The bachelor party grows up


There are many things that come to mind when the words “bachelor” and “party” are said in the same breath, and often the sum of this equation is not pretty.  Despite Hollywood’s depiction of this rite of passage as a final gasp of protracted adolescence (from the Tom Hanks camp classic “Bachelor Party” to the “Hangover” movies), there are men who are not interested in acting silly (or worse) for its own sake.

A variety of event planners are targeting grooms who want the time-honored tradition of transition into another stage of manhood to be, well, more mature. And men are increasingly opting for theme parties and weekend retreats, with activities that can be enriching rather than embarrassing.

Companies offer weekends built around fishing, formula auto-racing, dude ranches and culinary education where wine, beer and spirits are put to more sophisticated, refined use. In England, event company StagWeb even offers a getaway built around a James Bond theme.

As bachelor weekends and weeks are picking up steam, services like CruiseWise have sprung up that allow for maximum bonding with minimum planning. 

Steve Davis, co-founder of CruiseWise, says that while his clients don’t see marriage as the end of fun or a loss of freedom, that doesn’t mean they want to skip a celebration with their friends.

They have witnessed a “trend away from ‘traditional’ bachelor parties for some time now,” he said. “While there will always be 20-somethings who want to do the traditional movie-style bachelor party, there are many more who would call that a nightmare, not a celebration.”

Obvious benefits of all-inclusive cruising include no need for a cab or designated driver, mix-and-match activity menus and easily customized itineraries to accommodate the different personalities that make up the groom’s entourage.

Thanks to the newly opened Beverly Hills flagship of Art of Shaving, grooms without the luxury of time can still put together a pre-wedding day celebration that is all about luxury, pampering and putting one’s best face forward.

Amber Loose, the store’s general manager, notes the location and the concept are particularly popular for older grooms as well as businessmen whose lifestyle may not allow getaways aside from the honeymoon. However, thanks to the distinctive ambience (mansion library/den-meets-men’s spa), the Art of Shaving alternative promises something more grown-up than a night in Vegas and more memorable than a steakhouse dinner.

“We don’t call it a bachelor party,” Loose said. “We see it as more of a sophisticated, pre-wedding gathering that’s particularly appealing to anybody who has outgrown strip clubs and pub crawls.”

When a gathering is booked with Art of Shaving, Loose says, she closes off the store to the public so guests have undisturbed access to eight barber chairs for shaves and haircuts, plus two manicure/pedicure stations.

“Brides, meanwhile, have the luxury of knowing their men are literally in good hands and will look fantastic on the big day,” Loose said.

Art of Shaving’s party planning service include customized wine and beverage services, hors d’oeuvres, music of choice and a photographer to capture the transformational magic. If bosses and co-workers are going to be a part of the wedding party, this kind of gathering will be sure to make a lasting positive impression.

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Art of Shaving in Beverly Hills offers a sophisticated alternative to the raucous bachelor party.

Although popular variations on the sports weekends include baseball fantasy camps, golf resorts and camping, a fitness retreat week can both enlighten and entertain, according to Omari Bernard, one of the lead coaches at Playa del Rey’s Live-In Fitness Enterprise (LIFE).

“When you think about it, getting drunk, behaving badly and feeling awful the next day is not how you want to start the next major chapter of your life,” he said. “However, this experience goes beyond just shaping up so you look great in your tux.”

LIFE emphasizes the team aspect of fitness and coaching. All activities, which integrate a variety of favorite sports (such as hikes, boxing, martial arts and basketball), involve team-building exercises that will help the groom and those closest to him with interpersonal relationships and challenges. 

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A Live-In Fitness Enterprise coach trains one-on-one with a client.

The groom, family and friends also learn good eating and exercise habits that can keep married life, and life in general, exciting and active, Bernard says.

“Everything we do is quantitative, and when the party leaves after a week, they don’t just take away a better body and some workouts to do at home. The groom brings practical information on staying healthy and fit into his marriage,” Bernard said.

