I'm trying to keep my business, my triplets, and my waistline under control. I excel at one of those, fail at another one of those, and one is a work in progress. Which is which is day dependant.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Kol Chatan Veh Kol Callah

(title refers to a well known Hebrew song, the translation is "every groom and every bride") This article was originally written for our Temple newsletter.

Recently DH and I had the good fortune of being invited to two weddings in one weekend. There isn’t anything unusual about that, given that we’re in the right age group for weddings (okay, I am – he’s not!). What was particularly unusual about these weddings is that one was a full Catholic wedding in Sydney, and the second was a Jewish wedding in Melbourne. It was to be a particularly religious and cultural weekend!

Attending both these ceremonies and celebrations was interesting, to say the least. The Catholic wedding was held at St Mary’s Cathedral, right in the heart of Sydney. The ceremony was attended by thirteen (yes, 13!) priests and a bishop, and included the full Nuptial Mass. Close to ninety minutes of ceremony including Gregorian chanting, Latin words I had no hope of understanding, and the strong smell of frankincense in the air. Sitting in that Cathedral, you could not help but be awed by the whole pomp and circumstance of it all. It was, to put in mildly, an event. Even though I had to use my order of service to keep track of it all, there was no question that, while joyful, this was a serious event. There were readings, a sermon, and hymns sung by the choir – a true life experience which I will never forget.

The celebration that night included (among all the dancing and noise and excitement) the reading of good wishes from far away guests. The very first far away guest to send his personal congratulations was none other than Pope Benedict! I was most amused to find that our table was right next to a table full to the brim with priests…all of whom were getting involved in the dancing and carrying on as much as the “civilian” guests were. I’m pretty sure DH and I were the only Jews in attendance that night – something which our table mates found interesting. They had quite a few questions for us about Jewish marriage traditions – knowledge which we were happy to share.

Sunday brought colder weather and a flight back home in time to change clothes and head out to East Melbourne Shul for our second nuptial experience. This time, while there was a high ceiling, uncomfortable pews and some wine, there was not much else which had quite the same feel as the Catholic wedding. The entire thing was over and done with in about twenty minutes. I found myself feeling just a little bit, well, disappointed. To be fair this was a fairly conservative wedding in so far as there was only the one rabbi and he did not attempt to engage the audience at all. It was pretty much a ‘by the book’ sort of ceremony…and how terribly boring and sad it all seemed in comparison to the spectacle we’d seen the day prior!

Our own wedding wasn’t quite as by the book – we had the added bonus of a fantastic chazzan, a rabbi who made a short speech and explained all the parts of the ceremony, and a rather amused unicyclist who stopped by for a look. I should probably explain that David and I were married in Santa Monica, California – and the venue was bordered on one end by a main road! Hence why we enjoyed our unicycled visitor (and duf-duf music in the background of our wedding video.) If nothing else, we have a good story to share!

Watching this all-too-short Jewish wedding, it had me wondering if, when it’s all so quick, it has quite as much meaning. With such a quick ceremony, are we really giving it the feeling of importance it should have? Are we doing the institution of marriage a disservice? Should the Jewish wedding ceremony be longer, more involved, more ceremonial, more…something? Should it involve frankincense (okay, let’s substitute for the smell of hot bagels)? Truthfully, I don’t think so. Ultimately the commitment you make to one another is much more important than the words which are said, the wine which is drunk and the glass which is smashed.

If you and your partner have not fully committed to the sanctity of marriage and all that being part of a partnership entails…then it won’t matter how many rabbis or priests you’ve got in attendance. Ultimately it’s about you and your partner becoming a family, and moving forward together as a single unit. The ceremonial bit of it, while important, isn’t what will make or break your marriage. Still, having thoroughly enjoyed the Catholic ceremony (and being bored in the Jewish one), I can’t help but think there’s something to be said for a bissele (little bit of) chanting!

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