Re-imagining and recycling traditional wedding objects


Artists and creative newlyweds are finding new ways to make the trappings and ceremonial elements of Jewish weddings their own — and then to have these mementos live on and remain useful long after the actual ceremony.

The evidence? Broken shards of glass turned into art, chuppahs repurposed and more.

Cigall Goldman, founder and CEO of mazelmoments.com, a Jewish event-planning site in New York, said there are opposing influences on couples approaching their wedding.

“There are only so many trends with the ceremony, since it’s based on traditions and rituals that go way back,” Goldman told the Journal. But, she continued, “Modern Jewish couples want the wedding to be a reflection of the couple.” 

One place to start is with the chuppah. The centerpiece of any Jewish wedding, it has gone from a traditional tallit to a statement piece, with personalized themes, colors and creative touches. 

Today, the rustic-chic theme is popular, with an “organic, earthy vibe” with perhaps a grape vine or birch poles providing an all-natural feel, said Goldman, who in April led a webinar on nationwide Jewish wedding trends. “A more modern chuppah with a sleek, rectangular design has gained popularity too.”

Karina Rabin, owner of Happy Chuppah of Orange County, said, “Lately, birch is extremely popular because it’s natural. Flowers are also popular — roses, hydrangea, peonies. We also include crystals as an added decoration, and they’re complimentary, so they’re good if someone’s on a budget. A lot of fabric is also popular, chiffon fabric in white or ivory. People like to make a statement and go all out.”

After the wedding ceremony, couples often find a new purpose for their chuppah, which represents the home they are building together. Goldman said it could be used for decor at the reception or set up over the sweetheart table for the just-marrieds. 

Its uses can go far beyond the wedding day, too.

“People often purchase the top, which is the actual chuppah, and use the fabric for a baby naming or a bris,” Rabin said. “They decorate a table and cover it with the chuppah as the linen and put pictures on the table of family members who have passed away. Couples also pass on the chuppah to their children for their wedding; that happens a lot.”

When it comes to the traditional marriage contract, the ketubah, papercut versions have become very popular, according to Andrew Fish of Gallery Judaica in Los Angeles. 

“Papercut ketubot are our biggest sellers,” he said. “Two artists in particular, Danny Azoulay and Enya Keshet, have created amazing selections of exquisite, meticulously detailed designs, which are cut by laser. We think that one reason these pieces have become so widespread is that the majority of them offer a stunning way to display your wedding vows while maintaining a neutral color. This way, if you change your decor, you don’t have to worry about color matching.”

Keshet, who lives in Israel and also offers custom-made ketubot that are hand-painted, said in an email that she offers both a traditional text and alternative options that she composed herself: “The ‘Pledge of Love,’ which leans on tradition and stresses the long-term mutual responsibilities, and the ‘Vision of the House,’ which sets the house as a metaphor to marriage … special versions of the vows are adapted to same-sex weddings and even to interfaith ones.”

The traditional broken wedding glass, once stomped on and forgotten, can now live on as a part of anything from a Kiddush cup to a picture frame. In its new form, the couple can keep the glass pieces to remind them of their special day. Fay Miller of Los Angeles conceived the idea of reusing the broken glass pieces some 20 years ago, crafting unique designs including the pieces through her company, Shardz.

“I came up with the idea at the wedding of my husband’s cousin’s daughter. He said no one does anything with the broken glass, and I said, ‘We should.’ That began a journey of apprenticeship at my studio with another glass artist. I built my own furnace and piped it except for the electrical. I learned how to work with high-temperature cement. I think that’s not bad for an old Jewish lady,” she said. 

“Working with the broken glass puts me in touch with the joy and ritual they represent. … I feel I’m a part of so many Jewish lives, and I’m honored they choose me to preserve such important memories.”

Other well-known artists, such as Gary Rosenthal of Maryland, have been inspired by the practice. Rosenthal said the mezuzah he makes for broken wedding glasses is his most popular item with couples.

“You lift up the top of the mezuzah and put the shards in front, and then you have it in your home as a permanent memento,” he said.

Rosenthal integrates shards with other Jewish ritual objects as well, such as Kiddush cups and menorahs. He also creates picture frames, heart-shaped pieces and other designs. 

“They’re like little treasure boxes,” he said.

Today, long after the Jewish wedding ceremony has ended, artists like Rosenthal help the promises a married couple have made to each other on their wedding day live on — and live on in style.