What’s the best way to sum up the new wave of groomsman’s gatherings? Party on, but do it with intelligence and self-respect.

Balancing family and friend requests not an easy task


Getting married is a balancing act. I never quite understood this until my guy proposed.

What’s the big deal in wedding planning? I always thought. You set a date, pick a place, settle on a band, choose a few of your favorite flowers and do a dinner and cake tasting. What’s difficult about that?

It’s not difficult. In fact, that part’s been rather fun. However, the part that I am complaining about is the negotiations between family and friends. Trying to please everyone is proving impossible.

Unlike most brides-to-be, I never really thought about getting married. Honestly, I thought I’d either never find the right guy, or I’d pull a Gloria Steinem and get married later in life. That said, I once thought if I ever found myself in a position to say, “I do,” then maybe we’d elope or have a destination wedding and/or maybe, just maybe, invite a few of our family and friends.

Well, my boyfriend-turned-fiancÃ(c) had other plans. He’d always imagined a big wedding. He comes from a sizable family. And my father, who’d been placed in an unusual role these last few years as my therapist — allowing me the opportunity to vent after and sometimes even during the worst dates imaginable — decided he wanted a celebratory send-off, although, this could be more for him than for me. Bottom line, we’re a very close father-daughter team. And I feel that this was very much my father’s dream wedding.

Weddings are supposed to be about the bride and groom right? But I want my parents, his parents, his siblings, my relatives and our friends on board and excited about sharing our special day. We were trying to do all that, but we had our tangles and snags along the way.

It wasn’t intended to be a black-and-white wedding, but because I asked my attendants to pick their own black gowns, my future mother-in-law figured it was a black-and-white wedding. I happen to like black and want to be a low-maintenance bride by not requiring my girlfriends to spend extra money on silly, colored dresses they’ll never wear in public ever again. Black seemed the easiest way to go.

My soon-to-be nieces — the two flower girls — would look good in black velvet, appropriate material for a winter wedding, I thought. My sisters-to-be couldn’t agree on the right style, a problem I had never considered until they started to disagree. What do I know about choosing a flower girl’s dress?

To be sure, it’s a difficult task finding black velvet in the middle of July. I suggested they hold off the search until fall, but they still were trying to outdo each other’s suggestion, and I was caught in the middle of the building fury.

When it came to choosing flowers, we interviewed eight florists and still had yet to sign a contract. My father arranged the initial meeting with a woman who will remain anonymous. The four of us (mom included) sat down, and right away, this woman announced she was the most expensive florist in town.

Well, thank goodness it wasn’t a meeting scheduled by me. My father’s eyes glossed over when he heard her regular floral budget. Basically, it was the GNP of a small country. Next!

Then a few girlfriends asked if they could bring a guest — other girlfriends or family members. According to wedding etiquette, guests are supposed to be friends of either the bride or groom. Of course, we’d include a long-term boyfriend, girlfriend and engaged couple, but did I have to invite my bridesmaid’s sister or my friend’s long-ago touring companion? The e-mail exchange was frantic.

Normally, couples choose bands based on either watching a live performance, friends’ suggestions or asking for DVDs of past weddings. In our case, both my guy and I heard a band play the year before and thought the group was perfect for our parent’s generation. My parents were the ones paying for the wedding, so they would need to be happy with the choice. This band also played some modern tunes.

We all set out on a Saturday night to hear the band play, and they were awful. I mean the worst sound ever. How could we not have noticed that? I guess vodka martinis make a difference.

Another band sounded great, but the leader lacked emcee skills and seemed to take 10-minute breaks between each set. Another Saturday night wasted.

My in-laws are wonderful, kind people. I lucked out there. And they offered to host the rehearsal dinner. But where?

Our idea was to choose a restaurant that reflects our personalities — maybe an ocean view or a view of the marina since we love the beach, sailing and scuba diving. But his parents are more traditional and chose an inland site.

In the scheme of things, it wasn’t so bad. They offered to host because they agreed with our union, and they like my family. It is important that everyone is happy, healthy and gets along with each other, right?

