Friday, July 22, 2016
Word From The Weiss
We interrupt your regularly
scheduled coverage of the Jewish (or at least Jew-ish) wedding of the century (or month) to bring you a tale of the not quite so newly wed – Nice Jewish Dad and me.
Last week was our 32nd wedding
That may sound like a pretty big number as anniversaries go, but it is not exactly a biggie, or a particularly major or momentous number, as milestones go.
That is not to say my husband and I are not all for acknowledging
For our 25th, we spent two and a half weeks in Rome, Florence, and Tuscany.
For our 30th, we celebrated with three weeks in Hong Kong, Beijing and
know where we’ll go next, but if we keep the pattern up – mathematically, anyway – Nice Jewish Dad had better retire at some point because
for our 40th we’ll be away for almost a month.
Last week, though, was only our 32nd. Not exactly something to alert the media about. I would have been content to throw a couple of steaks
on the grill, exchange greeting cards and
a few little tchotchkes, and then call it a night.
And had the occasion
fallen midweek, that is most likely what we would have done.
This particular anniversary, however, fell on a Friday night. And to
be perfectly honest, we are not people who make it a habit to regularly observe Shabbat. Why, we barely ever buy a challah anymore, now that
the kids are grown and living on their own.
So, seeing that it was
a weekend night, we felt compelled to do something special. Or maybe it’s just that our kids felt compelled to make
sure we did something special. Our daughter, Allegra, did, anyway. Our son Aidan, a.k.a. the groom, had just returned from
his two-week honeymoon in Italy with his beautiful bride, Kaitlin, and almost instantly flown off again to Portland, OR, to
serve as an usher in yet another wedding.
Such is life when you’re in your 20s and on the
But his sister, for some reason, really had our occasion
on the brain.
“What are you and
Dad doing for your anniversary?”she kept asking me. Maybe it was just that kids like to see signs that, despite all the inevitable kvetching and squabbles that go on in any marriage (particularly mine), their folks are still feeling amorous,
or at least affectionate enough to stick it out together for at least another year.
Or maybe she was still feeling
regrets that she and her boyfriend JP had just marked their own anniversary with little if any fanfare. I could understand her wanting
to have just a bit of a vicarious thrill. Plus, I am 100 percent in favor of celebrating anything and everything in life worthy
of celebration, since there is way too much of the other stuff.
Then again, theirs was only a second anniversary. The second anniversary
of their first DATE. We have now had 34 of those, during which a certain percentage of the initial thrill has gradually worn
off, the way the gleam of a
new car fades over time. Our particular car still had most of its original
parts, and felt comfortable to drive, but it had also lost some of its initial pep. After all, we were talking about a 34-year-old car. An American car. Didn't
Allegra realize it was pretty amazing that this broken-down old jalopy was still even on the road?
Her own relationship, by comparison, had barely even left the lot yet.
“Give it another three decades
or so,” I was tempted to tell her. “Then we’ll talk.”
But I didn’t want to disappoint
her, so I promised that we would
do something, even if it was just to go out for dinner and a movie. There was, in fact, a film playing in town that we had
been dying to see: Maggie’s
Plan, starring Greta Gerwig and Ethan Hawke.
“Isn’t that about people having an affair?” Allegra retorted with palpable disapproval. “That
isn’t appropriate for an anniversary! Why
don’t you see something else?”
The problem was there
were slim pickings beyond the usual summer blockbusters. “What do you want us to see,” I shot back, “Ghostbusters?”
As for dinner, our daughter also seemed to have an inordinate interest in our possible destination. I told
her that, in view of Bastille Day
falling just the day before, I was
inclined to go to my favorite local French eatery, A’Vert Brasserie in West Hartford, CT.
“Great! Would you like me to make you a reservation?” she offered brightly. At the time she said this, however,
she was in the midst of driving 600 miles to Michigan to visit an old friend who was seriously ill. So I said thanks, anyway. I could make my own.
Then, to be as good as my word, and
also to preclude her continuing to noodge me all the way from NYC to Marshall, MI, I actually phoned and booked a table for 8:15 p.m.
Flash forward to Friday. It turned
out to be extremely hot and steamy, even for mid-July, so I readily succumbed to an invitation from my friend Catherine to
come over for a late-day swim. We were floating around in her pool, after sitting around sipping wine, when I suddenly realized it was 5:30 p.m. Maggie’s Plan, which we had decided to see, appropriate or not, started
at 6, and I was 5 miles from
home wearing a wet bathing suit.
