Two rabbis marry in a conservative LGBTQ + Jewish wedding

You could call it bashert: 15 years after a landmark decision in the Conservative Judaism movement that paved the way for gay and lesbian students to enter their rabbinic schools and for rabbis to perform same-sex weddings, it would seem fate that two conservative rabbis did. get marry.

Rabbi Ariella Rosen and Rabbi Becca Walker were married at the Conservative movement camp in Palmer, Massachusetts, last month, with another queer rabbi, Megan GoldMarche, officiating. Rosen’s father, Rabbi Jim Rosen, also played a role.

“It seems we shouldn’t be pioneers,” Walker told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. And yet she and Rosen made history as the first same-sex marriage between two conservative rabbis, according to Rabbi Ashira Konigsburg, director of operations for the movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, who said the organization was not aware of any other.

The conservative movement adopted legal rulings designed to make gay and lesbian Jews “feel accepted and welcomed” in their synagogues and communities. The following year, its two American rabbinical schools admitted their first homosexual students. And in 2012, the movement first issued guidelines for same-sex weddings, although many rabbis had already been conducting them.

Now openly gay conservative rabbis work in a variety of settings, and while many have married, including others working in the Jewish world, so far none have paired up like Rosen and Walker did.

Camp Ramah children’s camp in the Poconos, illustrative image (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Until recently, Walker, 33, was the assistant rabbi at Toronto’s Beth David congregation; Rosen, 35, is a senior Jewish educator in Hillel Ontario.

They met at a Rabbinical Assembly retreat in May 2018 for female rabbis who began their careers at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Connecticut.

They first clicked as conversation partners in a workshop. On a walk, they ended up just talking to each other. Then they stayed up late talking over a campfire, long after everyone else had gone to sleep.

Both women grew up in New England and met as college students in the joint Jewish Studies program between List College and Columbia University.

Rosen was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York in 2015 (she is one of four people in her immediate family who attended JTS). Walker was ordained by the Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies at the American Jewish University of Los Angeles in 2016.

GoldMarche, who married them, said she saw him come that night at the campfire before they did. While Rosen thought she made it clear she was weird, Walker says no; Walker spent much of the retreat wondering if they were connecting as friends or something else.

Walker finished his last year of college, while Rosen did so a year after ordination. Rosen was then living in Philadelphia and Walker in East Lansing, Michigan. In August 2018, Rosen went to visit Walker; she was the first woman Rosen had dated.

Their relationship started long distance, either by visiting or meeting elsewhere. In July 2019, Walker moved to Toronto. Meanwhile, Rosen had left Philadelphia for New York, planning to join Walker in the summer of 2020; that was, until the pandemic hit. Instead, they moved in with Rosen’s family to West Hartford, Connecticut.

“We made a great transition from long distance to never not being together,” Walker said. “But seeing how easy it is to live life together, even with everything that is difficult around us, we feel like we can do this.”

They enjoy learning Torah together, or teaching a class together… sometimes.

“We are not ‘rabbis’ among ourselves,” Rosen said. “Since we are both rabbis, it is very important to be able to turn off that piece.”

They knew they wanted a proper wedding when it was safe to meet. But they also learned that Rosen could join Walker in Canada only if they were legally married.

Then, in May 2020, her friend Julie Finkelstein, senior director of strategy and program innovation at the Foundation for the Jewish Camp, held a civil ceremony on a Brooklyn rooftop (Rosen was still a resident of New York). They deliberately decided not to have a rabbi officiate and, although they were legally married at the time, they refer to that ceremony as their “engagement.”

In July 2020, they both moved to Toronto.

On October 24, they had their Jewish wedding at the location where Rosen attended Shabbat services as a Ramah camper. It was an egalitarian ceremony in which some blessings were exchanged to say “bride and bride,” and each woman broke a glass. There were about 100 guests, among them, they estimate, 19 rabbis, a cantor and a rabbinical student.

They changed the traditional language of the ring exchange to what the conservative movement calls a “brit ahuvot” or pact of love.

“It was a privilege that we carry that others before us had already done the important work of creating a framework that felt meaningful to us and viable for who we are,” said Rosen.

While most, if not all, of the guests were vaccinated, the ceremony, reception, and dance were held outdoors, and apple pie was served instead of pie. Both brides wore Dr. Martens combat boots with their wedding dresses.

Speaking from the perspective of a queer rabbi who marries two of her queer female colleagues, Walker said, “I’m happy that more people are seeing this as it makes people feel like there is a place for them too.”

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