After becoming an ordained minister five years ago, Zak Rosen has performed six Jewish and nondenominational weddings, including the surprise wedding of his mom.
Five years ago, Zak Rosen went online to the Universal Life Church website and became an ordained minister for $29.99. With his instant credentials in hand, Rosen officiated his best friend’s wedding.
Since then, Rosen has performed six Jewish and nondenominational weddings, including the surprise wedding of his mom, Jo Strausz Rosen, to Andy Nickelhoff.
It was 10 days before Thanksgiving 2019, and Zak, his wife, Shira Heisler, and their daughter, Noa, were visiting Rosen and Nickelhoff. Always the consummate, organized hostess, Rosen had emailed the 40 guests their Thanksgiving invitation and assigned menu items six weeks prior. With the Thanksgiving plans well under way, the conversation then turned to possible wedding dates for Rosen and Nickelhoff, who had gotten engaged in Florence, Italy, in October after three years of dating and finding each other on match.com.
“We had the honeymoon before the wedding,” said Rosen, the executive director of development for Jewish Senior Life. “We were initially thinking of getting married in the spring, and then when the kids were over, we thought, ‘Why not? Let’s do it on Thanksgiving and surprise our friends and family.’”
With less than two weeks to go before the nuptials, everyone went into stealth planning mode. Rosen’s two children and their spouses and Nickelhoff’s three children had their assignments. Zak would write the ceremony and Rosen and Nickelhoff would write their vows. It was decided that Rosen’s three grandchildren, ages 9, 6 and 2 at the time, would be told at the last minute so as not to accidentally leak the news.
“The biggest challenge was getting my daughter a flight in from Portland at the last minute for the busy holiday weekend,” said Nickelhoff, an employment and labor attorney. “This was the first time that all of our kids were in the same place.”
Rosen added, “It was a very special bonding for our two families.”
On Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28, the guests started arriving for the 5 p.m. dinner at Rosen’s West Bloomfield home.
“Welcome, everyone, to Thanksgiving,” Zak, the director of podcasts for Graham Media Group, announced. “If you can take a seat, we’ll be having a wedding in five minutes.”
“No one had any idea,” Zak recalled. “They were caught completely off-guard.”
The guests were shocked and excited.
“One person asked, ‘Does Jo know?’ It was pretty funny,” Nickelhoff said.
Rosen, Nickelhoff and the kids and grandkids then left the room to change into their wedding attire. The guests pushed couches and chairs together in the family room. The armoire served as their makeshift chuppah, adorned with white roses.
The two granddaughters wore matching red lace dresses that Rosen and Nickelhoff bought in Italy the month before in anticipation of the future wedding. Nickelhoff wore a suit with a boutonniere, and Rosen wore a long Japanese kimono with a skinny skirt and silver boots. After a day of cooking and some last-minute meditation, Rosen’s goal was to be comfortable and “just be us.”
“She looked ravishing,” Nickelhoff said adoringly.
The ceremony was comfortable and personalized as well. Zak had emailed a series of questions in advance to the bride and groom. Along with the Jewish traditional Sheva Brachot and breaking of the glass, Zak added special touches, including a wedding parody and group sing-a-long that he and his sister, Lindsey Maddin, wrote to the Beatles’ tune of “In My Life.”
“I was so honored that my mom asked me to conduct their ceremony; it’s something that I never would have expected,” Zak said. “It was very surreal, officiating my mother’s wedding in the house that I grew up in, surrounded by the people who helped raise me. It was very emotional, combined with the nerves of being the officiant and facilitating the event.”
According to Rosen and Nickelhoff, the wedding had it all — minus the hora. it was a little too crowded in the family room for that.
“It was a do-it-yourself wedding with all of our loved ones,” Rosen added. “It was perfection.”