aving a non-clergy friend or family member officiate your wedding is not just a trend, but has been fully accepted as an aspect that comes with planning a wedding.
In 2015, according to one study, 40% of weddings were officiated by a friend or relative. In a “if you can’t beat them, join them” move, Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington, D.C., offered a “What It Takes: How to Officiate Your Friend’s Wedding” class taught by Rabbi Shira Stutman.
The group of about 20 were mostly officiants and a few couples. Most were interfaith weddings with one Jewish partner, a few were fully Jewish and there were even a couple completely non-Jewish weddings represented.
Stutman ran through what a traditional Jewish wedding would look like and offered up other versions of doing certain rituals depending on what sort of ceremony the couple wants.
“When [the non-clergy officiant trend] first started, I was deeply offended,” Stutman says. “I can’t watch three episodes of ‘ER’ and do surgery.” But she came around when she heard from couples how meaningful it was for them.
It was that way for Ari Bassin, who had a friend officiate his wedding and has been asked to officiate another friend’s wedding.
“The person who officiated my wedding played such a big role in making is special,” he says. “And I want to pass that forward.”
Mitchell Eilenberg and Gabrielle Schechter, the only couple in attendance with both partners, are having Eilenberg’s dad officiate their wedding. This class was a way for them to figure out how they wanted the ceremony to go.
“My parents are egalitarian Conservative, but traditional, and so they have one frame of reference,” Eilenberg says. “And we wanted our own frame of reference.”
So, for those who have been recruited as officiants — or those considering a friend or relative as officiant — here are seven tips and tricks from Rabbi Shira Stutman.
1. Be the calm in the storm
“Just be a non-anxious presence,” she says.
The wedding day will be stressful no matter what for the couple, so the more calm the officiant can be, the smoother everything will go.
2. Reflect the couple and their personality
Sometimes it is up to the officiant to talk couples through questions about what their ideal ceremony looks like. Even if their thoughts are the opposite of what your preference may be, Stutman adds, always keep in mind it’s their wedding, not yours.
Often, officiants are a friend or relative of one half of the couple, meaning they know that person better. It’s the officiant’s job to ensure he or she is giving equal time in their remarks to each half of the couple. Stutman says she has each partner write her a letter about what each loves about the other for her basis.
3. Think about logistics
Officiants should double-check their necessary materials — the two Kiddush cups, ketubah, rings, kosher wine and so on.
A few extra logistical tips: Have tissues on hand, definitely use a microphone if you want anyone to be able to hear and use kosher white wine so it won’t stain.
Stutman absolutely recommends running through everything beforehand.
And it doesn’t just hold true for the officiant: “You should tell the couple to practice their kiss,” she says. If the couple isn’t on the same page — one leans in for a peck while the other goes for something a little deeper — then it’s awkward for everyone.
5. Don’t speak Hebrew unless you know Hebrew
Let a Jewish family member or friend do the Hebrew readings or blessings. It’s really uncomfortable for the Jewish family and friends otherwise, she says, to listen to a non-Jew stumble through Hebrew.
6. Don’t cry
Stutman cried while officiating her brother’s wedding and still regrets it. It was fine, she says, and generally no one cares, but it’s likely you’ll feel better about it if you don’t.
7. Keep it short
“At the beginning, I was like the guy from [the movie] ‘Princess Bride’ — ‘Mawwiage…,’ you know?” Stutman says. “I had a lot to pontificate about. But I’ve realized the longer I’ve been married, the less I know. Now, I don’t pontificate.”
Besides, she adds, by the time the officiant’s remarks roll around, the gathered family and friends will have already heard a lot from you.
“Anything you can say in 15 minutes, you can say in 10 minutes. Shorter is better.” JN