Life & Culture

The rise and rise of 'Jew-ish' weddings

Stacey Solomon and Joe Swash aren't the only mixed-faith couple to opt for a chupah


As of last month, Rabbi Lisa Barrett is probably the most recognisable rabbi in the UK. The Reform rabbi officiated at the wedding of TV personality Stacey Solomon to actor Joe Swash.

If you happen to be one of Stacey’s 5.4 million Instagram followers, you couldn’t have failed to notice in her posts a bespectacled lady shrouded in a tallit, standing under a canopy of white roses and bougainvillea, giving the couple a Jewish blessing.

According to a source, even though Joe isn’t Jewish, it was “important to Stacey for her day to uphold her strong Jewish values”.

The Loose Women star’s wedding came shortly after the even more famous “Jew-ish” wedding of Brooklyn Beckham to his model girlfriend, Nicola Peltz, whose father Nelson Peltz is Jewish.

The eldest son of Victoria and David Beckham donned a stylish black kippah and broke a glass under a chupah. Photographs show both father and son clinging on to their chairs at the party, as they were lifted up into the air, with the famous footballer, whose maternal grandfather was Jewish, looking far more nervous than he did before any of his 65 free-kick goals.

But “Jew-ish” weddings are certainly not the preserve of celebrities. Rabbi Guy Hall, the “rabbi for all weddings”, says that he officiates at 40 to 60 mixed-faith marriages a year in the UK and Europe. The Leo Baeck-trained rabbi, who was, he says, “ejected from the [Liberal] Rabbinic Conference in 1993 for being too liberal”, told me: “In my segment of the Jewish world, [these weddings] are now becoming normative.”

Nonetheless, it is still hard for a mixed-faith couple to find a rabbi who will officiate at a wedding, and Rabbi Hall says that many couples “feel a sense of relief when they find a rabbi who is prepared to help them."

In Liberal Judaism, mixed faith couples can receive a wedding blessing from a rabbi under a chupah as long as they commit to building a Jewish home. In Reform Judaism, rabbis can officiate at a ceremony between a Jewish and non-Jewish partner if the non-Jewish partner is not actively practising a different faith and the couple intend to create a Jewish home.

To marry under Masorti or United Synagogue auspices, both partners are required to be halachically Jewish. For many in Orthodox circles the very idea of a Jew-ish or mixed faith wedding is bordering on offensive. As Jew-ish weddings won’t take place under the auspices of a synagogue, the couple will also need to have a civil ceremony.

Some Jew-ish weddings only incorporate a few Jewish traditions — like Meghan Markle’s first wedding to Jewish producer Trevor Engelson, which took place on a Jamaican beach, but included hoisting the couple up on chairs to dance the hora. Others opt for the Jewish traditions of breaking the glass and hearing the Sheva Brachot (Seven Blessings).

For Sarah-Louise Gardner, who is Jewish, it was unimaginable to get married without a ceremony which reflected her background. “Growing up, I always knew I would have a chupah and Israeli singing at my wedding. I just didn’t know I would get married to a Jamaican pastor’s son.”

The 35-year-old wedding hairdresser and her husband, Nathan, 34, who live in Essex, combined elements of their different heritages at the ceremony, which took place in a wedding hall.

“Nathan is Pentecostal, so his father married us. I walked down the aisle to Hebrew music, then around Nathan seven times and Nathan’s father said a Pentecostal blessing over the rings.”

Nathan’s family then performed Gospel songs while Sarah-Louise’s stepfather and stepbrother explained the Jewish wedding traditions to the guests.

“We called it a ‘Jewmaican’ wedding”, says Sarah. “We served chicken soup and jerk chicken. We had a wedding band playing Israeli music and then a DJ playing drum and bass, which is very traditional Jamaican wedding music. It was unbelievable to stand and watch both cultures enjoying and respecting one another.”

Nathan, an estate agent, says he was unfazed by the prospect of a Jew-ish wedding. “I was very open to it because I had a lot of Jewish friends growing up.” Dancing the hora “was amazing,” he recalls. “My cousins had even learnt the words to the Hava Nagillah.”

Karen Cinnamon, who runs, a website devoted to Jewish and Jew-ish weddings, frequently works with mixed-faith couples, and there is a whole section of the site devoted to Jew-ish weddings.

“For many of the brides and grooms, their Jewish identity is a huge part of who they are, so there’s no need to minimise it just because they have fallen in love with someone who isn’t Jewish,” she says.

“If their Jewish identity is going to be part of their future, it’s important that it starts with the chupah.”

Many couples love the idea of having a ketubah, she says. “This is written in English with no mention of God or religious beliefs, but is a commitment to love and laughter. Plenty of ketubah designers have a section on their website for interfaith ketubot.”

A mixed-faith ceremony can add another layer of stress to planning the big day, says Cinnamon.

“It can be difficult to please both sides of the family and that is where I come in. One thing I do is to show how to honour the non-Jewish partner in the ceremony so that they feel their faith is also important.”

While the internet and a more liberal society mean that mixed-faith ceremonies are now easier to organise, they are certainly nothing new.

One of the most enjoyable weddings I have ever attended was the Jew-ish wedding of one of my closest friends, Nicky Bannerman, when she married her husband Scott 18 years ago.

The two-day affair started with a civil ceremony, followed by a party that encapsulated Nicky and Scott’s respective Jewish and Scottish heritages.

The next day, guests returned for a Jewish blessing, conducted by the late Reform rabbi Willy Wolff, in Nicky’s parents’ garden, culminating in Scott smashing a glass to whoops of “Mazel tov!”

“The Jewish tradition has always been important to me and very much part of my upbringing, so not to have had it as part of my wedding would have been very strange,” says Nicky.

“At the wedding blessing, my grandpa spoke very movingly about the importance of keeping the Jewish traditions and telling our story, whether or not we were married to someone Jewish.”

In a melding of Scottish and Jewish cultures, the 18 tables, each named after a hole on Elie golf course because Scott, 46, is a keen golfer, also represented the Hebrew word “Chai”. “It was another way of bringing the two traditions together,” says Nicky. The couple have subsequently had two children who went to a Jewish nursery, and the family celebrates Jewish festivals.

A few weeks before the wedding, the couple arranged a mass dance lesson at Wimbledon Synagogue “so all the South London Jews could learn the Scottish dances,” recalls Nicky, who is the senco at the shul’s Apples and Honey nursery.

“My overriding memory was of 120 people doing the traditional Scottish Strip the Willow dance,” says Scott. “It was such an inclusive occasion, a real celebration of Scottish people and Jewish people coming together and everyone embracing it fully.”

The Israeli dancing also went off without a hitch, thanks to a quick-thinking best man. “Scott was wearing a kilt,” recounts Nicky. “Fortunately, his best man had left a pair of boxer shorts on a chair for him so he could maintain his dignity when he was lifted into the air!”

To use Stacey Solomon and Joe Swash’s wedding pictures the JC has made a donation to the bereavement charity Grief Encounter.

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