This past weekend, we attended the wedding celebration of the son of good friends in Boston. Purely by coincidence, he married the daughter of someone with whom I have worked with for many years. There are lots of coincidences with this young couple. Their initials are J.W. Their dads are both named David. Their parents have the same anniversary. Sometimes one wonders.
This wedding ceremony was truly a wonderful Jewish celebration of the love that two people have for each other. Under the Chupah, Rabbi Todd Markley combined the personal with the ritual. It was a perfect setting in the hotel ballroom with a sunset view of the mouth of Boston’s Charles River and the skyline that includes the historic Science Museum and iconic Boston Garden.
Besides the Motzi and the Hora, that really was it on the Jewish ritual. And that is how it is at most Jewish weddings.
Back in the 1980s, when our friends and my wife and I were all getting married, it seemed more common for people to have both their ceremony and celebration at a synagogue. Today, as I understand it from the friends of our son and daughter, it is all about the venue.
Of course hotels, restaurants and catering establishments all seem better equipped than a synagogue to take care of what needs to be taken care of when hosting 125 people or more for dinner and dancing.
Several years ago, I attended a workshop at a gathering of synagogue leaders where a gentleman from a synagogue in Toronto was sharing how his synagogue had developed a successful marketing plan for its facility to be a wedding venue. Their target audience was not only its membership, but also any couple wanting a Jewish wedding. He also spoke about how the income generated by this line of business was substantial and something the synagogue depended on each year as part of its budgeted income. He highlighted the investment of capital that was made for improved kitchen facilities, additional tables and chairs, as well as an upgrade of the actual rooms.
It follows the saying “one has to spend money to make money”.
I am not a big fan of synagogues as catering halls. There are a number of synagogues that do enter in to an agreement with caterers. I have written about synagogues monetizing their building and this fits into that theme. It is great if it helps the bottom line. But this “line of business” can’t be a major focus of how the synagogue board spends its time.
Synagogue leaders shouldn’t really be concerned about why young couples are not choosing the synagogue as a wedding celebration venue. The same is also true for families planning their B’nai Mitzvah celebration. The venue is a priority to many and hotels, restaurants, and even some catering halls because of what they offer are most often the preferred choice.
Creating Jewish community and ways to do that should be the true bottom line for a synagogue rather than the need for income from wedding and B’nai Mitzvah celebrations, or other facility rentals.