Posts Tagged ‘wedding’

Wedding in the Woods

July 28, 2011

Photo by Paulina Sliwa. Fabric for Sophie's dress is from her grandmother's first sari.

It finally happened. After all the planning and discussing and deciding, the list-making and ordering and organizing, on Sunday Sophie and Henry got married.

(click on the thumbnails to see full size)

Saturday afternoon we gathered at Camp Kiwanee, on a lake south of Boston. Think tall pine, rustic cabins, picnic tables encircling a fire pit. Garlands of ribbons were strung between the trees. We swam, played games, visited, shared grilled goodies and a feast of potluck sides and desserts, sprayed on bug repellent and built a fire.

By the time we got around to making the flower arrangements for the wedding lunch tables, it was dark, so we worked by flashlight, grabbing random stalks of Queen Ann’s lace, sweet William, zinnia, daisy, and dozens of other multicolored varieties from their tubs, cutting the stems to size, and planting them in the field of mason jars that covered the table. We figured that whatever we did would look great, and when we came back to look by light of day, we weren’t disappointed.

The main event happened late Sunday morning, on the porch of the lodge. The lake behind created a beautiful setting, if an extra challenge for all the nice people who’d brought their cameras.

The ceremony blended elements from Sophie and Henry’s religious backgrounds and political principles, without mentioning any gods or being explicit about the politics. A friend officiated, certified for the occasion by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The chuppah they stood under was a bedspread crocheted by Henry’s great-great grandmother, supported by poles Sophie’s brother fashioned from driftwood he gathered on the banks of the Hudson and then cut, buffed and oiled. A vase of white roses memorialized three pairs of grandparents. Indian designs on the floor, stenciled in chalk dust, marked the specialness of the space, and the occasion.

Photo by Paulina Sliwa

We sang “Enter, Rejoice and Come in,” a Unitarian hymn Henry’s mom remembers hearing when she was pregnant. We heard excerpts from Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, the decision that made marriage equality legal in Massachusetts, parts of Kahlil Gibran’s “On Marriage,”  and Charles Darwin’s notes to himself on the pros and cons of getting married (con: less money for books; pro: a soft wife on the sofa). A friend performed a stunning rendition of Bellini’s “Vaga luna, che inargenti,”  accompanied by another friend on keyboard.

After the vows and the exchange of rings, guests read a reworked version of the Jewish Seven Blessings (a process I described here.)

Sophie’s grandmother performed a Zoroastrian blessing. A silver tray held a variety of symbols, which she explained: rice for plenty; fish for festive feasting; cloves, nutmeg, cardamom and cinnamon for savoring life; pomegranate – for its tartness, to add zest and color to life; betel nut – for life’s more astringent and bitter passages (with hopes that these be few); and coconut, sugar, nuts and raisin for times of plenty and sweetness (with hopes that these be many). She hung flower garlands around Sophie and Henry’s necks, marked their foreheads with red kumkum paste and tossed rice over them. To ward off evil, she broke an egg at their feet.

Then Isaac pronounced them married, they stamped on a pair of wine glasses, and everyone applauded.

Lunch was delicious barbecue, followed by delicious pie.

People made toasts. In mine, I recalled the first time Sophie and Henry met, eight years ago. We were dropping Sophie off at college. Just as we climbed out of the car, another first-year student came walking up the sidewalk between his parents. He looked at Sophie and said, “Sophie?” and she looked at him and said, “Henry!” They had already met online, and recognized each other in person right away. I had been a little apprehensive about my older child leaving home, but, as I said in my toast, Henry’s warm greeting reassured me that she would be among friends.

I talked about the attributes that make these two such good friends (caring for each other, giving each other space, enjoying each other, being similarly serious while not taking themselves too seriously), and suggested that a strong friendship makes a good foundation for a strong marriage. Finally, I thanked Sophie for bringing Henry and his family into our family, and thanking Henry for reassuring me that now, as I watch Sophie embark on this next phase in her life, she will be among friends once again.

Among all the planning and discussing and deciding, the list-making and ordering and organizing, figuring out my toast was one of the easiest thing I had to do. I just told the truth.

To Life!

July 21, 2011

I haven’t posted here for a while, or written much of anything. There’s just been too much living going on. First it was our trip to France, and now it’s our daughter’s wedding.

