Second (or third, or seventh) weddings tend to diverge from those of first-time spouses. Remarrying Jews may opt for a big white wedding — and doing so would hardly scandalize in an era of relaxed mores — but they are more likely, observers say, to have an intimate ceremony on the lawn than a grand event in the sanctuary.
Alison Haimes wore white to her first wedding — and black to her second. Marrying again at age 60, the Manhattan neuroradiologist tried on a white gown “and felt kind of ridiculous, frankly,” she recalled. “Also, I didn’t feel like I’d be able to wear it again.” So the chic divorcée, who is originally from Philadelphia, wore a black party dress when she married Walter Cook in January.
If Haimes’ second wedding gown hardly resembled her first, the rest of the affair looked pretty different, too. The couple’s adult children held up a family tallis as a chupah; their beaming ex-spouses made toasts to a party of just 70. “And our parents didn’t pay this time around,” added Haimes.
Fashion to family to finance, the Haimes-Cook affair typified the myriad ways in which second (or third, or seventh) weddings tend to diverge from those of first-time spouses. Remarrying Jews may opt for a big white wedding — and doing so would hardly scandalize in an era of relaxed mores — but they are more likely, observers say, to have an intimate ceremony on the lawn than a grand event in the sanctuary.
“Second weddings tend to be more personal,” noted Lisa Marie Chimento, a principal planner at Wayne-based Kaleidoscope Wedding Planners. “They’re for the bride and groom, not the parents or the parents’ friends. And the parties are more of an honest good time, not a show you’re putting on to compete.” Contrast that with the typical 20-something wedding, Chimento said, which often features bachelor and bachelorette parties, bridal showers, and legions of identically dressed attendants — planned largely by Mom, then judged by Facebook.
Seasoned brides and grooms have “been there, done that already,” confirmed Rabbi Robert Leib of Old York Road Temple-Beth Am in Abington, who has performed his share of second weddings over the decades. “Time and time again, what I’ve come across is the desire to reject formalities — to make it as sweet but simple and inclusive as possible.”
Sweet and simple is how widower Ralph Bloch, 89, describes his wedding to Anita, an 86-year-old widow he met in 2008 through JDate. With a collective 109 years of first-time marriage behind them, the pair was wed last year at Rydal Park, the senior living community in Jenkintown where they now reside.
Rabbi Leib performed the Reform ceremony for just 30 guests — the couple’s children, grandchildren and a handful of friends. “We didn’t have videotapes! Of course, we didn’t have videotapes when I got married the first time either,” noted Bloch with a chuckle. But for his initial foray into matrimony, “there were 150 people in a hotel, the whole schmear, cameras and all that nonsense.”
Dispensing with all that nonsense, as more than one second-timer put it, is one of the oft-acknowledged pleasures of a second wedding. As Phyllis Jablonowski, the longtime owner of Queen of Hearts Wedding Consultants in Glenside, explained: “The first time around, if the bride’s shade of nail polish doesn’t exactly match the colors on the program, there’s a national meltdown. The second time, you want to walk down the aisle naked? Great. Nobody cares.”
Perhaps that’s because there is less pressure to get married to begin with. While 20- and 30-somethings are frequently nudged toward the altar, either by one partner or by parents impatient for grandchildren, society has no particular interest in the formal joining of divorcés — especially those who, like the Blochs, are well past the childbearing years.
That dynamic explains the lengthy courtship of couples like Haimes and Cook, who met 15 years ago and lived on separate coasts for much of that time, all the while raising children with friendly ex-spouses. “We didn’t feel that we needed to be married,” reflected Haimes. “And then we turned 60, and there was something about that milestone. We really do feel like a family now, and it just seemed like the right time.”
Family often takes on a new emphasis in remarriage — with children, in-laws, grandchildren and remarried ex-spouses all common presences under the chupah. “What I love about these second weddings is the intimacy,” said Rabbi Leib. “They are quite literally surrounded by their loved ones. There are fewer people, but they’ve all known each other longer.”
Smaller gatherings are a matter of custom and taste rather than Jewish ritual, according to Rabbi Yonah Gross of the Orthodox Congregation Beth Hamedrosh in Wynnewood. But second weddings do not call for the seven days of halachically mandated celebration, known as the sheva b’racha, that are observed after first-time nuptials, the rabbi noted. “It may be a shorter period if one person has been previously married,” Rabbi Gross explained. “I think it recognizes that it’s more of a subdued moment; it’s not the youthful exuberance of a wedding the first time around.”
