Category Archives: Jewish Traditions

Tales From The Veil: Los Angeles Couple Goes Modern Orthodox Even With Reform Upbringing

Growing up in a small town in Maine, my Jewish identity was defined by cultural Jewish experiences like visiting my grandparents in Long Island where I enjoyed bagel, lox, and cream cheese, knishes and other culturally Jewish delicacies; it was a small taste of what living a Jewish life could mean. It was not until I participated in a Birthright trip during my sophomore year in college that I experienced and became intrigued by Judaism and was eager to learn more.

As a curious teenager, I had a lot of questions about life and I was unable to find satisfying answers. So, I embarked on a journey of Jewish learning that included studying at an all-women’s seminary in Jerusalem, one-on-one learning back in the United States, and slowly adopting practices such as keeping Kosher and attempting to keep Shabbat. When I met my husband, AJ, it was the first time I found someone who came from a similar background, yet was moving in a similar direction. AJ grew up in a Reform synagogue in San Francisco, and became more observant during business school. Together, we are currently paving our path and still figuring out what kind of Jewish home we will keep.

Jewish Weddings

We decided that although we are still growing in our observance and haven’t committed to all observant traditions and practices, it was very important to us to have an Orthodox wedding. There were several reasons to this, but a few included: We wanted all of our guests to feel comfortable. Some of our closest friends are Orthodox and will only eat Kosher food that is under the supervision of a Rabbi. Additionally, many men will only dance with men and women with women. Also, the meaning behind a traditional Jewish ceremony was extremely intriguing to us. It was important that our wedding was a spiritual and elevating experience, not just a party. And lastly, the few Orthodox weddings I had been to in the past were the most moving, exciting, and meaningful.

Obviously, this added a level of complexity when the planning process began because neither my mother nor future mother-in-law had ever been to an Orthodox wedding. The first challenge we faced was deciding where to have the wedding. If we decided to have the wedding in Maine, we would have had to bring Kosher food up from Boston. This just seemed crazy. So, we decided to have the wedding in San Francisco, where we could find Kosher food and had AJ’s mom on the ground to help with the planning. Next, we could only serve Kosher Mevushal wine. This made ordering and selecting alcohol much more complicated and expensive. In the end, we separately ordered the wine from the rest of the alcohol from a distributor in Chicago.

Choosing a band was also hard. We wanted a band that could play “simcha” music (Hora style music), but a band that could also play American music as well. We ended up bringing a band from Los Angeles. Also, we decided that the first 25 minutes would be separate dancing and the rest of the wedding would be mixed. One of the only pre-wedding nightmares I had was about this particular part of the wedding. I worried guests would not want to participate in the separate dancing or that nobody would know what was going on! Fortunately, the separation occurred organically and it seemed as though most of our guests really enjoyed and appreciated this part.

AJ and I decided to not see each other the week before the wedding. However, our parents felt very strongly about having a dinner the night before the wedding with our immediate and extended families. We wanted to respect their request, especially since they were so supportive of our choice to have an Orthodox wedding, so we did not see each other for the entire week up until the wedding, and sat at different tables during the dinner and did everything we could to avoid eye contact. We wanted the moment at the Bedeken (veiling ceremony) to be as special as possible. Many argue the Bedeken goes back to biblical times when Jacob married Leah by accident because her face was veiled, when he really wanted to marry Rachel. Others say it is the groom publicly demonstrating that his love and affection for his new bride goes beyond physical beauty; he loves her for what he cannot see. The Bedeken added a complexity to the photography schedule. Our photographer wanted to take group and family photos before the wedding, which is commonly done. However, we decided we would hold out for the Bedeken and do group pictures during cocktail hour. We wanted our first interaction to be at the veiling.

