Hundreds of Kardashians

Image from tackyweddings.com1 cup laughter
1 cup joyful tears
1 cup solemnity
A dash of the wholly unexpected
A pinch of utter zaniness

It’s a recipe for a perfect wedding.

I learned this recipe after officiating at a number of weddings this past year.

One featured a bride wearing a powerfully red dress. Her groom wore a kilt. The procession was accompanied by bagpipes. Another wedding I officiated took place in a horse arena (beautifully decorated, I must add) and featured my son, Erik, playing a Chassidic tune on his accordion for the wedding processional and a bluegrass band taking over for the dancing bit.

Just last weekend, I helped out a tad at the wedding of two devout and loving Christians.

The bride and groom were former students of mine – in fact, they had met in my class “Women in the Hebrew Bible” at UNC-Charlotte. Leah is an engaging young woman with a great gift: She is original. Steven is thoughtful, gracious, and gentle.

Both are all about tikkun olam. They work steadily and consciously to change the world in all manner of ways. When they got engaged, they asked if I could be part of the wedding.

I got to meet the gentleman who was responsible for the lion’s share of the  ceremony just moments before the ceremony began. Dennis Teall-Fleming serves the Open Hearts Gathering (http://www.openheartsgathering.org). After a few minutes of conversation, I knew that Dennis was not the sort to read prepared text or drone on at the couple and their guests. I breathed a sigh of relief. I dislike when officiants drone.

Dennis opened the ceremony with one, simple word. First, he looked out at all the folks who had gathered under the dark, nighttime sky.

“Mehwidge…” he said.

After the laughter died down, Dennis announced that he had just learned a brand-new way to measure time. “One Kardashian,” he explained to all assembled, is the same thing as saying “seventy-two days.” This is the exact length of time that celebrity Kim Kardashian managed to stay married. More laughter.

Dennis had been married over sixty Kardashians, he said, and he was hoping that Leah and Steve would be blessed with many Kardashians of their own. (I started calculating in my head. My husband, Ralf, and I have about 150 Kardashians to our credit. Golly.)

As we both spoke about this couple’s commitment to the world around them, their passion for social justice, their willingness to love, their eyes – and the eyes of their guests – grew shiny.  We had our cupful of tears.

Then came the dash of the unexpected.

I had been told that Leah and Steven wanted to read their own vows. When Leah looked at me in panic because Dennis had moved to the next part of the
ceremony, I turned to him.

“We forgot something,” I said. Then I boldly announced that that the couple would now be sharing the vows they had written to one another.

Leah looked at me in utter confusion. I looked at her in utter confusion. She  explained.

They had fully intended to read them – but only to one another. Leah had thrown me that first anxious look because she thought Dennis and I had forgotten to give them a chance to kiss.

I promised Steven and Leah that they would surely get to kiss. More laughter.

“I am afraid you will not be privy to Leah and Steven’s vows, after all,” I said. “As we all know, it is the prerogative of the bride and groom to keep secrets from even their most beloved friends and family. Of course,” I added, “those who want to pry may do so… after the ceremony.”

Folks chuckled, Dennis played along nicely and we went back to blessing the young couple before us.

A cupful of solemnity.

The starry night sparkled over our heads. I stood before and with people who believe differently than I do. And yet, I am certain that holiness exists wherever commitment and love are found. The sacredness of life itself is revealed to us in such moments, no matter who we are.

We stretched out our arms. I sang in Hebrew; Dennis rendered in English that ancient and timeless prayer.

Y’varekh-khah Adonai v’yish-m’rekhah.
May God bless you and keep you.

Ya-er Adonai panav eilekhah vi-chunekah.
May God’s face shine upon and God be gracious to you.

Yisah Adonai panav eilekhah v’yasem lekhah shalom.
May God smile upon you and give you peace.

Then, finally, the kiss. Leah and Steven turned to their friends and families and the music began playing. We laughed as they raised their arms in triumph and walked down the stairs to the Star Wars theme.

A pinch of utter zaniness.

It’s a good recipe if you want to begin your life together with all the things marriage needs. Marriage certainly needs solemn commitment over the long haul. But zaniness and the unexpected have to be part of the mix, too; no one knows what life will bring. Couples have to know and cultivate humor – there is always a need for more laughter in this world. Tears will be part of your years together. Hopefully, most will be of joy.