It would have been nice to have more input on the location venue, but oh well. What’s most important is that I found a good, caring, smart and sexy MOT (member of the Jewish tribe) with whom I’ll share my life. That and a dream honeymoon.

Dana Greene is a syndicated columnist in San Diego who writes about couples issues. She can be contacted at danagreene1@yahoo.com.

Married . . . at last!


I got married for the first time at 50. The groom was 51. Yes, we are both Jewish. We met online.

I am tall, thin, blonde, green-eyed, and have a little turned-up nose. My
father-in-law’s first comment, across the Thanksgiving table, was, “Doesn’t she look like a shiksa?”

My husband is an inch shorter than I am and round. He is also handsome, smart, funny and very logical. But I married him because he is a good person and I love him very much.

I decided when I was about 46 that I really wanted to get married. The question became where to meet men who really wanted to get married, too. I decided to try online dating. I had already done everything else.

It was not love at first sight. It was interest. It was let’s see what will happen. We both had dated enough to know the difference between passion and real caring.

It took three years, but we did it. The short version:

We met in November of 2000. The cats and I moved in with him in 2001, and I gave him an ultimatum. We got engaged in June of 2002 and were planning to marry in December 2002, although I had yet to see a ring.

Thirteen weeks before the wedding, he fell and shattered his shoulder. We postponed the wedding. I told him he had until my birthday, in August, to do the ring, or it was over. This was it.

It took him eight months, but he did it. Three days before my birthday, he took me to dinner, and proposed a second time, this time with ring in hand.

This was August 2003, and we were going to get married August 2004. We would have a year to arrange the wedding. That was the plan. The next month, my then-91-year-old mother fell and wound up in the hospital, so the wedding was moved up to December.

I had three months to plan the wedding. I was crazed, to say the least. It turned out that my little, humble then-83-year-old aunt knew the owner of a hotel, which shall remain nameless, kayn ayin hora, poo poo. It was a fabulous hotel, famous for its weddings. We had a place. Then we had a date, invitations, a dress, a menu, a klezmer band and a dance band, and a lot of tuxedos.

In addition to planning a wedding in three months, a full-time job, I was also working and taking a class. How I did it, I don’t know. But I was almost there. We divided the wedding planning, sort of. My husband chose all the food and liquor. I handled the cake and flowers, the logistics of the day, the arrangements for out-of-towners, the rehearsal dinner, the auf ruf and half of the visitor packets. (My husband did the maps and the sites of interest.)

The day finally arrived. Hair and make-up call, 6 a.m. Both my husband and I have backgrounds in the entertainment industry, but this was the biggest production either of us had to pull off. He had produced and directed theater, and I had produced and directed reality TV. But this was something else.

I was drugged out of my mind the morning of the wedding. Not serious drugs, but Advil combined with terror can have a mind-numbing effect.

I had only my maid of honor, my cousin Patty, in the suite with me as I got ready. The ketubah signing was done privately with the rabbi in a separate room with only my two attendants and the two male witnesses present. It was beautiful.

It was getting scarier and scarier. Patty and I retired to the bridal suite to await the final call. The hotel’s coordinator lined everyone up, then called up to the room. They were ready for me.

Patty and I took the elevator down. We stepped out. I looked back at the mirrored elevator doors as they were closing on 50 years of being single. I looked at myself and affirmed, “I’m doing this.”

I just wanted to get through the chuppah. I got into line, at the end, next to my then 84-year-old father. This was a dream. This was unreal.

The music started and the bridal procession began. The coordinator was counting the beats. The aisle was 80 feet long. My father and I had rehearsed this, but there was no need. He was a natural. The music changed. I heard, “Now,” and I said to my Dad, “Right foot.”

Talk about a deer in headlights. I saw my cousin Jenny smiling. She stood up first, and everyone followed suit. All these people were standing up for me! I was the bride!

The ceremony was great, I thought. I loved the rabbi’s words of wisdom, although I had to watch the video about four times to remember what he said.