I phoned my husband to apologize and ask him if he might just want to come
over and join us in the pool instead. But he reminded me that it was, in fact,
our anniversary. “Shouldn’t we keep our plans and go out?” he
Something in his voice made it
clear he wanted me to come home pronto. So I drove off in my dripping suit,
only to find that he had bought me two dozen lovely roses.
What was not so nice was to arrive at the movie theater
on the dot of 6 to discover that Maggie’s Plan was not actually playing there until 10:20 p.m. The night before, the 6 p.m. showing had been listed on the theater’s web site. But
it wasn’t there. Now what?
As I often say, the best-laid plans
of mice and moms are apt to go awry. And
tonight those plans didn’t seem to care one whit that it was our anniversary. (Neither did the manager of the Palace 17, who refused to give us free tickets in view of
to make our 8:15 reservation, we would have
to see something that started ASAP. The only prospect seemed to be an international espionage thriller
based on a 2010 John le Carré novel about the Russian mafia called Our Kind of Traitor.
It opened with a man and his wife
being executed by some Russians, after which their beautiful 20-something daughter tries to flee barefoot in the snow and
is savagely gunned down as well. I'm a well-known wimp when it comes to violence. By the time the opening credits had finished
rolling, I was crying.
Talk about being inappropriate subject matter for an anniversary. We walked out.
That is, I walked out, and my husband was loyal and empathetic enough to follow.
It seemed unlikely that the surly
manager would give us our money back. Besides, we were already there and still had a good two hours to kill before dinner.
Should we see Ghostbusters?
We were standing forlornly in the nearly deserted lobby when my husband noticed
another option that was just about to start. Having seen TV ads for it, I knew that Mike and Dave
Need Wedding Dates was probably pretty juvenile and exceedingly raunchy. But we also knew it was about our favorite current subject as
recent Parents of the Groom – a wedding. Wasn’t that at least appropriate
subject matter for an anniversary?
Well, I am here to tell you that this
movie is totally
And unbearably juvenile.
But we still found ourselves laughing our tucheses off at many scenes, despite our better judgment and our being old enough to have been married
now for 32 years.
The plot is totally ridiculous. Two brothers are so wild and out of control that their parents insist that they find two nice girls to bring as dates to their sister’s wedding in Hawaii to keep them in check. Little do Mike and Dave (played
by Adam DeVine and Zac Efron) realize,
but the seemingly respectable dates that
they manage to recruit (Anna
Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza) are out-of-work and out of control waitresses
who are even heartier partiers than they are.
I am not saying you should rush out
and see this totally tasteless, ridiculous rom-com
yourself. But Anna Kendrick, of Pitch Perfect fame, is talented
and likable in anything she does, and Zac Efron is
easy on the eyes, even for someone of my vintage. And by the time we left, still giggling over a gag involving a bush, it
felt like our anniversary was looking up.
Well, OK, maybe not so fast. We arrived at the restaurant only to discover that this popular eatery
was packed to the gills and we could barely hear each other over the din. Not to mention that we were seated at a teeny table
right in the midst of the commotion.
Oh, well. What was there to talk about after 32 years of marriage anyway, right?
Then suddenly the maitre d came over brandishing an ice-cold bottle of Riesling.
Huh? We hadn’t ordered
a bottle of wine.
But apparently our good friends Pat and Michael Kazakoff had. Never mind that they were
now away on vacation. They knew it was our anniversary and had somehow found out
where we were eating. And that somehow – or someone – was
Now things were suddenly
beginning to make some sense. Not to mention really look up.
“Bon anniversaire!” the maitre d’ cried jubilantly, pouring us each a generous glass.
What an incredible surprise! What incredible friends. Things were definitely looking up.
Moments later, the maitre d’, whose name was Mike, returned. “May I seat you at a different table?”
he asked, gesturing to a spacious, relatively
quiet booth in the corner.
Things were most definitely looking up… even if we would now have
to actually converse.
But even the conversation was beginning to flow, along with the vino.
After we had ordered our meals, including
(pardon our trayf) a
shared appetizer of escargots, my husband took the opportunity to hand me
an anniversary card. “It’s Always Been You,” said the greeting on the front.
