Authenticity and the Sacred: Thanks to Katyah Gohr

Our seminary teachers taught us: Authenticity is a channel for spirituality. Don’t produce yourselves; be yourselves. You aren’t making a statement, you are embodying one.

This month, rabbinic pastor and chazzan Katyah Gohr flew to Chicago, bringing her tallit and her guitar. There she did exactly what our teachers had taught us to do. She was, simply, herself.

Authenticity can be revealed in all sorts of ways, of course, but it shows up most clearly when something altogether unexpected occurs in the course of a service. Something did go awry on Katyah’s watch as she officiated the marriage of my son, Erik Henning Thiede and my new daughter, Serafina Ha Kim.

And it was my fault.

The ceremony had been unfolding with tender and gentle surprises. There was the Rumi poem Erik had asked Katyah to read before he and Serafina drank from a shared Kiddush cup.

The Lovers
will drink wine night and day.
They will drink until they can
tear away the veils of intellect and
melt away the layers of shame and modesty.
When in Love,
body, mind, heart and soul don’t even exist.
Become this,
fall in Love,
and you will not be separated again.

There was Katyah’s soft singing of beloved phrases from Hosea in Hebrew:

I betroth you to me forever.
I betroth you to me with steadfast love and compassion.
I betroth you to me in faithfulness.

There were Erik and Serafina’s vows, so deeply felt that time itself seemed to pause during the reading. Recognizing the moment, Katyah first asked the two if they were fully willing to receive each other’s vows and then, in the very center of the ceremony, to kiss.It was a hatima, a seal.  We all felt it; we witnessed the truth of love – sacred, peaceful, and whole.










Just a few minutes later, the rabbi mother (me) unintentionally managed to bring a sudden halt to the ceremony.

I was sitting very near the table where various accoutrements for the ceremony were located. I glanced over about and noticed the wine glass that Erik was to break. It was standing, covered by the napkin we had brought to wrap it in.

Imagining the horror of shards all over the floor where we planned to dance all night and supposing that the participants had simply forgotten to wrap the glass, I reached, as discretely as possible, to take the glass, wrap it up, and replace it on the table.

Erik saw my gesture. Katyah saw Erik’s look, and both uttered involuntary exclamations. “No,” Erik said, though he was smiling. “Don’t. It’s all right.”

Katyah walked out from under the chuppah. “Not yet!” she said, and gently took the glass, still covered by the napkin, and set it back on the table.

I was mortified (and confused). I tried to refocus.

Katyah, of course, already had. She sang the Priestly Blessing. She spoke about Miryam, of her dance, of her connection with mayyim chayyim, the waters of life. She read another Rumi poem Erik had selected.

The beauty of the heart
is the lasting beauty:
its lips give to drink
of the water of life.

Truly it is the water,
that which pours,
and the one who drinks.
All three become one when
your talisman is shattered.
That oneness you can’t know
by reasoning.

Then she returned to the table, grinned at me, and with a gentle but perceptible flourish, she lifted the napkin off the glass, and presented the wine glass to Erik and Serafina. It was filled with water.

I laughed, my husband, Ralf, chuckled, and guests smiled. The couple drank, and Katyah brought the empty glass back to me with the napkin.

“Now,” she said. “Now you wrap it up.”

Carefully, tightly, I wrapped up the glass, and a few moments later Erik smashed it without the slightest shard escaping. Katyah picked up her guitar and played Siman Tov. We all stood up to celebrate the couple, the line dance started, and we danced with abandon.

I was Katyah’s roommate at nearly every retreat and workshop for all the years I was in the rabbinic program at ALEPH, the Alliance for Jewish Renewal. I knew her good sense, her unassuming way of, simply, being herself when she led a service or sang a niggun. She has known Erik for well over a decade, since he was fourteen. They have sung together – even co-led services together. He knew what he was doing when he asked her to officiate his wedding.

I was not surprised by her authenticity, but by the outcome of it: moments no one will forget because they were both unique and real.

Thank you Katyah.


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