It was an awesome wedding, filled with Jewish rituals — the hora, the chair dance, the brachot over wine and bread. Then, after the first course, the mezinka, the dance honoring the mother upon the marriage of the last child. I am an only child, my husband, the last of four. His mother was deceased. We danced around our three parents, unbelieving that their “old” children were finally married.

In case you are wondering, married life is great. It is not a sitcom, it is not a romantic comedy — it is real life. Whatever you were before, you bring to marriage. Marriage is not a date — you see each other in the morning, someone takes out the trash, and you pay the bills.

But you do it together. At last.

Mierel Verbit is a writer and teacher who lives with her husband and cat in Santa Monica. She can be reached at mierelverbit@yahoo.com.

Expert Tips Crack the Dress Code


Many wedding guests are often are as concerned as the bride and her attendants about what they will wear.

Once upon a time, there were golden rules of wedding attire: Don’t wear white — it upstages the bride; and don’t wear black — too funereal. It was often a reliable pastel dress and matching pumps hanging in the closet, waiting patiently for the wedding du jour.

Today, one can never go wrong with basic black. But what to do when it comes to a formal affair?

Even though dress codes have become somewhat relaxed, there are still some guidelines that savvy brides and grooms might consider including on their invitations if their wedding is a formal event. Guests are usually grateful for this considerate gesture, especially in an age where “anything goes” when it comes to attire.

To avoid any confusion, Bridal consultant Sue Winner encourages her clients to put some type of dress code description on invitations.

“Some clients are concerned that if they don’t put something [about appropriate dress] on the invitation, people will come in jeans and sport coats. We’ve become a very casual society,” said Winner, who has been in business for 21 years — and has more than 600 weddings under her veil.

Here’s a helpful dress code lexicon from “Town & Country Elegant Weddings” (Hearst Books, $60):

Black Tie

This means that women are to wear evening dresses (short or long) and, technically, men should wear traditional tuxedos. Yet, Winner said, it is not a commandment. She said men can certainly wear a dark suit — navy, black or charcoal gray would be acceptable.

The notation said, “please don’t show up in jeans and a sport coat,” Winner said. “Guests won’t be turned away, but they’ll be uncomfortable in the room.”

And for the women, etiquette expert Letitia Baldrige, the former White House social secretary to Jacqueline Kennedy, advice columnist and author of several books, declares: “Pantsuits are not proper.”

Black Tie, Long Gown

This is not a common edict, but found occasionally — and Winner believes it’s redundant. Some couples find that this gives guests more clarification when the occasion is very dressy. Joan Rivers, for example, used this specific dress code on the invitations to her daughter Melissa’s fancy New York wedding because she felt dress was important to the overall effect of the event. (Take note: Perfect attire does not the perfect marriage make. Melissa’s 1998 marriage to John Endicott ended in divorce five years later.)

Black-Tie Optional

A bewildering dress directive for many guests, this option is considered by many etiquette experts to be very confusing.

“It’s the worst phrase in the English language,” Baldrige said.

Winner said that while common usage sometimes “makes things work, technically it is not correct. Black-tie optional is really a business term,” used, for example, when company officials might be hosting a dinner in honor of its retiring president, yet would not expect all company employees in attendance to rent a tuxedo.

As do most people who take the word optional to mean they don’t have to wear black tie. Those few who do dress up often feel out of place, making for a very mixed-up (and mixed-dress) crowd.

Creative Tie

Another distressing dress code according to Baldrige.

“An affair should either be black tie or not,” she said. “If it is not, you need say nothing at all.”

However, one fashion designer, John Anthony, believes that an invitation stating creative tie signifies that the hosts want the guests to be more thoughtful and lavish in considering their attire. It might mean a patterned cummerbund for the man and a frock that’s something other than the usual little black dress for a woman.

Casual or Island Chic

One bride planning a beach wedding put “island chic” on her invitations, said Winner. For other less formal celebrations, like some bar and bat mitzvah parties, hosts have indicated everything from “No Jeans, No Jackets” to a simple “casual chic.”

