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The Bridal Party

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

The joy and beauty of a Jewish wedding.

"What better way to celebrate than by trying on a few wedding dresses?" With apologies to Brides magazine, I can think of a number of options. Weddings are wonderful and joyous occasions. But too often the substance gets lost amidst the fluff.

Too much focus on the flowers and not enough on choosing the right groom. Too much focus on the fancy or unusual location ("I think the hot air balloon thing has been overdone, don't you?"!) and not enough on marriage preparation classes.

The same magazine lists some of the "worst possible wedding day scenarios" such as the photographer doesn't show up. Now I don't want to appear to lack empathy. It's frustrating if the photographer doesn't come. Wedding albums can be beautiful. It's nice to contemplate sitting back and reminiscing about your wedding day as you flip through your pictures (if your kids haven't glued them together yet!) But worst possible wedding day scenario?

And look at the positive. Sometimes it's nice to just savor the moment free of the burden of trying to capture it for posterity. Not to mention the fact that you don't leave your guests bored and frustrated as they wait for that interminable process to end.

When one of our dear friends -- an award-winning Hollywood producer -- got married, we all expected he'd arrange for an elaborate photo and video production. But this man with his flare for drama knew that in a deeper sense, the moment could best be captured for eternity with a complete absence of any video or still cameras. Just with everyone's focus on the bride and groom and the ceremony.

When we were getting married, my husband went to a small shop in Jerusalem to get a new hat and the special white garment that Jewish men wear on their wedding day (it's worn on Yom Kippur as well since on both occasions all our sins are forgiven and the opportunity of a pure clean slate is awarded us). As he was paying for his purchases he asked the proprietor, "Is there anything else I need?"

"As a matter of fact there is," the man replied. My husband reached for his wallet. "Kindness, good character, fear of God…"

The day should be beautiful because of the shared thoughts and goals and passions the two of you bring to the table and not because of the new crystal and the large diamond. (Not that I have anything against large diamonds!)

The day should be beautiful because of the shared joy, not just of the bride and groom but of all their friends and family. This is where I think Jewish tradition excels.

This is the bride and groom's special moment. And it's up to us to create it. Jewish weddings are not a spectator sport.

At a non-traditional wedding, after the ceremony is over, the newly married disappear in the middle of the dance floor briefly surfacing to hear some toasts. There's tremendous pressure to have the right dress, and even more pressure, to bring an appropriate date.

A Jewish wedding is different. The whole goal -- the only goal -- is to make the bride and the groom happy. It's not about the food, the dance partners, their lives. This is the bride and groom's special moment. And it's up to us to create it. Jewish weddings are not a spectator sport.

They are a big party!! With the women in one circle (no one to impress now girls so we can just kick up our heels!) and the men in another, the guests whirl the bride and groom around, dancing with them and surrounding them with concentric circles of joy. At some point the wedding couple takes a seat and their friends perform for them - wearing costumes, bearing signs, blowing bubbles, jumping rope and showing off their dancing abilities. It's always a disappointment when the music stops and dinner is served.

It's one long party all night. Jewish tradition teaches us that making the bride and groom happy is such a great mitzvah that it was not uncommon to see the venerable rabbis of the Talmud walking on their hands to gladden the hearts of the new couple. And today's rabbis carry on the tradition -- setting their hats afire (with alcohol -- it's not dangerous), juggling, dancing like pros, pirouetting and generally "hamming" it up.

Frequently the party is open to strangers as well as friends, the real "A-list". When a snowstorm hit Jerusalem -- rendering the roads impassible -- the radio station announced the time and location of all the weddings that night, urging anyone who lived within walking distance of a wedding hall to please attend and give joy to the bride and groom!

A few months ago a woman in Jerusalem posted a note on an Internet bulletin board, requesting help in making a wedding for a couple who had very little money. The response was overwhelming as many people offered their services in every possible way. The wedding took place as a totally volunteer event -- from the photographer to the band to the flowers and more.

And just when you think you have no more energy left, there's a week's worth of festive meals to help integrate the new couple into their community (and keep the bride out of the kitchen -- a very popular custom!)

When we got married in Israel, it was easy not to get distracted by the frivolities because there weren't any! The caterer said, "I have blue or burgundy tablecloths. That's it. Take your pick." And "If I have any flowers, I'll put them out."

I don't know if he did or not. I don't remember what color tablecloths we chose. Or the menu. But I remember our chupah beneath the twilight of Jerusalem. I remember holding a maypole while my girlfriends danced around me. I remember my husband held high in the sky dancing on a waiter's tray. (And me telling him to get down!) Our pictures aren't great (some have been handled beyond recognition) but the joy of the community commingled with our personal happiness was a precious and lasting gift.

For more information on Jewish weddings, see "Guide to the Jewish Wedding."

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