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.”

Crowdsource your Simcha


When Amanda Melpolder began planning her wedding to Jeff Greenberg, she hoped the ceremony would be unlike others.

Melpolder had become involved in an independent minyan in Brooklyn after converting to Judaism several years ago, and she and Greenberg wanted their wedding this month to reflect the prayer group’s community spirit and sense of do-it-yourself camaraderie.

Friends were asked to lead prayers and narrate the signing of the ketubah, or marriage contract. Melpolder, a chef, solicited recipes from guests that would be bound in a souvenir cookbook. Assignments were given to friends based on personalities and interests.

“Since our Jewish community is one that we created and are actively part of, it made sense that our wedding would be the same theme, with people leading different parts of the ceremony,” Melpolder said.

Such participatory approaches to wedding planning might seem like a feature of the information age but may be just the latest incarnation of an older Jewish tradition.

“The word ‘crowdsourcing’ is a new word for an old thing,” said artist Nahanni Rous, who creates custom chuppahs, or wedding canopies.

“We are pretending that we just invented this idea of the shtetl. It’s like everybody would come to the wedding, and that was how a community got together to celebrate.”

In other words, it has always taken a village. It’s just that now the village looks quite different.

Based in Washington, D.C., Rous often incorporates crowdsourcing into her work, such as asking friends to submit fabric swatches.

Her chuppah-making career began, appropriately enough, at her own wedding. She and husband Ned Lazarus, who met in Israel and married in 2004, had two ceremonies, in Jerusalem and New Hampshire, to accommodate friends in far-flung locales. Each guest was asked to bring fabric that was pinned to a sheet at the wedding.

“We had people from every region of Israel and the Palestinian territories at the ceremony. We had everything from a kippah with a Magen David knitted on it to a Palestinian flag to a piece of someone’s wedding dress and a map,” Rous said. “It was a really beautiful hodgepodge.”

Since then, Rous has worked with couples to create custom chuppahs, incorporating everything from traditional Jewish symbols to quotes from poets such as e.e. cummings and Pablo Neruda. Some of her clients aren’t even Jewish but like the concept of the chuppah.

In some cases, crowdsourcing is a way to make guests feel more involved in a ceremony, but it can also be a way to make logistics a little easier for the bride and groom.

When Caroline Waxler and Michael Levitt married last summer, they came up with a Twitter hashtag for their wedding guests. Waxler, who runs a digital strategy company, knew her tech-obsessed friends would be tweeting photos from the ceremony and reception.

With the hashtag #waxlevittwedding, she was able to find them easily.

“When you’re making a commitment in public to one other person, it’s kind of also a reminder that in your life you are supported by people, not just by one other person,” Rous said.

While crowdsourcing methods can make family and friends feel more involved in the wedding, Melpolder admits that she may have other reasons for making the big day a little more social.

“I really hope someone hooks up at our wedding,” she said. 

The art and mystery of the Ketubah


“The Marriage Artist” by Andrew Winer (Holt, $26.00) opens with a shocking scene — a young woman and her suspected lover are found dead on a New York sidewalk. Was it a crime committed by the woman’s jealous husband? A lover’s quarrel that ended in a murder and then a suicide? Or perhaps a double-suicide? 

So, from the very first page, the novel presents itself as a mystery, a romance and a ghost story, and the author is adept at weaving all of these narrative threads into a single compelling tale.  But what stamps “The Marriage Artist” as something especially memorable is the author’s use of the ketubah — the traditional Jewish marriage contract, a work of art as well as a legal instrument — as a symbol for the “mysterious repetitions” that are present in every marriage, whether it turns out to be happy or sad, fruitful or blighted.

A man named Josef Pick, whom we first encounter as a boy in Vienna in the turbulent 1920s, is “the Mozart of Marriage Contracts,” an artist who composes and illuminates the ketubot with uncanny genius. “Love may be pure, but marriage is not,” says Josef’s grandfather, who is also his mentor. And so, the old man explains, “the most crucial ingredient – in any ketubah worth its sale – is mystery.”

A parallel narrative focuses on Daniel Lichtmann, an art critic in contemporary New York, and his wife, Aleksandra, whose death we witness on the opening page. He has mysteries of his own to solve, most of which focus on the artist whose career he has championed and who ends up a corpse on the sidewalk next to his dead wife. Daniel’s odyssey carries him across both time and space as when he follows the clues from New York to Southern California.