When in doubt about attire, Winner has a simple solution: “If you really don’t know, call the bride or the host and ask what they have in mind.”

Sharon Mosely of Copley News Service contributed to this story.

Attending to Gifts


Your wedding party is an entourage of childhood friends, college roommates, siblings and other close family members. Most have been by your side, contributing their time, energy and love throughout the entire wedding planning process. So, when the big event is about to happen, how best can brides and grooms offer their thanks?

As one would when shopping for any gift, it’s best to keep each individual in mind, choosing imaginative and stylish gifts that come from the heart, say bridal advisers at theknot.com.

Are traditional gifts the way to go?

“Brides can give the bridesmaids something to wear on the wedding day such as a necklace or earrings,” said Kathleen Murray, weddings editor at The Knot. “For the guys, a wine set, Swiss Army knife and golf kits are great traditional ideas.”

Looking for something a little trendier?

Owen Halpern, co-owner of OwenLawrence, an Atlanta boutique, prides himself on offering shoppers items they won’t see in every other shop.

For bridal attendant gifts he suggests a crystal bedside carafe, Italian crystal clocks by Arnolfo Di Cambio or beautifully boxed Italian vodka shot glasses by Salviati — all gift items that are as special as the occasion they mark.

He also said people are “loving” gift items called Elton Rocks, made out of colored, scented resin — “sort of an alternative to potpourri.” (According to Halpern, Elton John allowed his name to be used on the product because a portion of the proceeds are donated to his AIDS foundation.)

Halpern indulges OwenLawrence shoppers with champagne or signature bellinis, offered “only in crystal with linen napkins — no paper or plastic,” to help everyone enjoy “the finer things in life.”

“It’s a stressful time. Brides and grooms can relax and enjoy the shopping experience,” Halpern said.

Anything monogrammed is also popular for attendant gifts.

“Monogramming anything from jewelry to flasks to sandals for a beach wedding is hot right now,” Murray said.

While fountain pens may have become the joke of traditional bar mitzvah gifting, pens are popular as gifts for grooms’ attendants.

“We’ve sold everything form Mont Blanc, Cross and Watermans to Parker and Cartier. Generally we engrave initials of the groomsmen. It’s a small gift, but it’s a valued one,” said Steve Light of Artlite.

No matter how much appreciation you might want to lavish upon your bridal attendants, the sheer quantity can tally a daunting price tag. Be sure to ask yourself how much you plan — and can afford — to spend.

Murray normally advises bridal couples to spend what they can, but on average it’s usually $75 per person. The best man and matron or maid of honor should get something a little more lavish.

Yet, if a tight budget is cramping your style, there are great ways to get by.

Inexpensive gifts for bridesmaids can include an engraved silver photo frame or compact mirror, nice jewelry or beautiful candles.

For groomsmen, engraved pewter beer steins, silver pocketknives or cigar holders are usually low-priced.

Murray says it’s all about being a smart shopper.

“Inexpensive gifts are really just being able to find a great buy,” she said. “The bride may find a bracelet worth thousands of dollars, but if they look harder, they can find one for a lot less.”

Of course, if you decide to splurge on the wedding party, the options are endless. “The Knot Complete Guide to Weddings in the Real World” offers ideas ranging from remote control cars for guys, a certificate for an acclaimed restaurant or spa certificates to tickets to a game or play, silk pajamas, beauty baskets or cigars.

For bridesmaids, Murray says classes are always a popular item.

“Cooking, wine tasting, photography classes are all great options,” she said. “Again, base your decision upon each bridesmaid’s specific interest. For groomsmen, look into golf or ski lessons or even a bottle or case of wine from a great vineyard.”

Still stuck on what to get? Consider using your own talents. Artists can create drawings, paintings or pottery, while musicians can create a CD of their own music.

“If a couple does not feel they have such talents, or do not have time to make their gifts, they can have gift baskets created that are personalized to each attendants’ tastes and interests,” Murray said.

Laura Vogltanz of Copley News Service contributed to this article.

