Jessica Miner (née Silverman) was raised Jewish in Allentown, Pennsylvania. While she’s not very religious, she wanted to include some items representative of her family’s faith at her wedding — a chuppah, for example, and the traditional breaking of a glass to close the ceremony.
Her then-fiancé, Brandon, was raised Catholic, however, which the couple thought might have presented a conundrum for some rabbis.
“Because we were interfaith, we couldn’t be married by a religious figure,” said Miner, a psychologist who lives outside of Hartford, Connecticut. “And we wanted it to be done by someone who knew us, to make it more special.”
One of Miner’s relatives, Pittsburgher Ken Eisner, came to mind — and not just because he had a great way of expressing the nuances of the family’s Jewish faith.
“He has always made Brandon feel very valued and seen,” Miner said.
So, after a quick online registration as a minister, Eisner trekked from Pittsburgh to The Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station in Haddam, Connecticut, on Oct. 2, 2021, to lead a ceremony in front of 170 guests uniting the Miners in marriage.
“He had a whole story about us — but he also imparted some wisdom from his own marriage to us,” she recalled. “He really took the time to know us. Even though he’s family, he spent time with us. He took it seriously.”
Eisner was raised in Churchill, but stresses that he grew up at Congregation Beth Shalom. From a young age, he was active at the Squirrel Hill congregation and participated in United Synagogue Youth. He became a bar mitzvah there on the same day Pittsburgh Steeler Franco Harris caught the “Immaculate Reception.” (His father and brother went to the game.)
After starting to raise his daughters, now ages 26 and 29, in Churchill, the family relocated to McCandless, about a mile away from Temple Ohav Shalom. Eisner has served twice as the congregation’s president.
Eisner, 63, is debating what he’ll do after stepping out of the day-to-day of his private law practice. He briefly flirted with bartending.
“But, every time I’m making drinks, I’m making a mess,” he laughed.
After leading the Miners’ wedding ceremony in Connecticut two years ago, it dawned on him.
“I thought, my parents always said to me, ‘You need to get to the simchas, you need to get to the good stuff’ — and I’ve always loved weddings,” Eisner said. “I’m like a paid wedding crasher. I don’t know why everyone’s not doing it.”
Because the gig is part-time, Eisner picks and chooses the weddings he officiates. Since putting his biography on wedding sites like The Knot, he’s been inundated with interest. He’s done about 25 weddings or so in the last 18 months and plans to only do about 12 to 15 ceremonies a year from here on out.
For one wedding, he was paired alongside a rabbi. Eisner likes to joke that he did color commentary while the rabbi gave the play-by-play. Many of the weddings he officiates take place in country clubs, though he notes he wed one couple at a bowling alley.
Eisner said he takes the work seriously, spending time with the couple and quizzing them with questionnaires. He even interviews friends and family members of the couple to get their story right.
Eisner took on the Spruells as wedding clients last year.
The West Virginia couple, who met in high school in Somerset County, wanted a storybook wedding at the recently renovated Hotel Morgan in Morgantown, West Virginia. Eisner led the nondenominational ceremony on Aug. 6, 2022, 13 years to the day that the couple started dating.
Sara Spruell was attracted to Eisner because his biography mentioned that he dabbles in improv theater.
“I’m not any good at it,” Eisner laughed. “But the experience has been really helpful.”
Sara Spruell, a physician’s assistant, called Eisner’s ceremony, combined with the faux-industrial elegance of the Hotel Morgan, “perfect.”
“For us, the wedding was more about celebrating with people we love and cherish,” she said, adding that Eisner peppered the ceremony with details from friends and family. “It flowed beautifully. It blew us all away.”
“He was able to make it very personal,” added Stephen Spruell, a high school biology teacher. “And that’s what we were looking for.”
The guests also were thrilled with Eisner, the Spruells said. One woman — Sara’s maid of honor, who also is her best friend from high school — already has asked Eisner to officiate at her wedding. The bride-to-be booked Eisner before she even had settled on a date.
“I think that speaks for itself,” Sara Spruell said. “It felt like he had known us our whole lives. We really enjoyed it, and I think that’s why other people enjoyed it. He just made it extra special.”
The Mt. Washington couple Rebeka and Jeff Besong, whom Eisner married on July 8, agreed.
“He asked us genuine questions about our story,” said Rebeka Besong, a Pittsburgh native and engineer. “Everything just felt more meaningful.”
“He makes you feel very comfortable during these stressful times up to the wedding,” Jeff Besong said.
Eisner is modest about his new gig.
“I want the couple to be the center of attention — it’s my job to tell their story,” Eisner said. “There’s something really warm and inviting and playful about it. But, if every wedding isn’t special, I didn’t do what I set out to do.”
Sam Sheffler grew up Jewish in Pittsburgh’s South Hills. Though today she lives an hour north of Miami, she and her husband-to-be, Alex Cires, got married Sept. 17 at Southpointe Golf Club in Washington County, 19 miles from Downtown Pittsburgh.
“We couldn’t have been happier with Ken,” said Cires, who works remotely in Florida for UPMC as an actuarial director. “He exceeded all of our expectations and made our ceremony exactly as we wanted it.” PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.