Advice from the Yentas


These are not your grandmother’s yentas.

The Wedding Yentas, a Conejo-based Web site offering planning advice to the modern Jewish bride, is the brainchild of Alison Friedman and Nicky Kahn.

“While planning my wedding, I had the hardest time finding resources,” said Kahn, who married husband Eric in August 2006 and co-owns Eight20 Photography with him. “As a wedding photographer, I talk to a lot of brides. Through the years, [the Jewish brides] all said it was hard to find the Jewish resources they need.”

The Jewish wedding planning sites that Kahn did find were either outdated or hard to navigate.

“There were so many blogs and Web sites for other brides, and I felt left out,” said Kahn, 28, of Westlake Village.

Friedman, 27, met Kahn during her own wedding-planning process. She hired the Kahns as photographers for her May 2008 wedding, and the couples stayed in touch.

In December 2009, Kahn approached Friedman, who worked in marketing before becoming a first-grade teacher, to create such a resource.

“Nicky said, ‘We need to do something for Jewish brides. With your experience as a writer and recent bride, and my experience in business, we should join forces,’ ” recalled Friedman, who lives with her husband, Bryan, in Thousand Oaks.

Research revealed wedding planning Web sites that served Orthodox Jewry, but “none for brides who want a ‘Jewish lite’ or ‘diet Jewish’ wedding,” Friedman said.

Five months later, The Wedding Yentas launched, thanks to Bryan Friedman’s coding and Eric Kahn’s design skills.

The Wedding Yentas provides information for all denominations of Judaism, from Reform to Conservative to Orthodox.

“We talk about all the different traditions and make it fun and enjoyable so that even a bride who isn’t having a bedeken or isn’t going to do the circling [around the groom] still knows what the traditions are and what they mean,” Kahn says. “I’ve learned things I didn’t even know.”

The resources allow users to shape their own experience through tradition.

“The modern Jewish bride will wear a strapless dress but still wants her husband to step on the glass and have a chuppah,” Friedman says. “You can pay homage to your heritage but still keep your own personality.”

The yentas also relate tips they learned during their own wedding planning.

For instance, traditionally, the bride and groom sip wine from the Kiddush cup during the ceremony. Friedman was advised of “a grape idea”: Use kosher white wine in order to avoid her dress becoming “a [red] wine tie-dyed shmata,” as she writes on the site.

The wine advice is one of many pearls of wisdom the yentas pass on to their readers.

Jessica Alpert, 25, has found inspiration on The Wedding Yentas site.

“It’s a wonderful resource to see other people’s weddings, their vendors and traditions, to possibly tie into my own wedding,” said the Sherman Oaks native, who will wed fiance Eric Nicastro in August. “It’s nice to have testimonials and recommendations.”

Alpert has taken particular inspiration from the Real Weddings archive, an ever-growing list of wedding tales from across the country and around the world. Real Weddings includes a vignette about each couple, some wedding photos and a list of service providers used.

“Every bride loves reliving her wedding day,” Friedman says. “Any chance that a bride gets to see her wedding up on a site for the whole world to see is exciting.”

Readers can submit their own stories for Friedman to retell as well.

“Naturally [the link] gets shared and [the featured brides] become their own yentas, if you will,” Friedman says.

The Wedding Yentas is also interfaith-friendly. Real Weddings has highlighted Jewish interfaith weddings, and the site’s directory of vendors lists interfaith service providers. Inspiration Boards, a mash-up of ideas linked thematically by elements such as color or season, is a popular example of content that transcends religion. Although the yentas are not a wedding planning service, they do offer “Ask the Yentas” sessions. Brides have asked them about incorporating traditions their non-Jewish wedding coordinators are unaware of, or even just to solicit a second opinion.

“You feel like they’re your Jewish best friends,” Alpert says. “They have a great sense of what works.”

The Wedding Yentas’ readership spans from Los Angeles to Lexington, Ky., and is expanding internationally, from Liverpool to Lausanne to Los Cabos.

“It’s amazing how quickly [The Wedding Yentas] grew,” says Kahn, who was born in South Africa and raised in Oak Park. “I’m just so happy to be able to provide this service and see that people have found it so helpful.”