This is my wish and my blessing: May the loving couples of the world be blessed with a good recipe.

And hundreds of Kardashians.

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Bagels on Steroids

I confess. I have an addiction. My husband, Ralf, is paying (literally) the price for it. In fact, he supports it – with aplomb, no less.

I am not a candidate for typical addictions. Smoke of any kind seizes my lungs if I am within thirty feet of the smoker, and makes me hack and gasp. Thus, any kind of smoking substance is, as they say in Merry England, right out.

I will get mildly tipsy after two sips of any kind of wine (even Manischewitz). Everything I encounter will become suddenly, terrifically funny. Thus, I don’t bother with wine. I have a serious nature about the world and do not intend to find it funny. Absurd, yes. Funny, no.

I don’t particularly like the taste of beer and I overreact to simple drugs given to infants. I don’t like imbibing things that are likely to make me sick. I have too many things to do to be sick.

Most importantly, I need very little stimulus to feel extravagantly happy.

I will dance about the kitchen to (I know, I know) the soundtracks of old musicals. Ripe bananas sliced, frozen for about an hour, and then whirred in the blender with a little soy milk will produce what I call “banana ice cream.” Slurping down said product will absolutely make my day (particularly if it is the dessert to spicy Indian dishes). If my cat, Beowulf, deigns to sit on my lap while I type, as he is doing just now, I will find that all is much righter with the world than I imagined.

Still, I have an addiction. Not surprisingly, it is a Jewish one.

I confess: If I go more than two weeks without a bialy, I will become grumpy and sad. I will complain about the lackluster bagel everyone thinks of when they free associate the words “Jewish” and “food.” I will cast aspersions on those who eat the tarted-up versions with chocolate chips and cinnamon, whether the consumers are Jewish or goyish. The only bagel I care for is pumpernickel, and it cannot compete with a bialy. It makes a substitute, but a poor one.

Google “bialy” and you will find, in addition to the ubiquitous Wikipedia article, texts like this: “Outside of New York City, the bialy is little known. A bialy is similar to a bagel, in that it is a round, chewy roll.”

Fie!

A bialy has chutzpah; a bagel is just a Jewish version of a biscuit. A bialy is never merely a creation of egg and flour and water – a plain bialy contains (thanks be to the Holy One!) onion and garlic. A bialy has a wonderful well in the middle. Toast a bialy, let a generous pat of butter melt in the center, tear and dip pieces of the bialy from around the edge until you are left with an oniony-garlicky-buttery center for the perfect final mouthful and you know something of the world to come.

A bialy helps stiffen your resolve, fill you with the warmth and joy that strengthens body and soul before heading out into a world where Things Must Be Done. A bialy is a perfect end to the day of Things Done, warm and cozy and nurturing.

A daily bialy is as good as a mother. It is comfort and love and support, all rolled into one.

I am convinced that Jews were making bialys back in Egypt. No wonder a week with matzah is so traumatic.

My husband, Ralf, enables my addiction, may the Holy One of Blessing bless him. He will drive all the way down to the Queen City of Charlotte at regular intervals with the sole purpose of buying me a crate of bialys.

The last time he went, the store owner tried to introduce him to a Charlotte Lubavitcher rabbi who was standing at the counter just behind him.

“His wife,” the storeowner explained to the rabbi, “teaches at UNCC in the Department of Religion.”

The rabbi nodded.

“She is the advisor of Hillel…”

“Was,” my husband put in.

(Ralf didn’t want to make me responsible for the current state of affairs with our Hillel group. When Jewish students throw parties with cheese and pepperoni the advisor may get a rash of angry parental emails.)

“She is… she is…” the store owner said.

Ralf knew where the friendly store owner was trying to go and knew why he was having trouble going there.

“Yes,” he said, “I am the husband of the rabbi of Concord.”

Then he smiled sweetly at my Orthodox colleague, grabbed the crate of bialys and headed out to the car.

He came home and packed almost the whole crate into the freezer. When I arrived some time later that day, I found that he had left a bag on the counter to defrost. He had even taken one out of the bag to make sure it was soft and ready for toasting upon my arrival.

“God bless you a million times,” I said.

“Would you like a bialy?” he answered.

