December 8, 2019

The Rabbi’s Wedding

The bride wore blue, the color of the covenant.

The groom wore a light gray business suit.

The crowd of 300 wore smiles of satisfaction, and relief.

When Rabbi Judith HaLevy of the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue exchanged rings with Edward Toppel of Chicago last Sunday, hope, like the late afternoon winter sun, burned brightly. If remarriage, as the saying goes, is the triumph of optimism over experience, how much more so when the rabbi herself carries white calla lilies?

They read to each other their vows: The bride promised to listen to the groom with her heart. The groom promised not to trip over the bride’s shoes in the kitchen and the garden. Realism and romance played off each other, as the afternoon sky turned gold.

Officiating under the chuppah, Rabbi Sheryl Lewart of Kehillat Israel said that the kattan and kallah were representing the first couple who ever loved. If so, they were an older, wiser, Adam and Eve, for whom the goblet had long ago been smashed, contributing to the glint of understanding in their eyes.

"I promise to add 20 minutes to the time you said you’ll be home," said the groom. The Malibu synagogue community, knowing its over-scheduled rabbi’s tendency, laughed. It was a sign of the humor with which congregants took Lewart’s contention that they would be looking to the new couple for "evidence that the world can be better than it is."

I believe in love.

I believe in redemption.

What I didn’t know until Sunday was that I still believe in these for me.

That’s why I’m so glad that Rabbi Judith and her Eddie did not go off to Vegas or Mexico and come back with rings. They held each other’s hands, a sign that it is never, ever too late.

There are teaching moments in Judaism, and a rabbi’s wedding is one of them.

What is there to learn?

That American Judaism accepts single women on the bimah, but male congregants prefer that rabbi to commit to a guy whom those men can call their friend.

That even the best day job needs the balance of a good home life.

That it’s wonderful to be loved by 300, but the pink of the cheek comes from loving just one.

That a heart that has been around a while has something to tell our youth: that it’s safe, and good, to try again.

I once heard Rabbi Lawrence Kushner say that the rabbi is expected to be married so "he" would understand what his congregants were going through.

Quite the opposite, I think now.

The synagogue also needs to know what the rabbi is going through. Who could stand the isolation? Who could stand the pressure? Who would live in such a fishbowl, without some sort of dark, protective tunnel? When it comes to a rabbi’s dating life, everyone’s an expert. Perhaps this accounts for the fact that at this very moment, I know several rabbis who are in love, contemplating marriage.

Marriage may not answer every problem. But it gives the optimists in the crowd the advantage.

On Sunday night my friend Cynthia and I watched the latest installment of the Golden Globe-winning HBO series "Sex and the City." This season, the four young women are getting serious. They are trying on pregnancy, divorce, commitment and, most controversially, monogamy, the condition for which, as one character in the show commented on Sunday, there is "no known cure." They are making choices, growing up.

That night, to my sadness, Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), told her fiancé, Aidan (John Corbett), that she was not ready for marriage.

"Why can’t we just go on like we are?" says Carrie.

"Because I’m ready to nail this down," says Aidan.

In the stalemate, I shout at the screen, "No! He’s perfect for you." But it’s too late.

"If you don’t want to marry me now, you’ll never want to," Aidan says. They stand silently, Scott and Zelda-like, in tux and white gown in the spray of a fountain in romantic New York.

At that moment, I thought of the afternoon’s chuppah. Cantor Marcelo Gindlin sang to Rabbi Judith and Eddie Toppel, Edith Piaf’s "Hymne L’amour," ("If You Love Me,") with its astounding verse, "When at last my life on earth is through, I will share eternity with you."

Carrie Bradshaw might be, in the words of "Sex and the City" executive producer Michael Patrick King, "the smart, sexy, nice girl who can’t get it right." But she’s young. She has time.

Had I not been to Rabbi Judith’s wedding, I would have been heartsick.

For the young, eternity can wait.