Behind the Veil: Inclusion Under the Chuppah

I have known Niv since he was a baby. Living in LA we had a group of Israeli friends with whom we celebrated the Jewish holidays as well as our families’ life cycles. Niv’s parents were part of this group. Being less than one year old when we first got to know him, he crawled like every other baby that age. But when our son, who was his age, and other children started to take their first steps, Niv still crawled, and he crawled all the way to first grade and after. There had been a severe complication at birth, and he had gone through an operation that paralyzed his legs and left them undeveloped. His parents went through many different treatments, both medical and alternative, hoping he would one day stand on his feet, But when their efforts did not lead to a breakthrough, they finally put him in a wheelchair.

I remember him playing “I have a little dreidel” on his tiny violin in first grade. As the years passed, the violin became his life’s project. He played beautifully and with all his soul, I was deeply moved every time I heard him play. He ended up going to the Juilliard School, where he met Leah in one of the master classes. Actually, she was the one who paid attention to him while he was completely busy perfecting his performance. It took her some time to finally approach him and ask him to go out. It took him some time to understand that she wasn’t inviting him to practice or study together, and they started dating. Last spring they approached me about their wedding. I immediately said yes, not thinking about the 15-hour flight to LA or the time of year, being so close to the High Holidays. I was so moved and happy by their choice of one other, by their deep and unrelenting love, with my appreciation and sense of wonder growing as I got to know them more and appreciate the way they related to each other in preparing for the big day.

On top of all the many details a couple needs to consider when planning their wedding, there were many more: where and how were we going to perform the ritual dipping in water? Would we need a ramp going on to the chuppah, the marriage canopy? would Niv be able to cover Leah’s head with the veil just before she entered under the chuppah? And lastly: how do you break a glass sitting in a wheelchair?

Carefully and gently Leah and Niv figured out the right way for them, which was very simple when I come to think about it: Niv was going to find a way to do everything that a groom would do, including the glass breaking, the first dance and all the rest. That’s how simple it was!

It was a magical wedding. Just watching Leah go down the aisle and Niv rolling his chair to greet her. Then watching her lean down so he could pull the veil over her. I was in tears, as were many of the friends and relatives in attendance. It wasn’t only for the strength of will, which Niv proved throughout his life by not giving up anything that his classmates and friends did; it was her wondrous ability to see beyond what the eye perceives, to acknowledge that the real deep meaning of things is veiled, as I had learned from a beautiful ‘children’s’ book that I read throughout my adolescence and adult life, The Little Prince, which taught me that ‘the real important things are hidden from the eye’, resonating in a quote from Rev. Adelaja: “The most precious things are always invisible; they are always kept hidden.”

These days in the Jewish year, the days just before the coming of the New Year, we are forever more aware of the veil that too often hides the essence from us. The most meaningful practice of this time of year is cheshbon nefesh, soul searching, which means to look through the veil and find out the truth about ourselves, about our own lives. This is what we need to do so we can welcome the new year in a deep and truthful way.

I wish you all a meaningful time of soul searching,

Rabbi Ayala Miron serves Kehillat Bavat Ayin in Rosh Ha’ayin,


Sea Level: First-timer Reflections on the CCAR Convention

I am not a big-hotel person. Wandering through long hallways, going up and down in mirrored elevators and walking on endless carpeted floors does not somehow enhance my sense of well-being or joy. When I first got to the hotel, I had to find out where the convention was actually happening and the answer was: “Take the elevator to C level.”

Now in Israeli geography, when you live not too far from the lowest spot on earth, the term “sea level” has a life of its own: driving to the Jordan Valley in Israel, whether to the Sea of Galilee in the north or the Dead Sea in the south, the signs indicating “sea level” are your reference to how high or low you are going. So I guess “sea level” made perfect sense to me. I was lucky enough that there were other people going into the elevator so I had a quick chance to realize my mistake without embarrassing myself too much, although I was already getting disoriented to the point that I wasn’t sure whether we were going up or down, the elevator sign just indicated it was EZ.

On the right level I still found myself more than once following the cool CCAR footprints on the floor to find myself in the right place at the wrong time (or vice versa) which gave me a chance to re-evaluate Heschel’s idea about sacred time versus sacred space, since in this case I needed a combination of both to make things happen. With this little sense of disorientation, I finally made it to Monday morning prayers, to enter a huge ballroom marked by its heavy chandeliers shedding somewhat dim light, carpeted floor and windowless walls, a setting I found not at all like my preferred setting for prayer. Not having windows was the hardest. I was well aware of the demand to have windows in a place of prayer, since at one point in our community in Rosh Ha’ayin, the option of praying in a miklat – a bomb shelter, came up, and I used the demand that there be windows to reject that option.

But then, as often happens, the magic just happened. I was carried by the music, the spirit, the joy of being together and the words of Torah, and it made me completely oblivious of the setting. It was symbolic for me that Rabbi David Stern, the elected CCAR president, related in his D’var Torah to the feeling of disorientation, of not knowing where the four directions or the four winds are, or being ‘wind whipped’. In that case, he said, quoting from Brachot tractate, you need to direct your heart to heaven to re-orient and re-connect yourself. This idea made me think of the small ritual of covering yourself with Talit, the prayer shawl, at the beginning of the Morning Prayer: you first wrap yourself completely, losing all sense of orientation, and then re-open the tallit regaining a new orientation, which has to do with turning your heart to heaven. I also realized that the word orientation might have originally indicated finding the orient, the Mizrach, the direction where (for those who used that term!) Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem are.

In turbulent times, Rabbi Stern related, when we experience a sense of being ‘wind whipped’, we need to take our sages’ advice and find ways to re-orient ourselves, to create our own compass (מצפן) and our own consciousness (מצפון) so we are able to discern good from evil.

For me it meant going back to our base line or what I was referring to as sea level.

Rabbi Stern concluded by mentioning the Sulam, Jacob’s ladder. Each of us, he argued, need to place his ladder with its legs steadily standing on the ground but its head aspiring to reach the sky. It made me think of Jacob waking up the morning after the ladder dream and realizing: God dwells in this place and I didn’t know.

God definitely dwelled in that place and I didn’t know.

Rabbi Ayala Miron serves Bavat Ayin Congregation in Rosh HaAyin, Israel and teaches at HUC-JIR in Jerusalem.