Planning a Jewish wedding may not strike some as an especially daunting task. Add the complexity of doing so from nearly 1,000 miles away, and I’ll ask you to reconsider your stance.
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We met on Jdate, so while our lives are inherently steeped in modernity, we knew we wanted a wedding that was rooted in Jewish traditions. At the time, I was naive and thought that “tradition” simply meant having a rabbi as an officiant and breaking a glass, followed by a tone-deaf rendition of “Siman Tov.”
I was wrong.
My mother could easily moonlight as a party planner. Each of her four children were treated to festive fêtes for bat or bar mitzvahs, so there was little doubt that her vision for any of our weddings would be less than perfection.
My bustling day job consumed my waking hours, so much so that I didn’t have the energy to question most of the details, except when it came to choosing a rabbi for our Detroit wedding, all the way from New York.
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Rabbi Arnie Sleutelberg, previously of Congregation Shir Tikvah, wasn’t my childhood rabbi. In fact, I’d only met him two or three times, but in those few instances, I was moved by his style, and more importantly, by his interpretation of tradition. He approached the religious component of our ceremony without judgment. He didn’t ask us why we didn’t keep kosher, how often we attended shul, or whether or not we observed Shabbat. His main focus was our comfort as a couple, ensuring that we start our married life as equals.
Once we secured our rabbi, we embraced technology to find a ketubah; we literally typed “ketubah” into Google and discovered ketubah.com. While sourcing the ketubah was easy, settling on the actual text was a little more involved. We needed something that met us in the middle of modernity and tradition, with rhetoric that complemented our lifestyles and made us both feel comfortable. It took some time, but, fortunately, we succeeded in our search.
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My mother had nearly every detail fine-tuned, with only a few remaining ceremony-specific threads left up to my husband and me. We had readings of quotes and poems, wrote our own vows and used my mother’s wedding dress as the canopy for our chuppah.
We had hoped to create a “tree of life” mosaic out of the glass my husband stomped on, but those plans were shattered — somewhat literally — as the force he used was too strong. The end result was more of an acrylic statue of free-floating glass shards.
From HaMotzi to the hora, everything else that followed was steeped in true-to-our-families’ traditions. By the time we landed in London for our honeymoon, the dust had settled, our New York Times mention had printed and we were ready to return to reality.
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Without Skype, a stellar Michigan-based rabbi and a surprisingly patient set of parents, I’m not sure we could have pulled it off. Wedding planning is a pain in and of itself, and so adding distance, demands — and some far-reaching delusions — to the mix made it an experience I hope to only have once.