Sunday, May 06, 2007

Another unmixed blessing

I went to a beautiful wedding today. Second marriage for the chatan and kallah, so it was small and intimate. It was also in Crown Heights. I hadn't been there in more than a decade.

Today was Lag b'Omer, the first day after Pesach that one can get married or get a haircut. Nobody in CH was getting a haircut, though; when I stepped out of the Kingston Ave. subway station, they were ALL standing in front of 770 Eastern Parkway, Lubavitch world headquarters and the residence of the late Rebbe. Thousands of sheitels, black hats, and children. Clowns were dancing on one platform, children were shouting brachas into a microphone on another. Every so often everyone would pick up the signature Lubavitch chant, "We want Moshiach now!"

It was amazing. I was thrilled to see so many frum Jews together and happy, but annoyed, because I had printed out directions to the kabbalat panim and there were thousands of people blocking the streets I needed to cross. I tried to go around the crowd and ended up getting very lost, which I've had a talent for doing since I was a little girl. I have a terrible sense of direction. In fact, I have NO sense of direction. I can't even tell my right hand from my left without forming an "L" with my left thumb and index finger. So I ended up in the part of CH that looks less like Mea Shearim and more like Bed-Stuy. But I found a friendly cop who pointed me in the right direction (back toward where I'd come from, of course).

As I wearily plodded up the street in shoes I had thought were comfortable, I saw the kallah standing in front of "the rebbe's house," where he lived with his wife before she passed away and he moved into 770. She and her daughters were taking pictures; apparently it's a popular spot among Lubavitch brides. If I hadn't gotten lost, I wouldn't have seen her.

I had to cry (carefully, since I was fully made up). She looked so beautiful and so happy. Her dress was gorgeous, her children looked delicious, and everyone was glowing. Whenever I go to a wedding, I try to be helpful if I think it's needed, so I offered my services to the bride's friend, who was buckling the bride's silver 4-inch heel sandals. "Could you say some tehillim for her? Thanks." So I stood, murmuring psalms, half-listening to the photographer coax, "Okay, now turn this way, more, more, no, too much, that's it, now SMILE..." Click.

Because it was a small wedding, it might not be fully representative of Lubavitch marital festivities. But I noted some differences from what I'm used to happening at modern orthodox weddings.

Instead of playing an ebullient "Od Yishama" as the chatan is walked to the kallah at the bedeken, the men hum a gentle niggun, like something you'd hear at havdalah. Then he covers her face not with a sheer veil, but with an opaque piece of white lacy cloth. I don't know the reason for this, and I think I should ask, because honestly I find it disturbing. She's supposed to go into the marriage blindfolded?

The kallah must remove all her jewelry, because when she stands under the chuppah and receives her wedding ring, that should be her only adornment. It's good luck for single girls to wear her jewelry while she's getting married, so I snagged her diamond tennis bracelet and allocated her heirloom watch to another girl. The kallah handed off her ring, earrings, and pendant to some other girls, and picked up the chuppah davening list I'd prepared for her. I made a mental note to collect and return her jewelry to her after the chuppah.

"I need someone to hold my flowers!" she said. I took them from her. Her 9-year-old stepdaughter (who looks and sounds about 14 -- I really wonder what her father has been feeding her, and where I could get some), said, "Oh, you're holding the bouquet -- you'll be the next bride!"

"Amen!" I said.

The kallah was then led to 770, past a petting zoo, cotton candy machines, and sundry other elements of the Lag b'Omer celebration. I thought we would be in a large room, but the chuppah was set up in a tiny antechamber, in front of a staircase and an elevator. It got very crowded, even though it was just a small group of guests; a toddler snored on his mother's shoulder next to me, and other kids were being held or shushed. But the children of the bride and groom were not there. I wasn't sure if that was halacha or minhag, but I intend to find out. It seemed odd to me that at the moment you're becoming a family, the children may not participate. Maybe it's intended to allow the bride and groom to focus on becoming a married couple instead of having to worry about wiping someone's runny nose.

At one point, someone began giving a d'var Torah and mentioned that a wedding ceremony is a foretaste of what things will be like in the world to come. I was tempted to call out, "Very crowded?" but managed not to. The lithium's working.

The wedding ceremony itself was familiar, except for the reading of the rebbe's letter, which is unique to Lubavitch. I was davening from a copy of the list I had made for the bride, so at that point I wasn't paying much attention.

The kallah walked around the chatan seven times, they drank some wine, the marriage certificate was read, blessings were chanted, he stomped on a glass. "Mazal tov!" Everyone started singing "Od Yishama," and so did I, until a gentleman in front of me began clearing his throat rather ostentatiously. I glanced around; none of the other women were singing. I shut up.

Then the bride and groom went off to the yichud room for their first moments alone as husband and wife. A dear friend of the bride, Elah, had a bag of food for them so they could break their fast. (Orthodox brides and grooms fast on their wedding day; it's considered a personal Yom Kippur.) My years of living, working, and commuting in Manhattan came in handy: "Excuse me! Coming through! We have food for the chatan and kallah!" We got through that crowd pretty efficiently.

I collected the jewelry from the other single girls and waited for the bride and groom to emerge from the yichud room. After they did, I returned her finery to her so she could take more pictures appropriately bedecked, and went to the reception hall.

And saw a LOT of women with babies. Everywhere I looked (men and women were in separate rooms). It hurt a little. But I couldn't feel too sorry for myself, because I also saw women wearing sheitels but no wedding rings -- divorcees. Not as many, fortunately.

There was a buffet with hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken -- it's traditional to have a barbecue on Lag b'Omer. I've already decided that when I get married, I don't want a sit-down meal with assigned seating after the chuppah. I want to put buffets, tables, and chairs around the periphery of the dance floor, and have people dance or eat as the spirit moves them.

My injured knees silent, so I danced vigorously for the bride -- my sister Jerusha would have HATED it -- apparently impressing quite a few of the guests.

"Are you a professional dancer?" one lady asked me.

I was tempted to say, "Get out much?" or "Haven't you seen the real professionals on 'Dancing with the Stars'?" or "Did you fail to notice my enormous tuchus?"

But I held back. "Oh, no, I'm in grad school. I just love to dance."

Elah and I sat and talked about my school -- she is thinking about applying there. I told her I was a B.T. social worker -- always thought I'd be a psychologist, fell bass-ackward into social work school, and now I love it there. Not just because they love me, but because the social work values they're instilling have tremendous merit and relevance. So I hope she'll apply.

Finally I dragged my weary feet and dancin' tuchus home. It was a perfect Lag b'Omer.
Copyright (c) 2007 "Ayelet Survivor"


  1. Yafa Shulamit9/26/2010 1:26 PM

    Just want to say I'm really enjoying reading through your blog. I checked back to see your response about fasting on meds, then I was reading random posts from links on the side. When I got to the horrible letter you got from the Bad Place and I had to know how that turned out so I clicked on "new post." Kept clicking it, all the way through this entry! So many things I can relate to or relate to my sister, and what I can't relate to is just fascinating or amusing. Thank you for allowing your personal life to be so available!

  2. Thanks, Yafa! That's exactly why I write.