Wedding Bell Oops!


Last time I saw Barry, he was dressed as an egg at a Purim party, so I was excited to run into him last month at a birthday party.

This time, for better or worse, he was wearing pants.

“Barry, what’s up? I haven’t seen you in forever. How’s life? How’s work? Ohmygosh, how was your wedding?”

“The wedding? Yeah, um, that whole wedding thing didn’t happen exactly the way I thought it would. Mostly because it didn’t happen at all. She called it off three weeks before the ceremony.”

Doctors at Cedars-Sinai are still trying to remove my high heel from my mouth.

I should have known better than to ask. I should have learned from Greg. Or Shannon. Or the nine — yes nine — other people I know who have called off their weddings. I should get them together to start a support group or form a minyan. Canceling a wedding has become that common these days. Just because a couple gets engaged, doesn’t mean that they’ll get married. It just means they’ve registered at Macy’s.

It no longer surprises me when couples don’t make it to the chuppah on time. Or at all. Which is why I keep the tags on my new cocktail dress and write “save the date” in pencil. I don’t run to reserve a hotel room in the “Rosen-Levy” block or pound the pavement for a “plus guest.” It would be rude for me to bring a date to the big event when the groom no longer has one. And yes, it always seems to be the groom who stands alone and the woman who says, “I don’t.” I mentioned this runaway-bride phenomenon to my current guy, Scott, over dinner at Denny’s last week.

“That’s because guys think about marriage a lot more than women do — we’re the ones who have to ask,” he explained. “And we don’t ask ’til we’re absolutely sure. Do you know how hard it is for a guy to pop the question? Do you know how long it takes for us to think we might possibly be ready to even start thinking about it?”

I’m beginning to get some idea.

Scott’s right, though. We’re talking about men — they spend a month choosing who to draft onto their fantasy football team. So they’re going to do a lot of soul searching and thinking — and drinking — before they decide whom they want to marry. Then they have to get up the courage to do a little thing called propose. All the girl has to do is say yes.

And we always do.

‘Cuz every girl wants to be a bride. Maybe that’s the problem. Girls fantasize about their wedding, not their marriage. I doubt my friends know if they’re wearing their hair up or down for their first week as a Mrs., but they know where every tress will be on the big day. They’re not cruising the newsstand for InStyle Marriage, but they wait by the mailbox for Modern Bride.

That’s why when some girls realize there’s life after honeymoon, that wedding gets canceled faster than a new fall sitcom dud.

Dating, proposal, shiny ring, big dress, bigger hair, saying “I do.” That’s the order. That’s how it’s supposed to happen. That’s the flow chart. So girls go with the flow. But you can’t go with the flow when a relationship gets this serious, ladies. Preseason dating is over.

Perhaps it’s just too easy for a woman to change her mind after she’s said yes. Maybe we should be required to back up our answer with a contract or a guarantee. Maybe a pinky swear. Or the bride should put her money where her heart is. Reception halls ask for a nonrefundable deposit — why shouldn’t the groom?

I’ve never been engaged, so I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to walk in a bride’s Vera Wang shoes. I don’t know how people who aren’t right for each other continue dating to the point of engagement. I don’t know if they failed to recognize their doubts or just chose to ignore them. I don’t know how much it hurts to call off a wedding. I don’t know when saying “I do” became so last season.

I do know it’s a troubling pattern, though, especially because it’s affecting my love life.

Canceled weddings are not good for us ladies-in-waiting. The worst thing about this broken engagement trend, besides the $50 I waste on each engagement gift, is the single-man snowball effect.

When a guy gets dumped by his fiance, his friends start to doubt their own relationships. The more guys entertain these doubts, the longer they wait to propose. The longer guys wait, the fewer girls who are getting engaged. What I’m saying is: It’s my friend Barry’s ex-fiance’s fault that I’m still single.

Actually, that’s not what I’m saying — it’s not entirely about me. A woman should not wed a man she doesn’t want to marry. That would be wrong. But a woman should only get engaged to a man she does want to marry.

