How many Jewish brides and grooms these past fifty years have slowly walked down the aisle towards the chupa wedding canopy, to the words and/or music to:
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears”
— Jerry Bock & Sheldon Harnick
It does bring a joyful tear to the eye. Or I’m just getting sentimentally old.
One of the traditional Jewish wedding seasons begins after Shavuot (June) and goes strong until some days before Tisha B’av (July). Tisha B’av, the commemoration of the destruction of the First and Second Temples as well as our ancient and historical State of Israel, is also remembered at a Jewish wedding. When traditionally the groom smashes the glass signifying the end of the wedding, it signifies the memory of the destruction, and the idea that with all simchas, joyful moments, life should be put in perspective. There is always a little bitter with the sweet. L’chaim!
Another song in “Fiddler” is sung as Shabbat is about to enter. The parents, Tevye and Golda, bless their five daughters, after the ritual of lighting candles and before the blessings over the wine and challah. They sing a reworking of the traditional parental blessing which is originally known as the Priestly Blessings.
“May the Lord protect and defend you.
May He always shield you from shame.
May God bless you and grant you long lives.
May the Lord fulfill our Sabbath prayer for you…
May the Lord protect and defend you.
May the Lord preserve you from pain.
Favor them, Oh Lord, with happiness and peace.
Oh, hear our Sabbath prayer. Amen.”
— Jerry BockI & Sheldon Harnick
I was ten years old when my parents went to an adult weekend retreat at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley. When they returned, they called for a family meeting. “We (in the parental royal sense of the word) have decided that from now on every Friday evening we will have a Shabbat dinner.” As I was a bit unclear what this would mean, I must admit my main concern was whether this Shabbat dinner thing would interfere with my Friday evening television viewing, most particularly “The Wild, Wild West.”
As we began our Shabbat dinner journey, tunes, prayers, blessings and people came and went… but the bottom line, we had a joyous dinner party every week. A simcha!
With my own family, both when I lived in America during my children’s earlier years or in Israel for a majority of their life, Friday evening Shabbat was a family party night! Whether we went to synagogue and returned to our home or someone else’s, the song entitled Shalom Aleichem (yes the same two words as the author of the original Fiddler stories) was song to various melodies. The blessing of the children, the blessings of the spouses, the chanting of the Kiddush over the wine, the ritual washing of the hands, the Motzi blessing over the challah… as Tevye also sang: “Tradition!”
For some, this may be a bit too much; for others, their norm. In the modern day Jewish world of personalizing one’s own identity by choosing which rituals speak or don’t speak to oneself, there is great flexibility in finding what feels right for each individual and their family.
This past Pesach/Passover, I was in Israel with the same five people for the seder meal as the previous year. Both meals went about seven hours long! But it was a feast…of not just food and drink, but of discussion, readings, sharing, conversation—we wanted to be there, we wanted to engage!
Simcha’s, joyful moments, do not have to be just at weddings or B’nai Mitzvot or graduations…they can occur every week. And in many ways, this is needed in our modern day way of life. Erich Fromm wrote:
“Within its bounds Shabbat is one of the surest means of finding peace in the war-torn realms of the soul. It is one of the basic institutions of humanity – an idea with infinite potentiality, infinite power, infinite hope. Through the Sabbath, Judaism has succeeded in turning its greatest teachings into a day. Out of a remote world of profound thought, grand dreams, and fond hopes – all of which seem so distant, so intangible and so unrealizable – the Sabbath has forged a living reality which can be seen and tasted and felt at least once a week.”
Sunrise, Sunset…and Shabbat Shalom! Like clockwork, it’s a once a week simcha!
At the Merage JCC, Mark Lazar is the Director of Education at the Center for Jewish Life, where he oversees the new Israel and Jewish Experience Desk. Through the Desk you can connect to Jewish resources and explore options of travel to Israel for all ages, as well as opportunities for Jewish experiences for youth at summer camps and during the year. Visit www.jccoc.org.com or on the second floor of the JCC offices, Monday-Thursday 10am-5pm, Friday 10am-2pm. Open to the community.