One-of-a-kind weddings in Israel


Israelis love come-as-you-are weddings, where guests are welcome to bring along a friend, there’s no color scheme and the groom wears an open-necked shirt. But whether it’s a jeans or black-tie affair, in many cases the venue itself provides the Israeli wedding’s wow factor because of its great religious or historical import or its stunning natural backdrop.

“I find most people who do an event in Israel want it to be more meaningful and significant, as opposed to focusing on décor and other extraneous values,” said Judy Krasna, co-partner in Celebrate Israel.

In addition to copious wedding halls, wedding gardens and hotel ballrooms across the country, Israel offers many one-of-a-kind places to get married. For engaged couples abroad, wedding planners who speak their language can take care of all the arrangements.

“We have an insane amount of gorgeous ideas for parties in Israel,” said Adena Mark of A to Z Events Israel.

Mark has hung chandeliers in Zedekiah’s Cave under the Old City walls of Jerusalem, creating a fancy, festive wedding inside this legendary 2,000-year-old limestone quarry. She has staged weddings among the ancient Roman ruins in Caesarea, and decorated forest clearings with twinkling lights in the trees and straw mats on the bare ground.

Mark even has schlepped flowers and portable air-conditioners or heaters to marriage ceremonies on the cliffs of the Judean Desert. “At night it’s magical, with a view of the Dead Sea and the rolling hills,” she said.

Krasna especially loves weddings at wheelchair-accessible Genesis Land (Eretz Bereshit) in the Judean Desert.

“The view from the chuppah over the desert at sunset is the most spectacular backdrop for a wedding ceremony I’ve ever seen,” she said.

“You can choose to do an upscale wedding or a funky one with camel rides for the guests and waiters in biblical garb. For guests coming from outside Israel, it’s a really Israeli experience.”

It’s possible to arrange a wedding on just about any Israeli beach or national park, Krasna said. She recommends a beachfront with a hotel or restaurant in which the reception can be sheltered from the strong sea winds — such as Herzliya’s Daniel Hotel, Al Hayam in Caesarea or the Rimonim Palm Beach Hotel in Acre.

For nuptials in nature away from the waterfront, Krasna likes the historic Hulda Forest in central Israel, the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens or Ein Gedi Botanical Garden near the Dead Sea.

What about a wedding in a winery? Several Israeli wineries can accommodate parties of various sizes, including the Tishbi and Binyamina wineries in the Zichron Ya’akov area and the Psagot Winery overlooking the mountains of Jordan.

Krasna’s favorite spot for a dream wedding in Israel is the Bell Cave at Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park.

“It’s so incredibly different! The guests always rave that they’ve never been to such a cool wedding,” said Krasna, though she warns that the venue does present limitations. “Because it’s a national park, you can only have acoustic music, and the terrain is uneven so if you have elderly guests they might have trouble walking,” she said.

For those who prefer to be above ground, Alon Rosenberg of Danny Marx Productions recommends the Ottoman-period Tower of David citadel in Jerusalem and the historic Masada cliff on the road to the Dead Sea.

Rosenberg said a wedding at the Tower of David is “very, very expensive, and you need to bring everything in,” but for those who can splurge, “it’s like you’re entering a castle surrounded by the Old City walls. It’s a historical site that enables you to have an amazing event in an enclosed structure.”

Danny Marx, who often arranges celebrity affairs, including actress Gal Gadot’s nuptials five years ago at the David Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv, added that venues combining an atmosphere of history with modern elegance make Israeli weddings unique.

Jerusalem resident Reuven Prager aims to put some history back into the ceremony itself. His Biblical Weddings re-creates the ancient custom where every bride in the land of Israel wore a Jerusalem of Gold crown and was carried to the ceremony on a royal litter called an aperion.

Prager built a replica of the crown and the aperion as described in the biblical Song of Songs and Talmudic sources. Ten strong men carry it to the accompaniment of shofar-blowers and harpists. (Prager charges $1,500 but says he never turns anyone away for lack of funds.)

“We dedicated the aperion in a ceremony at the Bible Lands Museum during Chanukah 1992, and the next day we used it for the first wedding,” Prager said.

About 100 Israeli and foreign Jewish couples have used Prager’s aperion for their weddings, while Christian couples from abroad have made Biblical Weddings the highlight of their honeymoon or anniversary trip.

Prager hopes to work with the Tourism Ministry to launch a national competition encouraging the creation of hundreds of aperions and golden bridal crowns across Israel to broaden the availability of this unusual package. The Jerusalem municipality and the Israel Museum stand ready to host the competition. If Prager’s dream comes true, the aperion could usher in a unique wedding startup industry that could happen only in Israel.

Group Jewish wedding held in eastern Ukraine


The Jewish community of Dnepropetrovsk in eastern Ukraine held a group wedding for 19 Jewish couples.

Most of the couples that wed Sunday were already married under Ukrainian law but had not had a Jewish wedding ceremony, or huppah, the director of the Dnepropetrovsk Jewish community, Zelig Brez, told JTA.

“It is a huge event in the spiritual sense, and, I’m not afraid to say it – historic,” he said, adding that the ceremonies were the largest group wedding performed in his city – where 50,000 Jews live – since before the communist era.

Ten rabbis conducted the marriages on a terrace at the Menora Center, Dnepropetrovsk’s $100 million Jewish community center, which opened in 2012. The couples received special preparation by Shmuel Kaminezki, the city’s chief rabbi and Chabad’s influential envoy to Ukraine, and his wife, Chana.

Under communism, Jewish life in the former Soviet Union was conducted underground, a reality that meant many Jews did not have a Jewish wedding. In many areas, a majority of Jews were not circumcised.

“The challenge was both logistical and halachic,” the community wrote in a report about the weddings. Special attention went to helping couples feel the moment in their own private context as opposed to a group activity, Brez explained.

For this reason, the weddings were conducted in two groups and not all at once – first for 10 couples and then for the remaining nine.

“It was something special, and I’m happy that I saw my daughter, in the presence of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, finally get a huppah,” community activist Mina Dreitser said of the wedding of her daughter, Miriam Minutova, to Shlomo Skorokhod.

Israeli wedding of Jew, Muslim draws protesters amid war tensions


Israeli police on Sunday blocked more than 200 far-right Israeli protesters from rushing guests at a wedding of a Jewish woman and Muslim man as they shouted “death to the Arabs” in a sign of tensions stoked by the Gaza war.

Several dozen police, including members of the force's most elite units, formed human chains to keep the protesters from the wedding hall's gates and chased after many who defied them. Four protesters were arrested, and there were no injuries.

A lawyer for the couple, Maral Malka, 23, and Mahmoud Mansour, 26, both from the Jaffa section of Tel Aviv, had unsuccessfully sought a court order to bar the protest. He obtained backing for police to keep protesters 200 metres (yards) from the wedding hall in the Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon Lezion.

The protest highlighted a rise in tensions between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel in the past two months amid a monthlong Gaza war, the kidnap and slaying of three Israeli teens in June followed by a revenge choking and torching to death of a Palestinian teen in the Jerusalem area.

A group called Lehava, which organized the wedding demonstration, has harassed Jewish-Arab couples in the past, often citing religious grounds for their objections to intermarriage. But they have rarely protested at the site of a wedding.

The groom told Israel's Channel 2 TV the protesters failed to derail the wedding or dampen its spirit. “We will dance and be merry until the sun comes up. We favor coexistence,” he said.

'DEATH TO THE ARABS' THREATS CHANTED

Protesters, many of them young men wearing black shirts, denounced Malka, who was born Jewish and converted to Islam before the wedding, as a “traitor against the Jewish state,” and shouted epithets of hatred toward Arabs including “death to the Arabs.” They sang a song that urges, “May your village burn down.”

A few dozen left-wing Israelis held a counter-protest nearby holding flowers, balloons and a sign that read: “Love conquers all.”

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, sworn in last month to succeed Shimon Peres, criticized the protest as a “cause for outrage and concern” in a message on his Facebook page.

“Such expressions undermine the basis of our coexistence here, in Israel, a country that is both Jewish and democratic,” Rivlin, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud bloc, said.

Lehava spokesman and former lawmaker Michael Ben-Ari denounced Jews intermarrying with non-Jews of any denomination as “worse than what Hitler did,” alluding to the murder of 6 million Jews across Europe in World War Two.

A surprise wedding guest was Israel's health minister, Yael German, a centrist in Netanyahu's government. She told reporters as she headed inside that she saw the wedding and the protest against it as “an expression of democracy.”

Arab citizens make up about 20 percent of Israel's majority Jewish population, and the overwhelming majority of Arabs are Muslims. Rabbinical authorities who oversee most Jewish nuptials in Israel object to intermarriage fearing it will diminish the ranks of the Jewish people.

Many Israeli couples who marry out of their faith do so abroad.

Malka's father, Yoram Malka, said on Israeli television he objected to the wedding, calling it “a very sad event.” He said he was angry that his daughter had converted to Islam. Of his now son-in-law, he said, “My problem with him is that he is an Arab.”

Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan

Israeli couples say ‘I don’t’ to Orthodox Jewish weddings


For most Israelis in the Jewish state, there is one legal way to get married – God's way.

Israeli law empowers only Orthodox rabbis to officiate at Jewish weddings, but popular opposition is growing to this restriction and to what some Israelis see as an Orthodox stranglehold on the most precious moments of their lives.

Some of Israel's most popular TV stars and models have come out this week in an advertisement supporting a new bill allowing civil marriage. A political storm is likely when it eventually comes up for a vote in parliament.

The Rabbinate, the Orthodox religious authority that issues marriage licences in Israel, says it is charged with a task vital for the survival of the Jewish people, and a recent poll showed more Israelis oppose civil unions than support them.

Nevertheless, many Israelis want either a secular wedding or a religious marriage conducted by a non-Orthodox rabbi. Facebook pages have been popping up, with defiant couples calling on others to boycott the Rabbinate.

In September, Stav Sharon, a 30-year-old Pilates instructor, married her husband in an alternative ceremony performed in Israel by a non-Orthodox rabbi.

“We wanted a Jewish wedding despite being secular. We feel connected to our Judaism, even if we are not religious. It is our people, our tradition,” Sharon said.

Weddings such as Sharon's fall into a legal no man's land. They are not against the law, but neither are they recognised as valid by the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for registering marital status on the national identity card every Israeli is required to carry.

In a twist in the law, the ministry will register as married any Israeli couple that weds abroad – even in a non-religious ceremony – outside the purview of the Israeli rabbinate.

Some couples hop on the short flight to Cyprus to marry. The Czech Republic is another popular destination for Israelis wanting a civil wedding.

Sharon and her husband decided against that option. “Marrying abroad means giving in. We wanted to marry in our own country,” she said.

No formal records are kept on the officially invalid alternative ceremonies held in Israel. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, nearly 39,000 Jewish couples married via the Rabbinate in 2011. About 9,000 couples registered that year as having married overseas.

Muslims, Druze and Christians in Israel are also required to marry through their own state-recognised religious authorities, making interfaith weddings possible only overseas.

WHO IS A JEW?

Secular-religious tensions have simmered in Israel, which defines itself as a Jewish and democratic state, since its establishment in 1948.

About 20 percent of Israeli Jews describe themselves as Orthodox while the majority of citizens are only occasional synagogue-goers. There are also non-Orthodox communities such as Reform and Conservative, but these are proportionately smaller than in Jewish populations abroad.

Ultra-Orthodox zealots have drawn anger in recent years for separating men and women on some public buses and harassing women and girls for what they see as immodest dress. Orthodox rabbis insist that brides take ritual baths to purify themselves before marriage, a practice to which some Israeli women object.

Immigrants to Israel, which since its inception has appealed to Jews around the world to live in the Jewish state, can find marriage through its Rabbinate a gruelling process.

Anyone wed by the Rabbinate is required to provide evidence of being Jewish, usually a simple and quick process.

But when it comes to new immigrants, the Rabbinate requires an affidavit, usually from an Orthodox rabbi in their home country, attesting they were born to a Jewish mother – the Orthodox criterion for determining if someone is a Jew.

And, Orthodox authorities in Israel can pile on more problems by digging even deeper into Jewish roots by requiring additional documentation proving that a bride or bridegroom's grandmother was Jewish.

“It took a year,” said a 34-year-old Argentinian immigrant to Israel, who asked not to be identified.

“They said the papers I had were not sufficient. They kept asking for more and more crazy documents. At one point they wanted me to provide a witness, from Argentina, who knew my grandparents and who had seen them, inside their home, celebrating a Jewish holiday,” he said.

