Pink Monkey Knits

Using my opposable thumbs to knit up a storm!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Gladden the Beloved Companions 

Gladden the Beloved Companions

It will be hard to express the beauty, the emotion, and the absolute simcha (joy) that was Jonathan and Dena's wedding in words, and I hope that some of the images will make up for my inadequacies as far as that goes. I'm only going to use the images that were on my camera here but I'll would like to direct you here to see some great shots of moments I was unable to photograph, particularly of the ceremony (and some decent ones of me in my lovely dress). As I mentioned last time, my brother has adopted a more religious lifestyle and the wedding was no exception. The funny part was that this was the first Orthodox wedding that most people in my family had even been to! In that sense, I found it best to think of the wedding as a cultural experience and to go with the mood of the moment. In that spirit, I will try to explain as many portions of the ceremony that I can as they were explained to me but I would add the disclaimer that I am not intimately familiar with many of the concepts and I may oversimplify them or get them altogether wrong. Please feel free to ask me to clarify any points that may not make sense. Either way, I hope you learn a little bit and that these pictures make you smile!

Following what's more of a custom than a rule, Jon and Dena did not see each other for a week before the wedding. This set the tone for the wedding day, as the excitement of seeing each other adds to overall emotion of the event. About an hour before the actual ceremony, there are two simultaneous receptions for both the groom and the bride.

According to tradition, the bride is really supposed to be queen on her wedding day. This is clear during the bride's reception, where she sits on a literal throne with her mother and future mother-in-law at her sides. She greets wedding guests and takes prayer requests from others as she is supposed to have a sort of "direct line to God" on this day. It was all very regal!

At the same time, the groom's reception, called a Tische, is happening. Now, these days, we're used to gentlemen having bachelor parties the night, the week, or even the month before the wedding. But religious Jews, they're hardcore. They have what's basically a bachelor party an hour before the wedding! Granted, there weren't any strippers or lap dances because those are big no no's, but there was a bit of drinking, noshing, singing and general merrymaking.

About half an hour before the actual ceremony, the ketubah, or wedding contract is brought out.

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That's Dena's parents on the left, bro in the middle, and our parents on the right. You can see the ketubah in front of my dad. At this point, the ketubah was explained and then signed by the bro and two witnesses (who had to be men).







Then, to show the unbreakability of the contract, among other things, the two mamas broke a plate!

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At this point, there started to be much singing and merry-making in the groom's area while the mamas went back down to join the bride. When the time was right, Jon's friends, accompanied by members of the wedding band, started singing and dancing him down towards the bride's reception. It was a very exciting moment, very raucous, like a singing hurricane swooping down with Jonathan in the eye of it. Eventually, he got down to where Dena was sitting and laid eyes on her for the first time time in a week. As the first song ended, Jonathan knelt down right in front of her and started leading the singing of another beautiful song about returning. He was looking right into her eyes and was just grinning hugely. After he finished singing, he leaned over to his bride and whispered something to her, at which point she started crying. Of course, the rest of us had been crying the whole time.

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Thanks for taking this oh so flattering shot of me, Cobra, thanks soooo much.

This portion is called the bedeken and its ultimate purpose is for the groom to lower the veil over the bride's face. The origin of this tradition comes from the Bibilical story of Jacob, who worked for seven years to marry Rachel but was tricked and accidentally married Leah. That's Dena's sister standing in from of me in this picture, so it's clear she wasn't switched with Dena.

After this high point of emotion, everyone was escorted outside to the chupah, or wedding canopy for the actual ceremony. After all of the guests were seated, the procession started. There weren't any bridesmaids or groomsmen, so the procession was basically made of the four chupah bearers and family members (including me!). Jonathan came out first with our parents and had a few moments of his own under the chupah where his special white jacket, called a kittel, was placed onto him by one of his friends. He wears this jacket on his wedding day, on the high holidays and when he is buried. Again, I suggest you go here to look at the pictures if you want to see how this went down.

