In Tel Aviv, Jewish prostitution has become a very serious problem; an underground Israeli cartel now works in partnership with Palestinian thieves masterminding a pandemic of car thefts in the major cities. From male strippers in the living rooms of Tel Aviv to the notoriously unpleasant business practices of Israeli entrepreneurs, both in Israel and outside of it, Israelis have earned for themselves the unhappy sobriquet of prickly boors for whom ethics are no more than the doormat you use to clean your boots when you enter a house.

It is of course unfair to label all Israelis as degenerates or even lay the blame for every moral infraction at the feet of the secular. The Orthodox (courtesy of Yigal Amir and Baruch Goldstein) and ultra-Orthodox have done little to assuage the prevailing view that they are self-righteous bigots who would bleed the state rather than give to it.

But the tragedy remains that for the secular, self-abasement has become the language of dissent and a weapon of revenge.

All of this just to be a nation like any other. You have to wonder if the ghetto was a happier place.

Whatever the answer, it was the sudden superstar elevation of the transsexual Dana International that provided the final confirmation that there is a price to be paid for normalcy and that price is the squandering of a profound moral heritage. To many of us, the singer’s victory became meaningless when her status as Israel’s first transsexual singer was given more prominence than her actual song.

In truth, Dana International is perhaps a victim of all the hype that surrounds her and her painful journey deserves more our sympathy than our scorn. Yet her personal struggles set the State of Israel’s in sharper relief. Is it, after all, truly unrealistic to expect
Israel, a country composed largely of secular Jews, to subscribe to traditional Jewish codes of ethics and behavior? I don’t think so. Does it mean that all secular Israelis need to become religious? Not at all. But the Israeli education system can certainly provide guidance by accepting as a principle that being an Israeli carries with it responsibility and instituting compulsory instruction in
musar (ethics) that would ultimately lead to strengthening the nation’s moral purpose and an improvement in everyday life.

In the meantime, all normalcy advocates can certainly take heart. In normalcy, they will find a fertile ground for the flourishing of tolerance and maybe even the political framework for a future State of Canaan.

An Unlikely Inspiration

Early Sunday morning, just before 1 a.m. Israelitime, a roar was heard coming out of living rooms across the country.Israel had just won the annual Eurovision Song Contest, held thisyear in Birmingham, England, and watched by as many as 100 million TVviewers in Europe and Asia. Wildest of all, Israel’s representativeat the contest was singer Dana International, a tall, dark,thirtysomething transsexual who had grown up as a boy named YaronCohen.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Eurovision was a majorcultural event for Israelis. Along with the European Cup soccertournament, it was the only popular venue in which Israel could testitself against the big outside world. But in recent years, as Israelhas become less isolated culturally, economically and politically,and as most Israelis have realized that Eurovision songs are catchybut not very good, the contest has diminished in stature. But withDana carrying the national colors, 47 percent of Israeli TV viewersstayed up to watch.

After she was named the winner for her dance song,”Diva,” a couple of thousand homosexuals, along with a smattering ofheterosexuals, took to Tel Aviv’s Kikar Rabin and danced, drank andsplashed in the fountain until dawn. “We’re on the map,” yelled onemiddle-aged man, masked and costumed as if it were Carnaval time inRio de Janeiro, and waving the rainbow-colored flag of the gaynation.

Yet it wasn’t only homosexuals who cheered Dana.Liberal Israelis saw her as the answer to the recent “Jubilee Bells”debacle in Jerusalem, where religious politicians forced the BatshevaDance Company to cancel its performance of a Passover song because itstrips down to shorts and body shirts. Dana’s supporters thought thatshe gave a healthy jolt to the country’s image. No longer wouldIsrael be personified to the world only by a hawkish prime ministerand a clutch of grimacing rabbis; now everyone would know that atranssexual singer could also represent the Jewish state.

“On the night of Eurovision, Dana became a symbolof a pluralistic world. She symbolized our potential for freedom,and, for a moment, we seemed once again like a country where dreamsare made, a country for rebels, a lost paradise of chaos andharmony,” wrote columnist Sarit Fox in Ma’ariv.

Dana was the first good news to hit the countrysince Israelis finished with their bout of self-celebration duringthe Independence Day festivities. As soon as the “Jubilee Bells”concert rang down, the controversy over Batsheva got the bad bloodgoing again between the haredim and secular. This wascompounded by the annual State Comptroller’s Report, which showedthat haredim had received more than $100 million in state aid thatthey weren’t entitled to from overly friendly governmentministries.

There were accusations of a fix in the nationalsoccer championships, won by “Israel’s Team,” Betar Jerusalem. Thecharges weren’t proven, but the bad taste lingered. It intensifiedwhen, amid the throngs of Betar fans whooping it up one night in thecapital, the chant of “Death to the Arabs” was heard loudly.

There was a spasm of violent crime. Dr. MosheZiegelbaum, head of rehabilitation for the country’s prisons system,was blown up in his car. Suspicion fell on the violent Uzi Meshulamcult, which had threatened Ziegelbaum before, charging that he wasdenying Meshulam medical care in prison. (The Meshulam cult claimsthat an Israeli conspiracy is covering up the “kidnapping and sale”of thousands of Yemenite immigrant children during the first years ofstatehood.) A battle in an ongoing gangland war was fought at asidewalk cafe near Tel Aviv. The hit failed — not only did thetarget survive his gunshot wounds, but a number of customers atadjacent tables were injured by flying bullets. Israeli police wereforced to admit that crime, especially organized crime, had grownwell beyond their meager means to cope with it.

And hanging above all these depressing events, ofcourse, was the widening breach between the Netanyahu and Clintonadministrations over Israel’s planned withdrawal from the West Bank,and the fear that the peace process was about to finally stop idlingand shift roughly into reverse.

So Dana’s victory was like water in the desert. Apoll by the Geocartography Institute found that 59 percent ofIsraelis were “proud” to have her represent them at Eurovision,against only 17 percent who weren’t. Winning the contest, whichIsrael hadn’t managed in 20 years, was a patriotic affair; it alsomeant that next year’s contest would be held in Israel.

Predictably, a few haredim grumbled. Haim Miller,the deputy mayor of Jerusalem who first blew the whistle on Batsheva,said he would keep Eurovision out of the capital just as he had donewith the dance company. But Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmertcongratulated Dana and vowed that Jerusalem would host the 1999contest. Olmert spoke for many Israelis, religious and secular, incalling Miller a “blabbermouth.”

For her part, Dana was too happy to be mad atanybody. “God is with me,” she said. She had made her name as afemale impersonator in Tel Aviv nightclubs, then went the whole routewith a sex change three years ago. Army Radio named her singer of theyear in 1996. Standing onstage at Birmingham in a tight-fitting blackdress with feathers, waving her country’s blue-and-white flag, shetold the cheering crowd, “See you next year in Israel.”

The nation’s second 50 years had begun.