Like the haggadah’s four children, wedding couples enter my office asking questions in different ways. Some bring lists and show me photographs of the dress, the venue, the chuppah. They are organized and take notes furiously. A few are completely passive, deferring to their partners’ wishes. Some have a general sense of what they want, and we talk it through together. Others don’t know what’s possible, and need to be led.
I walk them through the steps of the Jewish wedding, explaining what’s required, what can be added or subtracted, and what can be adapted. I strive to represent the Jewish tradition authentically. I answer their questions dutifully. I listen and make suggestions, anticipating complications. (“It’ll hard to break the glass on sand. Let’s make sure we have a thick board available.” “How might your step-mother feel about that?”)
My job, in planning the ceremony, is to help the couple articulate and experience the ceremony that will turn two individuals into a family.
To do this more effectively, I run a quick assessment of each bride and each groom. Following Myers-Briggs, I ask myself whether they are predominantly thinkers or feelers, and how structured they are. Employing the Kolbe Index, I consider whether they’re most comfortable dreaming, organizing, researching, or visualizing. We are most successful when I can speak their language, when I can anticipate and respond to their needs in ways that will land for them.
Researched and spontaneous. Structured and free-flowing. Oral and written. Thinking and feeling. Couples bring to their weddings the tools they use in life. They use the systems that are successful for them.
For all of these ways of processing, I find it helpful to present couples with a copy of Beyond Breaking The Glass, edited by Rabbi Nancy H. Weiner, at the end of our first session together. In my Practical Rabbinics course at HUC-JIR, Rabbi Don Goor suggested we do this. It’s been sound advice.
The couples who thrive on research use the book to look up the questions that occur to them between sessions. The visual learners can read in black and white the very answers I’ve given them in person. The dreamers have a foundation from which to consider options. Couples with different styles can come together over the book’s pages, and make decisions together. Brides and grooms can give curious or skeptical parents an authoritative answer, and everyone is reassured.
Most especially, I notice, the book helps the couple decide which words of commitment to speak. Even though I’ve spoken and translated the options for them, it helps to read and discuss and practice such holy syllables. They leave my office, after the first meeting, with a jumble of impressions and fears about which words to choose. Having read and discussed them, they return clear and satisfied in their choice.
Perhaps most importantly, the book is a symbol of the care I’m showing them. They know I’m on their side. They feel special and looked after. With Beyond Breaking The Glass, every couple has truly been given a gift.
Rabbi Dean Shapiro serves Temple Emanuel of Tempe, Arizona.