Jewish Wedding Bedeken

In the end, it all paid off despite the added challenges of planning a wedding that nobody in our family had experienced before. The minute AJ was ushered out of the Tisch escorted by his father and my father, our friends, and family he approached me and pulled my veil over my face, and leaned in and whispered loving words in my ear. I was flooded with emotion and gratitude that not only was I marrying my beshert, but I was participating in a tradition that goes back thousands of years and I have the privilege of living in a time where I can be Jewish and openly, and proudly live a Jewish life.

annabioAfter growing up in non-observant Reform Jewish households, Anna & AJ Prager now live in the Pico Robertson community in Los Angeles, which is typically very traditional. They recently moved from Chicago where Anna was attending graduate school at the University of Chicago. Anna loves to cook, bake challah, host Shabbos meals, and enjoys her daily fitness classes at Equinox with AJ! AJ works in the entertainment industry and is a San Francisco Giants fan. They both love to travel and are enjoying being newlyweds together! You can also see their entire wedding collection and story that was featured on The Wedding Yentas.

Jewish Mourning During A Wedding Event

Usually around these parts of the inter webs, we talk about fun, happy, pretty things — the wedding equivalent to rainbows and unicorns and fairy dust. I like it like that. And clearly you do, too, since y’all are so loyal as fellow Yentas. But here’s the thing: sometimes, gefilte fish gets real, and we need to talk about things that aren’t as rainbowy and unicornish and fairy dust-like.

I’m going to be frank with you: sometimes, people die. Well, people always die, but sometimes it’s poor timing and they die within the year of your wedding. This could be a, how do I say this? a problem.

I once got a phone call from a hotel catering manager who was looking for some information about the Jewish mourning period because her bride and groom just notified her that they’d have to postpone the wedding. The wedding was set for summer of 2013 and a grandparent just passed away. They want to delay the wedding until the period of mourning is over, but the venue clearly stated that their deposit would not be transferrable as noted in the contract. Obviously, the couple is upset by this, and they are currently working on a solution that is mutually beneficial.

This sad tale brought the catering manager to me via phone call (she and I did not know each other previously as we live in different states and have never worked together on The Wedding Yentas) and we spoke about the significance of mourning in Judaism and why we both think that the venue should accommodate the couple and transfer their deposit to a TBD date.

So, not to sound like your bubbie, but, a thousand times POO POO (spit), in case you need to know, I thought I’d share some Jewish mourning guidelines and how they might be relevant to your wedding if the timing is unfortunate. As always, the way you choose to observe Jewish traditions is up to you and what’s best for your family, or consult your rabbi for guidance. As with most traditional Jewish observances, there are many layers to the restrictions. What’s covered here is literally the tip of the iceberg and should not be used as the absolute manual regarding the mourning period.

Basically, after a loved one passes away, there is a series of stages that the mourner goes through varying from solitary grieving to being comforted by others, from staying in the home to returning to the normalcy of life. Typically, the first seven days (Shivah) are the hardest for the mourner who, only at the end of Shivah, begins to take callers and well wishers. Shloshim lasts 30 days and the mourner begins to move on as he or she goes out into the world to do what he or she needs to do. However during Shivah and Shloshim, joining in on celebratory parties or taking part in joyous events is not acceptable as the mourner’s wounds are still so fresh.

When Shloshim ends, the mourner is bridged into the remainder of the year (the whole year makes a revolution from the burial date to the anniversary of the burial). According to Jewish observances, for the mourning of one’s parents, there is to be no attending celebrations of joy during that first year.

Now, who is to say what’s a joyous occasion? This can be such a subjective term. What if going for a walk with your dog brings you joy? What if eating ooey gooey chocolate chip cookies for breakfast brings you joy? The “joy” that the scholars refer to is religious joy or celebration like… you guessed it… a wedding celebration. Going to wish the couple “mazel tov” or attending the chuppah ceremony is OK. However, joining the festivities of a meal and dancing to gleeful music is not.

If a wedding ceremony takes place in a catering or banquet facility where music is played, there is a general rule that people who are mourning parents should not attend for 12 months and 30 days for other relatives.

A festive meal with friends and relatives is considered joy, and the mourner should avoid occasions like these until after 12 months when mourning for parents, and 30 days when mourning for other relatives.

Interestingly, if a mourner chooses to not be part of the wedding day or has requested that there be a postponement of the wedding date and there is a possibility that the delay might cause the bride or groom to withdraw from the marriage, the mourner may attend at any time of mourning and under any conditions in order to avoid indefinite cancellation. The bottomline here is: mourning should not cause the wedding to be canceled. However, if the wedding can be simply postponed, that is better.

