Religion: Rejoicing With The Brides And Grooms
I exited at City Hall and started walking toward Worth Street. It was about 8:30 in the morning, and already muggy. Turning the corner and walking toward the NYC clerk’s office, I soon saw the telltale signs of what was happening where I was heading. On one side of the street I saw a flock of multi colored umbrellas. On the other I saw the familiar signs (and some familiar faces) of the Westboro Hate Movement. As I came closer I recognized Shirley Phelps-Roper. She is the loud, wild-eyed woman who manages to be at, it seems, every single Westboro demonstration. I remembered her from when she and a contingent of the group came to yell anti-semitic slogans at my synagogue the day before Yom Kippur last year. I was pleased to note, however, that the showing of Westboro was rather pathetic compared even to the small demonstration at my little Brooklyn shul.
I crossed over to the side with the umbrellas after snapping a couple of pictures of the hate-mongers. Queer Rising had called upon supporters of same-sex marriage to provide a rainbow of umbrellas to shield couples, figuratively and literally, from the hatred of protesters. Taking a moment to get my bearings, I looked around, and found what I was looking for, kiddy-corner from where I was standing. After consulting a police officer about my path of travel, I crossed both streets toward the familiar big rainbow chuppah (wedding canopy) with which Congregation Beit Simchat Torah had marched in the Pride Parade last month, and under which Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum was now going to officiate at a number of newly legal same-sex weddings.
There were a number of us milling about while Rabbi Kleinbaum spoke to the press. After a bit, she came over, gave me a hug, and announced that it was time to make signs. She pulled out a bunch of poster board sheets and colored Sharpies, while someone else tossed in more markers, plus glue sticks and glitter. Needing no further encouragement, I plopped myself down on the ground like a 6-year-old and started drawing. While engaged thus, I looked up at one point and noticed that I was being photographed and videotaped from several angles. Sitting on the ground, playing with markers and glitter. I turned my eyes back to my project, giggling to myself. What could be better than this?
The crowd began to build and became more and more colorful. Couples started to trickle out of the clerk’s office brandishing their marriage licenses. The first couple to receive their license (not the first couple married) were members of CBST who had been married years earlier in a religious ceremony. Today they had their children with them.
We began to prepare. It is Jewish tradition, at the culmination of a wedding ceremony, for a member of the couple to smash a glass underfoot. One interpretation of this ritual is that the broken glass reminds us that, even in what would be our happiest moment, there is still brokenness in the world, and it is at our own peril that we allow ourselves to forget that. However, glasses can be difficult to break underfoot. Lightbulbs, on the other hand, are easy, cheap, and make a great noise. We therefore began placing individual light bulbs in Ziplock bags for smashing. Meanwhile, a celebrity couple approached admiring the chuppah… Rod and Ricky, the puppet couple from Avenue Q, along with Kate Monster, had shown up to celebrate Rod and Ricky finally tying the knot. Rod was wearing akippah, Ricky was not, which led to some uneasiness among some of us about this being an intermarriage – but as CBST is non-denominational, they were welcomed by Rabbi Kleinbaum and, a little later on, married by her (and by a number of other officiants of varied religions and denominations in later ceremonies).
The five couples who were married under our chuppah (other than Rod and Ricky) were all folks who were familiar to me by face, but with whom I wasn’t personally acquainted. They were young and old, with and without children, male and female. They were all beautiful, and for each of them we sang and we danced. We yelled “Mazal tov!” at the sound of each breaking lightbulb… in one case, there were five distinct “pops” as two moms and three children each broke their own. A small group of us crowded around a music stand laden with traditional Jewish wedding songs, one played a melodica while the rest of us sang, substituting gender appropriate wording and grammar into the familiar Hebrew words for each couple.
A lone Orthodox Jewish man dressed in the black suit and hat of his community walked back and forth occasionally holding aloft a sign which read “Bad Idea” taped to the end of a plastic case intended to house a lulav, a palm-branch used ceremonially during the holiday of Sukkot. I could comment on the irony of the juxtaposition, since the holiday of Sukkot is one on which we celebrate the marital union between God and the people Israel, with Israel (traditionally understood primarily as the male population) are likened to the bride of a symbolically masculine God…
It is a mitzvah, a commandment in Judaism to rejoice with brides and grooms on their wedding days. A Jewish wedding is about the couple being married, of course, but more so it is something bigger. The chuppah symbolizes the house that a married couple builds together – the home, the family, that comes into being and builds up the larger family to which we all belong. The beauty of a Jewish wedding is that the celebration is not limited to the fact that two people have found one another, but that we as a people are succeeding. We continue to build Jewish families and Jewish homes on the foundation of love: the love of an individual person for another, and the love of a community. Every time I dance at a Jewish wedding, I am cognizant of my role in building with love, and in helping to restore that which is destroyed by hatred, helping to heal the brokenness in the world. I continue to be baffled by people, especially people of my own faith, who scream for hatred and destruction in the name of that same God Who commands me to build, to love and to rejoice.
Around 1:30, as the scheduled CBST marriages wrapped up, I gathered by stuff, said goodbye to friends new and old, gave and received sweaty hugs, and headed back toward the subway. I caught a Brooklyn bound train just as the doors were closing, and gasped as the cool air-conditioning chilled the sweat on my skin and clothes. I took a deep breath and settled in… and then began to giggle… because I was covered in glitter.
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