Category Archives: Jewish Traditions

Making It Their Own: My Friend’s Awesome Wedding

I recently attended a beautiful wedding of my friends, Abby and Matt, and the whole event was super impressive, despite my iPhone photos that really don’t do it justice. It wasn’t over the top that I was nauseated by too many fancy-shmancy details, but it was formal and special that the entire ceremony and reception felt like a sacred and magical space. The decor was gorgeous with pastel roses in pinks and creams accompanied by birch branches and silver chargers. Sparkly papers for menus and escort cards added a little shimmer and presentation of food was extremely appetizing and creative. It didn’t hurt that the bride and groom were aching in the cheeks from constant smiles and that the chemistry of the crowd was energetic, supportive, and loving. So from aesthetics to attitude, I give this wedding an A+.

Abby & Matt

Abby & Matt

It really was a fabulous night to witness the beginning of a new chapter in Abby and Matt’s love story.

What was really special about this wedding was that even though the bride and groom followed the traditional blueprint of a Jewish wedding, they also sprinkled their own style, family dynamics, and creative spin on the entire evening. I appreciate that because while all weddings are truly unique since no same couple is under the same chuppah, when they follow a step-by-step How To Jewish Wedding Tutorial, the experience can feel too predictable and therefore, sort of impersonal. My friends’ wedding was the exact opposite of that, and that is why it gets such a rave from this Jewish wedding fangirl.

Don’t worry, the official coverage of the wedding with brilliant-I’m-sure pro photos from Michael Brannigan of David Michael Photography will hit The Wedding Yentas soon enough, but I had to take a premature moment to gush now.

Some of the “so very them” elements:

The bride wore a dress that fit her like a glove, physically and stylistically. It was so beautifully traditional: white with lace in a fit-and-flare cut including an open back and a sweetheart neckline and then… just as you’re like, “Oh, it’s the style of dress I love on every bride,” it became modern with a sheer covering above the sweetheart line up to her neck with a sassy and chic collar edged in matching lace. My amateur iPhone photos don’t do it justice. It was just a gorgeous dress that was just “sooooo Abby” in every way.

Abby & Matt

Abby & Matt

Abby’s sister shared the English interpretation of the Sheva Brachot, the seven blessings. While the Rabbi traditionally recited them in Hebrew, Abby honored her sister with reading these sacred blessings. She was not part of the wedding party, and I thought this was a special way to highlight and honor her sister that’s even more lasting than bridesmaiding. We don’t always hear the English translation of these blessings and it was nice to know what the meanings of the Rabbi’s prayers were. Plus, her sister did an excellent job with a clear and pleasant performance.

Abby and Matt have a big family! With three sets of parents, lots of friends, and a plethora of siblings and cousins, a lot of people spoke on their behalf with toasts! Who doesn’t like toasts? It’s a way to learn a new nugget about the couple or a chance to see a friend shine at the microphone or, hell, it’s a time to drink Champagne so, that’s a good enough reason right there. But the big bad wedding rule book would say that there can’t be too many speeches; that it’s usually a welcome speech by the father of the bride, followed by two more toasts from the Maid of Honor and the Best Man. Well guess what? There were more speeches than that at Abby and Matt’s wedding and it was O.K.! They were well coordinated and placed so that they didn’t take place all at once and were spaced among various courses of the meal. None of them were too long and all of them had a unique angle, and that’s what’s neat about hearing from the parents of the groom, the mother and stepfather of the bride, and the father and stepmother of the groom in addition to siblings and members of the bridal party. And there must be special props to the toast-turned-surprise-group-dance that featured dancing grandmas and cousins with streamers.

Abby & Matt

I’m so happy for my friends and know they’re in for one wonderful adventure together as husband and wife and it all started on the day that they made all about them!

Abby & Matt

You Put Your Ring on WHAT Finger?!

He liked it so he went and put a ring on it. Mazel tov.

