During the intermediate days of the holiday of Sukkot, my youngest daughter Tehilah and Gavin, her long-time boyfriend, became engaged to be married. They live in Johannesburg, as do two of three of my married daughters. I happened to be in South Africa at the time, celebrating my 60th birthday; my mother and sister flew in from America for the occasion; as one could well imagine, the rejoicing was intense.
This was my fourth daughter to marry, and they had been together for so long that I only wanted to get her under the marriage canopy pronto. (It should be noted that the adorable groom, 17 years her senior, was becoming concerned about his biological clock). Most poignant, however, was that Gavin’s mother, Ros, is not well. Very not well. To date, this is her only child to marry.
After the initial round of “mazel-tovs,” and discussions of whether the nuptials would take place in Jerusalem or Jo’burg, we sighed the sighs of Jewish mothers who have done good. Ros gingerly extracted from her purse a pencil drawing of an unmistakably mother-or-the-groom dress and said, “I was thinking of midnight-blue. I’ve always looked nice in midnight blue. Is that alright with everyone?”
My daughters, mother and I had all pooh-poohed the ideas of matching colors but miraculously, in near-unison, we loudly replied, “We LOVE midnight blue! Weren’t we just saying that we hoped Ros would be alright with that color?”
Fast forward to the end of February: Hair, makeup and nail appointments; flower selections; three separate trips to Ben Gurion to fetch out of town guests; hastily arranged ice-cream outings with children and grandchildren who were staying at the large home of my ex-husband; rented wheelchairs were arranged for my mother and Ros. And in between, the bride and I returned—again and again–to the dressmaker.
Tehilah’s dress was a fantasy-come-alive, that she’d co-designed with the seamstress. Victorian-influenced, it was a symphony of tulle, lace and pearls in muted colors of cafe-au-lait, caramel and vanilla. I also designed my dress, much to the dismay of the dressmaker; she was right. It was an expensive monstrosity that I quickly chucked for a lovely borrowed gown that, surprisingly, fit perfectly.
Ros looked beautiful but frail in her stunning frock. She wore a flattering wig to cover her treatment-ravaged head and, although the night was warm, a man’s sports-jacket covered her shoulders for the duration of the ceremony. Together we walked around the couple the mandated seven-times, symbolizing the seven-days of creation; the groom stepped on the glass and the crowd cheered. My son-in-law, the rabbi, conducted the chuppah rituals.
The next night I held Ros’s hand while she cried. She didn’t want to return to South Africa to a world of hospital wards and invasive treatments. She wanted to remain in a magical-forever of tea lights, simcha and the promise of grandchildren to lovingly cradle.
A week of simcha is, for some, a week. For others, it is the world.
New York-born Andrea Simantov is a mother of six who moved to Jerusalem in 1995. She frequently lectures on the complexity and magic of life in Jerusalem and can be contacted at email@example.com.