His case was ultimately brought before the Chief Rabbi who ruled the man was Jewish and could marry his bride-to-be.

Israel's government is less strict in determining “who is a Jew” and therefore eligible to immigrate to Israel. Under its Law of Return, proof that someone has at least one Jewish grandparent is enough to receive automatic citizenship.

The Rabbinate says it is charged with preventing intermarriage and assimilation with non-Jewish communities which would endanger their people's survival.

Ziv Maor, the Rabbinate's spokesman, said strict adherence to Orthodox ritual law and practices had bonded Jews across the globe and set common rules for all.

“A Moroccan Jew knew he could marry a Jewish woman from Lithuania,” he said. “Rabbinical law guides us in a very clear way on who is Jewish and who is not … and we do not have permission from past or future generations to stray even a hair's breadth from those criteria,” Maor said.

According to the Rabbinate, only two percent of the men and women who apply to it for a marriage licence are turned down because they are found not to be Jewish.

GAY MARRIAGE

There are other groups to whom marriage is forbidden by rabbinical law.

Same-sex marriage, as in other religions, is out of the question as far as the Rabbinate is concerned. Israel's Interior Ministry recognises gay marriage – but only if it is conducted in a foreign country where it is legal.

Margot Madeson-Stern, a business consultant, was wed in Israel by a non-Orthodox rabbi at a celebration attended by more than 300 guests. The ceremony had no legal foundation in Israel.

“The (Rabbinate) would not marry me. The person I fell in love with was a woman,” said Madeson-Stern, 30. “I'm Jewish. I wanted a Jewish wedding. It's my family, my tradition, it's how I grew up.”

She later travelled with her wife to New York for another wedding ceremony. New York recognises gay marriages, so Israel's Interior Ministry did the same, registering them as a couple.

At least two parties in the coalition government are promoting a bill to allow civil marriage in Israel, including for same-sex couples. One of them is Yesh Atid, which tapped into anti-religious sentiment in last January's national election and finished in second place.

“It cannot be that people who do not believe or whose lifestyle does not suit the Rabbinate will be forced to get married by people whose way is not their own,” Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid told Israel Radio this month.

But tradition could die hard in Israel. A poll published in November in the Israeli newspaper, Maariv, showed that while 41 percent of Jewish Israelis supported Yesh Atid's Civil Union bill, 47 percent objected.

Such bills have been floated at Israel's parliament before. But for the first time in years, ultra-Orthodox parties, which oppose civil marriage, are not in the government.

Yesh Atid believes it has enough votes from lawmakers across the board to pass the law in the next few months. The Rabbinate says it will oppose the measure strongly.

“Matters of marriage, divorce and conversion are our most important fortress. It must not be touched and we will defend it fiercely,” said Maor.

Editing by Jeffrey Heller and David Stamp

Hearts remarried


Marriage means so much, to all of us. Including to unmarried people. We all want to live paired up, don’t we? To die not alone? What’s sadder than a grave all by its lonesome? Two side by side, we feel we can protect each other through all eternity. 

Marriage is also the inner pillar of our psyche. We think of it all the time, even more than of sex. Why we have marriage, why we don’t, why and when did it become better, at last? Look around. Marriage is our life’s top ingredient, as guaranteed as the sun on a bright day.

I could go on. You see my wife and I just rededicated our vows. I’m still bubbling.

Rededication, by the way, is an American invention we should applaud. Even if one remarries not 50, just five years in, those would be some important five years! In the case of Iris and I, we clocked 30 and then decided: We’re redoing it, in Europe where I’m from — where she stems from, too, one generation past. 

I do remember the times when she, or I, doubted that we would last. A counselor told us to beware when you stop fighting, when you have “peace.” Peace means the end of being unique to each other. Better unique and bleeding. So we rededicated — bleeding and all. We have littler fights these days, and better friendship in between. 

Thirty years. And we’re hoping for another 20.

Wow. 

In honor of our roots, we flew to Eastern Europe. Iris comes from Holocaust survivors. I’m from the other survivors, the runaways from communism. 

The logistics were complex. We’re an interfaith marriage, although we don’t live interfaith; the blood that lost the most is the blood whose traditions we follow. So we were looking for a Jewish environment to remarry. 

For our first vows all those years ago, we eloped to Utah, of all places, because I’d been invited to Robert Redford’s Sundance writer’s workshop. We were married by Brother Johnson, a colorful Mormon judge, and enjoyed a Hopi dance and a bridal suite, both arranged by Mr. Redford, on our first night. 

This second time, we wanted something more traditional. But who would marry two Americans — one a Jew, one not — in Hungary or the Czech Republic, lands where my wife’s folks survived? 

Answer: Uh, apparently not anyone mainstream.

We were thrust from something we expected to be so intimate and personal into hectic East European, post-communist politics, with a very bitter-before-sweet feel of déjà vu. 

Europe is not America; its Judaism, like its Christianity, is barely beginning to become flexible. Liturgical adjustments, so familiar in California, are unheard of. My wife researched a comprehensive number of congregations, which would not deal with interfaith couples, period. Discouraging. But at last, a congregation that called itself Reform agreed to revow us. Its leader, guide and navigator came to talk to us at the apartment we had rented in a street behind Budapest’s Belle Epoque parliament building.

“Hi, I’m Ferenc,” the rabbi said to us, walking in.

He was a robust 60-year-old with a light Hungarian accent, friendly, hands-on, beaming American nonconformity. Rabbi Ferenc Raj, whose stature in today’s Judaism I’ll not detail — Google him if you want; he’s far from being obscure — was the only congregation leader who agreed to remarry us despite the interfaith kink. 

We’ll make the service quintessential, he told us. When the groom (me) is told to say, “According to the law of Moses and Israel,” we shall say, “According to the law of God.” For God — he smiled at both of us — is God for all, not for the chosen alone. At last, the groom crushes the glass. (I’d always wanted to do that!)

Surely, this felt so momentous because Iris’ family memories drifted so richly above this city by the Danube — where her mother and uncles hid with fake papers in 1944, helped by the occasional well-meaning Catholic. Iris and I visited the Dohany Street Synagogue, one of the largest in the world, where footsteps from the past resounded in our minds. Compared to the tests and trials of 1944, this year of 2013 should be like a breeze of reconciliation. Well …  

On this mild September afternoon, up in the Buda Hills, in a family’s backyard, standing inside a sukkah — the model of all sacred Jewish spaces, even the wedding canopy, Rabbi Raj explained — Iris and I were rejoined. In attendance, including our son and daughter, were some 30 people only. Careful they were, almost like refugees. Because they were Reform, a sect still fighting to be officially recognized in today’s Hungary. 

I felt so many things on that afternoon. 

I felt the presence of my own tragically departed ones, starting with my deceased twin brother, whom communism killed. I felt reconnected with my wife, and with my deepest lone self. The ritual was too primal not to touch hidden-most memories, which unlocked and flowed in abundance. We drank blessed wine, my woman and I, surrounded by unprepossessing Reform worshippers who deserve to be accepted even if there were just a handful of them. 

To my readers: Take note that such exclusions still exist. Help leaders like Rabbi Raj — through inclusiveness of them and others, the past might have been different. Help people like Rabbi Raj, even if you’re not Reform or not even religious. 

I could write more about the passive-aggressive relationship of Europe’s Eastern lands to their Jews. Hungary’s erraticism is up there, and then some. When you pass the plaques on this and that building, you’re reminded that Budapest birthed Edward Teller, father of the hydrogen bomb — on the plaque, his name is duly Hungarized, Teller Ede. Equally honored, Herzl Tivadar. Huh, who? THEODORE HERZL? Hey, you’re ours again, Tivadar! I felt like moaning: Would the real Europe ever stand up and say, “I regret that I oppressed my Jewish sons and daughters who so often carried my name to the heights. I repent, I do. Deeply and sincerely, I weep over my cruelty and vow not to restart it!” 

Oh well. Evil didn’t stop in 1945, and doesn’t target Jews only.  See what’s happening right now to the ancient minority Christians, burned in their churches, routinely killed, in Syria, Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia, while the world is in busy conference talking about anything else but that. 

Let’s all do the little that we can do. Like, let’s all remarry. 

You know what I mean.


Petru Popescu is a Romanian-born, best-selling novelist. He lives with his family in Beverly Hills.

How to buy the best diamond wedding ring for your buck


When Jeremy Ziskind of Pico-Robertson proposed last year to his then-girlfriend, Allyson Marcus, he had a basic idea of what kind of engagement ring he would give his future wife.

“Allyson told me pretty early on in our relationship that she loved the idea of a heart-shaped ring,” he said. “So I knew that’s what I wanted to get.”

Relying on a tip from a friend, Ziskind searched for rings on

Here comes the … wedding dress


The inspiration for Mor Kfir’s wedding gown design — lace interwoven with embroidered, braided threads and silk chiffon fabric — was the tragic bride possessed by a devilish dybbuk in the classic 1928 Yiddish play starring Hanna Rovina at Habima National Theater of Israel.

For Yael Geisler, inspiration took the form of her Turkish-born grandmother’s dowry chest brimming with hand-embroidered tablecloths, napkins and linens. She tailored a gown of silk satin and delicate gold lace adorned with hand-embroidered oriental motifs.

These two dresses are part of a new exhibition, “Here Comes the Bride: Bridal Gowns Embroidering a Jewish Story,” at Tel Aviv’s Beit Hatfutsot, The Museum of the Jewish People, through the end of February 2014. From Tel Aviv, it will go on the international road, stopping first in Austria.

“Here Comes the Bride” results from a unique collaboration between Beit Hatfutsot (bh.org.il) and Ronen Levin’s third-year wedding-gown design students at Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv.

Each of the 14 students received a sketchbook and access to the museum’s entire collection of synagogue models, Judaica, marriage contracts, musical instruments, embroidery, dowry chests and family photos, according to Irit Admoni Perlman, director of the museum’s Israel Friends organization and the innovator of the collaboration.

“Initially, we thought the synagogues would best connect them with the Jewish lifecycle traditions,” Perlman said. But many of these talented students delved deeper, as chronicled in their sketchbooks, which are part of the exhibition.

“Most of them started with one idea and ended with something else,” Perlman said. “At the end of the day, they all did something related to their roots.”

The exhibition of 13 bridal dresses, one henna ceremonial gown and one groom’s outfit reflect styles and traditions of Jewish communities in Yemen, Iraq, Turkey, Salonika, Spain, Poland, Germany, Morocco and Algiers. It was first debuted at the 2012 Tel Aviv Fashion Week and at an event of the Nadav Foundation, a Beit Hatfutsot supporter and cosponsor of the exhibition.

“There is nothing like this in the world,” Perlman said of the show, which opened in September.

Wedding gown by Chen Ariel Nachman, whose ancestors are from Greece. Photo ocurtesy of Israel21c

Tradition With a Modern Twist

In her sketchbook, Adi Bakshi explains that her crepe-and-organza creation copies the delicate woodcuts and thin silver cords on the oud and qanun, two traditional Middle Eastern stringed instruments that formed the soundtrack of her childhood in an Iraqi Jewish home.

Tiny horizontal silver beads are stitched in two lines down the bodice of Bakshi’s dress to evoke frets, while hand-cut leather insets join the front and back of the dress to mirror the woodcuts.

Delicate crochet embroidery incorporated into Hadar Brin’s voile gown evinces the meticulous scribal arts practiced by her great-grandfather in Poland, who hid a mezuzah upon the advent of World War II that was retrieved by her family 60 years later.

A replica of a wall of the El Transito Synagogue in Toledo, Spain, inspired Levi Shenhav.

“The synagogue’s design integrates elements from Islamic decorative art and from Christian painting styles, blended into Jewish traditional art and calligraphy. Together, these elements create stunning visual themes,” he writes. His white chiffon gown incorporates beaten copper leaves and flowers adorned with leather strips and light pearls, reminiscent of the synagogue’s structure.

Chen Ariel Nachman’s ancestors are from Thessaloniki, Greece, where Jewish women once adorned their heads with amulets embroidered with baroque pearls in the shape of the Tree of Life symbolizing the Torah and the cycle of life.

Twelfth-century wedding rings inspired this gown by Eyal Ran Meystal. Photo ocurtesy of Israel21c

“I tailored the gown from wrinkled chiffon embroidered with baroque pearls, lace and beads, sequin leather and ropes coiled with embroidery threads, reminiscent of the fringes adjoined to Jewish prayer shawls, wishing to create an organic and natural look,” he writes.