Now that the engagement ring is taking up coveted finger real estate, it’s time to tackle one of the items on your To Do list: purchasing wedding bands. Naturally, this is a fun and important activity, and most brides daydream about adding some extra bling to the fourth digit or complementing the glory of the engagement ring.

Hold your horses! Don’t rush off to the jewelry store yet! There are some traditions that you may want to know about first so you know how to plan the big ring exchange on your wedding day.

According to tradition, you should probably swap out this

for this.

I can hear your whining from here: “But Yentaaaaaaas! I’ve always wanted an intricate, pave-set, 2 carat, eternity diamond wedding band in white gold!!” Wipe the worry from your little punims. I have a solution, but first a little story, just like all good Yentas tell.

Jewish law says that a marriage becomes official when the groom gives his bride something valuable and that’s typically a ring. The rabbis say that it should be made of plain gold, with no blemishes, ornaments, or breaks in the ring. The continuity of the ring promotes the hope for an everlasting marriage and the lack of ornaments (read: diamonds. Yes, diamonds) signifies the simple beauty that comes from marriage.

During the wedding ceremony, the groom declares to the bride, “Behold, you are betrothed unto me with this ring, according to the law of Moses and Israel.” Don’t worry. The rabbi will cue the lines. No memorization necessary. Jewish law requires that only the groom gives a ring to the bride, but many modern couples choose to exchange rings.

Okay, now brace yourselves. This may be news to you. Raise both your hands. Put your left hand down. Your wedding ring finger is now your right pointer finger, according to Jewish tradition. While Christianity says the left finger is closest to the heart, the Talmud says that it’s the right forefinger that is closest to the heart. The next time a priest and a rabbi are in a bar, they can duke that one out.

So now you know the details of the ring’s appearance and important fingers according to Jewish law. But, wait, let me guess: you’re a modern bride and you already bought your icy wedding band and you’ve perfectly manicured your left fourth finger. Borrow a solid gold band from a family member or friend and use it in the ceremony. Have your best man (who, most likely, was already carrying the ceremony rings) hold onto the “real life” wedding band and you can slip that on after the ceremony so you can party in it. I actually borrowed my grandma’s solid gold band to use in our ceremony and it served double duty as my something borrowed (and I suppose my something old?). It was special looking out at her during the ceremony, knowing I was carrying on a Jewish tradition, using her family heirloom.

The beautiful custom that takes place during the ceremony is meaningful and important. It’s great to honor this tradition, but it’s also reasonable to live your modern, American Jewish life. After all, what happens in the chuppah, stays in the chuppah.

Behind The Scenes of a Custom Ketubah

From-The-Expert
By Anna Abramzon of Anna Abramzon Studio

Eric and Jessica found my art when they were searching for a ketubah and came across my Etsy shop. They liked my style, but were looking for something totally original for their upcoming wedding. They were developing a movement/dance theme for the big day (and their life in general) and liked the idea of having a completely unique hand painted ketubah that no other couple in the world would have.

This is Eric and Jessica, how cute are they?

Anna Abramzon Studio

And so began our journey together. My favorite thing about painting custom ketubot is the opportunity to get to know the couple. Although I have never met Eric or Jessica face to face (they are in San Francisco while I am in Houston) I really loved getting to know them and their creative vision through phone calls, and countless emails.

We started out by brainstorming ideas. I asked them to send me imagery that was appealing and meaningful to them so I could get a feel for their aesthetic. Since they knew for sure that they wanted a dancing figure on the ketubah, I started out by sketching a whole bunch of dancing figures for them, to see what they would like so we could go from there.

Anna Abramzon Studio

But these were a little too “Dancing with the Stars” for them. They sent me some images of the kind of dancing they were into, including this amazing sculpture called Bliss Dance from Treasure Island in San Francisco. Their wedding ceremony would be right next to it.