Sophie and Henry are marrying on Sunday. Sophie’s brother flew from to Colorado so he could drive his grandparents east for the occasion. They’ve been here about a week. Their visit is coinciding with a stupefying heat wave, which forecasters promise will break just in time for the nuptials. We’re keeping our fingers crossed.

In the meantime, our days have been a mix of wedding-related errands and houseguest-related activities. Polish silver to be used in special blessing ceremony. See where David works. Buy fruit for the salad we’re bringing to the Saturday night pot-luck. Go to the beach. Discuss seating arrangements. Take father-in-law to Walgreens to refill a prescription. Think about wedding toast wording. Visit the gardens at Blithewold. And through it all, concentrate on keeping cool, literally as well as figuratively.

In my regular life, when I’m not sharing my home with David’s parents or getting ready for a family wedding, I don’t spend much time thinking about what it means to be my age (54). But all this switching back and forth between being a daughter-in-law and preparing to become a mother-in-law has been simultaneously disorienting and starkly orienting. I am the fulcrum between octogenarians and newlyweds.

It’s a great place to be. Between making lists and moving fans from one room to the next, it’s good to take a moment to appreciate just how lucky I am to be spending this quality time with loved ones from the generation before mine, and helping my daughter embark on a life with a partner she and we love.

The Rite Stuff

October 25, 2010

This summer I’m going to be the mother of the bride. And of the groom. Both my kids are following their mother’s example — being Jews marrying non-Jews.

When David and I got married, my mother was fairly insistent that we have a Jewish wedding. She found a local rabbi who specialized in intermarriages to officiate. After he’d recited the Seven Blessings and collected his check and gone home, David’s mother and his aunt marked our foreheads with vermillion and recited a Zoroastrian blessing.

David and I didn’t put too much thought into the whole thing. Neither one of us was particularly interested in rites or religion. Basically, we wanted make our mothers happy.

Since then, I’ve gotten much more involved in Judaism and knowledgeable about what goes into a Jewish wedding. I’ve even officiated at a few, using the authority vested in me by my online ordination as a minister in the Universal Life Church to perform Jewish weddings for intermarrying and other couples who can’t find a willing rabbi. I take this job very seriously, explaining the meanings and origins of the various elements that comprise the Jewish rite, and helping the couple craft a service that follows the tradition and works for their situation.

Given this background, you would think that when my kids asked me to suggest Jewish elements they might include in their weddings, I would have my answer ready. I didn’t. It took me a little while, and a conversation with my rabbi, to understand why.

My own wedding and those I’ve helped orchestrate begin with the Jewish rite and tweak it to suit a marriage that’s not strictly kosher. My kids and their significant others are starting more or less from scratch, drawing on Judaism and other sources to create a rite that’s appropriate and meaningful for them.


Marriage is a cultural construct and the wedding ceremony – whether it’s signing a paper in City Hall, reciting original poetry on a mountaintop or following a 1000-year-old script in front of 500 close friends – is a ritual. That is, a human invention in which objects and actions are invested with metaphorical meaning.

These meanings are fluid. Even in weddings that are strictly “by the book,” elements are usually interpreted in lots of different ways by the different people in attendance, or even by the same people. And happily so. When the groom breaks the glass at the end of the traditional Jewish wedding, he is simultaneously recalling the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, reminding the participants that the “broken” world still needs fixing, enacting the breaking of the hymen, warding off the Evil Eye, and signalling the end of the formal wedding ceremony. He’s also honoring Jewish tradition.

The breaking of the glass is probably the best known and most unique element in the Jewish wedding. But others lend themselves better to universal meanings.

The ketubah / wedding contract: Marriage is a contract. The ketubah was originally a contract in which the groom and the father of the bride agreed to the terms under which the woman’s financial support was being transferred from one man to another, including what would happen in the case of divorce. Today the contract is between the people getting married, and spells out their intentions, hopes and promises.

The hupah/ wedding canopy: Marriage officially establishes a home, and the canopy under which the couple stands during the ceremony represents this.

Wine: A wedding is a celebration. In pretty much all Jewish celebrations, from the birth of a child to a holiday to the beginning of the Sabbath, wine denotes joy, bounty and sensual delight. Saying a blessing over the wine before drinking it expresses gratitude for these things, and separates the occasion from just another drinking party. You don’t have to be Jewish, or even believe in God, to recognize the specialness of the occasion and be grateful for it. At Jewish weddings the couple drinks from a single cup, symbolizing their shared lot from the wedding day forward.