By Deborah Fineblum/JNS.org
The groom was 60-years-old and the wedding was seven years ago, yet the magic and romance of the moment continues to inspire not only the couple themselves, but the 800 witnesses to that momentous occasion—many of them complete strangers.
Yaakov and Marsha Motzen were joined in holy matrimony in a ceremony that adhered strictly to the Jewish wedding traditions and kosher laws that they both hold dear. Unlike most religiously observant couples, however, they chose to get married on the open seas.
“Our ketubah (marriage contract) may be the only one in the world to list under location of the wedding, ‘Between Fort Lauderdale and St. Thomas,’” Marsha says of her cruise ship wedding.
Since the groom is one of the most famous current cantors and performers of Jewish music, the wedding was destined to melodically fill the ship. In fact, more than a dozen big-name cantors and other musical luminaries were on board to add their voices to this event, including Avraham Fried, Naftali and Natenel Herstik, Binyamin Helfgot and Dudu Fisher, plus Amiran Dvir and his band.
Jewish destination weddings constitute a growing trend, according to those involved in such celebrations. More Jewish couples are opting to exchange vows in gorgeous places around the world—without sacrificing Jewish tradition in the process.
Taking this trend to the next level, a leading kosher cruise and travel company, Kosherica, is now partnering with the Atlantis Paradise Island resort in the Bahamas to create a program for picturesque Jewish destination weddings and other celebrations (such as bar/bat mitzvahs).
Atlantis, a 20-year-old resort, is now providing everything from a decorated chuppah (wedding canopy) overlooking the vivid blue Bahamian waters, to a local rabbi, to cuisine prepared under the direction of world-class chefs, to a mashgiach (kosher supervisor). Some packages also include photography and dolphin swimming for the guests.
“Atlantis has the advantage of having a facility where you can make it into an entire wedding weekend, which is what most families want to do,” says Kosherica spokeswoman Aliza Seidman.
“Some families prefer to keep the weekend casual with buffet meals and maybe a Saturday night barbecue, and then the wedding on Sunday is more formal,” she adds.
In the fall of 2015, Avi and Nicole Yurman of Toronto were the first couple to be married under this partnership. “Having our chuppah overlooking the ocean was so beautiful,” says Nicole. “We were able to have a smaller wedding, just 115 family and close friends, in an unforgettable location. It was perfect for us.”
Kosherica, which was founded more than two decades ago, offers cruise travelers kosher food prepared by five-star chefs. “We’ve had winter weddings in tropical Caribbean, bar mitzvahs with Alaska glaciers in the backdrop and renewal vows in the gorgeous Mediterranean,” says Kosherica Chief Financial Officer Helit Edelstein.
How much will such a kosher destination wedding cost? Ceremony site fees for events for Kosherica start at $3,500, and costs are calculated based on how many guests and meals are included. The wedding packages with Atlantis run about $400 per person for the festive weekend.
Atlantis representatives anticipate that the partnership will be a fruitful one for everyone involved.
“In our efforts to continue to expand our offerings and market reach, we knew there was a need for kosher catering in the destination segment,” says Jessi Hill, Atlantis’s executive director of weddings and special events. “Groups wishing to hold true to their traditions don’t want to be limited in their geographic location.”
At least one rabbi is happy to welcome Jewish groups to the region.
“I applaud Atlantis for going out of their way to accommodate kosher weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs,” says Rabbi Sholom Bluming of Chabad of the Bahamas. “This program is a very exciting development for the island.”
But it’s probably even more exciting for the Jewish couples who embark on their lives together in these exotic locales.
“I like to say that aboard ship, we had an intimate honeymoon with 800 people, our kids and grandkids,” says Marsha Motzen, who recalls a memorable moment under the chuppah during which she wondered if the ship’s movements were strong enough to knock her off her three-inch heels.
Seven years have passed, but the memories live on for the Motzens and their incidental guests.
“I can’t tell you how many people come up to me after a concert, wherever I am in the world,” says Yaakov Motzen, “and they say, ‘You may not know this, but I was at your wedding!’”