Gay rabbis getting married — and marrying


It’s almost 9 a.m. on Tuesday, June 17, and the line at the West Hollywood Park snakes around itself, as some 400 people wait to obtain marriage licenses on this first official day that the State of California is issuing licenses to gay and lesbian couples (aside from one wedding on Monday).

Some men wear tuxedoes, some men wear suits, a few women are in white (a few women are in suits), but most of the couples are decked out in California casual on this momentous day. By far the most interesting – and photographed — group is situated in the middle of the line, holding up a white chuppah on bamboo poles and the banner of their synagogue: Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC).

The first gay and lesbian synagogue, located on Pico Boulevard, has brought 10 couples here to get marriage licenses. Some, like the Hales – Cara in a bridal outfit of an ivory lace top and trousers, and Heidi in a gray pinstripe suit and silver tie — have had Jewish weddings already. Others, like Davi and Bracha Cheng, were married before (in San Francisco four years ago, annulled by the court two months later). Itay Seigel and Tony Gregory Smith had never been married at all — not out-of-town, out-of-state or Jewishly.

“For us, it’s the right time and the right place,” they said. Another was the rabbi of BCC, Lisa Edwards, who was both obtaining her own license and marrying five couples in the park afterward. In the summer, she will perform more than 20 weddings — and have a civil ceremony with her partner, Tracy Moore.

It is a momentous day for gay and lesbian couples — but doubly meaningful for rabbis in same-sex relationships: Not only can they marry, but they can perform legal marriages for other same-sex couples, too. And as Jewish leaders — who have fought a number of battles for civil rights, first for acceptance in the Jewish community and then for acceptance as rabbis — this is one of the most important steps in the fight for equality. (The next hurdle would be to see gay marriage made legal and available in every state).

Three L.A. rabbis have taken different paths to solidifying their unions, and each has different feelings about the State of California’s legal sea change. For Edwards, who will marry her longtime partner in a civil ceremony this summer, it was her Jewish wedding 13 years ago that was most meaningful. For Wilshire Boulevard’s Rabbi Stephen Julius Stein, who just celebrated a 10-year commitment renewal for his Jewish wedding and will have a civil ceremony and party on July 13, the newfound right to a civil marriage offers much satisfaction. But for Rabbi Don Goor, senior rabbi of Temple Judea, the new law is meaningful, but he won’t have to do anything. He already married his partner, in Canada four years ago. The California Supreme Court decision simply means that his marriage will now officially be recognized.

Discovering Keys to Lasting Matrimony


“Everlasting Matrimony: Pearls of Wisdom From Couples Married 50 Years or More,” by Sheryl P. Kurland (American Literary Press, $39.95).

In the late 1940s, Ron Farrar’s and Joan Pachtman’s passion to help those in need charted the course for personal passion and lifelong matrimony. The West Hills residents met in college, when Ron was a member of a veteran’s organization and Joan belonged to a service club.

The two groups shared office space, and their frequent sittings led to another common interest — each other. Today, 53 wedding anniversaries later, their love is deeper and richer than ever before.

In the United States, according to the National Marriage Project, the odds of a marriage lasting, much less lasting over 50 years, are dim. Statistics released by the organization show:

• The U.S. divorce rate is close to 50 percent;

• Today’s divorce rate is more than double that of 1960;

• The number of people getting married has declined 40 percent from 1970 to 2002;

• The more partners people live with, and the longer the time they live together, the more likely they will eventually divorce.

Even with shelves full of self-help marriage books available today, the statistics aren’t improving. Celebrity divorces are splashed across news headlines: Celebrities terminate marriages as if they’re spilling out a bad cup of coffee.

We rarely hear of success stories of real marriage experts, like that of the Farrars.

The Farrars are one of 75 couples I interviewed — husbands and wives separately — across the United States and Canada who’ve celebrated no less than their golden anniversaries. Two other couples from the Los Angeles area are also featured in my book, “Everlasting Matrimony”: Russell and Ruth Blinick of Chatsworth, married 52 years, and Arthur and Anna Cohen of West Hills, married 54 years.

What makes a marriage loving and lasting until death do us part? The lessons in “Everlasting Matrimony” are innumerable. The Farrars, Blinicks and Cohens share theirs:

Accept nothing less than permanence.

“There are many wonderful ups and difficult downs in the course of a long marriage and certainly moments of wanting to flee,” Russell Blinick said. “There slowly evolves, however, a realization that something strong and reassuring is being established.”

Blinick echoed a stalwart philosophy expressed by others in the book that divorce was never an option.

Today’s naysayers challenging this core commitment believe that this generation of couples stayed married, no matter how miserable the relationship became. On the contrary, no matter how difficult the circumstances, their attitude and determination to keep the marriage afloat never wavered.

Through compromise and communication, and patience and understanding, harmony eventually was restored. Ultimately, the marital bond became more meaningful, sacred and rewarding.

Sprinkle anger with humor.

“It took us many years to learn how to ‘fight,’ but now we are aware that we have periods of stress, can argue, get it out on the table and negotiate it, and then let go of it,” Ruth Blinick said. “A sense of humor is always important.”

Disagreements can only be solved with each spouse giving a little here and there, with one person sometimes abdicating more than the other. Laughter is often the best anecdote for problems.

So what if she mistakenly threw out the green bean casserole that he was going to eat for lunch? Is it a major offense that he erroneously read the friend’s party invitation, and they showed up on the wrong date? Chastise or chuckle? The choice is yours.

Be willing to make changes. Children, money, health — different factors, planned and unplanned, impact a marriage over the years.

“Ideally, both [partners] should be able to change; to initiate change and anticipate change, and sometimes switch roles,” Anna Cohen said.

There’s no pat formula for a solid, loving marriage. Additionally, the formula that works today will require alterations over and over and over again throughout the years.

Capitalize on each individual’s strengths and weaknesses. Pooling talents, skills, likes and dislikes creates a dynamic duo.

“We found that we worked very well together as a team,” Joan Farrar said. “When we teamed up, we found that we could do anything together.”

Feeling good about the relationship requires first feeling good about yourself.

“A long-lasting marriage demands loving, liking and respecting. If I love, like and respect me healthily, I will love, like and respect thee healthily,” Arthur Cohen said.

Being self-content as an individual is essential to the health of couplehood. Complacency of either partner produces stress and anxiety in the relationship.

When talking with each couple, it was easily evident that their hearts still go pitter-patter. Each spouse was quick to praise the other for the success of the marriage.

Ron Farrar’s closing words well represented the depth of their love: “I love her [my wife] dearly — far more than at the beginning of our marriage…. I find myself grateful to the point of tears that I ended up with the girl I did.”

Sheryl P. Kurland resides in Longwood, Fla. For more information, visit www.everlastingmatrimony.com.