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Saturday, May 30, 2020

What It’s Like Officiating A Social Distance Zoom Wedding

Planning for such a wedding certainly wasn’t part of rabbinical school training.

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I officiated a Zoom wedding, and it was everything my soul needed that I didn’t know it craved. As an independent community rabbi focusing on education and lifecycle moments, I have the luxury, freedom and challenge of making decisions curated for individuals I work with. Officiating weddings is my favorite task as a rabbi. When I stand under a chuppah with a couple about to embark on their marriage journey, this blessing is never lost on me. But it took this couple and a Zoom wedding to understand how deeply connected I am to this sacred task.

We are all social animals, craving physical and emotional connection. A wedding, at its best, is the purest form of this human need; we hold hands, hug, cry, dance and feel the love of the couple, ourselves and the community surrounding us. These are the very things we desire, and yet, at this moment, amid this virus, we must say no to them or find another way.

When the couple asked me what they ought to do when faced the painful truth that their dream wedding needed to shift in some way or be postponed, I was overwhelmed with certainty that they needed to do the former. I kept thinking of past Jewish weddings that took place in the face of catastrophic events. In a world swirling with fear, there is always the choice of celebrating love. It is what indeed links us all to the giant tapestry of life. I didn’t have to convince this beautiful couple because they reached this decision on their own; canceling wasn’t an option for them. We marched on together and planned a Friday afternoon Zoom wedding for the ages.

Planning for such a wedding certainly wasn’t part of rabbinical school training. Apparently, background lighting is essential, as is bandwidth, the position of the computer and microphone, where one’s notes sit, not wearing glasses because of glare, locking all doors so children don’t disturb the ceremony and so much more. As people started to arrive in the virtual sphere, they saw the gorgeous couple in a majestic garden with a chuppah held up by PVC pipes, built by the groom the night before, and draped by gorgeous flowers handpicked by them, with their immediate family and witnesses present but spread apart listening to a Spotify playlist of Jewish Shabbat songs. The emotive “Lekhah Dodi Likrat Kallah” (Come My Beloved, Let’s Meet the Bride) focused me and suddenly the lighting of my camera was no longer on my mind, but rather this sacred task before me. The number of participants kept climbing, and when it reached 190, the bride gave me the nod to begin and my heart swelled.

When the number of participants reached 190, the bride gave me the nod to begin and my heart swelled.

Officiating by Zoom is quite different. One speaks and there is not necessarily any response, as people are muted. But as we moved through the stages of the ceremony, we found our rhythm as a community through each stage — the ketubah signing, the marriage license signing, the blessings, Kiddushin, the Sheva Brachot and, finally, our conclusion. Individuals participated through the chat function and there were moments when we sang together, albeit in different rhythms and keys, but with the same pure intention and joy.

Although we weren’t in the same physical space, what really mattered is that they and had a Jewish marriage ceremony witnessed by all of their loved ones. And somehow, through two souls, we were all connected in the way that we always were and always will be. We felt the spark that a wedding magnifies into the world.

Rather than concluding with the traditional smashing of the glasses, the two of them drank a sip of wine indicating that they are choosing joy right now, but that someday they will reconvene with everyone in person and conclude the ceremony in the traditional way.

“Mazel tovs” and dancing ensued, and, as I closed my computer, I felt the weight of it all: the joy and the depth of being a human in this unsettling world who needed a reminder of everything that we live for and what really matters.

Tova Leibovic-Douglas is a community rabbi, teacher and spiritual counselor based in Los Angeles.

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