Seven couples, five chuppahs, one ceremony: Same-sex partners break the glass at Kehilla Wedding Festival

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Most wedding ceremonies do not begin with the rabbi exclaiming, “This is absolutely stupendous!” to loud applause, cheers and a standing ovation. But then most weddings do not consist of 12 brides and two grooms — same-sex couples all of them — marrying beneath five chuppahs, one of them a rainbow flag.

The tissue boxes were passed as soon as the processional began. The seven couples, most of them escorted by their children — many of whom had tears streaming down their faces — walked down the aisle of Piedmont’s Kehilla Community Synagogue on July 27 in a marital extravaganza titled “Here Comes the Pride! The Great Kehilla Same-Gender Wedding Fest.”

The group ceremony was hastily organized after the landmark May 15 ruling by the California Supreme Court allowing lesbians and gays to marry.

Kehilla’s founding rabbi, Burt Jacobson, who opened the ceremony, could not get his introductory words out without choking up.

“We thank you seven couples for your courage, your love, your patience, your anger and for being true leaders in our community,” he said. “The rabbis in the Talmud never would have anticipated this. I like to think we’re taking the holiness they spoke about in new directions.”

Rabbi David Cooper noted that these couples’ relationships were already “kiddushin” — sanctified — in the Kehilla community.

“We are here today,” he said, “because the California Supreme Court has finally caught up to us.”

Most of the couples who wed had already had ceremonies of various sorts; most were married in 2004 at San Francisco’s City Hall, and had Jewish commitment ceremonies of some kind.

This one included a private time for the couples to say their own vows quietly to each other. Simi Litvak and Pnina Tobin, who had registered as domestic partners before, but never married, exchanged rings.

Later in an interview, Litvak said she was raised in an Orthodox home and had never imagined getting married — especially in a Jewish context.

“It’s a really big deal,” she said. “I’m breathless.”

For Ron Strochlic, who married his partner, Avi Rose, the group ceremony had echoes of another group wedding that took place more than 60 years ago: His parents, both Holocaust survivors, wed in a group ceremony in a displaced persons camp at the end of World War II.

“My parents were married in Bergen-Belsen after liberation,” he said. “And this is another kind of liberation.”

Collectively, the brides and grooms have been together 108 years, have 11 children and two grandchildren.

Esther Robinson-Abrams, age 12, was one of those children who stood flanking a chuppah as her mothers, Miriam Abrams and Rosemary Robinson, married.

Robinson-Abrams had witnessed her mothers’ City Hall wedding four years ago, but said, “This was much more meaningful. I’m very proud.”

The wedding liturgy was changed to reflect the circumstances; for example, the words to the seventh wedding blessing were changed from “chatan v’kallah” (groom and bride) to “chatan v’chatan” and “kallah v’kallah.”

Following the ceremony, seven glasses were lined up and smashed, and the community stood to help the rabbis declare the couples married. Cheers and applause rang out once again as the couples and their children danced down the aisle.

Don Stone, a congregant who had come to witness the weddings, was supportive of the couples’ right to marry.

“When we all can’t share in something beautiful, each of us is diminished,” he said. “When someone is denied something, we sense the world is out of balance.”

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."