Twelfth-century German wedding rings in the shape of a house inspired Eyal Ron Meistal to incorporate the rings into the wedding gown he created.

“The gown borrows from the formal structure of the ring … tailored of wild silk embroidered with thread and beads with ornamentation borrowed from the ring. The silk organza strengthened with Plexiglas rods symbolizes the wedding canopy rods that adorn the bride’s veil.”

Shani Dahan and Shani Zimmerman together created a Moroccan-style bridal gown, henna dress and groom’s ensemble inspired by the Dahan family’s heirloom baby outfit used at circumcision ceremonies, as well as the traditional jalabiya robe used in the henna ceremony.

Perlman notes that the student designers used tradition as a springboard to design garments “with a modern twist.”

For example, Chen Meron fashioned a simple but revealing bridal gown inspired by the leather straps of the tefillin worn by Jewish men as a symbol of connecting to God and preserving Jewish identity through the trauma of the Holocaust that the Meron family survived.

Meron’s gown contrasts the masculine elements of tethering, binding and clasping the leather to the arms, with the feminine, flowing bridal gown tailored of heavy crepe fabric accented by pale leather straps embroidered with golden beads.

New and improved: These upgraded wedding venues aim to add ‘wow’ to your vows


Some brides look for the hottest new places for their wedding ceremonies and receptions. Others are interested in staging their nuptials at L.A. mainstays. There are places, however, that offer the best of both worlds — locations that are definitively part of the local DNA, yet have undergone renovations or added new spaces that make them modern and more relevant than ever for today’s brides.

Skirball Cultural Center

The most recent addition to the area’s venerable venues is in the Sepulveda Pass at the Skirball Cultural Center. That’s where bride-to-be Danielle Cohn expects to be the first bride to marry at the Skirball’s ” target=”_blank”>skirball.org), is just as enthusiastic about how the expansive, 17,500-square-foot event facility conceived by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie will expand ceremony and reception options. One of the most stunning features of the project is a fully retractable window-wall that gives a dramatic view of a cascading terraced garden, providing an Impressionistic mural-like feel. The entrance plaza, meanwhile, is accented with coral trees, enamel art panels and a monumental fountain. 

“The Skirball is deeply rooted in both Jewish tradition and the local Jewish community,” Delanoeye said. “We are proud of our history as a gathering place for Jewish families of diverse ancestries. Based on the way the concept of a chuppah has been built into the architecture [an effect achieved with arched ceiling appointments and tiered gardens in full view], for example, wedding ceremonies can take place indoors or outdoors.” 

Guerin Pavilion interior at dusk. Photo by Elon Schoenholz

The facilities also include a bridal suite, rooms that can be used as a private space for the groom and his groomsmen, a room for the yichud following the ceremony just for the newly wedded couple and a family room for gatherings of the immediate family. While there is one caveat — the 4,000-square-foot kitchen is not equipped for glatt kosher events — award-winning chef Sean Sheridan and his team are able to plan menus tailored to the tastes and preferences of the couple using kosher products or kosher-style service. 

“We really look at the total needs of the family and the extended community as well as the couple getting married,” Delanoeye added. 

The Skirball’s Herscher Hall and Guerin Pavilion accepts listings and bookings for up to 18 months in advance, though Delanoeye said that there is a greater demand for wedding bookings between the months of March and October. 

Sportsmen’s Lodge

Sure, the five-star prestige hotels dotting L.A. County have name recognition. But when it comes to historic name-dropping, it’s hard to top Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City, which opened in the 1880s and later evolved into a popular “rural” hangout for Hollywood legends such as Clark Gable, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Although Los Angeles’ urban sprawl has since spilled over into the San Fernando Valley, it is still a popular place for Hollywood productions, including the television series “Parks & Recreation.”

Throughout its history, Sportsmen’s Lodge Event Center (The Sportsmen’s Lodge has a country charm that makes it attractive for weddings. Photo courtesy of the Sportsmen’s Lodge

Meanwhile, the landscaping and country charm are still major selling points for Jewish couples, down to a gazebo that can be adapted into a chuppah on the north end of the property, said director of sales Angie Groves. 

“It is a unique venue in the Valley, as not too many other places in the area have lush ponds, waterfalls, bridges and century-old trees,” Groves said. “While we don’t have a kitchen, what makes Sportsmen’s Lodge appealing to the many Valley Jewish communities is that we do allow outside kosher catering. 

“While some families love the Hollywood history behind it, others come for one of our two unique ballrooms. We have the 9,550-square-foot Empire Ballroom that features a built-in stage and can accommodate up to 600 guests, while our Starlight Ballroom has windows on two sides of the ballroom that overlook our gardens. The spaces are certainly not the typical four-wall banquet room.”

Other features and amenities include portable dance floors, bars, high-tech audio/visual capabilities, individualized décor and assistance in booking all sorts of live entertainment. While the event page on their Web site promises, “We’ll help you plan an old-Hollywood soiree for the ages,” the staff is also sensitive to the needs and concerns specific to Jewish weddings. Weddings need to be booked up to 18 months in advance. 

The Olympic Collection

Although the Olympic Collection (The Olympic Collection has six ballrooms and a large, open-air terrace. Photo courtesy of the Olympic Collection

As a chuppah is traditionally connected to the outdoors, according to Morea, the large Regency Ballroom includes a garden terrace with a built-in gazebo that can be customized with florals and greenery. For the winter months, the ballroom includes a skylight at the top of a beautiful curved marble stage that opens fully to the sky. The smaller Atrium Ballroom, accommodating up to 150 people, features windows and sliding glass doors for clients desiring natural light during their events. 

The Olympic Collection’s executive chefs hail from Spain, France, Iran, Armenia and Central and South America, and can fully integrate the client couple’s desired culinary style with the dietary requirements of the family and guests. Behind the scenes Morea said there is a separate on-site kosher kitchen under supervision from the Rabbinical Council of California. 

The Olympic Collection accepts listings and bookings for up to 36 months in advance, and its staff of wedding planners can assist couples with the items necessary to fully customize their wedding and reception, including dance floors (with a mechitzah, or divider, if desired), bars, tables, chairs, custom linens, lounge furniture and specialty lighting and even the wedding cake itself.

I am my beloved’s: How to avoid making your wedding day one to forget


It’s no secret that all the planning and decisions required to pull off a wedding can cause stress and worry. From flower designs to musical selections, there are a million things that might drive you meshugge.

But that doesn’t mean you have to accept that there will be unavoidable hiccups and “oy vey!” moments. With a few insider tips, you can avoid some problems the way you avoid Aunt Helen’s chopped liver.

No matter what happens, remember to enjoy the experience. At the end of it all, you still get to marry the love of your life. 

Stay on your chair

During the horah, tradition calls for the newlywed couple to be lifted up in chairs and raised above the crowd like royalty. It’s fun! It’s festive! It could leave you with a co-pay at the ER! 

No need for that. Just make sure your venue has two armchairs. The arms keep you stable, and you’ll also have something to hold on to as your tushee gets bounced around. Be sure to tell your venue coordinator or wedding planner that this is a must-have and that your designated lifters should grab the correct chairs.

Keep your dress white

During your ceremony, you’ll be instructed to take sips of wine. But in all your excitement to get down with a little “borei p’ri hagafen,” you might giggle or get shaky and then — drip! — wine on your dress. Avoid a mess and heartache. Use white wine in your Kiddush cup so that if any spills, it won’t be as obvious. 

Think about your ink

When it comes to your ketubah, you should use only the best pen to sign your John Hancockstein. After all, you’ve spent a lot of time selecting the right words and artwork, and most likely you’ll want to hang it in a special place in your home. So why would you use an office pen? Or a permanent marker? 

Those inks will fade or ruin the fine ketubah paper. Make sure to use an archival pen with a fine point. Go to your local art supply store. They’ll point you in the right direction. 

Break the glass, not your foot

At the end of the ceremony, the groom stomps on the glass that’s wrapped in a cloth or bag and the guests yell, “Mazel tov!” That’s a perfect scenario. What if the groom steps on the glass and then … crickets! … It doesn’t break?

Avoid this scenario or you’ll have over-eager bubbes shouting, “Mazel tov!” over whole, unbroken glass. Grooms, take note: Use your heel — not your toe — when stepping on the glass. More pressure and control can come from the heel, and you’ll hear that perfect crunch that leaves no doubt that you just tied the knot. For bonus points, step on the glass with your heel on a hard surface. Avoid sand or grass, and try to make sure your chuppah ceremony takes place somewhere paved. 

Why you should yichud

After your ceremony, you’ll be giddy with hot-off-the-presses newlywed excitement. You’ll probably want to join your guests and start the party off with drinks and appetizers at cocktail hour. I urge you: Wait. Take a breath. Enjoy some private time with your spouse. 

This period of seclusion is called yichud, and it’s a special moment to be alone together after you leave the chuppah. Back in the day, this would be the time that the couple would consummate their marriage, but if that doesn’t sound all that sexy to you, that’s OK. No pressure. Consider this as your time to savor all that you experienced together under the chuppah. Your guests will be fine, and you won’t miss out on much. 

Have the venue coordinator or your wedding planner bring you a special spread of food and drinks so you can share your first married bites and sips together. Take a few minutes alone together to reflect and collect yourselves — and finally relax! Then you can rejoin your friends and family and continue the party.


Alison Friedman is owner and editor-in-chief of The Wedding Yentas (theweddingyentas.com), an online guide for Jewish brides. She lives in Thousand Oaks. 

Relationship advice: Marry young


I know the arguments that people give for delaying marriage: 

“I’m not ready.”

“I need to be financially secure first.”

“Right now, I’m preoccupied with ____” (fill in the blank).

“To tell you the truth, I’m having too much fun to settle down.” (This argument is usually offered by males — and generally told only to other males.)

Others cite data suggesting that marrying later means less likelihood of divorcing.

I would like to make some arguments on behalf of early marriage.

The first and best argument for early marriage — providing, of course, that one meets a good person and believes this person will also be a good parent and/or provider — is that it forces you to grow up.

Nothing — and I mean nothing — makes us grow up as much as marriage does. Children are a close second, but the maturity leap from singlehood to marriage is still greater than the maturity leap from marriage without children to marriage with children.

The problem today is that becoming mature is not even on the list of most young people’s life goals. If anything, staying immature — committing to no one and remaining dependent on others — is more of a goal.

That is what “not ready” usually means.

Putting aside the financial issue, which we will address, “not ready” almost always means not willing — not “not ready” — to take on the permanent commitment to someone else that marriage entails.

Why were people throughout history ready to commit to marriage at a much younger age than people today? Only because society expected them to become adults at a younger age than today. Nothing makes you an adult as much as responsibility does. And no responsibility makes you an adult as much as marital responsibility.

And why, even today, are religious Jewish and Christian young men and women ready to marry in their early 20s? Because their values and their culture expect them to.

Let’s be honest. “I’m not ready” is usually a statement of emotional immaturity even when the person is otherwise a wonderful and responsible man or woman. 

As for the financial aspect of “not ready,” this is puzzling. People who say this may be entirely sincere, but they may also be fooling themselves. For one thing, two people living together cuts many costs almost in half. For another, nothing spurs hard work as much as marriage (and family) does. Married men make more money than single men. Moreover, many of the happiest and most bonding memories of couples are the early days when they financially struggled.

Another argument pertains to each sex separately. 

To women, I would argue that:

a) More good marriageable men are available when a woman is 23 than when she is 33, not to mention 43. To deny this is to deny reality. To dismiss this as “sexist” is to complain that life is sexist. Moreover, it is irrelevant whether it is “sexist”; all that matters is whether it is true.

b) She will learn little more about men and relationships by either going from relationship to relationship after college or by living with a man for many years without marrying. In other words, all those years a woman spends avoiding looking for a man to marry are largely wasted. There is rarely major emotional growth — this is just as true for men — during those unmarried years. And, in the meantime, she might have been able to find a good man and begin the most satisfying thing in life — making a home and, hopefully, a family. 

c) The notion that marriage will interfere with her career means she believes that, in the long run, career success will bring her greater joy and happiness than marital success. For the vast majority of women, this is not true. Young women who do not believe this should speak to successful single women in their 40s.

To men, I would argue that:

Guys who spend their lives avoiding marriage are, as a general rule, not impressive. That is one reason committed bachelors rarely get elected to high office. Neither sex thinks much of them. I understand men “sowing their wild oats” in the belief that it can help later on in life if they are plagued with curiosity about what it would be like to be with another woman. But after a certain age, chasing women is quite pathetic, and men doing so are spinning their wheels in terms of personal growth. Unfortunately, not all men want to grow up — just ask all the women looking for a man who complain of a surfeit of “man-boys.” 

