How Reform Clergy Can Help Engaged Couples Connect to Jewish Life

Inside Leadership

How Reform Clergy Can Help Engaged Couples Connect to Jewish Life

The Reform Wedding Officiation Network

Rustic wood chuppah adorned with roses and greenery in a field with mountains in the background

Mazel tov and congratulations!” should be among the first words engaged couples hear from us.

Marriage is one of the most powerful opportunities to build bridges to the Jewish community and our rabbis and cantors are expert bridge-builders. It’s a natural fit, therefore, to connect couples across North America with individual Reform clergy for wedding officiation and Jewish engagement.

With that sentiment in mind, we are pleased to announce that the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), in partnership with the American Conference of Cantors (ACC) and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), is launching a Reform wedding officiation network. In 2019, two communities – Phoenix and Atlanta – will serve as pilot sites for the network.

For engaged couples, the process of getting to know a rabbi or cantor during the weeks and months leading up to their wedding can be an influential introduction to meaningful engagement with Judaism – and specifically with Reform Judaism.

I speak with many couples each year who reach out seeking to connect with a rabbi or cantor for their Jewish wedding. For some, their engagement marks not only their first step toward entry into marriage, but also their formal entry into Jewish life as adults. 

Although many of these couples usually are living spiritual lives outside the bounds of congregations and many include only one Jewish partner, all of them are making decisions that will impact their relationships with one another, their families, and with the Jewish community for years to come.

Often, they’re not familiar with Jewish wedding customs or the Jewish calendar, and sometimes they have heard “no” over and over again. Even if it’s a gentle, compassionate, well-reasoned “no,” it’s still, a “no.” And, whether they’ve been cold-calling congregations, “Googling” for rabbis, or using word of mouth to search, by the time they reach me, they’re exhausted, frustrated, and worried.

At the same time, clergy and congregations are searching for better ways to welcome couples into their congregational communities.

This Reform network will connect couples to Reform clergy who have indicated availability and willingness to meet with them to prepare for their wedding and to officiate at the ceremony. Collectively and over time, we will welcome thousands of couples into Jewish conversations and communities throughout the continent. The lessons we learn from the pilot launches will guide us in shaping a strong, effective network of clergy officiants across North America, building and enriching our Jewish community for generations to come.

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Rabbi Julie Zupan serves as the director of learning and engagement for Audacious Hospitality at the Union for Reform Judaism, where her work focuses on supporting interfaith couples and individuals exploring Judaism. She was ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1999 and is a member of Temple Sinai of Sharon, MA.

Rabbi Julie Zupan
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