“Daniel felt like some brooding German émigré who had just arrived, fresh from Hitler’s Reich, amid the palm tree-packed Pacific Palisades,” writes Winer.  “But even the Palisades and the rest of Los Angeles had its share of sorrow.”

As the author flashes back and forth in time, we descend through the circles of hell that can consume a human life. “This Jew insists he is to be married to a woman with a visa to Palestine – but he could not produce her name for us!” says a Gestapo officer who encounters Josef and the woman he has arranged to marry at their first meeting. “I would have to put this Jew on last night’s train to Dachau if I wasn’t so curious to see his bride-whore – because only a whore would marry a man who didn’t know her name!”

Inevitably, the two narratives will intersect, and we are drawn through Winer’s extraordinarily rich and artful book as if it were a thriller. And, in fact, there are moments of horror and heartbreak in “The Marriage Artist” if only because the author has imagined some of the ways in which men and women in contemporary America are linked to those who endured the nightmare of history during the Holocaust.  “Jewish America — it clings to the ghosts of six million Jews so it will not feel alone,” observes one of almost spectral figures who lead Daniel toward the truth he seeks.

At the heart of the matter, then, “The Marriage Artist” is a meditation on human relationships.  We are shown more than one troubled family in intimate detail, and Winer confronts us with the demands and disappointments that afflict husband and wife as well as parent and child, the toxicity of sexual infidelity and even deeper forms of betrayal.  Thus, for example, the death of his wife — and the death of his marriage — reduces Daniel to despair.

“Perfect understanding of another person was a delusion, he had come to believe; the struggle to attain it was sheer vanity, the result of self-love gone awry: a person felt they were so worthy of another’s perfect understanding of them that they would do anything – marry, take lovers, divorce, and fight and fight and fight – to bring someone else to it,” writes Winer. “What a waste of life!”

Yet the despair is ultimately transmuted into something like redemption.  At a stunning moment, Daniel comes upon yet another ketubah, and by then he has discovered what he needs to know in order to recognize its significance: “[I]t was the triumph of love, or rather of love’s innocence (and this was the biggest surprise – how had the artist done it?), that made the piece sublime.”  Exactly what Daniel has discovered, of course, is something that should not be explained in a review because it is the reward that awaits the reader.

At one point in “The Marriage Artist,” Josef Pick looks back at the turning point in his young life when he first picked up the calligrapher’s pen. “Hardly more than a decade later, when everything he knows will be gone forever – this life of his, the people in this room, Vienna itself really – he will look back on this moment and marvel at how randomly a life gets made,” writes Winer. “His life will seem as if it could not have been any other way.”

Precisely the same words can be used to describe how a novel like “The Marriage Artist” gets made.

Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal. He blogs at

Personalize your ketubah without breaking the law


For many brides and grooms, the ketubah signing that precedes the veiled walk down the aisle has a bit of mystery about it. They may not be sure exactly what the ancient Aramaic text says, but the signing ceremony sets just the right air of solemnity as a prelude to the veiled walk down the aisle.

Some couples who read the text carefully encounter a document that seems at least mildly chauvinist, with the husband taking an active role and the wife only consenting to become his wife. Although some couples decide to write their own egalitarian ketubah and forego the traditional document, many decide to also have a standard ketubah.

Donna Frieze, a convert to Judaism, had an additional kosher ketubah to ensure the legality of her marriage.

“Later in life,” she said, “we don’t know if we or our children would want to go to Israel and if there would be any question about our marriage.”

Despite concerns by feminists with the male-oriented language of the ketubah, the document originally developed as an insurance policy to protect the bride if the marriage ends — either through divorce or death of the husband.

The most fundamental role of the ketubah, said Rabbi Yosef Blau, spiritual adviser at Yeshiva University, is to elucidate the responsibilities and obligations a husband accepts in a marriage. According to Maurice Lamm’s the “Jewish Way in Love and Marriage,” the ketubah specifies that the husband is setting aside 200 silver zuzim, called a mohar, that will be paid to the bride in the event of his death or a divorce.