I learned all this first from traditional Judaism, and later from life and from callers to my radio show. 

In order to be a judge on the Jewish high court, the Sanhedrin, a man had to be married and a father. Also, in traditional Jewish life, a man could not wear a tallit (prayer shawl) in synagogue until he was married. It was the community’s unsubtle way of telling males that until they committed to a woman in marriage, they were still considered a boy.

There are, of course, exceptions. But in general, boys and girls stay single. If they want to become men and women, they marry.


Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

Married, but not in Israel


Located in the eastern Mediterranean, the island of Cyprus feels very familiar to Israelis, due to its warm climate, arid stretches of mountainous land filled with olive trees and beautiful beaches.

Not a bad place for a wedding, right?

Every year, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, about 20,000 Israeli couples get married outside of Israel, many of them in Cyprus. But it wasn’t the dream of a destination wedding, or of getting married in far-flung yet familiar-seeming territory that shaped the decisions.

Many simply felt they had little choice but to marry abroad: Israel’s religious authorities — the only entities authorized to perform weddings in Israel — are prohibited from marrying couples unless both partners share the same religion. To have their marriages recognized by the Ministry of the Interior for the purpose of spousal benefits, mixed-religion couples must have civil marriages abroad. 

“Civil union” has been available since 2010, but only for the very small number of couples of which both partners have “no religion” listed on their government I.D. cards. As of early this past summer, only about 80 couples have entered into an Israeli civil union, most likely because anyone born into a family with a stated religion isn’t eligible. 

Israel actually has a common-law arrangement through New Family, an organization that advocates equality for all families. Partners are issued Domestic Union Cards, which serve as legal proof of status as common-law spouses in most (though not all) institutions in Israel and many abroad. But it is not the full-fledged marriage that most Israelis and their parents have long dreamed about.  

A growing number of couples — no one knows how many — of the same religion, who could therefore marry in Israel, also fly abroad for a quick civil marriage ceremony to avoid having to deal with the notoriously bureaucratic Orthodox rabbinate, or its Muslim and Christian equivalents.

An entire industry, most notably on the island of Cyprus and in the Czech Republic, has grown up around the phenomenon of overseas weddings. And it doesn’t cater just to Israelis.

The Web site of Cyprus Wedding Celebrations, a company based near Limassol, offers information in a variety of languages, including Russian, Ukrainian, Dutch and Hebrew. Dina Martjens, the company’s founder, said in a phone interview that she annually arranges 50 to 80 weddings for overseas couples, many of them from Israel and other Middle Eastern countries.

There are thousands of couples who are eligible to be married in their home countries, “but want to avoid the Big Fat Greek Wedding so common in the Middle East, especially in Lebanon and Israel, where you have to invite the whole kibbutz,” Martjens said, referring to the lavish affairs common in many societies.

Because Cyprus issues a marriage certificate the same day as the wedding, most Israeli couples return home the day of the civil ceremony. A small number stay longer to enjoy a honeymoon by the beach or head for one of the many quaint villages that dot the countryside. 

Companies based in both Israel and Cyprus arrange flights and ground transport, book the wedding venue, and secure the wedding license and marriage certificate. They can arrange for witnesses and post-wedding fees and ensure that all the documentation gets to the right clerk. 

“Those who come just for the day get married at the municipality. They wait their turn, and the actual ceremony takes seven minutes,” Martjens said.

Wedding in Cyprus, an Israeli agency that specializes in weddings on that island and in the Czech city of Prague, serves 1,200 couples a year, roughly 60 percent of them unable to marry through the rabbinate.  

“The rest are Jews who don’t want to make a wedding via the rabbinate, and there are also a small number of Arab couples — one spouse Muslim, one Christian,” said Igal Lukianovsky, the agency’s owner.

Eighty percent of Lukianovsky’s clients marry in Cyprus because it takes less than an hour to fly there from Tel Aviv and it is relatively inexpensive. Wedding in Cyprus, for example, offers a one-day, all-inclusive wedding package starting at 520 euros ($690) and a two-night package for 570 euros ($755). A single day in Prague will cost a couple 700 euros ($928).   

Arranging a wedding in Prague is more complicated, Lukianovsky said, because Czech authorities require more documents than the Cypriot authorities.

That didn’t deter Roey Tzezan, a Haifa-based scientist, from having a civil ceremony in Prague three years ago, despite the fact that both he and his now-wife, Gali Alon, are Jewish.

“We don’t like the way the rabbinate has a monopoly over marriage and its attitude toward women and human rights in general,” Tzezan said.

The couple also opted for a Masorti/Conservative wedding in Israel, even though it wasn’t recognized by Israeli authorities.

“We’re extremely connected to the deep roots of Jewish tradition and feel it’s important to remain part of the Jewish world. At the same time, as long as the rabbinate dictates norms to the Israeli nation, we cannot consider ourselves fully part of Israel’s Jewish community.”

Uri Regev, president of Israel’s Hiddush-For Freedom of Religion and Equality, said marrying abroad isn’t a solution to the religious establishment’s “monopoly” on marriage and divorce.

“Many Jewish couples don’t realize that marrying in Cyprus doesn’t exempt them from falling into the rabbinical courts if the marriage ends in divorce. And if they’re not Jewish, dissolving the marriage is even more complicated.”

Regev said that opinion polls show that “a clear majority” of Israelis “want freedom of marriage” — the right to an Orthodox, non-Orthodox or civil marriage that will be recognized by the state.

“Israelis want the same rights people enjoy in every normal democracy,” Regev said. 

Wedding: Bridge to reconciliation


I got married June 30 at the Chabad Residential Treatment Center. 

Yes, you read that correctly. I didn’t get married at the Four Seasons but at a drug and alcohol rehab facility on the corner of Olympic and Hauser boulevards. It was the most un-orthodox Orthodox Jewish wedding a girl could have. 

Aside from the fact that it took place at a rehab, the attendees included the following: Orthodox Jews, gay men, transsexuals, sober folks, residents of the rehab and people who don’t fit into any of those categories. 

Who would have guessed that this would have proved the means to reconnecting me and my husband with his estranged family?

You see, my husband and I were two former stray dogs who ran loose on the proverbial highway of life. We’re both recovering addicts — I have eight years and my husband has 10 years clean and sober. The reason we decided to get married at the treatment center was because that is where my husband was for the first two years of his sobriety, and we wanted to give back to a place that had given so much to him.

We had such a vast array of guests because we’re both underdogs and understand the misunderstood. We see the beauty in the abnormal. But mostly, we believe in second chances, and we were fortunate enough to get them.

Both of our lives had been burned to the ground before we met. I was a drug addict in an unhappy marriage to a man who hadn’t touched me in more than six years, had just been fired from my job, was homeless and sleeping in my car. My now-husband had gotten into some serious trouble with the law and got a nudge from the judge to get his life back on track. He entered the Chabad treatment center in 2003 suffering from multiple addictions. We met after he heard me speak at an AA meeting.

The severely destructive paths that we were on all but decimated our relationships with our families. Unfortunately, he caused a lot of shame to his family through his behavior while drinking and using — he was arrested and had to be bailed out of jail by his parents — and they became estranged. 

His brother and sister couldn’t bear witness to his unraveling, so they cut him out of their lives. His parents were in shock, so they kept their distance, not really knowing what to do. Then there was my family, who was not supportive of my choice of partner because of his troubled past as well as my horrendously embarrassing first marriage to a questionably gay man. 

What finally swayed my family is meeting my love for the first time. They saw what a transformed, wonderful and good man he is. He has this calm inner light that shines brilliantly. I believe that light is God-consciousness. 

I found this quote by Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach recently, and I believe it defines who my husband is:

“Every Jew must firmly believe that inside him there resides a pure soul. Regardless of what his situation may be, even if has strayed from the right path, the inner essence of his soul — which is a portion of God — remains pure and unsullied. … From this tiny center of the soul that has not been tainted by evil, the transgressor derives the strength to do teshuvah (repentance), make amends for his failings, and soar to the loftiest spiritual heights.”

My husband has soared to his highest self by working a stellar recovery program for 10-plus years now, repenting and redeeming himself. Most importantly, he has a strong connection to his higher power. 

For years, my love would write letters to his brother and sister, trying to make amends. Those letters went unanswered for 10 years. When we got engaged, he decided the time was right to try again for reconciliation. Much to his and my surprise, both his brother and sister responded to his calls and e-mails. It wasn’t much, but it was something. 

We had no expectation that they would attend the wedding, but at the last minute they showed. It was a miracle — my husband’s entire family came to our wedding. His mother, father, sister, brother and cousins all flew to Los Angeles from back East. 

The door to forgiveness was open, and they all walked through. Seeing my husband’s brother — a man who previously said he would never speak to him again — joyously dancing the hora in front of us made me cry for days. 

His sister was so grateful that the wedding gave her family a chance to reunite. I kept looking over at my mother-in-law, who sat with her entire family surrounding her, in tears. She never thought this day would come. It was a special day and what seemed like the hottest day of the year. The love radiated as strongly as the sun.

Everyone who attended the ceremony commented on how intense it was because it was healing on so many levels. My husband’s family relationships are finally mending. It goes to show you: Never give up hope. Miracles happen. It is only when you open your heart that you will be able to reach out and begin to build a bridge of reconciliation.


Mara Shapshay is a blogger, writer, performer and stand-up comedian.

At long last, lasting love


Encino lawyer Jeremy Karpel’s home has an art gallery feel to it, with an eclectically decorated living room spilling out into an elegantly landscaped yard. During one recent weekend, it was the perfect backdrop for a party commemorating his grandparents’ anniversary, filled with the sounds of big band-era greats, as spun by a 9-year-old DJ.

But this was no ordinary anniversary. Eddie and Ruth Elcott of Arleta, both in their 90s, were marking 70 years of marriage.

While laying down their own roots — resulting in a fleet of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, including the precocious DJ — the Elcotts contributed to a number of San Fernando Valley Jewish organizations as well, among them their longtime congregation, Adat Ari El in Valley Village.

Still, the visual centerpiece of the Aug. 24 anniversary party was purely personal: a suitcase packed with 1940s wartime correspondence between the couple, then barely in their 20s. The suitcase lid is adorned with a portrait of the then-newlyweds and promotional material for a book that features them, “Project Everlasting: Two Bachelors Discover the Secrets of America’s Greatest Marriages,” written by Mathew Boggs and Jason Miller.

While the Elcotts have been in the public eye of the local Jewish community personally and professionally for decades, one of the most defining moments, according to the couple, took place while promoting the book on CNN. The reporter asked the Elcotts if they ever considered divorce. Not missing a beat, Ruth replied, “Divorce? Seldom … if ever. Murder? Often!” 

“It made people around the world laugh, but it also made them think,” Eddie said following their anniversary party, lounging comfortably in the living room of their home of 60-plus years. It is covered wall-to-wall and table-to-table with decades’ worth of framed photos and albums and a sculpture of a young girl dancing that Ruth’s family smuggled out of Germany.

The couple first met back in 1940 at a Jewish United Service Organizations (USO) party in New York City. That’s when a streetwise young soldier from Harlem set his sights on a delicate beauty whom he later learned got herself and her family out of Germany when Hitler came to power, thanks to forged documents, a job opportunity to work on a farm in England and other twists of fate.

“I still remember that when you got out of Germany, you really made a vow, that you would not let Hitler win,” a still-inspired Eddie told his wife. “That’s been basically what our lives since the war have been about. Rather than shy away from the past like other survivors, Ruth made it a point to tell the story to our children and family, as well as high school kids all over Germany, explaining the Holocaust and what she needed to do to survive. Ruth was and is very much a model for how to survive.”

After her father was imprisoned in 1938 and the freedoms of Jews became unbearably restrictive, Ruth decided to take action. When she heard about job openings in England, the 17-year-old obtained a passport and then forged paperwork to indicate she was the required age of 18, she said.  


The couple first met during World War II — a recent German immigrant and a streetwise young soldier from Harlem.

During the train ride to Amsterdam, en route to England, she feared that the German conductor would discover her forgery and send her to her death. Instead, once the train crossed into Holland, Dutch authorities threw the German personnel off the train. Ruth’s job in England involved hard work on a family farm, but she ultimately obtained the means to get her mother, father and sister out of Germany. 

No one in the extended family survived the Holocaust, however, according to the couple’s daughter, Diane Karpel of Northridge.

