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Let The Joy Begin!

By Margy Pezdirtz
Tuesday, January 19, 2016

It isn’t often that this Christian gets to attend an Orthodox Jewish wedding; however, tonight was one of those rare exceptions – a moment in time.

For more information about Jewish weddings, watch this Facing the Divide episode all about Jewish weddings!

Monday night, the second day of the week when God said, “it is holy” twice, was the wedding of Rabbi David Baras and Ellie. Of course, David is the beloved fourth child of Ed and Sondra Baras, Israeli Director of CFOIC, and their second of five children to marry. The wedding was at a remote place on the outskirts of Jerusalem, where the winter winds are strong and cold. While Jewish weddings are often outside, this couple yielded to their intelligence utilizing a lovely, clear sided tent which featured the Chuppah, a plethora of white chairs and a delightfully happy crowd.

From the moment we stepped into the hall of the main building, where the reception-before-the-wedding-festivities were being held, I could visibly see the joy on the faces of family, friends and even young children. As I stood and watched the crowd, almost as a voyeur staring into the delighted faces of people of all ages, I tried to put my finger on the pulse of what it was I was seeing. No question, it was joy – absolutely pure, unadulterated joy.

The guests gathered in small crowds around the various food and drink counters, cheerily choosing and accepting the generous fare of the evening including soups, horsd’oeuvres, and salads as well as all types of drinks. In the background, above the hum of busily chatting voices, was the strains of a small but vibrant band. I saw at least one small drum that had the sound of the Middle Eastern Tambour, a saxophone, and what I believe was a recorder instrument – however it could have been the pipe used by the Pied Piper, it didn’t matter as together the instruments created almost a magical sound. Certainly the wide-ranging music was haunting, exciting, very energetic and joyful as though it were announcing an extraordinary event, and it was. Occasionally there was the Middle Eastern ululation as the excitement built.

The exhilaration increased to a crescendo as the lovely bride was escorted to her bridal throne by the groom’s friends, encircling her with dancing, song, clapping and exuberant joy. Once upon her adorned throne, which was white against a backdrop curtain of white enhanced by draped flowers, she was joined by both mothers, grandmothers on either side of her and immediate family members of the female gender standing behind her. Of course, as in all weddings, photographers clamored for favored positioning as the bride was greeted by friends and well-wishers.

Everyone was exceedingly happy, even the small children. I didn’t see a frown on any face as they crowded around to get a look at the bride. Girlfriends stepped forth to give a hug, say a prayer or pose for a picture. Everyone was happy!

I hadn’t even noticed the band had disappeared until I heard it in the distance, then I knew. The groom was coming. Announced by the ever joyful band music and preceded by at least two curved rows of dancing and singing spiritual brothers, arms locked at the shoulders with each man reaching out and placing his hands on the shoulders of the one beside him. They danced backwards, focusing on the groom as they led him to his beloved. Then came the grinning groom, looking for his bride, accompanied by his father, grandfather and what I believe were various uncles and brothers. Following him were another row or two of joyful participants as they escorted their friend/brother to his bridal destination. Dressed in a simple white shirt, black pants and a white kippah, he was prepared and ready for the next step.

Tradition has it that the bride and groom don’t see each other for the last week prior to the wedding. It is also tradition that they each fast on this day, so they can share a covenant meal together once they are united as husband and wife, sealing that bond.

As the group approached the bridal throne, the escorts broke away allowing David – the bridegroom – to approach his bride as she sat on her bridal throne. With a smile as large as the moon, his eyes locked on her as he moved forward, bent over and pulled the veil over her face. There would be no mistake – he was verifying that she was his Ellie! I’m not sure what he said to her even though at this moment the crowd had grown quiet, watching and listening. Several men – apparently relatives – taking turns, stepped forward, bent over and offered a short prayer then backed away. Once that was finished, Sondra and Ed ushered their Rabbi-son to the Chuppah, accompanied by singing and dancing friends.