It is said that if a mourner feels her or she must attend the wedding celebration before the mourning period is officially over, he or she should perform a serviceable role, like help prepare or serve the dinner or usher guests to seats at the ceremony.

In my personal opinion, a delay of a wedding due to a death in the family is absolutely reasonable, though unfortunate, and wedding vendors should honor this custom without penalizing the couple monetarily. Most contracts typically say that events can’t be canceled without penalty unless there is an act of God. Typically, most people think of natural disasters that make it impossible for society to function. However, a death in the family may also be considered an act of God by some people, and is typically unavoidable.

I hope that none of you ever have to refer to this cheat sheet, but thought the information may be helpful. Now, go out and live life and enjoy your wedding planning!

April O'Hare Photography

La Noche de Novia: A Moroccan Jewish Wedding Ceremony

Today, Keren shares a special tradition based on the Sephardic heritage of her husband, Michael.

La Noche de Novia, also referred to as a Berberisca, Soirée du Henné, Noche de Paños or Lilat el Henna, is a traditional Moroccan Jewish ceremony that takes place during the week that precedes a wedding. The bride makes her entrance, magnificently made up and dressed in the Berberisca gown called ‘Traje de paños’, “Vestido de Berberisca” (Spanish), or “Keswa Elkibra” (Great Dress in Arabic). The costume is made of velvet, richly ornate and embroidered in gold thread. The family of the groom and bride, accompanied by close friends, gather to sing and to praise the bride. The tradition is 2,000 years old.

The ceremony has been famously depicted by many artists including Jean Bescancenot, Charles-Emile Vernet-Lecomte, Alfred Dehodencq, Camille Corot, and Fernand Georges Ducatillion. Most notably, the dress was recorded in several paintings and sketches by Eugene Delacroix, the master of the French Romantic school.

My husband’s family was expelled from Spain in 1492. After the expulsion, following the inquisition, the family traveled to Safed, Israel; Thessaloniki, Greece; and Meknes, Morocco. They finally arrived in Fez, Morocco, during the 16th century and in the mid-19th century, they moved to Tangier.

Jewish Moroccan Ceremony

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I was lucky enough to have a Noche de Novia of my own. The special day was filled with joy, singing and laughter – not to mention alcohol and delicious food. Getting dressed for the reception took over an hour and gave me insight into the preparations such a special day must of taken in antiquity. There are dozens of pieces of the costume, each with a specific meaning, order and purpose – a belt (golel), headpiece (jemar), the jacket, the bodice, the laced sleeves (kmam) and more. Some of the items even have a superstitious and mystical connection to luck, fertility, and love.

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My dress came from overseas in Madrid, Spain. It had previously been worn by my husband’s mother and many of his cousins. I felt deeply honored to continue this tradition; especially to follow in the footsteps of many women who I respect. The beautiful ritual originates in the Sephardi Jewish Communities of Northern Morocco and its surroundings; in cities such as Tangiers, Gibraltar and especially Tetuán, which was also called “Yerushalayim Haketana”, the “Little Jerusalem”.

Aunts, cousins, friends, and other females related to the bride help her to get ready for her presentation. Each detail is just so – every pin, bobby pin and tassle is fussed with. More than anything, this time was for the bride to get to know her new family without her husband-to-be. This was a private time just for women.

The Puntaktel is worn under the Gonbaiz and as a close fitting breastplate made of heavily embroidered velvet. The Hezam is a velvet and silk sash with ornate golden embroidered. It is wrapped around the bride’s waist several times.

The necklaces are from an aunt in Paris, France, and the Moroccan earrings are from a family friend. The bracelet I am wearing is from my husband’s mom. In this way, I wear pieces of important women in the family. The international family, and the continuation of such “seemingly-antiquated” traditions is beautiful.

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This ceremony is known in most Jewish communities as the “Hina”, a name that symbolizes the three Mitzvot specific to the Jewish woman: Halla, Nida, VeHadlakat HaNerot. Briefly, these actions mean lighting the candles, separating portions of dough for the creation of Challah (bread), and ritual bathing and cleanliness.

