Bride, groom saddle up for a non-traditional Jewish wedding

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

On a warm day in Sonoma four months ago, 235 guests looked on as a bride, groom and cantor led a wedding procession on horseback.

The bride, Marlene Kniveton Rosenberg, and the groom, Stanley Rosenberg, both wore white blouses, denim jeans and cowboy hats. Attached to Kniveton’s hat was a flowing white veil. Cantor Martin Feldman, who presided over the ceremony, donned a cowboy hat along with his tallit.

The wedding, held at Rosenberg’s horse ranch Sept. 21, was a perfect mix of traditional and modern, Jewish and cowboy.

After the ceremony in the ranch’s gazebo (Feldman assured Kniveton Rosenberg that the structure could legally double as a chuppah), the couple stomped on a glass with their polished cowboy boots. The guests then munched on a barbeque buffet, raised the newly married couple on chairs during the hora and lined up for some country-western dancing.

An avid horse rider since childhood, Rosenberg says it was a natural decision to include the horses and his ranch in the wedding plans. He also delighted in the idea of his wedding being unique — at least among Jews.

Once the decision was made to have cowboy-themed nuptials, Kniveton Rosenberg asked Feldman, her tennis pal and longtime friend, to join them on horseback.

“I said ‘We’re coming up on horses’ and asked if he’d like to join us and he said ‘No!’ ” Kniveton says. “Four days later he called and said, ‘I’d like to ride the horses.’ “

It was 80-year-old Feldman’s first time on a horse since childhood. Even then, he rode a pony only once or twice, he says with a laugh.

Feldman was a cantor at Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco for 43 years before retiring to perform weddings aboard cruise ships and for his friends in the community. Despite his original reluctance to saddle up for the Kniveton-Rosenberg wedding, Feldman says the experience wasn’t difficult for him because he keeps active.

“Thank God I’m in good shape — I play tennis three times a week,” he says. “I loved the opportunity, it was daring and unusual.”

The wedding isn’t the only unusual part of this marriage story. Take, for example, the fact that while they just got married at ages 70 and 66, respectively, their first encounter was actually many decades ago.

In 1953 a 16-year-old Rosenberg taught then-11-year-old Kniveton Rosenberg how to dive at Fetters Hot Springs in Sonoma County. He was a lifeguard, she an eager student.

They became friends via a variety of familial connections. Rosenberg was a high school buddy of Kniveton’s brother, and Kniveton’s aunt Bernie Applebaum later married Rosenberg’s cousin. The families remained close as their children grew up in the Bay Area.

Kniveton Rosenberg and Rosenberg even briefly dated as college students at San Francisco State University in the early 1960s. But eventually Rosenberg married, then Kniveton Rosenberg married, and the old friends went their separate ways.

Rosenberg and his wife had two children, Lisa and Michael, but their marriage ended in divorce. Kniveton Rosenberg’s husband died in 2005.

Today, Rosenberg runs Rosenberg’s Restaurant Equipment in Santa Rosa and owns a two-acre ranch, a golden retriever named Rosie and a miniature poodle, Lili. Kniveton Rosenberg has a home in Napa and has retired from 30 years of work as a legal secretary in San Francisco.

After Kniveton Rosenberg’s husband died, she decided to call her old friend to set up a lunch date.

“I said, ‘Let’s make it dinner,'” Rosenberg recalls, “and we’ve been together ever since.”

Since that fateful first date, Rosenberg and Kniveton Rosenberg have been inseparable, sharing their mutual love for horses, tennis and traveling the world (their recent trips include Venice and Alaska). They were engaged nine months into their second courtship, and married less than a year after that. The couple splits their time between Rosenberg’s ranch, where they ride horses, and Kniveton’s home at the Silverado Country Club in Napa, where they play tennis.

After a lifetime of connections, the wedding was, of course, a grand affair. The extensive guest list included Kniveton Rosenberg’s seven stepchildren and 11 step-grandchildren, along with the couple’s friends from the local Jewish community.

Kniveton Rosenberg’s brother Morrie, Rosenberg’s old high school pal, performed at the reception. He wrote a song for each of them — “Big Stan” and “Marlene.”

But the star of the show was, arguably, the big entrance on horseback.

“It’s fun to show you don’t have to do the traditional thing in the synagogue,” Kniveton Rosenberg says.