Monday, July 11, 2005

Viva Las Vegas...and Jewish Weddings

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Between my engagement in August 1993 and my marriage in December 1993, I used to say to my then-fiance: "I wish we could find a Jewish wedding chapel in Vegas, elope and start our life together already."

Apparently, these days you can do just that!

Tying the Knot While Rolling the Dice

by Leah Hochbaum

Between the drinking, the gambling and the legalized prostitution, Las Vegas just might be the most romantic spot on the planet for the biggest drunken gamble of them all: marriage. But while making your inebriated way down the aisle in this marriage mecca is as easy as pie for the average citizen, you have to look a little harder for the perfect wedding package if you’re one of the tribe.

Because while that bright-light city might set your soul on fire, it sure doesn’t make it easy to rustle up a rabbi on a moment’s notice. They tend not to cruise the strip. Slowly but surely, however, area hotels and chapels are breaking into the Jewish nuptials game.

The swanky Bellagio hotel offers the “Ani L’Dodi” (“My Beloved”) package, which includes a half-hour of chapel time, the services of a rabbi, a half-hour’s use of the bridal room pre-ceremony, a chuppah decorated with flowers and tulle, a kiddush cup, a Mazel Tov glass and lace bag by which to remember the big day, a personal wedding coordinator, a complimentary buffet for two and one bottle of Dom Perignon champagne — all for the low, low price of $6,000.

Caesars Palace offers a similar “Simchah” (“Happiness”) package that includes all the basics a Jewish wedding should have — rabbinical services, a kiddush cup, the signing of a ketubah (marriage contract) — as well as a wedding planner, champagne, chocolate-covered strawberries, a two-night stay at the hotel and online Webcasting of the actual ceremony for those relatives who couldn’t make the trip. An outdoor garden ceremony (and the musical accompaniment of either a violinist or guitarist) goes for $3,700. Use of the Palace Chapel (and a classical pianist) is $3,200.

To help put these prices into perspective, multimillionaire serial wife Britney Spears wed her childhood chum, Jason Alexander, in what she later called “a joke” that went out of control, ponying up $55 in cash for a marriage license at the famed Little White Wedding Chapel (where a pre-Ashton Demi Moore wed a pre-bald Bruce Willis back in the day) and shelling out $200 more for a package that included photos, a bouquet of pink roses and a video to commemorate a union that was annulled just 55 hours later.

For Jews on a budget — or those who, like Spears, can’t seem to pass up a bargain when they see one — there’s always the Princess Wedding Chapel, conveniently located on the strip. For only $550, their “L’Chayim” package includes the bare bones necessary for Jewish nups — wine, a kiddush cup, photos, a boutonniere, a bridal bouquet, music, a coordinator and a video. The place performs about 40 weddings total each week — two of which are generally “L’Chayims” officiated by a rabbi.

But while a holy man might be present to make sure that couples get hitched without a hitch according to Jewish law, many people who come to the Princess come for a true Vegas experience.

“We’re not dealing in traditional here,” said Renee Garduno, owner of the Princess Chapel. “We can bring Elvis.”

Yes, the King — who, according to reports, was once a Shabbos goy — can make an appearance to walk a jittery Jew down the aisle, to sing a love song or two, or to belt out “Viva Las Vegas” as the newly married couple exits into the night.

Whatever marriage method a Jewish duo decide on, once they’ve made up their minds to say “I do” in a city where, as Elvis once sang, “All you need’s a strong heart and a nerve of steel,” there’s most probably a wedding package designed for them.

But if the hotels are too pricey and the Princess is too kitschy, there’s always the Las Vegas Hilton’s Star Trek: The Experience wedding package. There may not be a rabbi or even another Jew for blocks, but hey, there’s Spock memorabilia and a makeshift bridge of the USS Enterprise upon which to conduct the ceremony. Few things feel as Jewish as a Klingon in the wedding photos.

Still, make sure that marriage is really what you want. If you regret the wedding tomorrow, Scotty can’t beam you out of this one. Only a divorce lawyer can.

This article originally appeared in the Forward, and is reprinted with permission.

Leah Hochbaum is a freelance writer living in New York.


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