Later, Ruth’s wedding to Eddie was an almost spontaneous affair, consisting of the couple and two witnesses they randomly met shortly before Eddie shipped out. Although wartime romance inspired many Hollywood movies in the early 1940s and the USO gained iconic status through its entertainment and social gathering opportunities, reality put Eddie and Ruth’s relationship to the test. 

“We all grew up during that war,” Ruth said. “Soldiers came back and realized the world had changed a great deal. Young women realized that they not only had children to take care of, but husbands as well, especially those injured during the war. We had nothing when we started out, and yet we did it — we got through it. [Eddie] did not come home to a wife happy to see him and a rosy future, but instead home to [a reality that he had] a child and no money.”

War separated the couple during the critical first years of marriage, but they wrote each other every day, chronicling an eventful time in world history and their own lives. Shortly after Eddie’s departure, Ruth learned she was pregnant with their daughter, Diane. Soon after, Eddie’s unit was torpedoed on the way out to the Pacific Theater. Dozens of Ruth’s letters finally got to Eddie a month later, after Diane was born.

“When we wrote to each other every single day, we realized how little we knew about one another … and that our family structures and upbringings were completely opposite,” Ruth said.

That didn’t stop them from dedicating themselves to the task of maintaining a family once Eddie returned.

“We had to start all over again, and when Eddie was in school, I did everything needed to maintain the household,” Ruth said. “Two and a half years later, our son David was born, and we now had two children to care for on my beautician’s job.”

What each one of them separately went through gave them the backbone to weather the challenges, said their son, Shalom Elcott, president of the Jewish Federation & Family Services of Orange County.

“My parents were both street fighters determined to survive,” he said. “My father grew up in Harlem in a working-class family, while my mother grew up in a well-to-do family in Germany who lost everything and [she] had to get her family out to safety.”

Among the things the family did manage to get out was a crystal bowl that survived the war and several moves, only to be destroyed by the Northridge Earthquake. Its remains have been incorporated — as a symbol of endurance — into 14 statues held by multiple generations of family members. The sculpture was commissioned by Diane Karpel.

Shalom Elcott views his parents’ marriage through the lens of their devotion to building the Jewish community in the San Fernando Valley. His father, a political science educator at West Los Angeles City College, taught confirmation at Adat Ari El, and his mother was active in Sisterhood. She also was a religious school teacher at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino and spoke about her experiences in Germany locally and abroad. Shalom Elcott also remembers heeding their encouragement to get involved in different community and philanthropic organizations.

“We had that strong Jewish upbringing in part because it was my mother’s way of continuing the now ongoing joke she played on the Nazis [by] getting herself and her family out. This now includes 18 great-grandchildren who exist because of my parents’ will to survive,” he said. “All of us and many of our children are involved in some form of Jewish education.”

A short history of Jewish intermarriage


JTA’s Uriel Heilman reported this week on the continuing evolution of Jewish attitudes toward intermarriage. After the clarion call of the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey showed a 52 percent intermarriage rate among American Jews, Jewish groups poured millions into efforts to stem what was seen as a threat to the future of the community.

Intermarriage has long been an issue of concern to American Jews. In 1926, the marriage of “Miss Mina Kirstein” of Boston to a non-Jew was considered worthy of a news item in the Jewish Daily Bulletin, the precursor to JTA’s Daily Briefing.  But the degree of fear engendered by intermarriage, not to mention its frequency, has ebbed and flowed over the years.

In 1967, a study by the Reform movement’s rabbinical group found that intermarriage rates were actually lower than they had been in the early days of North America’s settlement by Europeans. Between 1654 and 1840, the study found, there were 942 Jewish marriages, only about 15 percent of which were between Jews and Christians. The low rate may have owed something to the fact that large majorities of Catholics and Protestants at the time opposed marriage to Jews.

Back in the 1960s, long before the NJPS, solid evidence of intermarriage rates was lacking, but what did exist pegged the rate lower than what had existed in the first two centuries after the Pilgrims arrived. The federal census bureau put the intermarriage rate at 7 percent.

Two years after the Reform study, a woman identified only as Mrs. Moses Richler told a conference of Jewish women that if current trends persist, there would be no Jews in Canada in “four or five generations.” Mrs. Richler said that in 1968, 18 percent of Jewish men and 12 percent of Jewish women married out.

Since then, the rates have grown dramatically (and, last we checked, there were still Jews in Canada). Jewish consternation over the issue has also risen. Following the 1990 survey, several academics concluded that Jewish engagement was far lower among intermarried couples and the Jewish community should focus its resources on combatting intermarriage and providing avenues of engagement for the in-married. Others argued that if effective outreach was made to intermarried families, they too could be drawn into the Jewish fold.

A similar debate has unfolded over the decades within the religious denominations. The Reform movement has wrestled with the issue most prominently, particularly over the question of whether rabbis should officiate at interfaith weddings, gradually coming to the view that rabbis should perform such weddings in the hope that a welcoming approach could increase the odds of future Jewish engagement.  The Conservative movement, which long considered itself less vulnerable to the threat of intermarriage, had to reconsider that position after 1991, when the NJPS found that the intermarriage rate in the movement was not 5 percent, but 28 percent  Among the Orthodox, which maintain the most uncompromising stance toward intermarriage, the threat was recognized far earlier. in 1979, Rabbi Bernard Rosenzweig, the president of the Rabbinical Council of America, said intermarriage had reached “catastrophic levels” and formed a commission to fight it.

In recent years, the intermarriages of several high profile Jews have both driven home the reality of American Jewish nuptials and raised further questions. An essay by Harvard Law professor Noah Feldman in the New York Times in 2007 challenged the decision by his Orthodox alma mater in Boston to eliminate his Korean-American wife from a photograph. The 2010 marriage between Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky prompted a debate over whether to celebrate the extent of Jewish inclusion in the corridors of American power or lament yet another soul lost to the community.

Meanwhile, the trend lines continue as they have for decades. This year, Naomi Schaefer Riley reported that intermarriage rates are rising among all American religions, but are highest among Jews.

The war against intermarriage has been lost. Now what?


When the nation’s largest Jewish federation convened its first-ever conference recently on engaging interfaith families, perhaps the most notable thing about it was the utter lack of controversy that greeted the event.

There was a time when the stereotypical Jewish approach to intermarriage was to shun the offender and sit shiva.

A generation ago, the publication of the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey showing intermarriage at the alarmingly high rate of 52 percent turned into a rallying cry. No matter that subsequent scholarship revised the figure down to 43 percent, interfaith marriage was seen as the core of the problem of Jewish assimilation in America. Jewish institutions poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Jewish identity building with an eye toward stemming intermarriage.

Fast forward two decades and the question is no longer how to fight intermarriage, but how Jewish institutions can be as welcoming as possible to intermarried Jews and the gentiles who love them.

“Clearly, Jewish communal attitudes have changed,” said David Mallach, managing director of the Commission on the Jewish People at UJA-Federation of New York, which hosted the one-day interfaith conference in June.

“One of the results of the whole process begun with the 1990 study was that in a free America we’re all Jews by choice. That’s been a profound insight that has permeated a lot of the work of the Jewish community in the last 20-plus years,” Mallach said. “It shifted the discussion from the classic stereotypical sitting shiva and never talking to a person again to saying that if we’re all Jews by choice, let’s also sit with this segment of the community and offer them that choice.”

In 1973, the Reform movement’s rabbinical arm, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, issued a nonbinding resolution opposing officiating at intermarriages. Today, more than half the movement’s rabbis perform interfaith weddings.

In 2010, a task force at the CCAR recommended shifting away from focus on preventing intermarriage to reaching out to intermarried families and adapting rituals to include non-Jewish family members. Now the movement is considering a further step.

Rabbi Aaron Panken, the new president of the rabbinical seminary of the Reform movement, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, told JTA last week that HUC is planning to take a “very serious look” at whether to end the school’s longstanding policy against admitting intermarried rabbinical school students.

In the Conservative movement, it’s no longer uncommon to see non-Jews on the bimah during a bar mitzvah service. Some Conservative synagogues even grant voting rights to non-Jewish members. Officially, the movement’s only rules on the subject are that rabbis must neither perform nor attend interfaith weddings. But the latter regulation often is ignored.

“First someone has to make a complaint, and nobody has ever brought a complaint against a colleague for having attended an intermarriage,” said Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the movement’s Rabbinical Assembly. “It would be hard to imagine that someone would be punished for it.”

Even in the Orthodox movement, the idea of shunning the intermarried is passe, seen as counterproductive to the ultimate goal of getting unaffiliated Jews to embrace their Jewish identity.

“The preponderance of intermarriage has made it usually pointless to shun those who have married out,” said Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for the haredi Orthodox Agudath Israel of America. “Once upon a time, intermarriage was a sign that the Jewish partner was rejecting his or her Jewish heritage. That is no longer the case, of course, and hasn’t been for decades.”

While there have been no national studies of Jewish intermarriage rates since the 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey, which reported an intermarriage rate of 47 percent, anecdotal evidence and general population surveys suggest intermarriage is on the rise.

A landmark 2008 study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that one-third of all marriages in the United States are now interfaith, and Jews are the most intermarrying ethnic group of all (Mormons are the least). The survey also found a growing number of Americans switching religions: Twenty-eight percent no longer belong to the religion in which they were born, or 44 percent if switching Protestant denominations is counted.

“What was once seen as abnormal, socially taboo, something you did not publicize has become socially acceptable,” Erika Seamon, author of “Interfaith Marriage in America: The Transformation of Religion and Christianity,” said at the UJA-Federation conference in June. “This is a huge shift.”

Today, the very notion of fighting a battle against intermarriage in America seems as likely to succeed as a war against rain: It’s going to happen, like it or not. The question is how to react.

Given that the children of intermarriages are only one-third as likely as the children of inmarried couples to be raised as Jews, according to the 2000-01 NJPS, the overall strategy appears to be the same across the denominations: Engage with the intermarried in an effort to have them embrace Judaism.

That’s true from the Reform movement to Chabad, with the exception of some haredi Orthodox. Where the denominations differ is how far one may go in that embrace, and how strongly — if at all — to push for conversion of the non-Jewish spouse.

At Orthodox synagogues, non-Jews cannot ascend to the bimah, and many synagogues go so far as to deny certain ritual roles to Jews married to non-Jews.

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism leaves it to the discretion of its member synagogues to set the rules on how to treat non-Jews. Rabbi Steven Wernick, the association’s executive vice president, says conversion of the non-Jewish spouse should be a goal. The only question is tactical — how and when to bring it up.

“Do you have the conversation about conversion first, or do you welcome them in and then have the conversation about conversion?” Wernick said. “You build the relationship first and then you have the conversation.”

In the Reform movement, there is some question about the significance of formal conversion.

“There are plenty of people who want to sojourn in the synagogue and not convert and still know they’re part of the Jewish family,” said the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, who has advocated a vision for the movement as a big tent with the flaps wide open.

“He’s living in the Jewish community. He’s trying on Jewish commitments,” Jacobs said. “Conversion can’t be the only thing we talk about, but it also should not be off the table. We’d be delighted to have people join the Jewish people.”

Perhaps more than anything, the shift in attitudes has changed the conventional view of intermarriage as a net loss to the Jewish community, in the form of the out-marrying Jew, to a potential gain, in the form of the non-Jewish spouse or children who may convert.

“Once you’ve intermarried, it doesn’t mean you’ve left the Jewish faith,” said Rabbi Menachem Penner, acting dean at Yeshiva University’s rabbinical school, the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.

“As times go on, we have to constantly evaluate what is the best response,” he said. “Given that it happens, what’s the best way for the community to approach it? The last thing we’d want that person to do is to throw everything away just because they’re intermarried.”

Weddings: Fabric of your (future) life


Weddings are unquestionably high-pressure situations, with budgets, guest lists and locations being hot-button issues. However, as real life and reality television attests (Exhibit A: “Say Yes to the Dress” on TLC network), there is nothing that can bring out a bridezilla quite like the quest for the perfect dress. 

And while every bride-to-be must consider her body type, personality and vision of the big day, some Jewish brides have several additional things to address, including acceptable standards established by their denomination. 

So, what’s a nice Jewish girl to do these days?

Alison Friedman, Thousand Oaks-based owner and editor-in-chief of The Wedding Yentas (
Wtoo’s Shiloh gown features an illusion bateau neckline and detachable tulle train.

“We will take care of helping the bride get her dress back to L.A., whether it is packing it in a suitcase for her, shipping it, or even traveling first class and taking the dress home that way, with some even buying a separate seat for the dress!” said Rochel Leah Katz, a fitting specialist there who works specifically with religious brides to reconcile tradition and fashion.