While David was being ushered to the Chuppah, his bride remained on the throne, now veiled, gently rocking back and forth as she read a prayer. As I turned to my right to see the Chuppah, I noticed bride-groom David was standing in the center, now dressed in a white Kittel with his parents standing as smiling sentries on either side.

Now it was time for the escorts to come back for the bride, and they did so with the same fervor they ushered in their friend – the groom. The white aisle was flanked on either side by guests standing and clapping as the bride made her way to the Chuppah. Once there, the band – with what seemed like more instruments – began to play again while the bride, accompanied by Sondra and her mother, circled David seven times.

There was no stiff, stoic looking ahead by the groom. His eyes and smile followed her from side to side in an almost intimate way of indicating his love for her. The circling stopped. The ceremony continued as brachas – blessings – were read by various men who had been invited to do so. The Ketuba was read by the officiate, songs were sung, prayers said and joy abounded as Rabbi David slid the carefully inspected wedding ring on his bride’s first finger  – the pointer.

Psalms 128 was read by a participant as he wished the couple all of the blessings inherent in it. Then, as the ceremony was drawing to a close, everyone joined in singing Psalm 137 regarding the Temple that once stood in Jerusalem. Finally, a satin bag contained a crystal goblet was placed on the floor in front of the bridegroom where, at the very crescendo moment, he stomped it to voluminous shouts of “Mazel Tov.”

Surrounded by family and friends and a great deal of love, the couple departed to be alone for a short time where they will share that covenant first bite. The excited guests entered the large hall where they enjoy a huge fare of salads, breads, fish and/or chicken choices, and a never ending array of delicious food on beautifully appointed tables of linens, flowers, silver candlesticks and absolute elegance.

Once again, a band – a small, live band – provided music while the guests enjoyed the fabulous foods. The room was noisy, full of laughter and excitement. Children of all sizes play on the dance floor as we all waited, with anticipation, for the bridal couple. Then it happened. From seemingly nowhere, they appeared accompanied by confetti shot into the air and a joyous round of applause.

Then the dancing started. The room was divided by two white screens called a mechitza – a divider curtain, separating the male dancers from the females! I have always found this to be an oddity of Judaism since the faith is so much about families, togetherness, etc. However, if one stops to think about it, the idea that women are so beautiful that they distract the men from worshipping is really quite complimentary. The women danced joyous circle dances with the women; the men danced circle dances with the men. Moments of tremendous joy would cause some of the people to break out of the circle and do their own happy dance. It didn’t matter, the idea is – it was a very happy event.

To me, seeing Sondra in the center of the circle with her mother and the bride’s mother, encircled by daughters and daughters-in-law, cousins, nieces, aunts – it was wonderful. Several other things that really impacted me was when about 40 of Rabbi David’s Yeshiva students showed up and did a delightful break dance. I didn’t recognize the song – but that wasn’t important – it was the love extended that was important.

At one point during the separated dancing of the men and women, I noticed the mechitza curtain had been pulled apart and the bride was allowed to go to her bridegroom, if only for a short time. I was so wowed by this that I had to ask a Jewish friend to explain it to me and he did – but that’s for another story. Just think about it.

Like this description, the night went on and on with more food, more dancing, more joy. No one wanted to quit, but tomorrow was a work and school day and after all, the children needed to go to bed – as did mom and dad after all of that dancing.

On my ride home, my thoughts couldn’t help but contrast a Jewish wedding with a Christian wedding. What a difference. My thoughts were of the seriousness of the Christian wedding, the strive for perfection and the great show, all very stern and holy, including the traditional Wagner’s bridal march which is really not a good song to be played at a wedding as it is rather gruesome, in and of itself. This Jewish wedding was every bit as perfect, if you will, as any Christian wedding, but it held a joy that is absent in the Christian weddings I’ve attended. I had to wonder, why is that?


Margy Pezdirtz
Chairman, Board of Directo