I got married in February, not typically a month associated with weddings. But I’m an anxious type, and, while I’d have loved an outdoor soirée, I couldn’t handle worrying Alanis Morrisette’s infamous prediction about a downpour would come true. As it turned out, it was cold but gloriously sunny; Alanis really did know of what she sang.
But in an ordinary year we’d be heading into wedding season now, complete with all the magazine spreads featuring frocks and endless debate about fascinators (verdict: avoid). Notwithstanding the Omer, that would have been the case for Jewish couples too.
Obviously, not this year. Weddings have been banned until further notice, as they should be; how horrifying to read recently of furtive Jewish ceremonies within the Strictly Orthodox community, contravening all medical advice. Indeed, tragic as it is, some have suggested one reason Anglo-Jewry was badly struck by this plague was because so many of us gathered in large numbers at simchas or for Purim in early March.
Still, the situation is frustrating for any couple who’d been planning to tie the knot. A friend, due to wed in August, is sanguine but nonetheless disappointed; hoping against hope they make it down the aisle in 2020.
Perhaps they will. Restrictions may lift on smaller gatherings, meaning civil ceremonies or even Jewish ones with immediate family present could take place. What then?
“Marriage is about the long-term, not the party” is the obvious platitude, and that’s true, to some extent. You don’t (or shouldn’t) get engaged because of a sparkly ring, but because you want to spend your life together, both the good bits, the bits that involve disagreeing over how to load a dishwasher, and the sad bits too.
But a wedding, certainly a Jewish wedding, is more than a party. The ritual of it is transformative; a special journey that takes you from I to we, and lays the foundations for your future together.
Every aspect matters, not simply when the bloke smashes the glass and the rabbi jokes about it being the last time he’ll put his foot down (it was never funny, and it’s actually fairly offensive). There’s the aufruf, when the spotlight is on the chatan in a way it may not have been since his barmitzvah; perhaps the true moment of passage from boy and son to man and husband. For the callah, there’s the mikveh, an experience I may never have felt the need to repeat but that still, somehow, brought home the enormity of what was to unfold.
Then there’s the day itself. Leaving aside the fuss and frippery, there’s fasting —because this is a sombre event too — and the bedeken, the veiling, by far the most emotional part for me. Having not seen each other for a week, it was our first reunion and a moment of huge magnitude.
And then the chupah; a hint of the home and family you will build together. I’ve been to weddings with ornate structures, resplendent with flowers, and others with just a tallit or sheet decorated by friends. Regardless, the symbolism of standing beneath one, in the first scene of your marital drama, is enormous.
All the formalities — circling the groom seven times, the ketubah read in Aramaic, wine sipped so dangerously close to a white dress, the lament for Jerusalem — matter so much. And yes, they don’t require a crowd to be gathered, but I can’t help but feel the experience would have been lessened without so many loved ones present; grandparents and extended family, chums from childhood, family friends who’d known us since we were small. Standing before all those people made it all the more meaningful.
It would have been lacking, too, without the crowds whirling us out of the ceremony, the madcap Israeli dancing that left us sweaty and gasping but ecstatic too. Without being placed on chairs above the surging crowd (then dropped from one too, in my case); without the brilliant chaos that is a Jewish wedding. Without the speeches, whether good or dreadful, without the grace after meals that had everyone standing on their chairs just like summer camp. Communal celebration, in no small part, is often what a wedding is about; whether a Jewish one or not.
A wedding isn’t marriage, just like a barmitzvah doesn’t truly make a boy a man; it’s what happens next that counts. But it’s a start, the first rung on a ladder, something that unites a couple today with Jews the world over, throughout history. In some ways, it is everything. For those facing cancelled weddings, hold on that bit longer; it’s worth the wait.