“Always will be,” it added inside (along with an inscription that was, well, personal).
As if all this hoopla weren’t enough, after we had polished off the wine, our delicieux entrees, and the last bites of the profiteroles filled with vanilla ice cream and topped with hot fudge, we learned that, due to the occasion, our dessert was on the house.
In case you are wondering, I also had a card for my husband waiting at home, along with a box of chocolates from Jacques Torres and, yes, a few little tchotchkes.
“Why do I put up with you?” the card I had purchased asked on the outside. “Oh,
wait, now I remember,” it continues inside. “YOU put up with ME!”
In the end, maybe it was no big deal whether we went out, stayed in, or did anything at all. But in case you have
an anniversary or other such occasion coming up yourself, well, let me say this. It would have been fine to just
let it go. But it was so much nicer not to.
And it was very, very nice of our friends, and our daughter, to play a role in that.
By the way, I am happy to report that Allegra and JP decided to go away for
a belated anniversary celebration, after
all, and are now happily ensconced at a lovely seaside inn.
Maybe the best-laid plans of mice and moms are almost guaranteed to go
awry. But it is still worth making them anyway, because we really must take time to celebrate anything in life that is worth celebrating, and also do whatever it takes to
keep the home fires burning.
We are still hoping to see Maggie’s Plan one of these
days. But not because it's about
an extramarital affair, or that we would ever want to have one of those ourselves.
On the contrary, after our anniversary date, it feels like our good old '84 sedan just got an oil change
and a much-needed tune-up. I would even dare say that we are almost feeling amorous, or at the very least affectionate enough
to stick it out together until our
33rd. Or maybe even the 40th. Why the heck not? I could really use a month
Friday, July 15, 2016
Word From The Weiss
Whether or not you have been waiting with bated breath to hear more details of my son’s recent wedding, I know what you must be thinking (whether or not you have the chutzpah to actually say it out loud): Was there a chuppah? Was there a hora? Was it a Jewish wedding?
The answers to those questions, however pressing they may
be, are not all that simple. Let me tell
you a little more about what happened and let you be the judge.
As I have noted before, Kaitlin, the bride, while beautiful and brilliant, is not Jewish herself. So we realized that in the
interests of making everyone comfortable and happy, a non-denominational ceremony was probably
the best approach.
The question was, who would perform it? After a great deal of soul-searching, and Internet searching, not to mention heated debate, the Happy Couple finally managed
to locate an absolutely lovely woman from the Ethical Culture Society of New York. Many guests remarked afterwards that she
reminded them of actress Betty White, and they were truly not far off the mark. The officiant, 79-year-old Patricia Bruder Debrovner, is a longtime actress who appeared on the soap opera As the World Turns for 35 years.
Her approach to conducting the ceremony
turned out to be warm and reflective, extremely spiritual, and deeply moving. She spoke of the meaning of
marriage and the sanctity of the special bonds that link husband and wife, tying in everything from
the bliss she feels herself after
being married for over 50 years to a traditional Apache blessing.
This is not to say that the
ceremony entirely lacked for Jewish content or context.
Although I knew from the start that there would be no rabbi or other Jewish member
of the clergy present, I was heartened to hear that
the nuptials would take place under a traditional Jewish wedding canopy. Why, the very day that Aidan and Kaitlin became engaged, early last summer, she created a Pinterest page to gather wedding ideas, and among
the very first things that she
posted, to my surprise, were images of chuppahs.
She seemed to grasp the magnitude of this element of our wedding ritual, and as a nature lover favored designs that were rustic in style. But
the wedding venue that the kids ultimately chose, The Riverview, in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY, already had a large gazebo
in place, and any outdoor ceremony there would need to incorporate that.
The venue’s in-house florist, Janet of Floral Designs by Janet King, in Eastchester, NY, however, was not only sensitive to our cultural needs, but also extremely savvy. She clearly had been down this road to holy matrimony before and knew just what to do. She could easily
make the white wooden structure resemble a chuppah, she assured us, by adding clusters of blossoms and curly willow boughs on the front beams. The only missing element was an actual piece of cloth, and for this, my son’s tallis – the prayer shawl
he received at his bar mitzvah 17 years
ago – would more than suffice.
