Sisterhood Blog

In Praise of the Rabbi Who Married Chelsea Clinton

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

  • Print
  • Share Share
Rabbi James Ponet

When selecting a rabbi to co-officiate at their wedding, Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky made a wise choice in selecting Rabbi James Ponet. Not many people can tell you this from personal experience, but I can: The guy does great intermarriages.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I married a Jewish man. But I would dare to say that my marriage involved just as much delicate juggling of traditions as that of the Methodist daughter of the former president and current secretary of state and her Jewish husband. And Rabbi Ponet did it with style and grace.

Like the Clinton-Mezvinsky clan, we thought that Jim was worth transporting from New Haven. My Israeli husband became friendly with him at Yale in the 1980s, when he arrived there as a foreign student, not knowing a soul. He was immediately welcomed into the warm circle of Ponet’s Hillel house. Ponet — known by students simply as “Jim” — spent a number of years in Israel and is fluent in Hebrew. Soon, he and my husband’s Hillel director-student relationship evolved into a real friendship.

After we met and decided to marry in Washington, DC, Jim was clearly the man who seemed up to the task of officiating at our wedding, and we were thankful he was able to make the trip. He was charged with the task of creating a ceremony that would satisfy my New England Reform parents and the Jerusalem Orthodox parents of my husband-to-be. And of course, we were also hoping that it could also be meaningful to us. But that was just a bonus.

And so he delivered as few other rabbis could — a fully bilingual Hebrew-English, “by the book” Orthodox ceremony delivered in a modern and relevant (and highly entertaining) manner. Both sets of parents — and my husband and I! — were completely satisfied. Jim made everyone feel comfortable, and I will always be grateful to him for that.

Back then, he was still a relatively young, though already a highly popular rabbi. Today he is a Yale institution, who presided over the physical transformation of the Yale Jewish community — from a series of makeshift basements and temporary spaces into the impressive Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale.

Ponet is officially a Reform rabbi, but is on traditional side when it comes to his own personal practice. It came as a surprise to us that he would agree to participate in an interfaith ceremony.

But one can imagine that it isn’t easy for the Yale Hillel director to say “no” to the Clintons, particularly when it seems that they were open to incorporating many Jewish traditions in the ceremony. And since this was the most high-profile interfaith ceremony in American history, I’m glad that it was in good hands.

So mazel tov, Chelsea. May the quality of your marriage and your relationship with Judaism — at whatever level you choose to embrace it — live up to the spirit of the man whose name graces your ketubah.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Rabbi Ponet, Marc Mezvinsky, Jim Ponet, James Ponet, Interfaith Wedding, Chelsea Clinton, Yale

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.