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,

Books Rabbis

A Wedding Gift

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.

View More:
Rabbi Dean Shapiro officiates Eric and Jesse’s wedding.

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.bbtg5_sm

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.  

Beyond Breaking the Glass is available for purchase from CCAR Press.


Creating the Perfect Day

Whether a glitzy, large wedding which requires two wedding planners, or a fully DIY eco- friendly affair, no two weddings, and no two couples, are alike. But when you strip away the crafts, bling, and creativity, all couples are the same: they are seeking a mythical day, and a personalized meaningful ceremony that speaks to who they are.

The Jewish wedding ceremony is beautiful, timeless, and can speak to our hearts and souls. If we understand it.

I operate on the assumption that most couples grew up with the wedding ceremony of Fiddler on the Roof and have learned little more, except perhaps what they Googled after they got engaged, or what they have seen when attending weddings themselves. Enter Beyond Breaking the Glass: A Spiritual Guide to Your Jewish Wedding, by Rabbi Nancy H. Wiener.  Every couple with whom I work receives a copy, as a gift, of this book.bbtg5_sm

Now, equipped with an accessible resource, they can ask the questions: “What is a chuppah? Why do we have one?”, or “How can I personalize the ceremony?”, and more.  The answers, in the Reform tradition, are offered options in a non-judgmental tone.

Each couple has embraced this book differently. Some take the checklist found beginning on page 115 quite seriously, copying it and handing me a copy at our last meeting with each ritual item carefully marked and why. Others have read about rituals, and learned about circling for example, for the first time, and found it to be a poignant celebration of their love for each other. Some have even found this book as an opportunity to explore Jewish life more fully, finding the symbols and prayers so beautiful that they are left wanting more.

The book Beyond Breaking the Glass: A Spiritual Guide to Your Jewish Wedding is a step in empowering couples to rely on an ages old, magnificent Jewish tradition to fulfill their desires to create the perfect wedding day. It isn’t filled with bling, but it is filled with something much deeper: the ring of a ceremony filled with deep and relevant experiences.

Rabbi Allison Vann serves Suburban Temple – Kol Ami in Beachwood, Ohio.

Books News Rabbis Reform Judaism

A Wedding, Both Personal and Historic     

This past weekend I had the privilege of officiating at a wedding of two sweet men in Philadelphia. They are members of Congregation B’nai Olam, the congregation in Fire Island Pines where I have served for the last seventeen years as the high holy day rabbi.

I have officiated at many weddings since becoming a rabbi, some straight and many gay. Some have been legal, though a good number of the gay weddings I officiated at before 2011 were not. They have all been special and beautiful in their own ways. Some have been particularly special, like when I officiated at weddings of close friends and relatives. But this wedding was its own kind of special.

First the personal. Of course, every wedding is personal. This lovely couple was together for forty-two years and fifty-one weeks before becoming legally married. That is mind-boggling – both the capacity to stay together through thick and thin, and despite the lack official sanction, and also the fact that they can now legally get married. What a blessing that was, to be able to stand together under the chuppah, supported by their family members, including the 95 year old mother of one of them. As they said to me, they never in their wildest dreams imagined that this day would come.

And that’s where it becomes historic. As soon as gay marriage became legal last year in Pennsylvania, they set a date and called me. The time had come. And so almost exactly a year to the date that gay marriage became legal in Pennsylvania, they got married. What a blessing this was too, that their own state would recognize their marriage. The date of this past weekend becomes even more dramatic when you realize that this wedding was also three days before the Supreme Court is poised to hear arguments that will hopefully lead to gay marriage becoming the law of the land.

There was another level of history as well, one which was perhaps only significant to me as the rabbi, but important nevertheless. This wedding was also the first one I officiated at using L’chol Zman v’Eit: The CCAR Life Cycle Guide commonly known informally as the “rabbi’s manual”. Having worked with Rabbi Don Goor, editor of the guide, for several years on this project, I was very excited to finally get to use it.


As Don and I worked on the guide, one of the guiding principles of our work was that a wedding was a wedding, no matter the gender of the couple. This was a natural outgrowth of the historic stances CCAR has long taken in support of LGBTQ issues in general, and gay marriage in particular. We wanted to create liturgy that was beautiful and fit the unique moment, with enough options to meet the needs of different kinds of couples. We wanted to break down the wall between a “normative” wedding and “non-normative” wedding. In planning the ceremony with this couple, I was pleased to see how well the material in the guide worked, and how easy it was to customize it for them. The fact that all the material I needed to meet their needs was there in the guide also sent an important message, that the CCAR and its rabbis fully accept and support marriage equality. This too is a blessing.

Siman Tov u’Mazel Tov!

Rabbi Hara Person is Publisher of CCAR Press at the Central Conference of American Rabbis.