I was also absolutely ecstatic to hear from the Happy Couple that the most
fundamental, iconic element of a Jewish wedding ceremony would be included
as well. Obviously, I’m referring to the final moments of the proceedings, when the couple’s lifelong connection is
sealed, not just by a kiss, but the groom stepping on a glass.
OK, let’s call a spade a spade. For those who may not know, what a Jewish groom
actually steps on tends to be a light bulb, because
they shatter easily, with an audible crack.
Knowing that well over half the relatives and friends present would be Jewish,
I could already imagine the cries of joy and congratulations ringing out across the Hudson.
As for a hora, I could already imagine other sorts of cries. But hopefully not crying. Kaitlin was totally on board with having everyone dance the hora at the beginning of the party. As for the Jewish custom of having the
bride and groom be hoisted up in chairs, though? Let’s
just say that she had an understandable
level of trepidation about her role in this segment of the celebration. I kept reassuring her that no bride or groom had ever
been dropped. I can't say I knew this to be true, but I certainly hoped it was true, and I didn’t want her to worry. So what else could I say?
I figured, was where the Jewish elements of the evening would end. And had that been the case, as we Jews say at Passover, “Dayenu!”
It would have been enough.
So imagine my surprise when a few days before the event, Kaitlin wrote to ask me
to purchase some kosher wine. They would need it for the moment when they each took
a sip from the same silver goblet during the ceremony. Basically, that is, for the Kiddush.
Wait, there was going to be a Kiddush? A traditional Jewish blessing over the wine?
I asked if
some standard Manischewitz concord
grape would suffice. I always have some of that on hand, and what could be more kosher than that?
She quickly responded that, no, she really would prefer that it be white kosher wine. She was worried
about having an errant drop of red fruit of the vine potentially stain her wedding gown.
Before sending my husband to the store to buy a bottle of that, I wrote to Aidan just to make sure that this
was what he wanted too.
red wine more traditional?” he
responded. I thought so, but told him to work it out with Kaitlin and let us know. He later replied with the verdict: Better red, he said. But my husband wanted a vintage a little less sweet that syrupy Manischewitz
and purchased something else.
had we gotten our wine act together than Aidan wrote to me again. Who, he wanted to know, was going to do the Motzi?
Wait, now they also wanted a Motzi, the traditional blessing over the bread?
OMG! What the heck going
As for who among the gathered guests would chant the Motzi, that was a bit of a quandary. For as long as I could remember – meaning my whole life – at every single simcha my family had held, be it
wedding, bar mitzvah, or other milestone, the motzi had
been belted out by my Uncle Gerard, whose rich tenor voice had made him the star of many a community theater production in
Northern New Jersey. Sadly, he had passed away two years ago at the age of 88.
Who could ever even presume to take his place?
The best option I could come up with
was that his daughter, my cousin Susan, would step up and do it with my daughter Allegra and me.
Meanwhile, I began thinking about
the direction in which this entire enterprise was going. If we were going to have a chuppah, a hora, a Kiddush, and a Motzi, well,
why not go for the entire Jewish kit and caboodle and throw in a ketubah too?
I’m talking about the traditional
Jewish wedding contract, a written document customarily signed right before the ceremony by the bride, the groom, and the
I don’t know why this added detail was suddenly of
such importance to me. The truth is no one even mentioned the word "ketubah" when I got married, 32 years ago today. But when
one of Aidan’s good friends tied the knot a few years ago, Aidan was chosen to be one of the two witnesses who signed
his ketubah, and I remember thinking
what an honor and a privilege that was. Wouldn't it be nice for him to have two of his friends sign it for him, and to then
have one of these historic documents himself to keep for posterity?
So I wrote him to ask if he might want one of these as well. He responded
that, well, he would think about it. The ceremony
was now only three days away, though. There
wasn’t much time left to think.
So I called my synagogue to ask if they might have a ketubah on hand that we could use. I was told that they had some very
simple ones that I could have free of charge, but that most people opted for more
decorative ones. Personalized versions of these could be ordered from many places for hundreds of dollars. But there were also some that could be downloaded off
the Internet for free.
that my son had sounded so noncommittal, I didn’t want to invest too much. In fact, given his lack of enthusiasm, I figured that
I should probably not invest anything at all.