 

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Passing on Paradise for Love on Earth

We’d sung happy songs and deeply moving prayers. We welcomed Shabbat in with Feelin’ Groovy and were moved (again), when our second oldest member, Ruth Kingberg, beckoned in the angels of peace by singing Shalom Aleychem. Mi Chamocha featured our new cowbell. Veshamru, the high and slender sound of the recorder.

Time for the drash, the story, the reflection.

The subject: Parsha Lech Lecha – particularly, Genesis 15. The content: Night visions, dreams, predictions, a covenant.

In the first of two nighttime encounters with the Divine, Abraham mourns his childlessness. God knows how that anguish haunts Abraham and makes him a promise of children. God commits to the Divine promise by invoking a ritual well-known to the Ancient Near East (though strange to us).

In that ritual, animals were sacrificed and the parties to the contract would walk between their divided parts. Should they violate their agreement, the punishment would be dire: They would end just as the animals beside them: cloven in two.

In this night vision, God Godself is the one who passes between the animal parts. It is God who must keep the promise. Abraham is merely to believe in it.

In the second night dream, God comes upon Abraham to foretell his descendants’ future. They will be enslaved for four hundred years before knowing freedom again. It is a dark vision, a vision of horror and pain.

Two visions, two dreams, two futures: Life with children to follow, to keep the memory of one’s short existence on the earth alive, to carry a good legacy. Then, the knowledge: We cannot make our children safe from the real world they belong to.

Whoever we love, whether attached to us biologically or not, these are the beloveds we long for, the souls we want to make safe. Those two night visions – the one of hope and the other of dread – they are both, in essence, about the power of human connections on this earth. They are about love.

That night, I also told a story about Adam and Eve. In that tale, they find life outside the Garden of Eden difficult, challenging, and painful. But when God offers them the chance to return to the Garden they flatly refuse – even though they are both old and exhausted from years of labor. They cannot bring themselves to leave their real lives behind. Not before they must, anyway. They refuse to leave their children, their memories, and their earthly experience for the happy forgetfulness of paradise. They reenter the real world, the world of earthly love.

I asked my congregants to imagine they stood before the gates of the Garden of Eden. Would they enter? Would they, too, refuse? If the latter, what was it that held them to the earth, to the real world?

Everyone had a card and a pen. They began writing.

After the service, one of our children showed me his card. He had written his name on the top: Caleb Malin. Next to it, he had drawn a Star of David, a tiny Torah scroll and, finally, our Temple Or Olam logo, the fiery letter shinn. Below he listed all the things he could not leave behind:

My dog my Parents my brother my gram my PaPa my Granmuther my ante my uncl my rabis my cusens my Grandfather my ont.

“Caleb,” I said, “this is absolutely beautiful!”

“Those are all the things I won’t leave behind,” he said. “Can I draw a picture, too?”

“Please!” I answered. “Let’s go find you another card.”

Later at the oneg, Caleb came by to show me his picture. I read the card again. “Caleb,” I asked, “I didn’t know you had two rabbis. Who is your other rabbi?”

“Mr. Ralf!” he said.

I laughed.

Mr. Ralf, of course, is my husband of almost thirty years. At every service, Ralf plays a range of instruments, from the darbuka, a Middle Eastern drum, to recorder, to (most recently) the cowbell.

Ralf has a calm and quiet soul. For seven years, he has done one task after another for our congregation, from creating earlier websites to designing our monthly Shmoozeletter to maintaining our data base to schlepping all the instruments and musical equipment and our Torah to every last service and to every last bar or bat mitzvah. He has comforted congregants and made them laugh. He is a beacon.

No rabbi could do more.

I cannot bear the idea of leaving Ralf behind. Were the Holy One of Blessing to offer me Paradise, I would refuse it – even if the cost was that I would never see it at all and would have given up, say, one little minute with Ralf.

God would not ask such a thing, I think. God would know that my longing is to be with Ralf, with my beloved family and friends as long as I can be, just as God knew that Abraham longed for those he needed to love to live – Ishmael and Isaac. The real world, with all its pain and sorrows, with all its frustrations and disappointments, contains our dreams.

Perhaps there will come a time when I am ready to go. Maybe I will feel that way someday, though it seems so impossible to me now.

But if and when God or Paradise beckon and welcome me, may they do so only after I have made it clear that my dreams, like Abraham’s, were about the love I bore for those I loved while I was on this earth.

Shabbat Shalom.

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