Surgery Prompts Examination of Jewish Concept of Soul


Surgery is wrong. This was what I convinced myself over a two-year stint of excessive holistic health care. Thanks to an imbalanced reliance on acupuncture, I neglected a herniated disc until it ruptured somewhere between Washington, D.C., and Salvador, Brazil. When I found out I needed surgery, I was forced to evaluate what, exactly, I saw wrong with cutting a human open and realigning her interior.

In my case, I was sliced open near the jugular, a clear 1-inch incision along the front of my neck. The doctor slid my muscles and esophagus to one side, sucked out the ruptured disc with a vacuum, and inserted a dead man’s hip bone, molded to the size of my previous disc. To finish the job, two titanium screws were attached; I was stuck back together and sent on my way.

What was wrong with surgery, I decided, were the negative effects it might have on my Jewish soul. If the body is a temple, what happens when you slice it up and insert foreign particles into its infrastructure? And what about the new disc I was given: Whose bone was it? Most likely, based on statistics, I was convinced I housed a Christian man’s hip bone between my C5 and C6 vertebrae.

I chose my neurosurgeon based on a number of factors — his capability, his reputation, whether his hands looked trustworthy. I also noted how, when I worried out loud about this dead person’s body part taking over my spirit, he did not laugh; rather, he entertained my ideas. The neurosurgeon explained that the energetic body of the bone he would use was negligible, thanks to serious reshaping and a year, at least, sitting in formaldehyde.

This sufficed to keep me on the operating table, but I was not convinced. Images of Whoopi Goldberg in the movie “Ghost” flashed through my head. I imagined myself being overtaken by the spirit of the bone donor, just like a medium channeling the dead. For answers to this conundrum, I contacted rabbis far and near. I wrote the following in an e-mail:

Dear Temple Israel of Hollywood,

I am looking for a rabbi who might be able to help me answer the following questions:

What is the Reform Jewish perspective on using cadaver bones in surgery?

Often when people get spinal surgery they need a cadaver bone placed in their body. What is the rabbinical take on the spiritual entity of skeletal matter? What happens to a Jew when a Christian bone is placed in their body? Is there a piece of someone else’s soul in the new bone? Or is the bone just bone, the body just body, the spirit left intact?

The synagogue was very helpful and sent me on to a professor, who they insisted was an expert on “this topic.” This topic, I am guessing, would be the spiritual entity of bones and their handling. I wrote the suggested professor a letter. It read:

While I am aware of the importance, in lieu of Jewish law, of the preservation of the cadaver and the burial laws therein, I am most curious about the so-called “spiritual entity” of the bones themselves.

What happens when a Jewish woman has a Christian man’s bone surgically placed in her neck to keep her from paralysis? Is there a spiritual shift in the individual? What does a bone hold, energetically, religiously, that may alter the system of the living individual? Is she still a Jew, even with a Christian bone and, in some cases, titanium in her neck?

I received a near immediate response from the professor. The initial answer was glib:

Dear Ms. Gerson:

The subject you raise is of no interest to me and I have never explored it.

But this was followed with the insightful: I believe that when a bone or other organ is transplanted, it becomes part of the host’s body and thus thoroughly and completely part of that
person.

This left me to believe that I was, in fact, channeling the dead Christian man I imagined to have donated my neck bone. Only according to this, he did not visit my body like in “Ghost,” or take it over; he sort of wed my spirit, in the biblical sense. I am no longer alone, or he isn’t; we exist together from my C5-C6 vertebrae on.

What the rabbis I encountered revealed was really the issue not of my soul, but that of the dead person whose hip graft was living in my neck. Reb Nadya Gross of Pardes Levavot, a Jewish Renewal congregation in Boulder, Colo., politely suggested I burn a yahrzeit candle for this person, hoping to unite the soul with the now-dismembered body. This dismemberment of human form was the fundamental issue: Jewish burial law insists a body be buried intact. This means, sans hip-bone chunk, my bone donor was in some sort of Judeo-Christian limbo purgatory.

According to a Central Conference of American Rabbis responsa regarding liver transplants: “The harvesting of organs from deceased persons might well conflict with another central Judaic value, that of kevod hamet, the obligation to respect the dignity of the dead.”