She said that most of her designers who offer adaptable dresses for Orthodox Jewish brides include Edgardo Bonilla, Judd Waddell and Augusta Jones, with prices ranging from $4,000 to $13,000.  

“There are only a certain number of designers willing to modify a dress from scratch so it looks like it was made that way,” Katz said. “Among them, only a small number of their dresses can be adapted.”

Like Litt, Katz said that lace is an adaptable fabric for shoring up necklines and sleeves. 

“Depending on their degree of religiosity, some brides line their lace and others don’t,” she explained. “Some brides line parts of the dress, and others line the whole thing down to the 3/4 sleeves. Some brides like the beaded lace, as opposed to plain lace.”

In terms of general advice and observations, Katz said the enduring “Jackie O” look (covered up, but curve-revealing) from the late 1960s is readily updatable through beautiful fabric, clean lines, smooth seams and an elegant shaped skirt. And while she’s seen younger brides opt for the Cinderella-style ballroom skirt over the A-line, mermaid or “fit-and-flare” styles, she recommends more streamlined fits for brides over 35, as the frilly and voluminous look of the Cinderella dress may not be considered “age appropriate.”

In the end, perhaps the most important thing for brides, as well as for the tailors and designers they work with, is that they be wholly committed — not just to the groom but to the dress.

Conversion celebration takes a surprise turn — into a wedding


Helen Rados showed up at the Bedford Post Inn north of New York City to celebrate the conversion of her friend Angela Gold.But as she approached, Rados spotted a chuppah on a hill behind the building.

She figured someone else had booked a wedding. Then she saw Angela wearing a white dress with pearls and beading.

Howard Lebowitz, meanwhile, noticed a piece of paper with Hebrew and English on it. He looked at it more closely: Wow, it’s a ketubah, a Jewish wedding contract, for Angela and her husband, Sam. “This is not just a conversion,” Lebowitz realized. “They’re getting married.”

Some 50 people came to the May 7 party, having been invited to celebrate Angela’s conversion and the conversion of her and Sam’s two young sons. It wasn’t long, though, before some of the guests were buzzing about a wedding about to take place.

“It was a big surprise and very exciting,” said Rados, one of Sam’s first cousins.

A week earlier, Angela, 34, had appeared before a beit din, or rabbinical court, and dunked in the mikvah’s ritual waters to complete her conversion; he son Jacob, 2, joined her in the mikvah (6-year-old Haden had pink eye and had to wait a week for his immersion).

Shabbat morning before the surprise wedding, the Golds, who live in Carmel, N.Y., were called to the Torah at the Conservative Temple Beth Shalom in nearby Mahopac as kallah and chatan (bride and groom).

Angela was given her Hebrew name.

Angela had considered the possibility of converting when she and Sam, 62, married seven years ago in a civil service with just a handful of people in attendance. But way too much was going on at the time.

“There were so many changes, leaving my job, leaving my family, moving to another country,” said Angela, who immigrated from the Netherlands to marry Sam. The two had met 11 years ago when she was vacationing in Florida where he lived at the time. Friendship, then a romance, followed.

As for Sam, he says he never wanted to pressure her to convert. “It just fell into place naturally,” he said.

“I couldn’t be more happy for myself; I’m going back to my roots,” said Sam, the son of Holocaust survivors.

The couple had bought a new house a couple of years ago. They joined Beth Shalom about a year ago and then Angela enrolled in an introduction to Judaism class, studying for conversion.

The Golds gradually shared with close family and friends the news that Angela would be converting. All the while, she says, they were thinking: “Wouldn’t it be great to invite people to celebrate the conversion and then have this wedding … Everybody can just show up thinking they’re coming to a brunch, wear whatever they feel like wearing.”

After milling around at the inn (co-owned by actor Richard Gere), guests were directed outside and up the hill where chairs were set up in front of a chuppah. Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Eytan Hammerman welcomed the guests.

“There was whistling and clapping,” Sam said. “I wish I had a camera to snap some of the faces of the people.”

Angela was escorted down the aisle by her mother and Jacob, Sam by his adult daughter, Bari, and Haden.

“It was just a fantasy,” Sam said. “You couldn’t write it any better than it happened.”

What I Married Into


Salt into meat
browned briefly.
 
Carrots, paprika, potatoes.
As it is written on her greased page.
 
I sing Dayenu, improvise verses
as I churn the soup.
 
Meal of bitter herbs I married
into. Chopped apples and cinnamon.
 
Matzos wrapped in linen.
Silver goblet for the prophet.
 
Celebrant out of bondage,
shank of a lineage I’d refused.
 
The woman who loved my husband
without doubt I carry to all things
 
was certain her recipe would not fail,
the matzo ball would be light,
 
our daughters would marry well,
the brisket tender.
 
Mother-in-law of big bosom,
sequin and shocking pink,
 
took me in — hug
into faith I’d waited for. 
 
Today, in my kitchen
littered with pots and peelings,
 
parsley limp in its strainer,
I want her bossing, her sass, soft arms,
 
her gold rings
in the dish by the sink.


Barbara Rockman lives in Santa Fe, N.M., where she teaches poetry at Santa Fe Community College and in private workshops. Her collection “Sting and Nest” received the 2012 National Press Women’s Book Award and the 2012 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award.

Natalie Portman married in Jewish ceremony


Actress Natalie Portman and Benjamin Millepied reportedly were married in a Jewish ceremony.

The wedding took place Saturday night at a private home in Big Sur, Calif., People magazine reported.

The couple have a 14-month-old son named Aleph and have been engaged for two years. They met on the set of the 2010 movie “Black Swan,” for which Portman won an Academy Award for best actress.

Old becomes new as couples personalize wedding ceremonies


In the months before his wedding, Jon Citel cringed at the notion of having his friends dance him to his bride at a traditional bedeken ceremony, where he would place the veil over her face.

The concept “was completely foreign to me,” he said. It “felt too traditional.”

But his bride, Ashley Novack, 26, was entranced by the tradition. “I love dancing, and this sounded like an amazing opportunity definitely not to be missed,” she said.

Rabbi Shira Stutman, director of community engagement at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington and the officiant at their wedding, had a suggestion: Reverse it.

“Subverting thousands of years of tradition, I would dance over to Jon,” said Novack, who called it one of her favorite moments of their 2010 wedding. “I was filled with love and joy as the remarkable women in my life encircled me and danced me over to Jon.”

Citel, 27, ended up loving it, too. “The sound of Ashley’s entourage approaching was thunderous and powerful,” he said. “I probably ended up liking it even more than Ashley.”

The Conservative-raised Philadelphia couple’s twist was by no means traditional, but it was an example of a growing practice of couples putting new spins on ancient wedding traditions. From adapting non-egalitarian parts of the ceremony to having friends officiate, it’s all part of a trend toward personalizing the wedding ceremony.

“It’s very important for people to incorporate their voices,” said Rabbi Sharon Brous, founding rabbi of the progressive Ikar community in Los Angeles. “That’s the way the old becomes new.”

Sara Cohen of Somerville, Mass., and her bridegroom decided to forego a rabbi, instead asking close friends to officiate at their 2009 wedding.

“We didn’t have a rabbi in our life that felt like ours,” said Cohen, 41. “The bigger reason was we really liked the idea of having people who know us really well do the wedding.”

They asked a lifelong friend of hers, a Jewish studies professor with Universal Life Minister credentials, and a close friend of his to perform the ceremony. But the couple also consulted with a rabbi about the ceremony, which included the traditional hallmarks.

There is no Jewish legal requirement that a rabbi or cantor officiate at a wedding; according to halachah, two witnesses are required to make the ceremony official. Having a rabbi can also add $1,000 or more to the cost of a wedding.

Some rabbis are nonplussed by the idea of clergy-free nuptials.

“It may make for a lovely ceremony, but it does not serve in any way to connect the couple in an official way to the Jewish community by someone who’s been ordained by the community,” said Rabbi Rex Perlmeter, the Union for Reform Judaism’s worship and spirituality specialist. “I think it’s sad and it’s a diminishment of connection to community and tradition.”

He also warned of the loss of premarital counseling by clergy.

But Perlmeter praised the notion of having friends participate in the wedding service in other ways. Couples long have had friends and honored guests recite the seven traditional blessings, but now couples are asking friends to add their own creative translations, blessings or even poetry readings to the blessings.

They are “personalizing it and rendering it unique,” Perlmeter said.

Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder, rabbi in residence at Be’chol Lashon, an initiative of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research in San Francisco, says there are practical reasons to have a rabbi officiate, including smoothing over family squabbles.

“When the rabbi takes care of it, there’s a pastoral piece involved,” she said. “Weddings are very, very emotional.”

Ra’anan Boustan, Abusch-Magder’s brother-in-law and one of the officiants at Cohen’s wedding, dismissed such concerns. Laypeople can do those things just as well or even better than a rabbi, he said, particularly if, as in many cases, the rabbi doesn’t know the couple very well.

Noting that he and his wife didn’t know their officiating rabbi well, and did not have premarital counseling with him, Boustan says, “I don’t see that was terribly preferable to the three cases in which I married my best friend from college, my wife’s sister-in-law and a friend from childhood.”

More commonly, couples are making egalitarian adaptations to ceremonies that until recently largely had been ignored outside of Orthodoxy.

For example, Orthodox brides traditionally encircle their grooms seven times under the chuppah. It’s now common for many brides and grooms to circle one another; typically each circles the other three times, then they walk around once together.

Dual-ring ceremonies, long the norm in the non-Orthodox world, are no longer unheard of among Orthodox couples.

And the tisch—a traditional time for the men to get together, discuss Torah, celebrate and sometimes be silly while the bride and female guests hold their own party as they await the bedeken—has gone egalitarian, too, with the bride and groom each holding a separate, often mixed-gender tisch.

That’s one of several suggestions that Rabbi Dov Linzer, dean of the Yeshivat Chovevei Rabbinical School in New York, offers to give women a greater role in Orthodox wedding ceremonies.

Linzer also suggests that after the groom has put the veil on the bride, she wrap him in a tallit; that the couple’s Hebrew names include the mother’s as well as the father’s names; and that women are asked along with men to recite the seven wedding blessings, albeit the woman would do so in translation.

Julianne and Justin Miller of Canandaigua, N.Y., each had a tisch at their 2000 wedding and a double bedeken.

“At the first part of the ceremony, I put his kipah on him before he put the veil on me,” said Julianne Miller, 38.

Not only did that make the ceremony more egalitarian but, Miller says—in jest—it also was a chance to be sure she had the right groom.

Her husband is an identical twin.

“Before I put the kipah on him, I looked in the crowd to make sure I saw his brother,” Miller said.

Rabbi Julia Andelman, 36, and her husband, Eitan Fishbane, a professor at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, opted out of kiddushin, the betrothal portion of the wedding ceremony in which the bridegroom “acquires” his bride by giving her a ring.

“We wanted something equally binding for both parties, and God forbid the marriage would not work out, we wanted something that would not require a get,” she said, referring to the religious divorce decree. “You need a get to dissolve to kiddushin, so if you don’t have kiddushin, you don’t need a get.”

But the couple retained the “nisuin” portion—the seven blessings known as the “sheva brachot”—binding them together as husband and wife.

“There are certainly people who could argue we’re not halachically married,” said Andelman, a former congregational rabbi who directs the Engaging Israel Project in North America.

She and Fishbane also each wore a kittel, the white robe traditionally worn by men at weddings and certain other special occasions.

Some of the creativity at weddings stems from efforts to create meaningful ceremonies within a Jewish framework for same-sex couples, said Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, a senior Jewish educator at the Tufts University Hillel.

“There’s a little more permission to look outside the old box,” said Ruttenberg, who maintains a website, the Kiddushin Variations (http://alternativestokiddushin.wordpress.com/), with postings on rabbinic opinions regarding egalitarian ceremonies.

Aaron Dorfman and his bride, Talia Milgrom-Elcott, wanted to eliminate any portion of the ceremony that spoke of acquisition, including exchanging rings.

Instead they borrowed rings from other people and used those rings as exchanges. This way, the rings “could not be perceived as halachically effecting legal acquisition because they were not ours to give,” Dorfman said.

As a sign of protest that most U.S. states don’t sanction gay marriage, the couple, who live in New York, borrowed from a Passover tradition: As seder participants reciting the Ten Plagues traditionally spill a drop of wine for each plague in recognition of the pain of others, they spilled some of the ceremonial wine before drinking it to signal some diminishing of joy.

