The Rockleigh is back to making beautiful weddings. After lockdown this spring—prime wedding season—this event venue in Rockleigh, New Jersey, created a new arrangement with outdoor tents connected to the building amidst the facility’s lush gardens and fountains. Although the tents are separate, guests can go in and out for different parts of the simcha so it still feels like one event. Since the first event in early July, the Rockleigh has held four to five Glatt Kosher weddings a week, with the numbers increasing as allowed by state and local laws. The spacious grounds and tents can accommodate up to a few hundred socially distant guests. “By adding extra cleaning staff and wait staff, all masked and gloved, we have been able to keep our team safe and guests safe,” said Eddie Izso, director of sales for the glatt kosher division. “We have become the go-to facility for brides and grooms. And we have become the savior of families closed out of places in June.”
Indoors, there are multiple dressing and make-up suites for the bride and bridal party. Throughout the event, grandparents are given extra protection, starting with their own private suite to dress for photos. “It’s really wonderful to see the care many brides and grooms are taking for their older relatives,” said Izso. “Many families are putting plexiglass around grandparents for their protection.”
For the bedeken, the Rockleigh installed a low partition to keep people a safe six feet away from the bride. Walking to the chuppah, the aisle has been widened to 12 feet from the usual eight to increase distancing. The microphone at the chuppah is sanitized, and on the table under the chuppah there are gloves and sanitizer for the honored guests receiving kibbudim (honor).
The Rockleigh makes guests feel welcome and comfortable as soon as they arrive. Masked and gloved valets park cars or allow self-parking in the large parking lot. Monogrammed masks and bottles of sanitizer are handed out. Guests can use several attended bathrooms that allow a maximum of four people at any time. At the smorgasbord, plexiglass “sneeze guards” surround the “action stations.” Chefs and staff hand an individually served plate to each guest with utensils and a napkin.
One mother of a bride who is having a wedding next month at the Rockleigh said she called almost every venue that makes kosher weddings, and just a handful said they could do the kind of wedding she wanted. “We went to speak to all of them, but the Rockleigh was the only one that seemed to be following all the rules and made us comfortable with how they are handling the restrictions to keep everyone as safe as possible.”
Ricki Kudowitz’s daughter Sabrina got engaged last Thanksgiving and by February the wedding was just about completely planned. Then the pandemic hit. “For a while, she didn’t know what kind of wedding would be allowed,” said Kudowitz. “She wanted her siblings and their families and her grandparents to be there. We looked into backyard weddings. Then we found out about the Rockleigh, and learned that they were doing everything outside for a safe environment.”
The wedding took place last month, and Kudowitz said everything was perfect. “The cocktail hour was in the garden, the Tisch was in a tent, the ceremony was in a tent with open sides. Dinner was absolutely magnificent, served in a tent around the fountain and torches.”
Table seating is a concern in the COVID era, but Kudowitz said Izso told her she could have as many tables as she wanted, even if every couple wanted their own table. “Eddie was so accommodating and helpful. Everything went smoothly, just the way it was promised. It was not only a beautiful wedding, even more important, it was a safe wedding. I only have wonderful things to say.”
The Rockleigh has started doing indoor weddings, now that they are allowed at 25% capacity, or 150 guests. Heated tents will stay up through December for hosts and guests who are more comfortable with an outdoor event; for hybrid weddings both indoor and outdoor spaces will be used
With the current restrictions, the Rockleigh is doing smaller events than in the past, but that still means up to 350 people outside instead of 700. And there are advantages. “It’s a much warmer feeling, a more cohesive simcha,” said Izso. The Rockleigh is booking events for the remainder of 2020 and into 2021, indoors and outdoors, according to legal guidelines.
“Families and couples have told me they are so happy that we created a safe and magical evening for them, their families and guests,” said Izso. “Many times it has been at the last minute, but you’d never know as it all came about seamlessly.”
By Bracha Schwartz