Treasure Island

So back to the drawing board I went! I presented them with a new series of sketches, focusing on a more organic, flowing and energetic dance style:

Anna Abramzon Studio

And we had a winner! They liked sketch C. They also sent me an image they really loved from a meditation retreat they had just attended, for inspiration. Yes, this wonder couple has time to plan a wedding, study for bar exams, and attend meditation retreats, too!

meditation

Next I presented them with a few layout ideas, one with the text split and one with the text all together:

Anna Abramzon Studio

They chose the split-text layout and decided against a “chai” on the top. They also told me they liked the rendering style from the Love Tree 2 Ketubah.

Anna Abramzon Studio

It was time for my favorite part, painting!!

Anna Abramzon Studio

Drumroll please…..

Anna Abramzon Studio

Just a few sentimental sniffles at the FEDEX office, and off the ketubah went on its journey to California and to its permanent home with Eric and Jessica!! Mazel tov you guys!!!!

Thank you so much, Eric and Jessica, for letting my art be a part of your special day. It was truly an honor! May your ketubah stay with you for a long, fulfilling and inspiring marriage, full of miracles! L’Chaim!

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Anna Abramzon StudioToday, Anna Abramzon of Anna Abramzon Studio chimes in as a ketubah expert on The Wedding Yentas! They say she started drawing before she started walking, but that may be an exaggeration. As soon as she did start walking though, Anna started traveling, sketchbook in hand. She has lived all over the place and her travels have infused her artwork with color and life. Anna specialize in mixed media, combining collage with gouache, watercolor, pencil and ink. Anna met and married her husband in Jerusalem, Israel, and thought their wedding was a wonderful opportunity to create some love-inspired art, so she painted their ketubah, their invites, their thank you notes, and pretty much everything else that she possibly could for their wedding. Next thing she knew, other people started asking her to create artwork for their weddings. And that’s how Anna became a ketubah artist. She lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and daughter. Shop for your ketubah and keepsake art at Anna Abramzon Studio.

Jewish Wedding Tradition of Circling

While at dinner with friends who are just two weeks away from their wedding, we were talking about the final details of their ceremony and they couldn’t decide on the ritual of circling.

In case you’re not in the inner circle and you’re confused, the casual and informal term of “circling” refers to the tradition of the bride literally walking in circles around the groom during the chuppah ceremony.

Sandor Welsh Photography

Sandor Welsh Photography

Some do it. Some don’t. Some do a variation on the circling.

Still deciding what you want to do? Maybe a little more info will help shape your decision on circling. It’s an Ashkenazi tradition and has been interpreted the bride creating seven or three circles around the groom. Seven is usually considered to be more traditional. As with most concepts in Jewish religion and culture, there are many reasons and symbols for this tradition. I imagine a bunch of really smart rabbis sitting around a table filled with lox and bagels and caawww-fee all discussing the traditions and trying to agree on one explanation and then finally one stands up, bangs his fist on the table, and says “Fah-get about it! Let ‘em pick! They all sound good, yes? Of course yes!” and then it’s up to the people. So, here we are, with a few different explanations, open to interpretation depending on your movement and level of observance.

So, the reason for the circles? In the book of Jeremiah, it is said that “a woman encompasses a man.” Therefore, she literally encompasses him, physically, by walking in a circular border around him.

Another explanation is that by circling her groom a number of times, a bride creates a sort of invisible wall to make a sacred space for them in the chuppah.

Also, numbers play a big part in Jewish traditions, and seven happens to be a biggie. Seven is the number of days of creation and, in theory, the couple is creating a new world together. Also, the phrase “a man takes a wife” is mentioned seven times in the Torah. Another one I’ve heard is that Joshua circled the walls of Jericho seven times to take it down, and, therefore, by the bride circling her groom, she is taking down any walls between them.

Three circles are considered to be a more reform practice. And again, it’s a numbers thing. God says “I will betrothe thee unto me” three times in reference to himself and Israel. So some couples decide three circles are enough and like the derivation of that number.

Then, there’s what more modern couples are doing: they’ll take turns circling the other an even amount of tmes — so either 3 or 1 each, and then circle each other at the same time for the final round. This is seen as more equitable practice since modern couples treat their marriage, and therefore the chuppah ceremony, as an equal partnership. That is, it’s not just the bride making the groom her world, but the groom making the bride his world as well.