The husband also agrees in the ketubah to support his wife with food, clothing and “other necessary benefits,” which the Talmud defines as satisfactory conjugal relations.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs, a Conservative rabbi who was ordained in 2003, maintained that a ketubah can express greater mutuality and still be in consonance with Jewish law. Using a document created by Rabbi Gordon Tucker as a basis for her ketubah, Jacobs and her husband Guy Austrian expressed mutual responsibility for each other in their ketubah: “The groom and bride also agreed of their own free will to work for one another, to honor, support, and nurture one another, to live together as a family, and to create their home in love, companionship, peace, and friendship as befits the sons and daughters of Israel.”

The traditional ketubah also lists two additional transfers of property. One is the bride’s dowry, or nedunya, of silver, gold, valuables, clothing and household furnishings, which the groom accepts in the sum of 100 zuzim. The second is an additional 100 zuzim, called tosefet ketubah, that the groom provides as a wedding gift to the bride. In the Sephardic world, the tosefet ketubah is often a negotiated sum that is specified in the currency of the land.

The groom must secure these monetary obligations with a lien on his property: “I take upon myself and my heirs after me,” reads the ketubah, “the surety of this ketubah, of the dowry, and of the additional sum, so that all this shall be paid from the best part of my property, real and personal, that I now possess or may hereafter acquire.”

In the notes to Tucker’s ketubah, which Jacobs described as “the bare minimum of what you need halachically,” he claims that the only obligatory elements of the ketubah are the mohar and the lien it engenders. Concerning these monetary payments, added Jacobs, “they are part of a ketubah, but it is not necessary to specify how much.”

Tucker included language to allude to both the mohar and the lien on property: “The groom and the bride also accepted full legal responsibility for the obligations specified here, as well as for the various property entering the marriage from their respective homes and families, and agreed that the obligations of this ketubah may be satisfied even from movable property.”

The standard ketubah, despite its formulaic nature, is required for every Orthodox marriage. Because the standard ketubah does not require a husband to grant his wife a religious divorce and a get, Blau supported the idea of a bride and groom signing, in addition to the ketubah, a separate prenuptial agreement — also to protect the bride in case of a divorce.

Although the Orthodox community is committed to the existing ketubah document, whose language comes from the Mishnah, Blau said he has no problem with a bride and a groom making additional agreements and commitments, as long as they do not controvert Jewish law.

When Rabbi Jacobs and her husband got married, they did not want to have two ketubbot, but rather one ketubah that satisfied both Jewish law and their own values. “We wanted something that to our standards was halakhically acceptable,” she explained, but also egalitarian.

Using Tucker’s ketubah and adding to it three additional paragraphs of a more personal nature enabled Jacobs and her husband to have a single ketubah, something that is often not true for couples Jacobs has married. If they have written their own ketubah, but not in a way that satisfies Jewish law, she requires them to have an additional kosher ketubah — even if it is a computer printout that will go in a safe deposit box after the ceremony.

With this ketubah, I thee wed


While civil ceremonies abound up and down the California coast, those seeking a Jewish ceremony — complete with ketubah (the Jewish marriage contract) — have a few extra stops to make on the road to matrimony.

There are lots of ketubot to choose from — both in Los Angeles and online — to help solidify a couple’s love for one another.

At online ketubah store ” target=”_blank”title=”Commitment Ketubah”>Commitment Ketubah‘ for same-sex couples (see image below) comes in a variety of colors and styles ($99-$329) and can be purchased with or without a frame. KC Walensky, customer service specialist, said the company has had a increase in recent days of couples requesting it.

The top of the ketubah, written in Hebrew, is a translation of the English below it, not of the traditional Aramaic section one would find on an Orthodox or Conservative ketubah.

The ketubah for two males, for example, begins with: “On the ___ day of the week, the _____ day of _____, in the year ______, corresponding to the ______ day of ______, in the year______, in ______, ______, son of ______, and ______, son of ______, joined each other before family and friends to enter into a mutual covenant as equal partners, and with love and compassion each vowed to the other: Today I love you completely….”

The bottom has lines for the couple, two witnesses and the rabbi to sign.

Locally, both Audrey’s Museum Store at the Skirball Cultural Center and Gallery Judaica in Westwood offer same-sex ketubot from a variety of artists.

“For years we’ve been welcoming same-sex couples,” said Pamela Balton, store director for Audrey’s. “Before it was legal, couples were coming in to purchase pieces of art for commitment ceremonies.”

Delivery of ketubot, which range in price from $125 to $1,000, can take anywhere from a week to a couple of months (based on where it is being shipped from), and many can be personalized.