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From The Expert: Perfecting Your Jewish Wedding Registry With The Perfect Guide

From-The-Expert

Today’s Expert: Dena Siegel of Chai & Home: Jewish Life, Beautifully Lived

I didn’t listen to my mother when I was setting up my wedding registry. My mother had a reputation for expensive tastes and spending quite freely, especially other people’s money: at least that is what Dad said. Anyway, when she expressed dismay at my registry full of general household goods and encouraged me to remove that stuff to instead list a proper set of china, crystal, and a real silver set, I was incredulous.

When I was setting up my registry, my fiancé and I were very aware that we didn’t want other people to see us as money-grubbing and desirous of expensive gifts. We placed practical items on the list: a wok, lamps, some small cooking appliances, towels, and the like. It was stuff we really needed everyday and most of it was inexpensive. I thought the guests would appreciate my practicality and see items they could easily afford.

Fast forward 10 years. Do you know what I have left from those gifts: One set of crystal candlesticks — and these weren’t on my registry! They were given off-list and I can only assume because the giver wanted to give me something that would last and they didn’t see anything like that on my registry. Since then, the wok and towels wore out and the lamps and electric items were left in England when I moved back home to Los Angeles. But I use the candlesticks regularly for Shabbat and now I know what my mother meant.

Here is what I know now but didn’t know then:

1. THE WAY YOU LIVE AND ENTERTAIN NOW ISN’T NECESSARILY HOW YOU WILL ENTERTAIN IN 5 AND 10 YEARS. You may not hold Passover now or many other formal dinners. But when you have kids and a beautiful home and your parents are older, by golly, you will be doing just that.

2. YOU THINK OF THE GIVER AND YOUR WEDDING DAY EVERY TIME YOU USE A GIFT FROM THE REGISTRY. This is really true so most items on your registry should be beautiful and elegant because that is how the giver will be remembered, and they know it.

3. YOUR GUESTS (PARTICULARLY YOUR RELATIVES) WANT TO GIVE YOU TIMELESS ITEMS. They have the wisdom to know how important these gifts are and they don’t want to be the one remembered by the vacuum cleaner because they know how temporal and banal the vacuum cleaner is.

4. YOU MAY NOT BE IN A POSITION TO BUY FINE ITEMS LATER. You may be feeling flush now because you have two incomes and no children, but when you are starting a family and establishing a home, it might be years and years before you are in a position again to buy a gold-rimmed set of china. And it might never happen.

So do your future self a favor and listen to this yenta: plan your registry very carefully.

Here is a tool to help. Chai & Home’s A Very Jewish Wedding Registry. This is a downloadable and printable guide to all the key items you will need in establishing a beautiful, Jewish home. With it you can create a meaningful wedding registry that your guests will be pleased to contribute to and that will set you up for your future household.

You will see there is an emphasis on Judaica and tableware and almost no cookware or appliances. When chosen wisely, the Judaica and tableware should last you lifetime. Not only do cookware and appliances not last, but they have an air of mundane practicality that most givers don’t want to be associated with.

May the gifts of your wedding registry display the joy and love your family and friends have for you during this magical time in your life.

L’Chaim!

Download the full registry checklist now!
WeddingRegistryGuide

Dena SiegelDena Siegel writes Chai & Home, a style blog about elegant, modern Jewish living. Through Chai & Home, Dena shows how Jewish life is beautifully lived by bringing you the best in accessories and Judaica available today. New ideas mixed with centuries old traditions will enliven your practice and stimulate yourself, your family, and friends. Visit Chai & Home or swing by to “Like!” the Facebook page.Visit Chai & Home or swing by to “Like!” the Facebook page.

All this pretty stuff! After you’re finished making some additions to your wedding registry based on the tips from Chai & Home, try to get your hands on MORE pretty stuff! Enter for a chance to win the grand prize of our current sweepstakes, sponsored by Emily Kuvin Jewelry Design!

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From The Expert: Exploring Your Name On The Ketubah With Rabbi Rayzel

From-The-Expert
By Rabbi Rayzel of Shechinah.com

Working with couples on their weddings for the past 20 years, I have had the privilege to enter their hearts at a very special time when they are filled with love and hope for the future. My willingness and intention to officiate at interfaith weddings has always been to become a “loving portal” of connection to Judaism. I believe that a friendly rabbi goes a long way to serve the “yet to be affiliated” interfaith family.