Talk to your rabbi, cantor, or officiant about the option that would be best for you two and your system of beliefs. You may even choose to skip it altogether. But if you do end up circling, some tips: hold your bouquet with one hand and your dress’s skirt with the other to avoid tripping; Don’t look down the whole time because your face won’t be as available for photographs, so alternate between looking straight ahead at your partner and then at the ground; when you’re finished, make sure your maid of honor re-fluffs your dress once you’re settled in position.

No matter what you choose, your ceremony should be a reflection of your love and values. It’s less about the circles and more about your hearts!

Wedding Programs for Your Jewish or Interfaith Ceremony

Are you providing programs for your guests? Programs are a great extra detail to create for your wedding ceremony. It’s a perfect place to welcome your friends and family, say thank you to those who made your wedding day possible, and even remember the loved ones who are no longer with you, but hold a special place in your heart and memory.

And, most importantly, it’s an ideal place to share some of the traditions your guests may see while you’re under the chuppah. Usually, a rabbi will lead the ceremony and describe what’s happening and why, but for those who want to take the program with them or if they missed the rabbi’s description, your friends and family can read about the beautiful traditions you’re including.

A typical wedding program will include the couple’s name, wedding date, and location on the cover. Inside, guests can usually find a welcome message from the couple, an ordered list of the people in the processional (officiant, parents, grandparents, bridal party, etc.), the order of the ceremony (this includes readings or songs and who will be performing them if it’s anyone other than the officiant), the traditions included throughout the day before, during, and after the ceremony, and an in memoriam-type of list.

This is a guide that has popular, mainstream Jewish traditions. If you are choosing to include other customs from another religion or culture, this would be a good place to add them. If your ceremony is more on the super reform side, you can tailor the wording and traditions listed below. And if you’re going ultra traditional, you’ll most likely need to add several more components. These selected traditions are from a modern, mainstream “conservaform” wedding and seem to follow the types of Jewish wedding ceremonies that visiting Yentas are designing. Feel free to “steal” what works for you and confirm with your officiant. It would be impossible to include every couple’s possible specific traditions and their “whys” and “hows” since all couples’ interpretation of Jewish weddings are different. So, I must reiterate, this is a skeleton, not a set-in-stone format.

Good luck! Email alison@theweddingyentas.com if you have additional questions!

Ketubah
The marriage contract (ketubah) specifies the couple’s commitment to each other. The ketubah was signed during a ceremony before the wedding service and contains the signatures of the bride and groom as well as two witnesses who are Jewish and not blood relatives. The rabbi has also signed and dated the ketubah to make it official.

Bedeken
The bedeken is the veiling ceremony during which the groom placed a veil over the bride. This ceremony took place privately and is considered one of the most moving elements of a traditional Jewish wedding. By covering his bride with a veil, the groom ascertained her identity, and confirmed that he is marrying the woman of his heart’s desire.

Chuppah
The chuppah is a canopy that symbolizes the home that the bride and groom will build together. The chuppah is open on all sides, also symbolizing that friends and family are always welcome in the newlyweds’ home.

Hakafot
The bride circles the groom (hakafot) seven times. Two interpretations of the significance: seven is the number of days of creation, and the wedding ceremony is the creation of a new household; seven is the number of times the phrase “when a man takes a wife” occurs in the Torah.

Wrapping the Tallit
During the final benediction, the couple is wrapped by a tallit (prayer shawl) around their shoulders. This wrapping symbolizes the private Jewish life the bride and groom will have together.

Breaking of the Glass
The wedding ceremony concludes with the groom breaking a glass under his foot. There are many significances behind this custom. One of them is that it is a reminder that relationships are as fragile as glass and must always be treated with care, love and respect. After the breaking of the glass, the guests yell, “Mazel Tov!” which means good luck.

Yichud
After the chuppah ceremony, the couple is escorted to a private room and left alone for a few minutes. These moments of seclusion signify their new status of living together as husband and wife.