So I searched online until
I found one that was not only attractive, but
also expressed strictly non-denominational sentiments that I thought would appeal to them both. It read:
"And each said to the other: We promise to love, honor,
cherish, appreciate and support each other as we grow together. May we treasure our uniqueness and always try to be sensitive
to each other's needs. We will treat each other with respect and understanding. We shall strive to be for each other a constant source of friendship… Let our lives be intertwined forever and our hearts
beat as one. We shall remain faithful through health and illness and through joys and sorrows. Let us not take each other
for granted. May we always remember why we first fell in love and never forget how much we mean to each other. As we joyfully
enter into this covenant, our hope is that our home will be filled with happiness and peace."
There were spaces at the bottom for
the signatures of two witnesses, the bride, the groom, and an officiant.
No rabbi necessary.
I emailed these words to Aidan, along
with a picture of the design. “No pressure,” I said, “but
I will bring it if you want to use it.”
Then I filled in the blank spaces on it with the names of the bride and groom, the date, and the location of the nuptials, and I brought
it along just in case.
Flash forward three days. We
arrived breathlessly at the wedding venue an hour
before the ceremony was to begin. There, standing before rows of white chairs
on the river’s edge, was the most beautiful chuppah imaginable.
large box on a table nearby held all of the wedding party’s flowers, from the bridal bouquet and groomsmen’s boutonnieres
to the flower girls’ baskets of rose petals.
As I searched in this for the mother of the groom’s wristlet I would get to wear, I saw a small, white-haired woman in a cream-colored robe approaching.
I could have sworn it was Betty White.
After introducing herself
and shaking my hand, she asked where the wine for the ceremony was. I handed over the bottle of kosher red wine my husband
had bought, which we had just had uncorked.
She looked back at me
incredulously and glared. “It needs to be white wine!” she declared. “We can’t risk having a drop
fall on the bride’s gown! Don’t you have any white wine?”
I stood there speechless for a moment. Where did I even begin to explain?
Well, there would be no need to explain, because before I could begin to collect my thoughts, she stalked off
toward the bar asserting, “Never mind! I’ll just go get it myself.”
OK, so the wine that the bride and groom sipped together during the ceremony
might not be kosher, after all.
Also, I got so flustered about this
little confrontation that, although I prevailed upon the officiant and both of the two best men to sign the ketubah, I lost my nerve and never even dared to show it to the bride and groom.
Yet when the groom topped off the ceremony by stepping resoundingly on a glass
– OK, yes, the light bulb – cries of “Mazel tov!” did indeed echo clear across the Hudson.
And although when my cousin Susan later joined us in singing a rousing motzi – one that surely would have made her father proud – there may
not have been a dry eye in the house, but there wasn’t an actual challah in the house, either. I think we
said it over some rolls.
As for the hora, though, that I can assure
you was the real deal. As well as the
reeling deal (as you can see from these wonderful photos taken by our photographer, Jamie
Spinning around endlessly to "Hava Nagila," I quickly grew so dizzy and exhausted that I couldn’t seem to catch my breath. In traditional Jewish fashion,
the women danced separately from the men. I can’t tell you what the guys did, but we joined
hands and circled to the left. Then we circled
to the right. Then we lifted our hands and rushed toward the center. Then, suddenly, I began spinning around
in the center of the circle, linking elbows jubilantly as I swung around the bride, my daughter, my niece, my friends, and half the other women I know.
Then, at last, came the moment we had all been waiting for, and the bride herself
had been waiting to see if she would survive.
I’m talking about the chairs
Up into the air she went.
Up into the air he went.
someone passed up a cloth napkin, onto which they each grabbed hold.
The two of them were paraded around for such a long time that I could only imagine poor Kaitlin was terrified. So I kept
rushing toward the group of men who had hoisted them, screaming, “Enough already! Put her down!”
But either they couldn’t hear me
over the music or they hadn't had enough themselves. Because they didn’t put Kaitlin down for quite some time.
And when they finally did, it was only so they could lift my husband instead. And me.
I have to admit that, after all of
my efforts to reassure Kaitlin, it was pretty scary up there for me too. It felt many times as though I was tipping backwards
and might be dropped at any moment.
But in the end, I must admit, it was still literally one of the high points of my life.
And now that I’m beginning to come
down to earth, I have time to think about it all.
I also am curious to know what you think about it all. Would you say it was a Jewish wedding?
Or at the very least, a Jew-ish wedding?
Feel free to write me and tell me what you think at email@example.com.
I’ll be waiting
with bated breath.