Special joy for rabbis who officiate own kids weddings

When Rabbi Michael Barenbaum performed a wedding ceremony three months ago, it was a little different from the others he's performed. The spiritual leader of Congregation Rodef Shalom in San Rafael officiated at the wedding of his own son, Daniel.

Barenbaum said he officiates only at the weddings of congregants or people he knows well. But even so, he said, "To be with your own child, and celebrate that moment with his bride [who is] such a beautiful person, it was just incredible."

Barenbaum took some "serious time" to think about what he wanted to say.

"I wanted to make sure I didn't give my children short shrift because we were so close," he said. "I didn't want to be spontaneous."

Rabbi Samuel Broude, rabbi emeritus of Temple Sinai in Oakland, and now a part-time rabbi at B'nai Israel in Vallejo, officiated at both his son Micah's wedding and that of his daughter Marla.

"I can't remember what I said, but I know we were all very moved by it," he said. "I try to prepare something special for every ceremony I conduct, but I tried to make it specially special, and more personal than ordinarily."

"What makes the wedding different is the heart and the emotion that wells up when one marries one's own child," said Rabbi David Teitelbaum, the executive director of the Northern California Board of Rabbis and rabbi emeritus at Temple Beth Jacob in Redwood City.

He officiated at the weddings of his sons Adam and Joshua. "But other than that, there's no preparation other than looking forward to the event with great anticipation."

Rabbi Ted Alexander of Congregation B'nai Emunah in San Francisco said he has married "hundreds" of couples, and "I rejoice with every wedding I am doing. But of course with your own child, there is more emotion. But I'm pretty emotional with most couples."

Alexander officiated at his daughter Leslie's wedding, and although she is also a rabbi, there was nothing unique about a rabbi marrying a child who also happens to be a rabbi.

"I talked to her as my daughter," he said. "I didn't want to take anything away from the importance of the day to her."

Alexander said he invited several of his colleagues, who had known Leslie since her childhood, to participate in the ceremony as well.

"It was a tremendous day in our lives," he said.

All the rabbis said they met with the couples for pre-marital counseling, as they would with any other couple.

"I did 'interview' the couple more than once, not only to talk about the ceremony but their hopes and dreams and what their expectations are," said Teitelbaum. "Only of course when I was 'in counseling' with those so close to me, there is certainly an added dimension."

"We spent a lot of time together like I would with any married couple," said Barenbaum, "and talked about the issues."

"It can be difficult to be objective in that situation," Broude said. "You could have someone else meet with them."

He also recommended a program called "Making Marriage Work" run by the S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children's Services, in which couples discuss "communication, finances, the whole gamut of potential problems they could face."

Broude also mentioned one pitfall, in that weddings are expensive, and feelings are bound to be hurt because a rabbi can't invite his or her entire congregation.

And what about becoming too emotional?

"I let my emotions come out. If I cry, I cry. There's nothing wrong with it," said Broude, who said he cried at both ceremonies. "Our culture has this thing where we're always supposed to be in control of our emotions."

Barenbaum said his tactic to remain calm was to not look too deeply into his son's eyes.

"My son and I are very close, and we looked at each other, but not too deeply. We averted our eyes a few times. His sister and mother were sobbing so they were doing it for me.

"The ceremony was just awesome," Barenbaum recalled. "The most beautiful experience."

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Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."