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A destination wedding that meets all the familiar needs.
Images by Sarani Estrada
When Franchesca Kotik announced she had found a rabbi in Cancun to marry her and fiancé Steve Vaynberg, her family initially thought she was joking.
“I had to assure them, ‘Yes, rabbis do exist there. They aren’t unicorns. Mexico does have a Jewish population,’” she laughs recalling the search for a reform rabbi in Cancun.
This was just one of the items on Kotik’s to-do list for hosting a traditional Jewish wedding 2,800 miles from their home in Los Angeles. She knew it wouldn’t be easy, but having their faith be a part of their wedding day was a nonnegotiable.
“For me, the religious aspect was the most important part of the wedding,” Kotik explains. “Yes, I cared about the party and the flowers and all the other details but, for me, the religious aspect is the marriage. It is Steve and I making promises to each other in front of God.”
The second most important, and equally challenging, item on the couple’s wedding day wish list was being surrounded by only their closest family and friends.
“Steve and I come from a large Russian-Jewish community here in Los Angeles,” Kotik explains. “If we got married locally, we would pretty much have to invite everyone from the community—even if they only met us once as a child. We both concluded we didn’t want a 600-person wedding. What we really wanted was an intimate event with the people who knew us most.”
Their solution: a destination wedding.
“At first, I think the family imagined a destination wedding to be that very preconceived notion of just a party,” Kotik said. “But in our case, we decided to do a destination wedding because it allowed us to have a smaller, more intimate event.”
The final guest list for the couple’s June wedding still included an impressive 112 friends and family members. But with help from Weddings by Funjet, wedding concierge Karmen Schmid and the team at Royalton Riviera Cancun, the meaningful getaway Kotik and Vaynberg envisioned quickly redefined any destination wedding preconceptions.
“There is a lot to consider when incorporating someone’s faith into their wedding,” Weddings by Funjet wedding concierge, Schmid, says of the planning process. “It is important to fully understand the needs of each bride and their family to ensure all their wishes and traditions are honored accordingly.”
For the Kotik-Vaynberg wedding, it started with finding the right rabbi, in their case Rabbi Steve Siegel, a native New Yorker who relocated to Mexico. The celebration continued with exchanging vows under a custom-built chuppa, having the traditional challah bread blessed by Vaynberg’s father before the reception, and doing the Horah dance. But perhaps the most significant aspect woven into all the festivities was the Ketubah signing, the Jewish marriage contract.
“We reserved a private location for the Ketubah signing for the couple and their immediate families,” Schmid explains. “This is a very intimate moment for Jewish couples, and we wanted to make it as special as possible.”
Adds Kotik, “If I had to trim down the entire wedding to one favorite element, the Ketubah signing was it. That act of signing the marriage contract that defined marriage for me.”
Equally important as the many religious details that made Kotik and Vaynberg’s wedding meaningful, was choosing a location and resort that made the entire event memorable. Knowing they would have guests traveling with young families, as well as guests traveling without kids, and their budget-conscious friends in the early years of their careers, Kotik and Vaynberg considered several factors when making their decision.
“We also knew we would have family and friends coming from both Los Angeles and New York, where Steve was born and still has family,” Kotik explains. “Cancun was actually a great middle point and had a lot more options hotel-wise for family- and budget-friendly accommodations.”
They selected the Royalton Riviera Cancun for its ideal location, wide range of amenities suitable for both couples and families, and its affordability.
“Keep in mind who is on your guest list when choosing your resort and the price point,” Kotik advises, “because it’s not just paying for the hotel. It’s also the flight to the hotel and all the incidentals.”
Schmid adds that while family and friends will likely be thrilled to celebrate with you abroad, a destination wedding is still a large expense to ask of your guests.
“[Franchesca and Steve] thought about every person attending their wedding when they were planning,” Schmid recalls. “They wanted their wedding to be amazing for themselves, of course, but they also wanted to make this celebration amazing for their guests, almost like a thank you to all of their friends and family for traveling with them to share in their wedding day.”
Months later, Kotik and Vaynberg’s vision is sweet memory filled with fun, family and tradition that they—and guests—are still talking about.
“We’ve had several people tell us they still think about the wedding,” Kotik says. “It was such a joyous wedding with all the religious aspects and people closest to us helping us celebrate this new chapter of our life.”