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Friday, December 4, 2020

One more time around

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Stuart Miller was not looking for a wife. After two failed marriages over the course of 15 years, the Arcadia doctor and father of two was content with his newfound bachelorhood and independence. But when he met Stacy, the widowed mother of one of his daughter’s Hebrew school classmates, his plans fell by the wayside.

“I just knew that she was different, and we really fell in love,” said Miller, 54. “I wasn’t looking to get married. It just fell in my lap.”

The couple married in 2005.

Finding love a second or third time is not always so effortless, but 52 percent of men and 43.5 percent of women remarried in 2004, according to a 2007 U.S. census bureau report. And Jews are no exception.

While religions like Catholicism frown upon the idea of divorce, Judaism is accepting of the end of a marriage as a fact of life, albeit an unfortunate one, and embraces the concept of remarriage.

“The Jewish tradition understands that there’s a place for divorce in the world,” said Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino. “If the first marriage does not last a lifetime, the idea of remarriage is certainly a mitzvah.”

But when one or both spouses have already had a big wedding — rented out the country club, wore the fancy white dress and registered at Macy’s and Bed, Bath & Beyond the first time around — is it acceptable to have a large-scale event a second time?

In short, yes. While many second or third weddings are smaller and more modest than first weddings, it’s not necessarily the rule. Stuart and Stacy Miller’s backyard wedding had nearly 300 guests — the largest ceremony for both.

Most of the guests were members of the couple’s shul, the Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center, as the Millers met through the synagogue and both are extremely active in the community. The service was also Stacy’s first Jewish wedding and she had just begun cultivating her Jewish identity.

Second-time bride-to-be Vivian Guggenheim, 57, of Los Angeles, is thrilled to be planning her upcoming nuptials. Guggenheim’s first wedding took place in a Jerusalem yeshiva and was planned almost entirely by her late husband’s father. This time, Guggenheim has enjoyed working with her husband-to-be, Michael Marcus, in choosing the details for her ceremony, which will take place in a backyard in Hancock Park. The reception will be in Congregation Shaarei Tefila’s catering hall, Kanner Hall.

While some Jews claim that there are different ceremonial requirements in second Jewish weddings — including the idea that second-time brides should not wear white or take part in a bedeken, a veiling ceremony — they have no basis in Jewish law. Jewish communities have different marital traditions, but the wedding ceremony is the same for all spouses-to-be, with one small exception. On a ketubah (marriage contract), a woman who has never been married is indicated using different language than a woman who has been married before. For example, the ketubah for a second marriage changes be’tulta da (maiden) for armalta da (widow) or matarakhta da (divorcee).

When it comes to gift registries, some second-time spouses feel they have everything they need and skip it, while others wish to make a fresh start. Although a gift registry for a second marriage might seem unusual or even tacky to some, Sarah Dakar, owner of Under the Chuppah, a wedding and event production company in the Pico-Robertson area, said that many of her second-time spouse clients opt for the registry.

“Every marriage is a celebration,” Dakar said, “and a celebration deserves gifts.”

For the Millers, registering for new household items was a way of starting anew with their blended family, which included Stacy’s son, then 14, and Stuart’s two children, then 11 and 13.

“I tried to make it fun, so that the kids could get new stuff, too,” Stacy said.

Regardless of the ceremony and the gifts, Valley Beth Shalom’s Feinstein recommends that second-time spouses reflect on their previous relationships in preparation for the new commitment. Before marrying a couple, he counsels the spouses-to-be about what marriage means to them.

“Where you came from makes a difference in terms of where you’re going,” the rabbi said. “I ask the couple to tell me what happened in the first relationship and then I know that they’re prepared for another relationship.”

From the location to the ceremony to the guest list, many second-time brides and grooms struggle to make their second weddings significantly different from their previous wedding.

While Dakar has noticed this trend among her clients, she feels that things often fall into place naturally.

“Every wedding we plan is unique, totally reflective of the relationship and personality of the bride and groom, so it’s not hard to differentiate them,” Dakar said.

She also noted that second-time brides are often calmer and more definitive about what they want because the experience is not so new or intimating to them.

Looking back, Guggenheim realized that she overlooked some communication issues before marrying her first husband.

“This time it’s about addressing our differences and making sure our communication is good,” the bride-to-be said.

She also remembers being “swept up” in the event itself and is determined to be present on every level for her upcoming nuptials.

While having a Jewish wedding was a new experience for Stacy Miller, having her son and stepchildren be a part of the ceremony made the simcha extra-special. Her son walked her down the aisle and the three children did the seven blessings.

No matter what wedding choices a couple makes, Judaism fully supports the idea of re-entering into the state of marriage.

“There’s no such thing as a second wedding,” Feinstein said. “It may be the second time a person stood under the chuppah, but at that moment, at least in the imagination of the Jewish tradition and the couple, it’s brand new and miraculous and a gift of God.”

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