McCartney attends Yom Kippur Services, Marries Next Day


Ex-Beatle Paul McCartney reportedly spent the night before his wedding at Yom Kippur services.

McCartney married Jewish-American heiress Nancy Shevell in London on Oct. 9. They reportedly attended Yom Kippur services and a break-fast at a local London synagogue, where Shevell, 51, received a blessing in honor of her upcoming marriage.

The couple married in a civil ceremony at London’s Marylebone Register Office, followed by a small reception at McCartney’s north London home.

McCartney’s first wife, Linda Eastman, also was Jewish. She died in 1998 after a battle with breast cancer.

Jews shaken by strong East Coast earthquake


Jewish centers and synagogues were evacuated as a result of the 5.9 magnitude earthquake that was felt throughout the East Coast, the Forward reports.

Staffers at synagogues in Washington D.C. and Richmond, Va., the city closest to the epicenter, tried to calm one another’s jittered nerves as they checked their buildings for structural damage.

“It felt like a herd of elephants was running back and forth while someone was jackhammering the building,” said Shoshana Danon, an administrator at Kesher Israel, a Modern Orthodox synagogue 14 blocks from the White House. “I’m going around to make sure the Sefer Torahs didn’t get damaged.”

At Adas Israel, the largest Conservative synagogue in Washington, Executive Director Glenn Easton ordered the building evacuated after the quake ended. A lunch for seniors was stopped midway, and 100 people filed out of the building.

No one had yet arrived for a bris scheduled for later in the afternoon. “Fortunately, the bris hadn’t started yet,” said Easton. “That would not have been a good combination. We hope there aren’t any aftershocks,” he added.

Read more at forward.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.

Fight the Enemy by Being More Jewish


I was at a big, beautiful Jewish wedding two weeks ago when something unusual interrupted the traditional chuppah ceremony: someone came up and read a poignant prayer inEnglish in support of our suffering Jewish brethren in Israel.

Initially, there was no doubt in my mind that this was an appropriate thing to do: dozens of Israeli soldiers had been killed in the preceding days, and the pain of this loss as well as the tremendous hardships in Israel over the past few weeks were undoubtedly on the minds of the assembled guests. But as the prayer wore on and the reader got all choked up, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was bringing unintended sadness to a moment of personal joy.

A great many of us are consumed by the nasty war of existence Israel has been fighting, by the international diplomatic backlash against the Jewish state, and by the renewed chutzpah of an enemy intent on destroying us. It is natural that we should do anything we can to help, whether through charitable donations, public demonstrations or even prayers at weddings.

But in our zeal to do something, in our all-consuming anger at a cowardly and unjust enemy, it is easy to fall into a trap of putting other important things on hold, like our Jewishness.

Think of how many Shabbat dinners have been littered with conversations about Katusha rockets, anti-tank missiles, hypocritical U.N. resolutions and the need for more ground troops. Not that these things are unimportant, but are they more important than our age-old traditions of joyful songs and holy conversations on Shabbat? I’ve often thought that one of Yasser Arafat’s hidden victories against the Jewish people was the darkening of millions of Shabbat dinners around the world.

The silver lining of Jewish unity in times of war is overrated. We forget how wars can throw us off our game. When you’re transfixed in front of Fox News or Arutz Sheva, who has the inclination to take the kids to do a mitzvah? When you spend hours at dinner tables and in living rooms railing against the injustices visited on the Jewish people, who can focus on increasing his or her Jewish learning, or going to a conference on honoring our parents or strengthening our relationships?

Wars are brutal: We yell, we fight, we give money. Judaism is anything but brutal. It’s delicate, complex, subtle. A war-like mentality is not our first choice. Wars promote coarseness, cockiness and smugness, not the ideal Jewish traits. We fight like lions when we have to, we express our outrage when we must, but we still keep an eye on the bigger fight: the need to strengthen our Jewish identity, beyond the temporary boost we get in times of war.

Cease-fire or no cease-fire, we seem to always be in crisis mode, which means we must be extra vigilant. When we’re fighting only to survive, it’s easy to lose sight of what makes us thrive. When fundraising letters promote one big crisis after another, it’s easy to abandon the little details and daily obligations that make up the core of Jewish identity. This gives succor to our enemies, for they seek to destroy not just Jews but Judaism itself.

It seems to me that one way we can foil this enemy is to stop agonizing so much over the news and start doing more Judaism.

I, for one, will make a vow to spend two fewer hours complaining about Israel’s situation and take my kids next Thursday to Tomchei Shabbat, the organization that provides Shabbat and holiday meals to the needy.

I will take another few hours from reading The New Republic, Commentary and The New York Times to take the kids to a retirement home to sing Shabbat songs.

I’ll take some more time from watching Bill O’Reilly and Hannity and Colmes to play Aleph Bet Bingo and the Rashi Memory Game with the kids, and I might even find time to set up that Rambam class with Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller we keep talking about.

And on Friday night, I promise not to talk about Katusha rockets, and I will sing quite loudly (to my children’s great torment) my favorite melodies.

Of course, I will continue to raise money for needy families in Israel, I will RSVP “yes” to any event that will help Israel, and I will continue to pray for the well-being of our brothers and sisters in Israel.

In other words, I will kvetch less and do more.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is the founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Five Gold Bangles and World of Difference


The morning of my wedding day, my mother called me into her bedroom.
“Come sit with me,” she said quietly, patting the spot next to her on the bed.
I sat down beside her, the softness of the mattress causing our shoulders to touch.

She turned her face toward mine, looking happier than I had seen her look in years. I attributed it to the fact that her almost-30-year-old daughter was finally getting married. Smiling, she handed me a box.

“Open it,” she urged.

Inside the box were five beautiful, gold-filigree bangle bracelets of different patterns. The gold was unlike any I had ever seen and warmed to my touch. They were not new, their shapes having been altered from perfect circles to imperfect ones by the wrists they had adorned.

I turned them over in my hands and, one by one, slid them on my right arm. They were truly beautiful.

“Oh, Mom, I love them! Where did you get them?”

She answered by telling me a story about my great-grandmother, Jemilla Danino, who, at the age of 12, married a man more than three times her age to become his second wife. Born in 1882 to a poor family in Alexandria, Egypt, she had no choice but to respect the arrangement her parents had made. One afternoon he arrived, and within the week she left with her new husband to live in Haifa, never to see her parents again. The bracelets on my arm were the same ones that Jemilla had received from her husband as a token of his commitment to marry her.

Living in the 21st century, it is hard to fathom an arrangement like the one Jemilla’s parents made for her. I barely get a vote as to whom my own daughter dates, let alone a veto. And I cried for three nights when I sent her off to summer camp and she was the same age that Jemilla was when she left home forever. And knowing, as Jemilla’s parents surely did, that I would never see my child or my grandchildren, is a thought I don’t even want to entertain.

It’s hard to believe that as recently as the early 1900s, my great-grandmother lived in a harem; marketing, cooking, washing and cleaning side by side with the other wives who shared her husband’s bed. Yet for Sephardic Jews who lived in communities influenced by Islam, like Egypt, Yemen, Morocco and Turkey, polygamy was an accepted practice.

This is in contrast to the Jews of Eastern Europe, where Rabbi Gershom decreed a ban on polygamy in the 10th century. Sephardic Jews did not accept Rabbi Gershom’s ban however, and when Israel was created in 1948, the state faced the problem of what to do with Jewish immigrants who had multiple wives. The Israeli government permitted those marriages already in existence to stay in effect while forbidding any future ones. Today, the ban on polygamy is universally accepted in the Jewish world.

The Bible is filled with stories of the problems and the unhappiness that exists in a polygamous marriage: Sarah was derided by Hagar because she couldn’t have a child, Leah was jealous of Rachel because Isaac loved her more and Solomon’s many wives brought idolatry into the land of Israel. My great-grandmother suffered a similar fate when, at the age of 13, she gave birth to my grandfather amidst women who could not bear children. Barely a teenager herself, she learned how to care for her child in a home where her life was made miserable by the disappointment and bitterness of other women. What saved her during those difficult years, and throughout her life, was her wit, wisdom and undying love for her son, my grandfather.

There are other laws that have been changed or prohibited throughout Jewish history. Another example is Rabbi Gershom’s decree prohibiting a man from divorcing his wife against her will, for any or no reason at all. This reversed a long-standing injustice that left women totally vulnerable in a marriage. The law was changed requiring the consent of both parties to a divorce, although there are still problems when a husband refuses to give the woman a bill of divorcement, or a get in Hebrew. (But I will save that topic that for another time!)

I treasure wearing my gold bracelets for many reasons. They help me remember my great-grandmother, a woman whose courage, strength and devotion carried her through a lifetime of struggle. They remind me of my mother, who wore them as a young girl when she was raised by Jemilla as a result of her own parents’ tragic and untimely deaths. And they give me a sense of optimism about our future as Jews.

For it is through the wisdom of the Jewish tradition and its ability to change and respond to laws that are patently unfair or result in causing hardship and injustice, that our greatest hope for the future lies.

Keeping Your Head If Your Child Intermarries


When you first learn that your child is — or might be — marrying someone who’s not Jewish, you may not feel like celebrating. This can be a difficult and stressful occasion instead of the joyous one you had hoped for. To help you, here are a series of tips from people whose children have intermarried, as well as from outreach professionals and counselors.

  • When your child first tells you about her engagement, congratulate her and express your love for her. First impressions are very powerful, and if you react coldly to the news, your child may remember your response for a long time.
  • As soon as you have an opportunity, congratulate your child’s partner and express your love for him. This can be a powerful way to welcome your child’s partner into your family.
  • Treat your child as an adult. If he feels that you are speaking to him as one adult to another, and not as an anxious parent to a child, he’ll be more receptive of your opinions.
  • Assume that your child has good judgment. If you think she is ignoring something, don’t tell her. Ask her if she has thought of it. You won’t always agree, but knowing that she and her partner are thinking things through will help. Don’t lecture or be judgmental.
  • Accept your child’s partner for who he is. Pushing people to be different creates resistance to change. People are much more likely to change when they feel respected and accepted.
  • Remember that it’s not your fault. If your child chooses a partner of a different religion; it’s not because you didn’t give her a strong Jewish identity or because she’s rejecting you. She’s choosing a partner of a different religion because she fell in love with the partner, and the partner’s religion — or your parenting — had very little to do with that decision.
  • Learn about the religion and background of your child’s partner. The more you know about where your child’s partner came from, the better you will understand your child’s and his partner’s religious decisions. If you are knowledgeable about your child’s partner’s religion, it’s more likely your child will listen to your perspective. Notice any and all similarities between their values and your Jewish values and discuss these similarities with your child’s fiancee and her family.
  • Let your child know you want to be involved in her life. Ask what her plans are and ask to be included and informed. Be truthful about what you would like, but understand that your wishes won’t always be fulfilled.
  • Be honest about your feelings for Judaism and talk about them. Let your child and her partner hear how Judaism works in your life and why it has an important place for you. Before you discuss what Judaism means to you, it may be helpful to make a list of those Jewish practices and values which are meaningful to you.Once you clarify for yourself where your commitments to the Jewish religion and the Jewish people lie, you are better able to communicate with your children on this important and sensitive subject. Also be honest about your doubts and complaints about Judaism.
  • Invite your child and his partner to share in your holiday observances and celebrations and to accompany you to temple when you go. Invite them to help you prepare for these occasions, thus providing an opportunity to teach about the holidays, their rituals and symbolic foods. You can be an ambassador to Judaism.
  • Celebrate your child and her partner’s efforts to participate in Jewish rituals. Don’t criticize them for not observing the way you do.
  • If possible, invite the family of your child’s partner for a small gathering just before or just after the wedding. Both are good opportunities to share your mutual joy over your children’s wedding.
  • If your child is having an interfaith wedding ceremony, offer to assist with one of the interfaith aspects, like helping them find someone who will create an interfaith ketubbah (marriage contract). This gesture of acceptance can create a lot of good will.
  • Don’t bring up grandchildren immediately. Your child has enough to worry about with planning a wedding, and this may add to the stress level or touch on a sore subject between you and him. However, if your child and his partner have started talking about children, it is OK to offer your input about how you would like them raised. Our children do want to please us and gently explaining your wishes can affect your child’s decisions.

(Compiled by the staff of InterfaithFamily.com.)

Is This Marriage Made in Heaven?


The night I met my husband was a warm evening in April and the smell of orange blossoms permeated the air. The date was “arranged” by mutual friends but I had lots of doubts about meeting their old college friend, a nice Jewish doctor from Los Angeles.