The Halachic Organ Donor Society (” title=”AskYourYenta.com”>AskYourYenta.com and

King of Hearts Loves to Play Matchmaker


He’s not your typical yenta, he’s not JDate and he’s certainly not your grandmother’s cousin once removed, but Asher Aramnia loves making love connections for local Jewish singles.

With countless successful matches to his credit, Aramnia’s matchmaking activities through the Iranian Jewish Chronicle (Chashm Andaaz) magazine, which is operated by the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center in Tarzana, has become something of a unique surprise in the local Jewish community, where women traditionally help Jewish singles find their soulmates.

"I know people think this [matchmaking] is for women, but I don’t care about that. What’s important to me is the mitzvah of two single Jews finding the loves of their life," said the nearly 70-year-old Aramnia, who lives in Westwood and also works full time as a manager downtown.

In the past four years , the magazine’s Peyvand-e-Delha (Union of Hearts) program has helped bring together 25 Jewish couples from various cultural backgrounds who were single, divorced or widowed, Aramnia said.

"After they fill out an application, I personally and confidentially interview them," Aramnia said. "Our whole objective is to make sure that if anyone does get married, that it will last forever."

The Union of Hearts was the brainchild of the magazine’s publisher, Dariush Fakheri. He said he developed the program 12 years ago to enable divorced Iranian Jews in Southern California to meet and later expanded it to include other singles.

"This program was first called ‘Another Spring,’ and we wanted divorced Jews to make connection with each other, because there was a taboo for divorced people to remarry in our community," said Fakheri, who is also co-founder of the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center.

While a one-time $100 membership fee is requested by the magazine to cover its program expenses, Aramnia said he does not get paid for introducing couples, and the magazine makes no money providing the service.

Every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Aramnia is busy working the phones at the Eretz-SIAMAK offices and often stays up late weeknights to keep in touch with the singles he has introduced and to meet with new ones.

"The secret to our success is not asking them what they want, but rather asking what they don’t want in a mate or would despise in a mate," Aramnia explained. "This allows us to better match up couples."

Top requests from single men participating in Union of Hearts are for women with beauty and good families, while single women frequently ask for men who are not stingy or liars, Aramnia said.

Information sought by Jewish singles in the program includes age, height, weight, hair color, number of children and their ages, alimony receipt or payment, religious observations, education, occupation, hobbies, drinking limits, turn offs, smoking and priorities in a companion, according to the application sheet.

In addition, Aramnia said he does extensive background checks on singles participating in the program and works closely with them to ensure compatibility and that their relationships last.

"They [participants] become like members of my family, like my son or daughter, and that enables them to open up to me and nothing is hidden," Aramnia said.

Aramnia, who has been married for nearly 50 years, said he was first drawn to introducing Jewish singles after seeing the collapse of many marriages and families.

"When a couple divorces with one or two children, the weight of the break up is on the children’s shoulders who are tremendously impacted," Aramnia said. "This breaks my heart, and I’m willing to do anything to prevent that from happening."

Individuals collaborating with Aramnia said his unique, youthful spirit and desire to help others has been the main reason for his success in getting couples together.

"He’s just an angel, he does this [matchmaking] out of pure love," Fakheri said. "The man is remarkable. He does so many great things, like personally visiting patients at Cedars-Sinai out of the blue on a weekend."

While the Union of Hearts program has primarily introduced local Iranian Jewish singles, Aramnia said he frequently introduces other Jews from elsewhere in the country, Europe, Mexico and even parts of South America.

"We’ve had a couple of successful marriages recently between Mexican and Iranian Jews. Their cultures and families are very similar," Aramnia said. "We also have a lot of Iranians [Jews] who want to marry Americans [Jews] in L.A."

Jewish seniors as old as 70 who are seeking companionship have also been paired up, Aramnia said. He said will continue introducing Jewish singles, because of the joy he sees from happy couples.

"The greatest satisfaction for me is getting invited to the wedding and seeing the couples stand under the chuppah or when they call me up to tell me about the birth of their child," Aramnia said.

For more information on Union of Hearts, call the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center (310) 843-9846.

Karmel Melamed is an L.A. freelance writer and can be contacted at karmelmelamed@yahoo.com

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