Subdued or exuberant, second weddings often celebrate triumph over the kinds of challenges most 20-somethings never consider. When Marla Rosenthol married five years after surviving breast cancer — a diagnosis she received three months into her relationship with Leonard, a computer scientist — “we had a lot to celebrate,” said the Huntingdon Valley mother of three, now 53. The couple, who met as divorced parents in 2001, were also formalizing what Rosenthol calls a “mixed marriage,” a thoughtfully negotiated lifestyle that combined her Reform values and his Orthodox practice.
Their 2006 wedding, at which both Rabbi Leib Rabbi Menachem Schmidt of Lubavitch of Philadelphia participated in the ceremony, included an English-language ketubah reading, separate-sex dancing and a host of traditional Jewish rituals for which Rosenthol has newfound appreciation. “We were celebrating what we got from each other,” she explained. “He got a more balanced life from me, and I got more Yiddishkeit, more deeper meaning about our religion from him.”
When Robin Gabel marries Dr. Gary Gilman this spring, it’ll be enough to finally get each other. The Gulph Mills couple in their 50s, who met on JDate nine years ago, endured lengthy, complicated divorces — both Jewish and civil — and now want to wed as quickly as possible. So Rabbi Eric Yanoff will officiate for about 15 guests at Congregation Adath Israel in Merion Station; a larger crowd will gather for a reception in November.
“There’s a lot of joy in this, because we’ve waited so long,” said Gabel, who works in biotech sales. “And we went through an awful lot to get here.” No pun intended: A Jewish divorce, called a get, is required for remarriage in the Conservative and Orthodox movements and can be particularly fraught for a woman, who, under Jewish law, requires her husband’s consent to divorce.
Gabel is on excellent terms with her ex and had nothing but praise for Rabbi Yanoff’s guidance. But the divorce experience, she explained, made her uncomfortably aware of the struggle of many less-fortunate Jewish women to obtain a freedom that is automatically granted to men. “It was more involved than I thought,” said Gabel, recalling a hectic gathering of witness rabbis to finalize the get — and their raised eyebrows when her fiancé and her freshly divorced ex-husband hugged warmly in the corridor.
While Reform rabbis take a lenient stance toward the get, Jewish divorce is “a cornerstone” for the Conservative movement, said Rabbi Yanoff. “We want to make sure that people are either clearly married or clearly not married according to Jewish law,” he explained. “We don’t want any questions about it. We believe this is helping people.” The Jewish teaching on love – “ahava” in Hebrew — is in fact based on treaty language, said Rabbi Yanoff, noting that marriage is “a deep, loyal, legal commitment.”
In addition to second-time legal considerations, there are sartorial ones as well. While few brides today feel bound by conventional dictates, said Jablonowski, many still opt for the traditional ivory rather than white. Alice Bloch wore sugar-pink lace; Robin Gabel, who felt white “just didn’t seem to be appropriate,” will don a champagne-hued dress with a blue jeweled sash for her April nuptials.
More modest, less explicitly bridal attire may reflect a desire to be practical above all, noted Chimento. With college bills and retirement looming, “they don’t want to spend a lot of money,” said the wedding planner. “Also, they remember how uncomfortable their gorgeous dress was the first time around.”
Nothing is more comfortable than a sundress — the attire of choice for an increasing number of second-time brides who choose a destination wedding. Getting hitched on a far-away beach or a cruise ship “gets around the guest-list issue, there are plenty of things to do for the kids, and it’s totally different in feel from the first time around,” explained Jablonowski. She added that those who marry far away will often host a casual celebration back home, allowing a larger crowd to celebrate without the expense or gift expectations of a formal wedding.
And what exactly are those expectations? Gifts are a sensitive topic, given how lavishly some may have fêted the bride or groom the first time around — and how irrelevant service for 12 may be to the typical midlife couple. These factors explain why gift registries are uncommon for second-timers, with any wish list more likely to include Tahiti than tableware.
To relieve guests of obligation, some couples ask guests for a charitable contribution in lieu of presents; others specify “no gifts” on the invitation, as Haimes and Cook did. Liberated from the registry, many of their well-wishers gave the kinds of treats first-timers could only wish for, Haimes reported: high-quality alcohol, gift certificates for dinners on the European honeymoon, spa getaways.
“Truly, second weddings are much more open,” said Jablonowski. “The first time, everyone had a million opinions — you have to have this band, that centerpiece, wear this kind of dress. But the second time, everyone is just genuinely happy for your happiness. Second weddings are a very freeing place to be.”