It’s Spotlight Day, where we introduce you to Rabbi Sanford Olshansky from Wedding Rabbi Florida and share stories about the company.
When people ask “what do you do?” how do you answer?
I’m a rabbi, semi-retired. I teach part-time at the University of Central Florida (UCF) and perform a lot of weddings.
What did you do before you did this?
I worked for 35 years in sales and marketing, first in the electronics industry and then in the advertising industry.
When and how did you get into the wedding industry?
I started performing weddings as the second rabbi at a large synagogue in New Jersey. At first, I performed synagogue member weddings that were scheduled during the senior rabbi’s vacation. Soon non-members started asking me to perform weddings.
How long would you say you’ve been doing what you do today?
I’m a “second career” rabbi. I was ordained in 2011 but started doing weddings in 2010 because I was already serving in a synagogue and in New York, the city clerk registers officiants based on a letter from the congregation president.
How did your work evolve to get you to where you are today?
In New Jersey, I was not allowed to marry interfaith couples because my senior rabbi was Conservative and was not allowed to do so. When I moved to Florida, as a Reform rabbi, I started marrying interfaith couples, who make up the great majority of Jewish weddings. There are few Reform rabbis in Central Florida and many weddings of interfaith couples, so I’m kept pretty busy, which I appreciate.
What is your favorite thing about what you do? What’s your WHY?
I enjoy getting to know couples who have come to me to be married and helping to create a beautiful and meaningful experience for them. I love the creative process of customizing and personalizing the wedding ceremony so it works for the couple and their families.
Tell us about your most memorable event so far and why it was.
I did a wedding in a major theme park that was later shown on TV. Theme park weddings have to be done after the park closes or before it opens. This ceremony took place at 11 pm. It would have been a bit eerie except that the park’s music runs 24/7 to keep all the staff in the spirit of the place. After the ceremony the couple and their guests got a surprise concert from a major recording artist!
What’s the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is seeing how couples smile at each other and often laugh when I deliver personal remarks about them.
What motivates you to do this every day?
I love working with couples at a happy time in their lives. I love the creative aspects of planning the ceremony with them because every couple is different. I love getting to know the couples so I can speak about them personally during the ceremony. (I never use a wedding ceremony as an occasion to give a sermon.)
What fun fact would people be surprised to learn about you?
This past summer my wife and I did an 8,500-mile road trip, through 23 states, over 5 weeks. We had never done anything like that before. In Colorado Springs I drove up and down Pike’s Peak — over 12,000 feet of hairpin turns and no guardrails. The rangers gave me a round of applause when I got to the bottom because I had followed instructions to use a low gear and didn’t overheat my brakes.
What is the best compliment you’ve received from your clients?
One couple told me after they had been married for a while that they often read my wedding remarks about them to each other!
How did you decide on the name of your company?
I created a website and tried various combinations until I found one that was still available.
What is important for clients to know about your company before they book you?
I could have retired in 2007. I perform weddings because I want to, not to pay my mortgage.
What is the most unique service/product you offer?
I give each spouse six index cards that say “Remember (other spouse), you love me anyway!”
What types of events do you specialize in?
I specialize in ceremonies that are mostly Jewish, yet make people of other backgrounds comfortable.
What makes your business stand out from others in your category?
I usually meet with couples 3 times and I always assign them “homework.” The most important part of that is to answer 3 questions: What does each of you especially love about the other? When and how did each of you decide that the other is “the one”? What is going to change now that you’re getting married? Their answers are the basis of my personal remarks about them in the ceremony.
Tell us about your favorite type of engaged couple.
My favorite couple is one that wants to understand all the ceremony options and make informed choices.
Why do couples hire you?
I believe most couples hire me because I make it clear that I understand the wedding is about them and for them.
What does your most popular package include?
My most popular package includes the ceremony, three meetings (in person or by Skype), and rehearsal participation.
Why do you think your business is successful?
I believe couples appreciate my willingness to customize the ceremony so it works for them and their families. I think the couples also appreciate that I want to meet with them, in person or by video chat, so I can get to know them and so they can get to know me. They realize that I believe doing a beautiful, meaningful ceremony is a partnership between me and them and they appreciate my approach.
What are the most common questions you get asked by brides and/or grooms?
Do you have a portable chuppah (wedding canopy) we can use? I do. I built it. I don’t charge for it.
Do non-Jewish male guests have to wear a kippah/yarmulke (skull cap)? No, it’s entirely optional.
Do we have to wait for sundown on Saturday? No, the late afternoon will show respect for the Sabbath.
The best piece of advice for someone that just got engaged?
Book your officiant as soon as possible after you book your venue.
What current trends have you seen at weddings that you like the most?
A growing number of couples want an “unplugged” ceremony. They ask guests to turn their phones off, not just put them on vibrate or silent, so the guests aren’t taking pictures during the ceremony. Also, more couples are doing a “first look” and getting most of their photos done before the ceremony so they have more time to socialize with their guests during the cocktail hour.
What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about your vendor category?
Many people think there is only one set way to do a Jewish ceremony. They don’t realize that it’s possible to be traditional and flexible.
Name three unique venues that you enjoy working at and why.
I enjoy working at Bella Collina, in Monte Verde, because it has such beautiful views and the staff is very friendly and professional.
I also love the Four Seasons, in the Disney area, because it is so classy and modern
I like Luxmore Grand Estate, in Winter Springs because of its classic Antebellum Southern charm (although it is actually a modern building).
What some of their previous couples had to say….
“Rabbi O. was absolutely incredible as the officiant of our wedding! He took great care to get to know us a couple. Through several meetings with him before the wedding, Rabbi O. was able to learn about us, helping to add an amazing personal touch to the wedding ceremony. At the ceremony, he was organized, caring, and genuinely happy for us on our big day. We couldn’t be more grateful that Rabbi O. officiated our wedding. We’ll never forget him!” – Ilene, Maitland Art Center
“Rabbi Opshansky was a tremendous help in our wedding. Everything went beautifully in the wedding ceremony and everything was exactly the way we preferred. He let us know of his schedule we let them know ours and we met in the middle. I don’t think I could ask for anybody better exclamation 20 out of 10 stars for sure. Also to add on, he went out of his way to do the bread-breaking for the reception. Would HIGHLY recommend.” – Sam, Marriott Courtyard, Cocoa Beach
“Rabbi Olshansky married my wife me. He did an excellent job. Throughout the prior 12 months before we got married, he made a number of trips to Orlando to meet with us and get to know us. I really appreciated this. He was very knowledgeable about the prayers and traditions. Finally, he is very personable and legitimately cares to get to know you. I would highly recommend him to anyone who is looking to get married in Central Florida.” – Joe, Orchid Garden, Downtown Orlando
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