Although there is a ketubah specialist on site at the Skirball, couples don’t need to make an appointment to see the selection.

“We’ve done chuppahs, ketubot, the wedding glass, everything,” said Andrew Fish, marketing director for Gallery Judaica.

“The main difference is the wording of the ketubah,” he said, noting that some of the ketubot are gender neutral and some only come in English.

“We just like to help,” Fish said. “Whomever needs helps getting married — we’re going to help them get married.

” target=”_blank”>Skirball, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 440-4505 (closed Mondays).

When ketubah didn’t wow, bride created her own


ketubah: Jewish wedding contractTsilli Pines couldn’t find a ketubah that she and her fiancÃ(c) liked. The Jewish wedding contract is often artfully handwritten and later framed as a wall decoration. But Pines, 33, a Portland, Ore.-based graphic designer, wanted something modern and simple. So she designed her own ketubah — and then one for a friend.

“I started thinking that other people might also be drawn to what I was doing,” she said.

Pines researched the historical precedent of the form and was attracted to the asymmetrical designs from Iran, which were very much in the spirit of modern graphic design.

“A lot of the early, native ketubot were incredible, too — they were more bold than ornate, and I found that beautiful,” she said.

Having grown up in Northern California, she found the simplicity of Japanese design a big influence: “I’ve looked at an enormous amount of material in the course of studying and practicing design, and I’m sure a lot of that makes its way into my work.”

Pines is creating ketubot that feature trees or flowers or birds or moons under the name New Ketubah. But what sets her work apart from other, more ornately decorated ketubot is the minimalist simplicity, the words floating in open space.

“My designs are loosely based on ideas about togetherness or growth or time, and they are open to interpretation,” she said.

Most of the designs are drawn from nature, and some touch on traditional ideas like the Tree of Life or The Song of Songs. Flora and fauna are actually common themes in ketubot, she said, stretching back to the 17th century, and probably even before that.

“It’s not so much that I’m breaking new ground with the subjects,” she said. “It’s more that I’m trying to use these themes in a graphic language that’s reacting to our current time and place.” Ketubot, she said, “have always spoken volumes about their social context.”

Pines was born in Israel and recalls her parents’ ketubah from the army.

“It’s a government document, much like marriage licenses in the United States — a no-fuss certificate,” she said.

Although she says she is not religious, Pines considers herself “Jewishly connected” and thinks of the form as something personally expressive: “It’s something you don’t have to do, but rather choose to do.”

With New Ketubah, Pines is trying to reach people looking for something different than the illuminated manuscript style of many of the traditional ketubot. “Those designs are beautiful, but they don’t reflect the contemporary aesthetic,” she said. Her designs are for people who are looking for a “cleaner, simpler look,” but still want their ketubah to be a celebratory ritual object.

To complete the ketubah she sews design elements into the paper — the roots in the Tree/Roots ketubah, part of the branches the birds are perched on for the Beloveds ketubah — and packages it so that couples don’t have to worry about framing before the ceremony. Included is an archival pen so that everything is ready for the big day.

New Ketubah tailors its contracts to the different Jewish denominations, including Reform, Humanist and secular texts. (Orthodox and Conservative texts emphasize the obligations the husband has to his wife, while other denominations are more egalitarian.) The ketubah can also be tailored to interfaith, secular and same-sex couples.

“I often help couples translate their own custom text into modern Hebrew because it’s such a personal expression,” she said.

In the future, Pines hopes to branch out into Judaica as well, but for now she’s concentrating on ketubot. She says she didn’t realize how gratifying it would be.

“It’s more than just having a role in the wedding ritual — which is an honor in and of itself,” she said. “I’ve had people tell me that they look at their ketubah when times are hard in their marriage, to remind them of what’s important, and that’s tremendously meaningful to me.”

For more information, visit http://www.newketubah.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.

When Just ‘I Do’ Just Won’t Do


The traditional Jewish wedding ceremony as we know it has evolved over thousands of years. But suddenly, today, in what seems like a nanosecond out of all of recorded Jewish history, couples standing under the chuppah are seeking a whole new script.

It’s in to take the traditional text and tweak it. Couples from Judaism’s most conventional communities and those independent souls who call themselves Jews but don’t identify with any particular movement are customizing the details of what they and their officiants will say on their wedding day.