“If he’s such a great guy, why is he 31 years old and not married?” I asked myself as I pulled into the parking lot, totally missing the irony of my own unmarried situation.

I knew, even before the chips and salsa arrived, that my children would have his eyes. Deep, calm, caring eyes that had me convinced in less than a minute that I had come home to the place I had been traveling 27 years to find.

I didn’t know what it was called at the time but according to Jewish tradition, I had found my beshert, my true soul mate.

What is a soul mate? Is it a New Age concept that defines true love? Is it a catchy phrase used by romance novelists and publishers to sell books? Or does it mean something deeper and more essential, a spiritual bond between two people that is essential to fulfilling our heart’s destiny?

The Bible gives us a glimpse of the origins of a soul mate in Genesis 2:18 when God said: “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make him a helper corresponding to him.”

Loneliness is God’s first concern about us as human beings. There is a sense that we will not be happy alone; that we need to be connected to another human being to experience companionship, support and the struggles inherent in a relationship if we are to achieve personal fulfillment and reach our highest potential. Adam, the first man, may have been complete in his physical being but without someone to love, without a partner with whom to relate, he was spiritually and emotionally incomplete.

In the story of Isaac and Rebecca, we watch as Divine guidance directs the meeting of two people destined for one another when Abraham’s servant, Eleazar, prays to God for a sign. Eleazar barely finishes his entreaty when Rebecca appears and provides the exact sign that Eleazar had prayed for: She offers him and his camels water to drink. This is seen as more than a lucky coincidence; it is viewed as an act of Divine providence guiding Isaac to his true love.

The idea that heaven plays a part in the destiny of our hearts also appears in the Talmud, which describes a soul mate as someone who is chosen for us even before we are born. “Forty days before a child is born, a voice from heaven announces: ‘The daughter of this person is destined for so-and-so'”(Sotah 2a).

How does one find their soul mate? Jewish history provides us with several answers. Abraham’s servant, Eleazar, is our first example of a Jewish matchmaker, a man on a mission to find the right wife for Isaac. During the 12th century in Europe and Asia, it became customary to hire an intermediary, or shadchen, to find a suitable marriage partner. While this custom is no longer widely practiced, it is still followed in traditional Orthodox Jewish communities today.

Another answer has emerged from the world of technology. Jewish matchmaking in cyberspace is now a vibrant industry consisting of numerous Web sites offering successful matchmaking services for Jewish singles.

Not finding one’s soul mate does not mean that one will live a loveless life. There are many forms of love and many types of loving relationships that nourish the heart and elevate the soul. Although different from a soul mate, a soulful relationship is one born out of true knowledge, caring, respect and love for another person that imbues life with emotional and spiritual meaning and purpose. Soulful relationships can occur throughout our lives with friends, co-workers, respected teachers and family members, as well as in our efforts to know and love God. In all cases, it is through our search for love and the belief and faith that we will find it that we open ourselves up to finding soulful relationships, as well as our true beshert.

My husband and I will celebrate our 23rd wedding anniversary this year. While some may view ours as a “marriage made in heaven,” we both know how hard we have struggled, worked, negotiated and compromised to make it a strong and loving relationship here on earth. When I look into his face and see the light reflected in the eyes that so closely resemble those of my children, I am reminded of a wonderful Jewish saying from the Chasidic rabbi, the Ba’al Shem Tov:

“From every human being there rises a light that reaches straight to heaven. And when two souls that are destined to be together find each other, their streams of light flow together and a single brighter light goes forth from their united being.”

Amy Hirshberg Lederman is a nationally syndicated columnist, Jewish educator, public speaker and attorney. She can be reached at alederman@cox.net.

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Boutique Teaches Brides Love Lessons


Where there’s a bride to be, there’s a bachelorette party. And for many Los Angeles women, that party means just one thing: The Love Boutique. For 25 years, the shop has entertained and educated parties of women about sexuality and sensuality. The Love Boutique parties are like Tupperware parties, but instead of selling kitchenware and sharing recipes, the consultants are selling romance gear and exchanging advice on how to heat things up in the bedroom.

“We provide women with an honest, authentic sexual education,” Love Boutique founder Judy Levy said. “We teach women everything their mothers didn’t and discuss everything that women are afraid to talk about.”

Levy, who describes herself as a nice Jewish mother, wasn’t always in the sexuality business. A graduate of Palisades High, this former B’nai B’rith Girls chapter president spent 15 years as a schoolteacher. While teaching in Europe, she was inspired by stores that sold sexual goods in a traditional retail environment. In January 1981, she brought her version of that liberal European attitude to the Los Angeles area, opening The Love Boutique in Tarzana and hosting home parties. Levy, who celebrated the shop’s 25th anniversary with a charity gala on Feb. 2, has since opened a second shop in Santa Monica and now hosts more than 100 parties each month.

The Love Boutique sells everything from massage oils to lingerie and romantic board games to self-help books. In keeping with the store’s philosophy, these items are merely tools to help women feel elegant, sexy and self-confident.

“The nighties are just the wrapping paper, you are the gift inside,” said Love Boutique party consultant Sophia Silver, who attends Stephen S. Wise. “We want to help women feel good about themselves and their relationships.”

But Levy’s Love Boutique parties aren’t promoting promiscuity or suggesting that women play the field.

“When women understand and respect their bodies, they will find partners who honor, appreciate and respect them,” Levy said. “Only men who understand this will get to be with us.”

Love Boutique consultants teach that sexuality is normal, healthy and fun. They explain that women will feel more powerful, creative and happy when they are comfortable with their sexuality, and that this sexual knowledge will lead to more successful relationships.

While Love Boutique’s parties and shops will have its detractors, Levy believes this education is important for all women, but especially young brides.

“Girls tend to focus on their wedding and forget about their wedding night and the nights after that,” said Levy, who was a virgin bride at 21. “It’s important that women think about how they’ll keep up that connection in their relationship.”

That’s where the Love Boutique’s bachelorette parties come in. The parties teach women to open up lines of communication and be proactive in their requests for what they want emotionally and physically. And attendees say they’re just plain fun. Hostesses invite 25 to 30 friends (over the age of 18) for lots of giggly, girly bonding and what else — shopping.

A love consultant arrives at the hostess’ home with a tablecloth, products and goodies. The party opens with a sexuality quiz. From there, the consultant opens up the conversation, allowing women to share stories and ask questions in a comfortable environment. The consultant leads the guests in games and discussions that help women learn about their own romantic needs. Then she walks the guests through the products available at Love Boutique.

The goods range from aphrodisiac candles to edible body frosting and some items that made this reporter blush to witness, let alone write about. Party consultants are aware that hostesses’ comfort levels may vary, and they will work with the hostess before the party to find a tone that works for her and her guests. At the end of the party, the consultant discretely meets with each guest individually to take orders to ensure that each remains private. The bachelorette receives a free hostess gift and a gift certificate valued at 10 percent of the party’s total sales.

Levy, who participates with ORT and Hadassah, believes her business meshes well with her Jewish beliefs. Many of her party consultants and hostesses are Jewish, and she says her work helps Jewish couples fulfill a Shabbat mitzvah.

“Every Friday night, my husband and I light Shabbat candles and stay home together,” said Levy, who belongs to Makom Ohr Shalom in Tarzana.

For Levy, who recently spent two weeks in Israel, tikkun olam (healing the world) is personal passion. The Love Boutique’s recent 25th anniversary party at the Jewish-owned Erotic Museum in Hollywood doubled as a benefit for Children of the Night, which rescues children from prostitution. During the month of February, 2 percent of all party, online and Love Boutique sales will go to the nonprofit.

Levy is thrilled to be helping the community at large and Jewish couples in particular through her business.

“We’re helping couples connect emotionally and physically, and it’s that connection that sustains a marriage,” she said.

To book a Love Boutique bachelorette party, call (310) 586-0902 or visit

First Person – A Love Story


This is the story of my friend Valerie, whom I first met just last year. Valerie sent me an e-mail introducing herself as Shira, a Jew-by-Choice who worked as a flight attendant. She wondered if I was the same Rabbi Mark her fiancé Glenn knew from his synagogue’s high school youth group. Glenn and I had lost touch with one another when his family moved to California. Was I the same individual, Val asked, and, if so, would I officiate at their wedding?

Thanks to Valerie, two best friends were reunited after more than three decades apart. More importantly, Glenn and Val had found each other. Their love was intoxicating, with family and friends commenting how happy each was to have found his/her soul mate.

On a sunny October afternoon, I performed the ceremony as Glenn and Valerie married in a traditional Jewish wedding on a yacht in Marina del Rey. We joined with their children, parents, relatives and friends for a joyous ceremony on the deck replete with a wind-blown chuppah. Val’s artistic touches were evident in the wedding program she designed, the ketubah she selected and the extra touches that made the day special. Adding to the festivities were other yachts in the harbor whose captains blew their horns in celebration with shouts of mazal tov from their own passengers.

Two months after that glorious day, Glenn called to tell me that his beloved Valerie had suffered a brain aneurism and was in critical condition in an area hospital. I rushed to the ICU unit, only to find our beautiful, 47-year-old Valerie near death. I sat with Glenn, Val’s daughters, and other family members as a neurologist informed them that Valerie was brain dead and being kept “alive” by machines.

Amid the overwhelming shock and grief, the medical staff gently raised a sensitive but timely subject: Would the family consider donating Valerie’s organs to others? Their initial reply was no, since Valerie had thought that Jewish law prohibited organ donation. They too believed that donating organs was a sin. Fighting back tears, I counseled family members that organ donation is not contrary to Jewish law. In fact, rabbinical authorities from all Jewish movements agree that organ donation is a tremendous mitzvah and the highest form of pikuah nefesh (saving life).

An emotional discussion followed. What would Valerie want her loved ones to do had she known that organ donation is permissible according to Jewish law?

In the end, Valerie’s family consented to donating her organs. I sat with my friend Glenn as a nurse from OneLegacy (the Southern California transplant donor network) completed the paperwork to initiate this awesome mitzvah. I witnessed the OneLegacy team spend day and night painstakingly matching Valerie’s organs with compatible donors, as her family and I made plans for her funeral.

On a sunny December afternoon, we laid Valerie to rest in a local cemetery. We remembered her as a fun-loving, vivacious young woman. Val made friends easily and instantly, from passengers on her flights, to total strangers in stores and restaurants. She lived each moment to the fullest, and radiated warmth and joy to those around her.

In life, Valerie gave 100 percent to whomever she was with and whatever she was doing. In death, Valerie gave the ultimate gift. One of her kidneys is now in the body of a 76-year-old man who had been on dialysis for six years. He is married and the father of three children. His kidney function is now good and he is off of dialysis.

Valerie’s other kidney went to a 50-year-old man. He is single, active and used to ride his bicycle 40 to 50 miles a week. Prior to the transplant, he had been on dialysis. Valerie’s kidney was a “zero mismatch,” meaning that it was a perfect match for this recipient. He told the transplant team that he knows he “won the lotto” by receiving such a perfectly matched kidney. He is doing well and his prognosis is quite good.

These are just two of the fortunate recipients of Valerie’s donated organs. The quality of their lives has improved dramatically since their transplants. In some cases, they are alive because of their transplants.

I will never understand why my friend Valerie was taken from us in the very prime of her life. When I sit and cry with her family, I cannot know their pain and anguish nor can I comprehend their tragic loss. I do know that they find a small measure of comfort in the knowledge that Valerie gave the gift of life to others. Amid the darkness, they have found a ray of light and hope for the future.

Rabbi Mark S. Diamond is the executive vice president of The Board of Rabbis of Southern California.

 

Hatches and Matches


Your news weekly about Jewish life now has an easy, free way to share your Jewish life with others.

At www.jewishjournal.com/Celebrations.php, you can now post wedding, birth, bris, b’nai mitzvah, anniversary, graduation and aliyah announcements. The posting can include photos and links to your Web page, if you like.

Web surfers can use an interactive search engine to see who is celebrating what, and even send congratulations online.

The Jewish Journal will choose from posted items and reprint them — also for free — on our twice-monthly Celebrations page in the back of the paper. The Celebrations page will run the second and third week of each month, between Tribe, a page by and for teens, and our new page for kids.

“The new interactive Celebrations feature joins our interactive community Calendar to make www.jewishjournal.com the Web hub for Jewish L.A.,” Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman said. The Journal’s online community calendar — also free — has over 2,000 local and regional listings.

For more information, visit — of course — www.jewishjournal.com/Celebrations.php.