In the steamy summer afternoon, we walked into the hall, Dan went to the right, to the men, and I went to the left, where the women were gathering around the radiant bride.
Hadassah sat on a stage in her splendid Misdress, at the far depth of the room, beside her mother and soon-to-be mother-in-law, her friends and sisters and nieces. Her startling white dress, in exquisite detail, covered her arms, sinched at her waist, and flowed out into a princess-esque ball gown whispering against the floor.
Her long dark curls framed her beaming face. She hugged, leaned in for kisses, said, “I can’t wait to dance with you!”
A Jewish wedding is a serious celebration. The point of the festivities is to entertain the bride and groom as they undertake this momentous life change. In the Orthodox world, everything leads up to this moment, this finding of your other half, your bashert, the one in whom your soul delights.
Once you find them, this step into the world of marital connection forever changes your identity of yourself and within the community. It validates you, elevates your presence, increases your importance.
To be married is the main goal of the Orthodox world, so that you can bring brilliant Jewish souls into the world and continue our tradition for generations to come. It is what drew me to Orthodoxy in the late 1990s, and this emphasis on marital harmony resonates with me even today.
And so to be included in someone’s wedding is a big deal. Hundreds of people gathered last night to witness Hadassah and Aharon become linked forever.
In the reception, I hugged Hadassah, who was 12 when I first met her, when we moved into our Southfield house in 2003. My Asher was 14 months old, and Eliana was growing inside me, and we were the perfect picture of a young Orthodox family.
As the movers hefted our furniture and boxes from the truck into the house, Batsheva, Hadassah’s mother and my dear friend, brought over a tray of steaming chicken and noodles and a big metal bowl of salad. “Welcome to the neighborhood,” she said with a smile.
Hadassah babysat for my children over the years. I remember leaving one motzi Shabbat to go to my best friend Katie’s wedding reception, thinking my very-attached baby girl would not notice my absence since it was already so late at night.
The phone call mid-reception, from Hadassah. “I can’t get Eliana to sleep. She won’t stop crying.” And so we had to leave the wedding to come home to my insistent little girl.
Batsheva in her floor-length black satin last night beamed as brightly as her lovely daughter. She pulled me into the dancing circle to spin in energetic thrill before pulling me close for a lavish hug. “Thank you so much for coming,” she exclaimed in my ear. “I am so glad you’re here.”
A Jewish wedding is a magnificent thing. Souls unite against a backdrop of love and encouragement.
While I greeted the women in one room, Dan joined the black-suited men in another room. We ate little hot dogs, until the singing traveled from the men’s room into ours, the gentlemen accompanying the trembling groom to confirm the identity of his bride on the stage, and then dancing him back out again.
For the wedding ceremony, the canopy was set up outdoors in late-day sun and white sky. Large doors opened from the hall so we all had a perfect view of Hadassah walking seven slow circles around Aharon. The marriage blessings emanated from the sound system. The groom crushed a glass beneath his shoe.
And the place erupted in joy.
Dancing, dancing, dancing. Hands clapping. Men singing. Women demurely beaming. The bridal couple slowly made their way down the aisle, greeting and kissing and smiling at their well-wishers, until they were whisked away to a private moment before joining the raucous celebration.
We left at 10:30 and the party was still going strong. It’s the responsibility of the guests to entertain the bridal couple, lest they focus instead on the magnitude of what they have just entered into.
Marriage is no small undertaking. To find the harmony between two souls that can seamlessly come together and build a life lasting until eternity is quite a feat. And in the Orthodox world, it’s something that whole families are invested in, they so want to get this right.
I look back on my years in the Orthodox world with fondness and a hint of sadness. Perhaps my first marriage didn’t last because we didn’t have the support and guidance of our parents and rabbis in choosing one another. Perhaps we would have been more successful had someone with objectivity helped choose our partner.
Or perhaps it was because we straddled two worlds – the world of piety and religious framework and the world of modern times, where marriage is based on love and passion, rather than partnership, suitability, shared values.
Not all Orthodox marriages are successful, God knows. But many are because they are founded on something less fleeting than what we see in the movies.
A marriage is a union of two souls, with the deep respect and friendship that is required to last a lifetime. Love will come, the rabbis teach. Start with shared desires and goals and life pursuits. The rest will all fall into place.