More than just a wedding dress.
For Gili, modern love is about combining freedom with responsibility. “We are fortunate that we live in a time of greater freedom in love and can let our heart lead our choices” she says. But this freedom has its drawbacks. “It’s not good if we feel every day we could choose something or someone else. We need to commit to our choices.”
Gili, a Reform rabbi from Israel, believes that the marriage ceremony can be vital in making and deepening that commitment. “Many of the couples I marry have already lived together. Marriage for them is not the epic drama of the past or like the experience of traditional religious couples, when you are embarking on a completely new way of life.” But Gili emphasises to her couples that if they inject energy and commitment into the ceremony they can make the day “sacred and life-changing, something much more than a big party.”
To achieve this, Gili works with the couple as they decide which parts of a traditional wedding speak to them and which parts they should create anew. “When I see a couple putting as much thought into the ceremony as they do into the wedding dress, I know we’re in a good place.”
Wedding ceremonies need to be relevant, she says. She is moved by gay weddings “because I’m a lesbian but also because gay couples have to create their own language in the traditional ceremony and that makes the wedding a very personal journey.” Gili knows how difficult that can be. A Jewish wedding service doesn’t feel “so natural” to Gili’s partner of ten years and they haven’t yet acted out their plans to marry.
Gili performs only a limited number of weddings. Reform weddings in Israel lack legal standing and only a percentage of the population know about the options offered by the movement. “It’s a weird thing” but many Israelis who do choose a Reform wedding prefer a male rabbi to officiate. “They think it looks ‘correct,’ especially for their grandparents.” So, every wedding that Gili officiates at is more special still. “The shechinah, the divine presence, is present when we celebrate love. If we make ourselves part of the ceremony, it can take us to a higher place.”
From a largely secular family, Gili’s path to the rabbinate was far from predictable. As a young leader in the Israeli scout movement she was “exposed to the beauty” of a Reform congregation during a trip to Mississippi. She still sees a connection between the scouts and rabbinical life: “they’re both about creating community and meaning and there’s plenty of singing and sitting in a circle.” Nonetheless, she was surprised a few years later to find herself studying for the rabbinate as “I wasn’t devout.” However, the rabbinical seminary felt like “home” and she considers it a ‘blessing” to be with people and families in the important junctions and ceremonies of their lives. “Today, even more than in the past with all its restrictions, we need to believe in love. Love must be the torch. Love and religion are two names for one thing, for a unity.”