I love a big Jewish wedding: it is a simchah unlike any other, a simchah with spectacle. Glass shatters into shards and the music starts up — we join arms and move around the dancefloor in joyous circles. Mazeltov! It is a beautiful beginning to a marriage.
One of the most resonant parts of Jewish life for me is that milestone moments are marked with meaningful rituals. The Jewish traditions that accompany life’s transitions bring history and perspective to the moments where we shift from one state to another.
A fledgling marriage is inextricably tied up in hope and promise. With the giving of a ring and the reading of a ketubah, a marriage is sanctified. At my first wedding, four years ago, I had no reason to believe that the marriage would be anything other than a success. I was a shocked and confused newlywed when my husband walked away less than a year after our wedding.
But that is another story, a chapter of my life that is, thankfully, firmly in the past.
As I write, I am counting the days until I marry my lovely fiancé, Jonathan, to whom I was introduced by a mutual friend. I found it incredibly easy to fall in love with Jonathan. As I told my mother after a few months, “If you look up mensch in the dictionary, you’ll find his picture.”
I was also quickly smitten with Jonathan’s daughter, Ellie, who was two when we first met. Jonathan is a widower; cancer tragically took his late wife, Anna, when Ellie was just an infant.
Ellie is a beautiful joy-giver, and Jonathan is incredibly grounded. He knows that the little things are never worth losing sleep over, and he’s a phenomenal father to Ellie and partner to me.
By the time you read this, Jonathan will be my husband, and Ellie my step-daughter. Every day, I feel gratitude for this second chance. Given the circumstances of Jonathan’s loss, we both feel acutely aware of living in the moment — a shared future can be cruelly taken away when you least expect it. We live with a feeling of “Why wait?”. Our wedding date was just three months after Jonathan proposed.
This time around, we knew that we didn’t want to adopt the same formula that we’d used at our previous weddings. We decided that, for us, what really mattered is the getting married — the chupah. It was an easy decision for us to invest a sizeable share of our modest wedding budget in a soulful chazan as we knew he would create a moving atmosphere. Also, we decided to marry in one of London’s most historic shuls — a shul where we had a personal connection.
We chose not to have a sit-down meal after the chupah — only drinks and canapés. By doing this, we could spend more money on things we felt would last longer and that we’d have through our marriage. The time saved by not having to create table-plans or wade through complicated food orders was put into conversations about weightier topics. What kind of marriage did we want to have? What shared goals did we have as a couple? What role would Judaism play in our marriage and in our home?
Of course, it is entirely possible to have all these conversations while planning a large sit-down meal and wedding reception; many couples do just that. Even so, we felt liberated by our choice not to think about a colour scheme and so on. We focused instead on what was crucial to us for our special day — the shul, the rabbi, the chupah, the music and the dancing.
Getting married in your forties brings different marriage goals than a first wedding might. Recently I learned that two of the sheva brachot recited under the chupah reference companionship as a key element of a Jewish marriage. Rabbi Mecklenburg, a Talmud scholar in the 19th century, wrote: “It is not good to be alone. A person’s inner capacity for goodness can’t be realised fully unless he has someone upon whom to shower his affections.”
Procreation might be the first commandment but Jonathan and I, at our stages in life, follow the emphasis that is placed under the chupah on companionship.
The rabbi who will be marrying us recently told us that he feels that the spirit of a Jewish marriage should be about giving to the other. He told us: “Above all else, give. Give of yourself, give of your time — give.” Of course, the concept of giving, and concurrently, of charity, runs throughout Jewish life, and it makes sense to me that this tenet should be at the heart of a marriage.
At a later stage in life, planning for a marriage, particularly a second marriage, feels different, to be sure. There is a richness to the dialogue between us as we talk about our visions for our shared future, a depth to the banter between us that can only come from being a little older. Predominant in my mind right now, though, with just a few days left until our wedding, is the thought that I am marrying a true mensch. I can’t wait until my wedding day.
The names of Jonathan, Ellie and Anna have been changed to protect their privacy