Finally, Dena came out escorted by her parents. After coming under the chupah, she circled Jonathan seven times. This also originated from a biblical story where the walls of Jericho were circled seven times before they fell. In this vein, the bride circles the groom in order to break down any of his "walls" and allow them to fully unite as a couple.

There were three main parts of the ceremony. In the first, Jonathan made a declaration to Dena and placed a ring on her pointer finger. With this simple action, they were actually married! Next, the rabbi read the ketubah (it's in aramaic, so I may have spaced on, you know, what he was saying). The final portion is the sheva brachot, or seven blessings. Seven friends and family (all men) were brought up to say one of each these blessings. Throughout the whole week after the wedding, these blessings are repeated at festive meals. Finally, a glass was placed near Jonathan's foot and BOOM! He stamped down and broke it! A cry of Mazel tov filled the whole crowd. This is probably the part of Jewish weddings that people are most generally familiar with; it is done to symbolize that even during the most joyous occasion, it should be remembered the Jerusalem is still not fully rebuilt.

Once again, the singing and dancing picked up the this point. The chupah bearers carried the canopy over the new couple as they grabbed hands and started to re-enter the building. Now, this hand holding is very significant and ties into the next portion of the wedding. See, Jonathan and Dena uphold a practice called shomer negia, which basically means not touching people of the opposite sex. So, before this point, they had NEVER touched.

Not even holding hands.

Not even a peck on the cheek. Nothing.

So it was very beautiful to see them get caught up in the moment and actually touch hands. The next part of the ceremony was designed to allow them to bask in their newly-married abilities to touch. See, they were being led off to a separate room for their seclusion. In the olden days, this was when the marriage was actually consummated. All I know is that the two of them went in there and ate some kosher sushi, I didn't ask for any further details.

While they were off being secluded, it was time for the most fun part: the party! We all went into the reception hall to eat, schmooze and listen to the reggae/ska inspired Jewish music being played by the awesome band. Finally, after about 40 minutes, the couple was reintroduced to the room and, man, that's when it started turning into a rockstar party!
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Part of the wedding is for the guests to "gladden the beloved companions" by performing schtick for them. Basically, they are supposed to dance and act silly in order to entertain the bride and groom.

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In case you can't tell, this guy was JUGGLING FLAMING TORCHES for his schtick. Have you ever seen that at a wedding? I sure as hell haven't but I would certainly like to again! Seeing as that basically couldn't be topped, the dancing ended shortly after with the guests returning to their seats, exhausted and hungry.

At this point, we resumed normal wedding style activities as we ate and schmoozed some more. And then, the poignant part came: the speeches. Dena's parents went first, and her father became especially emotional. I'm sure it was a particularly bittersweet moment since Jonathan and Dena would be leaving in two days to go live in Israel. Of course, my parents spoke, one of Jonathan's friends said some words, and finally, Jon himself went up. It was so strange, because that brand new wedding ring on his finger was so obvious and it was so weird to see him wearing it. As he was speaking, his whole appearance seemed different, and his voice didn't sound as usual. I felt as if I had truly witnessed a rebirth there that day. And as beautiful as the whole event had been, it was also sad because it really is a new phase for his life. He doesn't just belong to our family anymore. At its hear, though, I'm really so glad that he has a real life partner in Israel with him who can really be his daily support, because we can't do that for him. I look forward to seeing how they form their lives together and I hope it's positive.

At this point, cake was served and people slowly started trickling out. I realized that the wedding had been totally devoid of all of the conventions of American weddings: no vows, no "you may now kiss the bride," no throwing the bouquet, no driving off in a fancy car, no feeding each other cake, no open bar. Thinking about it later, I realized that this stuff is, well, just that, stuff that in some ways detracts from the task at hand: to celebrate with the bride and groom. I didn't miss any of that stuff; I liked the celebration much better. Indeed, multiple people approached me to tell me it was one of the most beautiful events they'd even been to (my dad even said so in his speech). Even though probably a quarter of the people there at most were religious, we all went along with what was happening. It was the best way to go into it, because it allowed us all to be touched a little by the absolute joy of that day.