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Woman Trains to Marry Jewish Couples in Underwater Weddings
Alexia Campbell
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Getting married can be an elaborate, stressful affair. Now try it 20 feet under water - and make it a Jewish wedding, where the groom is expected to smash a wrapped glass under his heel.

No problem, says Debbi Ballard. The ordained Jewish cantor is training at a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., scuba shop to perform underwater ceremonies where the groom can smash a lightbulb with his flipper and the couple can sip wine out of a sippy cup.

"Not everyone is cut out for a white wedding," said Ballard, 47.

Pro Dive International, which plans to offer underwater ocean weddings in the next few months, is looking for other pastors, priests and other clergy willing to take the plunge.

On a recent dive, Ballard tested a mask with a microphone that will allow her to talk to the bride and groom under water while guests on a boat listen and watch through a video hook-up.

Unconventional weddings are gaining popularity among young people, said Jannette Alix, president of the Miami-Dade and Broward chapter of the National Association of Wedding Professionals.

Underwater weddings have been done before, but a Jewish one is rare, she said.

"There's a new breed of people that want something unique," Alix said. "The old-fashioned way is old fashioned."

Some local rabbis don't know what to think.

As long as certain traditions are kept, the ocean wedding could be legal according to Jewish law, said Reform Rabbi Barry Silver, of L'Dor Va-Dor congregation in Boynton Beach, Fla.

Rabbi Richard Polirer, of congregation Beth Hillel in Margate, Fla., said the idea could grow on him.

But he said he doesn't know if couples should do it just for the sake of it.

"Just because you can doesn't mean you should," he said.

The idea of underwater religious nuptials came six months ago to Pro Dive owner Doug Huberman and his wife.

They planned to retake their wedding vows in their scuba gear and thought to make it a business venture. He expects to invest about $50,000, and offer wedding packages starting around $1,500.

Huberman says he's offering underwater weddings to expand his business, but he doesn't expect it to be a huge money-maker. And the ministers he wants have to be a special breed.

"We are looking for people who want to be pioneers," he said.

Ballard is one of them.

The Wilton Manors woman has performed weddings for five years, but never considered learning to scuba dive until Huberman proposed the idea about a month ago.

"I thought, 'Oh my God this is crazy,'" said Ballard, who officiated Huberman's wedding in St. Croix more than three years ago.

Now Ballard is hooked. She's even open to the idea of getting married under water one day herself.

"Somebody else will have to officiate it for me," she said. "You can't marry yourself."


(c) 2009, Sun Sentinel. Distributed by Mclatchy-Tribune News Service.