Rabbi Josh Lesser announced the formation of Weddings by Josh with his personal touch of officiating for Jewish, interfaith, and LGBTQ+ couples locally or at destinations.
With more than 23 years (now emeritus) as senior rabbi of Congregation Bet Haverim, he has been a catalyst for creativity and innovation – like pioneering LGBTQ+ Torah commentary, “Torah Queeries,” and being selected as one of the 100 Most Influential LGBTQ+ Clergy by the Huffington Post.
He said, “I welcome couples from all walks of life who want joyful and meaningful ceremonies. I work with those who are seeking a rabbi. At this time in our community, it remains essential that people feel embraced, celebrated, and supported. Too many interfaith couples still feel rebuffed and rejected. Weddings by Josh serves as a beacon to ensure that people know their love has a home in the Jewish community.”
Rabbi Lesser meets three to five times with couples to plan their weddings, plus often with family and the wedding planner to collaborate.
He added, “If couples want counseling, we set a package and, depending on the need, the cost varies. My cost for weddings is within the range of what other local rabbis charge; though, I’m on the higher end because I invest a great deal of time ensuring a personal touch. I believe in going the extra mile to ensure a smooth, connected, and joyful experience.”
Last year, he facilitated over 20 weddings because of the COVID backlog.
“During COVID, I stepped in for colleagues who had contracted the virus just days before the wedding. I immediately jumped to assure the couple that they were in caring hands. The groom’s mother remarked, ‘It was incredible; you made everyone feel welcome and as if you knew the couple from the start.’”
He also welcomes simpler ceremonies like elopements and vow renewals. For venues, Lesser takes advantage of the state’s beauty on farms and vineyards across North and West Georgia. Dahlonega, Piedmont Park, Cator Woolford Gardens at the Frazer Center, and industrial spaces in West Midtown, just to name a few. His favorite site was St Lucia, but he has also officiated weddings in Cozumel, Honolulu, Miami, Houston, San Diego, Joshua Tree National Park, and Asheville.
Recently, he worked with an interfaith couple where one was Ashkenazi Jewish and the other was Persian. The bride of Persian descent wanted some secular Persian traditions inspired by Islam. He found intersecting values and rituals that enhanced the wedding and honored the couple and their guests. He worked with the bride’s father in leading these rituals.
Bottom line, “Everyone deserves a rabbi who is a great fit for them.,” said Rabbi Lesser.
Read on to learn more about Rabbi Lesser’s services:
AJT: In a previous AJT interview, you estimated that in any population, 10 to 12 percent would fall in the LGBTQ+ category. The Georgia 2022 (Jewish Virtual Survey) estimate of Jewish residents is 141,000; thus, can we extrapolate to 14,000 now?
Lesser: Hard to calculate because we don’t all identify the same way. Atlanta remains the capital of the Gay South, and thus, many LGBT Jews and their loved ones live here. Our Jewish community is making a robust effort to welcome gay, bisexual, and lesbian Jews. We must continue to expand this work to ensure that nonbinary and transgender Jews feel included and seen as essential to our community. When I recently helped a family create a Hebrew naming ceremony for their transgender child, the affirmation and healing were apparent, as was their love of Jewish tradition.
AJT: What is some wisdom you share with interfaith couples?
Lesser: I turn to the partner of another faith and say, “Thank you for loving someone Jewish. We are a small and beautiful community–and we’re also complex and dynamic, even confusing. So by committing to your Jewish partner, you’re part of this wonderful people.” No one should feel that they are deficient because of who they love. I want to ensure that their union is celebrated and supported. This sets a path for future engagement and participation.”
AJT: What percent of LBGTQ+ unions are both Jewish?
Lesser: I don’t know except that I read the average is slightly lower than the straight average.
- STYLE Magazine
- Marcia Caller Jaffe
- Rabbi Josh Lesser
- Weddings by Josh
- Congregation Bet Haverim
- Torah Queeries
- Huffington Post
- alternative lifestyles
- piedmont park
- Cator Woolford Gardens at the Frazer Center
- San Diego
- Joshua Tree National Park
- Gay South