Let’s start with the very word: engagement. It means commitment. It implies true love. There should be no take-backs. He didn’t give you his letterman’s jacket, his fraternity pin or a mix tape. He gave you a diamond engagement ring. He gave you his heart.

Call me a hopeless romantic, but I truly believe an accepted proposal should lead to a puffy white veil, Shevah Brachot, a broken glass and a lifetime together.

So when that special someone — the right someone, not the maybe someone — proposes, I’ll say yes, and I’ll mean it.

Final answer.

Because I know that when a guy does get down on one knee, he’s not asking “Will you wedding me?”

Carin Davis is a freelance writer and can be reached at sports@jewishjournal.com.

The Meaning of Marriage


Late spring in Los Angeles: cool, foggy mornings, with sun breaking through around midday. The strawberries are sweet and luscious; the gardens are full of roses. It’s the season of simchas. Our calendars are crowded with graduations and family parties, but most of all with weddings.

The cascading flowers, the gowns and tuxes, the delectable spread on the buffet tables are only a frame for the most beautiful sight at any wedding: the faces of the bride and groom under the chuppah, or at unguarded moments when they think nobody is watching. You notice the way they look at each other and the way they hold hands and the way they dance together — caught up, for those moments, in a magic circle where nobody else exists.

They speak to each other under the marriage canopy, voices breaking with emotion, promising love and friendship, respect and understanding. They sign their names to promises so vast and deep, they would make you tremble if you really thought about them — but the bride and groom are not thinking at that moment, not thinking at all. They are in a fever of joy; they can hardly breathe; they are caught up in the magic circle.

It is all over in a few minutes: the cups of wine, the ancient Hebrew words of commitment, the rings, the blessings, the sound of shattering glass. But something profound has changed in those moments. A covenant is sealed; two people are set apart for one another.

It’s a long way from the chuppah to the fifth chapter of Numbers, where the Torah takes us in this season of roses and romance. It’s grim reading material for wedding guests, and even more so for a bride and groom.

For this week’s portion takes us to the heart of a troubled marriage. There is an irate husband, wild with suspicion; a wife who may or may not be guilty of adultery; a public ordeal designed to bring to light the truth. The suspected adulteress is tested by being forced to drink the “bitter waters” — water mixed with dust from the floor; water in which the priest has dissolved divine curses written on a scroll. The ritual may be primitive, disturbing, even misogynistic to our eyes. But in its time, it provided a sacred, orderly structure to resolve the crisis, and to manage the explosive emotions evoked when marital trust has been compromised: jealousy, rage, humiliation, a sense of betrayal, grief, the murderous desire for revenge.

Asks one commentator: Why does the Torah permit the Name of God to be dissolved in water during this ritual? And he answers: God’s Name does not really disappear. For whenever peace is restored between husband and wife, the Holy One is present.

And maybe it does make sense to read Naso in the midst of the wedding season. For it reminds us that what matters is not the poetic promises we utter under the chuppah, but the prosaic reality of living up to them in marriage. We get a devastating glimpse of how bitter it can be to lack faith in our partner, how hard it is to forgive and make peace. We’re asked to contemplate what it might mean to have God present in our relationship.

On their wedding day, two people set themselves apart for one another, hands joined inside a magic circle — breathless, tearful, in a fever of joy. And God is in the center of the marriage when it’s many years later and the covenant still stands; when the vast, deep promises have somehow been fulfilled, for one partner lies in a hospital bed, too frail to walk or to get dressed anymore, and the other one is still there; and they’re still holding hands.

“Mistress, know yourself,” says Rosalind in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.” “Down on your knees, and thank heaven, fasting, for a good man’s love.”

Blessed is the Holy One, who comes into our lives through the love of a good man or woman; who gives us a taste of eternity in the steadiness of our beloved; who teaches us faith and constancy and forgiveness through the covenant of marriage.


Rabbi Janet R. Marder is director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Pacific Southwest Council. This summer, she will become Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth Am, Los Altos Hills, Calif.

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