Wednesday, June 10, 2015

So Let Me Tell You About My Daughter and Daughter-in-Law’s Amazing Wedding!!!!!

Where shall I begin? Many months ago when I wrote an article for the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia about our daughter Rachie, her upcoming marriage to her beloved Liz, and her identity as an observant and knowledgeable Jewish woman who is, that is happens to be, gay, I received mostly amazing positive and validating feedback. One lone Rabbi, who does not know Rachie or us at all, wrote rather passionately about how wrong I was, how I should retract my statements, how I could not properly call myself Halachically observant and so on. At one point he asked what type of ceremony could there possibly be for my daughter and her fiancée as they joined their lives together?

No problem, I responded. We made up wonderful creative and intentional ceremonies for the coming of age of our three daughters, their B’not Mitzvah and once again, I would look at the spirit of who we are as Jews, figure out what foundational ideas and narratives we could use and go from there. With the help, creativity, Halachic knowledge, and guidance of my good friend and as Rachie calls him, Rav Steve, Rabbi Steven Greenberg, we did just that! And here is what happened at a lovely retreat called Woolman Hill in Deerfield, Massachusetts from June 5 – 7, 2015.

First of all, I must begin with Shabbat. We arrived after a very long drive (where it felt more like we walked through Connecticut than drove through it) somewhat frazzled but immediately taken by the bucolic environment of the retreat that would be home to the community we were about to be part of and have a hand in creating for the next 48 hours. Fairly quickly, we were introduced to members of the amazing community that our daughter Rachie, our soon-to-be daughter-in-law Liz, and another daughter Talie (Rachie’s twin sister as it happens to be) call their own. What a wonderful and warm and sincere group of relatively newly minted adults, generally in their third decade of doing and initiating ways of changing and repairing our world. Oh and yes, this is all intentional! They are kind, gentle, and just amazing. Shortly after arrival, one of our dear friends remarked, “I want to meet every one of these people.” I could not have agreed more with her!

So, let me describe a lovely and often forgotten piece of Jewish tradition and community practice. Years ago when two young people were ready to embark on their life together, the entire community would come out and work to make their simcha truly joyous and amazing. They were the original DIYers (Do It Yourself), an art we have generally lost! In our day where these matters are now turned over to caterers, professional wedding planners and others whom we meet at the point we are beginning to craft our events; this community of gifted, talented, caring adults pulled together to create a simcha in the way of our previous generations – a truly traditional way of celebrating and validating each other. They cooked and prepared food, designed and built the Chupah (wedding canopy), designed and printed the invitations, helped with and designed the breathtakingly beautiful Shtar Shitufim (Business Contract or Merger, if you will) that was used, and helped with every aspect of this weekend and the ceremony that would be its highlight! This weekend was a testimony to each and every one of these amazing young(ish?) adults!

Throughout Shabbat about 55 or more people from our lives, from the world of Liz’s family and from our daughters’ and daughter-in-law-to-be’s amazing community came together to relax, share space and celebrate Rachie and Liz, while observing Shabbat as a collective. The dovening for Kabbalat Shabbat and Shabbat morning was expertly and fully done and it was so clear that there are many Jewishly knowledgeable skilled and committed members of this community that is centered in the Boston area. There was a sensitivity to those who doven with a Mechitza and those who do not; there was respect all around! Beautiful Divrei Torah, soulful singing and Tefilot (prayers), and words of blessing for Rachie and Liz also added to the joy and spirituality of the group.

The meals were nothing short of amazing, with no less than thirteen members of this group working cooperatively for the previous week to “prepare massive amounts of food,” as articulated in the printed wedding program. There were board games, Frisbee, walks through beautiful nature, singing and music for those who wished to take part, and other activities which were available to those with a wider understanding of what their Yom Menucha (Day of Rest) could contain, as well as a Shiyur (lesson, learning experience) for those who wished to participate. People floated in and out of various options and we WERE truly a community of embracing, inclusive and clearly intentional Jewish practice.

Havdalah was a beautiful separation service between “Kodesh v’Hol” (that is between sanctified and secular), though I could not help thinking of it as between Kodesh and Kodesh (sanctified and sanctified), as the ceremony would be on Sunday and there was NOTHING regular or secular about this group and this community nor would there be about the celebration to come! The night ended with a lovely campfire, built by our son the Eagle Scout (go Brian!) with help from members of the community as is the nature of this wonderful group; and musical “singing around the campfire.”

The wedding the next day that affected marriage according to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the business and life partnership designed according to Jewish practice was beyond amazing. The community swelled to 150 as the guests all arrived. We began with a Tisch (table around which we all joined) where members of family and community showered Rachie and Liz with blessings and hopes for their future and the future of the community of which they are such an integral part. The ceremony reflected a beautiful acceptance of the reality of Halacha and what it can be expanded to include as well as accepted limits regarding what was not incorporated. The interfacing of these elements resulted in a nod to the special nature of this union and what it can be looked at within the constructs of Halachic reasoning with appropriate expansion. The language was different, the cadence was different, those standing under the Chupah were different, but the feeling and emotion were NOT all that different, perhaps elevated if anything! No one present felt that either Halacha was slighted nor was the couple being joined through an act of Kinyan (acknowledgement of a life partnership and shared space) and Nedarim (vows to attest to the former); rather all were awed (very appropriately used here) by the beautiful fusion of authentic Jewish expression and authentic love of two Jewish souls within a model true to itself.

Some of us cried of course, and obviously I shed those tears of joy. People did not want to leave. The dancing and joyful noise created by these 150 people was nothing short of amazing. The celebration went on for seven hours, including dancing to a music mix created by yet another member of the community when the band finished their part! Truly everything was thought of for this entire weekend and this showed!

Incidentally, several people remarked that they witnessed a completely circular rainbow around the sun during the ceremony and afterwards. My son explained to me that this is a Sun Halo, which is produced by light interacting with ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere. He also tells me this is a rather rare phenomenon. So, how do we explain this? Rav Steve conducted this beautiful ceremony based on the narrative of the interaction and partnership of the sun and the moon and the need for equality between them – a fusion of shared respect and love to enhance their co-existence. Interestingly enough, the rainbow is the symbol of inclusion and equality for the LGBTQ Community. Was G-d giving us all some type of nod of approval by showing us this rainbow, which we know from Bereshit (Genesis) is a sign that God will always protect us and never destroy us again? Was G-d coming into our celebration in a “physical” way?

All I know is that the joy, love, celebration, validation and Jewish expression of the day was “over the moon,” so to speak. As Rav Steve explained, this was not just (or even primarily) a lesbian wedding; it was so much more – it was a joining of two Jewish souls! What more could a mother want for her beloved child!

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