Sex & Love

Translating Jewish

I am completely fortunate that my whole life my parents encouraged me to marry for love. Not money, not religion, not security, just love. As a product of a middle class Jewish household, it is mildly surprising that I received … Read More

By / September 29, 2009

I am completely fortunate that my whole life my parents encouraged me to marry for love. Not money, not religion, not security, just love. As a product of a middle class Jewish household, it is mildly surprising that I received little to no pressure to marry for love AND Judaism. There may have been a small ongoing threat that if I married a Jew, I would inherit my great-grandmothers candlesticks (heavy, silver, carried on her person from Poland) and if I didn’t marry a Jew, I would be hit over the head with them. That threat was not often repeated over the years, especially after I fell in love with an amazing Jewish man – a man whom I found without the aid of JDate, blind dates, speed dates or any other system other than pure good fortune. So when the seemingly impossible happened, both families were ecstatic, and mine breathed a sigh of relief that the candlesticks would not have to be used as a weapon. But before the happily ever after could begin, the wedding needed to be planned. And by wedding, I mean weddings. See, this most amazing man is not just Jewish, but Israeli. Enter the main character in this story: conflict. Not conflict between my husband and me or our families, but between our cultures. Jewish translates in many ways from state to state and even across oceans but when it comes to wedding planning, Jewish is a whole other story. Thus begins the saga of wedding number one.

The American wedding was a celebration of values, tradition, love and, of course, an open bar. With my fiancé across an ocean somewhere due north of Tel Aviv, the initial planning was left to me…and my mother. There were many things easily pinned down: save the date cards (designed using a Mac and sent electronically); the venue (a platinum LEED certified non-profit/art space); the music (DJ, no line dances, minimal slow songs); the food (locally raised, vegetarian grub); the wedding party (none – less muss, less fuss); the rabbi (friend of mine from LA, woman, awesome). But somewhere between harpists and broken glass lay the rub.

Not only do Israelis plan weddings in roughly three days, they have much less to worry about: no flights (usually), no hotels, and no welcome bags or information sheets for the weekend-long festivities because Israel is a "celebrate and sleep in your own bed" kind of country. I also excluded all the pre-wedding American Jewish cultural uniqueness from registries and wedding showers to bachelorette parties and something blue. Try explaining over Skype to your mother-in-law-to-be that it’s considered normal to sign up for things you want people to buy you and then kill trees in order to thank the people who buy you said things. The whole process of wedding planning is full of long standing traditions and rules that sometimes offer wisdom and logic and other times offer complication in multiple shades of taffeta. Fortunately, we successfully navigated this process in just four short months.

With the party planned and my fiancé actually in Boston, we had time to concentrate on what is arguably the most important part of the day–the ceremony. Once the rabbi was booked we were free to face the challenge I skimmed over earlier–this is wedding number one. Wedding number two will take place in Israel. This means looking into a ton of halacha (Jewish law) in order to make sure we can legally marry each other twice. This is much simpler and yet more complex than one would intuit. The most important thing to both my fiancé and to me is to celebrate this great event with all of those we love, not just throw a party one place and do the pomp and circumstance in another. In order to do that in Israel and be married religiously and not civilly (by a rabbi and not by a justice of the peace) we needed to make sure that we did NOT have two male witnesses sign our ketubah (wedding agreement). This means that the whole process of the rabbi, the vows, the seven blessings…none of it matters or makes anything legal until two men have signed a document saying that they witnessed the wedding. Problem solved. Our ketubah was signed during the ceremony by four close friends: three women, one man. And we will do it all again in Israel, where two men will sign our ketubah so our wedding will be legally recognized as Jewish in Israel. I have significant questions that border on complaints regarding the marriage process in Israel, but I will save that for another time.

The ceremony, at our request, was very accessible to people of all backgrounds. Our guests were a mix of ethnic and religious backgrounds and to ensure that everyone felt in the know, we not only wrote out a step by step program including questions like, "What is a Huppah and Who’s Under It?" but we made sure that the rabbi introduced and explained each piece of the ceremony both in Hebrew and English. This whole process was again new to my fiancé and his family. Weddings in Israel are generally all in Hebrew and thus require no translation or explanation. Another example includes the name stamped satin kippah that we all know all too well for them bar/bat mitzvah circuit. My mother, as any good Jewish mother would, went right out and ordered a large amount of satin kippot for our celebration. That’s another something that doesn’t happen in Israel, because who doesn’t just have their own kippot already?

After all of the conversation, editing, and translating, the American wedding was amazing and full of Jewish tradition, non-stop dancing, great food and genuinely happy people. And my biggest recommendation to any bride and translate no matter the country or culture: Croc High Heels. Trust me.