I have met many different kinds of couples over the years. Those with one strongly-identified Jew, or two “we’re not so religious” types, or perhaps the Jewish partner is the ambivalent one and the other partner has strong faith in a spiritual force. It has been fascinating to witness what becomes important and meaningful as the wedding planning unfolds. When I explain the Jewish wedding customs and offer contemporary meanings for them, it is often the partner who isn’t Jewish who insists on breaking the glass or wearing a kippah!

One of my favorite conversations to have during in the planning is in regard to the ketubah, the wedding document. To me this is the defining moment of what direction a couple’s lives will take, and can determine whether they will raise a Jewish family. The ketubah has come a long way; earliest versions guaranteed that the groom would provide food, clothing, and sex to his wife, and in exchange she became the property of her husband. The then black and white printed ketubah was put away somewhere in a drawer — it wasn’t seen as anything more than a contract. Although the traditional ketubah, using this guaranteed exchange and printed out simply, is still used in Orthodox circles, most of my interfaith couples select a gorgeous flowery text in Hebrew and English, beautifully calligraphic, and embellished with other design features to hang on their wall.

Ketubah by Anna Abramzon

Ketubah by Anna Abramzon

The ketubah is not generic: both partners’ names are included in the text. While most Jews are given a Hebrew name at or shortly after their birth, interfaith marriages provide a challenge. How do we fill out this ketubah using Hebrew names when one partner does not have a Hebrew name?

I have always found it odd to transliterate “Chris” or “Christine” in Hebrew for a ketubah. I have used this moment in discussion with my couples to raise the issue of Ger Toshav (Hebrew for “resident stranger”). I explain that there were two kinds of converts in ancient Israel: the righteous convert (ger tzedek) and the one who dwells among us (ger toshav). I explain, “It’s like having your ‘green card’ with the Jewish people.” The Ger Toshav agrees to raise their children with Jewish customs, to be an ally of the Jewish people. To be a Ger Toshav can also but not always begin a journey towards conversion.

One couple, an ambivalent Israeli bride and a lapsed Catholic groom, grappled with what to do with the future children. “A little of both,” they agreed. However when we got to the moment of deciding what Chris should be called in Hebrew in the ketubah, he immediately said, “‘Shlomo’ — I’ve always loved that name.” The bride was shocked; he had never said that before. At that moment I knew that taking a Hebrew name would change his destiny forever.

Jews believe that names carry power. We don’t even mention the name of our God it is so powerful. (Instead, the names used in prayer are nicknames.) We have a tradition of changing a sick child’s name to Chayim (life) or Alter (old) to fool the angel of death. So when Chris became Shlomo, I knew that this moment would define him and his spiritual journey for years to come — even if his bride was ambivalent about her tradition.

Using the category of Ger Toshav also clarifies a murky status. I had a counseling session with an interfaith couple who were stuck on how to raise the children. The groom, grandson of Holocaust survivors, was adamant that his children be Jewish. The young Catholic bride burst into tears saying, “Give me the rationale for why I should put aside my faith to raise these children Jewish. I’m not Jewish!” I replied, “Perhaps your own efforts to raise these children Jewishly will go a long way on some cosmic level toward the healing of the Christian history towards the Jews.” “But I won’t be Jewish or Catholic, I’ll be nothing,” she countered. My response was to tell her that as a Ger Toshav, you align yourself with the mixed multitudes who left Israel creating the paradigm of freedom. The Jewish people have a deep and rich history; by your willingness you help pass on ancient wisdom and meaning you further this history. This satisfied her angst and she agreed to bring the children up Jewish. She’s now in search of her Hebrew name for the ketubah.

I use the ketubah moment to begin the discussion of children, allegiance and affiliation with the Jewish people, taking new names, and spiritual journeys. It opens many avenues to discussion and is clearly a defining moment of transformation.

For more information about ger toshav, click here!

This article was originally published for InterfaithFamily.com.

rayzel-raphael200Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael is a rabbi in private practice in the Philadelphia area. She has a specialty in interfaith weddings and welcomes couples to her home on Shabbat. In addition, Rabbi Rayzel is an award winning singer/songwriter. She is a proud member of The Wedding Yentas family and is available to discuss your needs for lifecycle events. You can visit her at Shechinah.com.