I recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Rabbi Getzel Davis at a coffee shop in downtown Boston. Getzel is the founder and executive director of UnOrthodox Celebrations - a network of 230+ officiants nationwide who perform weddings, bat mitzvahs and baby namings for unaffiliated Jews. He supervises the matching process and institutional relationships. Occasionally, he even gets to do a local wedding himself.
So why did you decide to start Unorthodox Celebrations?
I'm a rabbi at Harvard. Every week my phone rings with someone--usually an alum--somewhere in America who wants me to come officiate their wedding. I'm a pretty busy guy, and usually can't fly to Montana to perform their wedding. It was taking a lot of work on my part to find a couple the right match of a clergy member who could do their wedding.
And I'm not alone in this! Every rabbi, cantor and Jewish professional gets regular questions from un-affilliated Jews wondering how they can find the right officiant for their life cycle event. After failing a few times to find the right match for a couple, I realized that we really need a central database that contains a list of vetted officiants and what they do and don't do.
So in order to be able to help Jews who are looking for connection at this really important time, a couple of friends and I started Unorthodox Celebrations. We have a network of 220 rabbis, cantors and skilled officiants nationwide who are interested in performing life cycle events--weddings, bnai mitzvahs, baby namings--for people who are searching for the right person. We vet all of them to make sure that they are held to ethical standards, and to make sure that they know what goes into performing a meaningful ceremony. We also collect reviews on them afterwards so that we can really perfect our referral network and try to get people the best fits possible. Presently we're getting a request or two every day from someone around the country, and we've just moved into Canada too!
How do you do the match for a couple looking for an officiant for their wedding?
People go and fill out a form on our website. Then we call them up and talk to them for about 15-20 minutes to get a good sense of what they're looking for. Some of that is about ambiance, whether they are having formal or informal ceremony. And some of it is technical--if their wedding is on Shabbat, or is an interfaith wedding, and we take all of that into account when looking for the right officiant for them.
Then we provide couples with a list of about three officiants who are available on their date, in their location, and are interested in performing their wedding. Then the couple can reach out to the officiant's themselves and decide who they think is the best fit.
We offer this service completely free to all of our couples.
You recently got married! Is that changing the way you think about this work?
Yes it's definitely changing the way I'm thinking about my business in addition to work life balance stuff. The big shift is me realizing how important pre-marital counseling was for us. Not in terms of whether or not we should get married--that was a given--but in order to have facilitated visioning around what we wanted a marriage to mean and to bring. There are opportunities through Unorthodox Celebrations that we're just beginning to explore as an organization to really offer people some of the best that the Jewish world has to offer. The other thing that we're putting thought into is what happens after people get married. There are some really wonderful orgs that do work for young married couples, and we'd love to offer our celebrants connections to resources that are tailored to them if they're interested.
Because of that, we are taking steps to become a non-profit. We don't want to just be an LLC interested in making a little money--we're looking to get some funding because we want to be helping couples. We not only want to offer couples officiants, but because we'd love to actually help people vision their weddings, we'd like to connect them to resources, provide them with books and materials if they want them. Ideally, we'd love to send every couple a book when they contact us just because people should know what their options can look like. That's why we're looking to become a non-profit.
Of course, we're really happy also to just provide an officiant and have it as a one-off encounter. We really want even those one-off encounters to be excellent and meaningful.
Why do you feel passionate about this? Why was this the problem you decided you wanted to solve in the Jewish community?
I think it's really important that people have meaningful weddings, and some of that meaning comes from who people choose to be their officiants. As a rabbi on campus, I know how valuable it is when people seek us out, it is such an incredible opportunity to dig deep and have transformation. So many people are looking for connection around their wedding, and we as a Jewish community need to do a better job of welcoming these families on the fringes and meeting them where they are and providing them with meaningful excellent services.
Curious to find out more, or looking for an officiant for your own wedding? Head on over to UnOrthodox Celebrations!