Philadelphia Mayor Nutter Conducts Same-Sex Wedding of Israeli Diplomat

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Israel's No. 2 diplomat in Philadelphia weds his partner in a first at City Hall. 

Nervously waiting for Mayor Michael Nutter to arrive and preside over his wedding at Philadelphia’s City Hall on Thursday, Elad Strohmayer, Israel’s deputy consul general to the mid-Atlantic region, joked that the politician must be on "Jewish time." 
 
That is to say, more than fashionably late.
 
Nutter did eventually show up nearly an hour late, delayed, it turned out, by a meeting with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. 
 
Strohmayer and his partner, Oren Ben-Yosef — wearing matching suits, purple ties, kipot and even socks — seemed unperturbed by the delay and expressed excitement at having guests join them from Italy, Israel and Amsterdam.
 
"They love us," Ben-Yosef said by way of explanation at such an international crowd, which also included many local Jewish organizational officials. Though most of the couple's close family and friends had arrived from Israel, the ceremony kicked off with Strohmayer's mother, who was unable to travel for the wedding due to an illness, tuning in through a video call.

Nutter, who was presiding over the marriage of non-U.S. citizens for the first time, co-officiated alongside Rabbi Michael Beals of Congregation Beth Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in Wilmington, Del. 

Although it wasn't the first Jewish wedding he had co-officiated at, it was the first one inside City Hall, Nutter told the Exponent after the ceremony, and it was most definitely the first one in which he read the ketubah.

The wedding included all the traditional elements of a Jewish ceremony, including a chupah, ketubah, the seven blessings, the exchanging of rings and the breaking of the glass — two glasses, in fact, one for each groom.

Beals, who provided the tallit for the chupah — the same one used for his own wedding — said he was a strong proponent of legalizing gay marriage in Pennsylvania and was delighted to be officiating at the event. He said this wasn't his first same-sex marriage, but his first male one. Beals said he met Strohmayer at a conference several years ago, and at that time, he recalled, the Israeli envoy told him that whenever he gets married, he wanted Beals to officiate.

Before the ceremony, Strohmayer cited Nutter’s “excellent work to promote Israeli and LGBT interests in Philadelphia” as one of the reasons he was so excited to have the mayor presiding over the wedding, which he called a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The Israeli diplomat, who has held his position at the consulate since 2012, said that he met Ben-Yosef during last year’s Gay Pride Parade in Tel Aviv.

“It was like a fairy tale, falling in love, when you know you know,” said Strohmayer, 33. “That was what triggered the decision eventually that we want to be together for the rest of our lives.”

Ben-Yosef, 42, who has worked as a high-tech executive, including a stint with Microsoft, moved to Philadelphia over Labor Day weekend to be with Strohmayer.

The two exchanged poignant vows during the ceremony, declaring their eternal love for each other. Strohmayer elicited giggles from the crowd when, as part of his vows, he referenced his diplomatic career in reciting the lyrics from  "A Whole New World," the song from Disney's Aladdin movie, that begins: "I can show you the world."

Same-sex marriages cannot be legally performed in Israel — marriages in the Jewish state currently fall under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and must meet Jewish law according to Orthodox standards — but Israel does recognize same-sex marriages, as well as other non-Orthodox marriages, that take place elsewhere.

Pennsylvania legalized gay marriage on May 20, 2014, at which time a Jewish lesbian couple made history by becoming the first same-sex couple to obtain a marriage license in Philadelphia.

Nutter's press secretary, Mark McDonald, said Strohmayer had approached the mayor about his wedding some months ago during an event. The mayor's team had to check the legality of it all — it was determined that the wedding was "doable" because Strohmayer and Ben-Yosef are considered Pennsylvanian residents — before agreeing to the decision. 

Strohmayer said his diplomatic colleagues in both Israel and the United States have been very supportive. He called Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs “the most liberal ministry of the Israeli government” and noted that it has recognized gay couples since 1995.

“One thing I can say as a personal wish is that one day we will be able to perform weddings in Israel, and not just be recognized,” Strohmayer said before the wedding. “We got only congratulations from all spectrums of religion in Israel, from Orthodox to secular friends — everyone congratulated us."

Strohmayer had sought considerable media publicity for Thursday's wedding to showcase a different side of Israel, he said. "I think our wedding sends a strong, clear message of light and hope for gay people, for Jewish people, for the relationship between people in general. This is what the relationship between Philadelphia and Israel is all about — freedom, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Consul General Yaron Sideman, the top official at the consulate, said it was "commendable" that the couple had decided to open up the wedding to the community and to the media.

“I salute them for it,” he said. “It shows another side of Israel, its openness to gay rights and the LGBT community." He noted that Strohmayer had also participated in the  international Gay Games in Ohio over the summer, representing Israel and bringing back a gold medal as part of a winning international sailing team.

Both the mayor and the rabbi alluded several times to the importance of being able to perform a same-sex wedding in the City of Brotherly love, in a state founded on the principal of religious liberty. Among the some 150 guests were Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell and Nurit Shein, a Philadelphia couple who held one of the first Jewish same-sex weddings in the United States.

This is "huge. This is what the commonwealth was founded for," said Levi Elwell, whose first ceremony was a religious one in the backyard of their home in 1998. Ten years later, they were legally recognized in a ceremony in California, and this year, they made it official in Pennsylvania. 

She, like others, cited the Philadelphia-Tel Aviv sister city link, with Ben-Yosef coming from Tel Aviv and Strohmayer from the Tel Aviv suburb of Bat Yam.

"It is so profound," she said, "to have the opportunity to celebrate this incredible occasion in City Hall."

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