It’s not exactly a revolution. Brides and grooms are not tossing aside the spiritual significance and solemnity of the occasion, nor are they inventing new rituals. On the contrary, customs such as the couple spending a brief period privately after the ceremony (yichud) — for a long time observed only among more traditional groups — are now being adopted by community members of varying stripes. But the tendency among virtually all but the most conservative groups is to make sure that the promises made to and by each partner are personally relevant and come from both the heart and mind.

Yesterday’s Jewish wedding words are seen as issued from another world — a world where women were viewed as second-class citizens, at best, or property, at worst. When a bride left her family to marry, a legal contract was prepared, transferring, among other things, the responsibility for her upkeep. It was hoped that companionship, love, mutual respect and all that other good stuff that we 21st century, enlightened people strive for in a marriage, would naturally accompany this official transmittal. But if it didn’t, tough break.

Modern women see themselves as anything but property. And with divorce rates already ridiculously high, why start a marriage with words that don’t describe the real deal?

Traditionally and in Aramaic, the groom spoke the only words that would be considered a vow. The woman was silent. In more modern circles, a double-ring ceremony and a feminine version of the same sentence were and are often employed.

Then there’s the ketubah, the binding contract that made the marriage legal under Jewish law. Since reading all or part of the ketubah aloud to those gathered at the ceremony is customary, the words, though sometimes very personal, become part of the public pageantry.

So if you belonged to an Orthodox shul and wanted your rabbi to officiate at your wedding, he would supply an Orthodox ketubah. I have one of those. Even back in 1973 I thought the wording of the ketubah seemed quite archaic, and I still laugh when I recall the groom’s statement, “I will work for thee.” We were working together at the same job, for the same salary.

I didn’t quit my job after the honeymoon to sit at home and eat bonbons. We were a team, a partnership dedicated to each other as we led a Jewish life and saved some money so that someday we could have the all-American, Jewish dream: enough money to have a couple of kids, a house and a synagogue membership in the suburbs.

For the most part, a Conservative rabbi or cantor who officiates today will still require the couple to have a ketubah, but with what is called the Lieberman clause. This is an addendum that came into being because of the hardship endured by many Jewish women wishing to obtain a get (Jewish divorce) but denied one by a begrudging husband. While nobody wants to enter into a marriage with the thought that it will not last forever, this clause equalizes the get playing-field.

What are some of the words currently being spoken by Jewish couples under the chuppah? Here are some samples:

“Be my husband (wife, partner) according to the laws of Moses and Israel and I will cherish, respect and support you in the faithful manner in which sons (daughters) in Israel cherish, respect and support their wives (husbands, partners).

“We promise to be ever-accepting of one another while treasuring each other’s individuality.

“As husband and wife, we will build a wonderful family in a home filled with trust, warmth, laughter and love.”

If you are planning your wedding, my first words of advice are to consult with the person who will officiate. For your next step, visit sites such as ketubahcollection.com, ketubah4less.com, artketubah.com, ketubaworld.com and e-ketubah.com. Dozens of possibilities, from the most traditional Orthodox to texts with a definite liberal leaning, are there for you to consider.

Just remember that in order to avoid any conflicts with the clergy, wording for the ketubah and your part of the ceremony must be cleared in advance with your rabbi or whomever will be officiating. One wrong word could cause 1,000 problems.

While most couples still choose to use a ketubah in one form or another, an alternative document — a B’rit Ahuvim certificate — is becoming more common in Reform circles. It is described as a covenant between equals, a loving partnership between companions. For a better understanding of this Talmud-based agreement and a Reform rabbi’s take on the traditional route to wedlock via a ketubah, see www.adventurerabbi.com on the Web. Rabbi Jaime Korngold, the adventurous, Colorado-based rabbi who presides over weddings, commitment ceremonies, bar and bat mitzvahs and other Jewish events both indoors and al fresco, has some enlightening insights to share.

My advice to couples planning an intimate ceremony with their parents and a few close friends and relatives: Feel free to add all the psalms, prayers, poetry and personal reflections that you feel like expressing on your special day.

But if you opt for a grand affair, please keep your words brief. The rest of the Jewish ceremony can last a long time, and gathered guests who have traveled many miles to share your happy day will be hungry. The only words left to say are, “Let the party begin!”

Pearl Salkin is a freelance writer living in Daytona Beach, Fla.

+