Sunday, February 22, 2015

What Weddings Teach Us about Community - February 24, 2015

Mishpachah - Family
Kedushah - Holiness.
Ahavah - Love. 
    They comprise the essence of every life event, both joyous celebrations and times of sorrow and remembrance. 
They are the ingredients of our most treasured relationships. 
They lie at the foundation of any community. 
    I could have shared these reflections at any of the milestones that have already happened in my own life or within our family.   I didn't.   Family, holiness and love were present in large measure in our son Adam's birth ceremony, Consecration, Bar Mitzvah and Confirmation, and even in elementary school, middle school, high school and college graduations.   
   As Adam married Juli Schnur on February 21, I realized that all of those elements were part of our celebration, but it was different. 
   It was deeper. 
   It was unique. 
   All of those other life events are siginificant landmarks along the path of life.  They brought both sides of a family together.   
   A wedding is a moment of creation.  It takes two families and makes them, at least to some extent, one, through the union of the couple that was, in this case, standing under a chuppah.  
   It has the potential of adding to a parent's life yet another person who will call him or her "Dad" or "Mom."   
    It defines, in the broadest way, which friends who are outside the family have become family-by-choice, not just through their presence on the guest list, but through the connection they feel to the couple and through events in the future by which a shared history will unfold.   MISHPACHAH is a tree of generations, a web of connections, and a story of how all of those bonds came to be and will continue to grow. 
   All religious and secular life events include specific rituals which set them apart from other moments, giving those times a dimension of KEDUSHAH, holiness.   A Jewish wedding includes the chuppah, the canopy that represents the couple's first home; rings that illustrate their union as they form a circle of two; wine as a symbol of joy; and the breaking of a glass that has many explanations, but its place at the end of a wedding ceremony, with the shout of "MAZAL TOV" offers a culmination of a holy celebration which is often called KIDDUSHIN (taken from the root for holiness).  
    In Adam's and Juli's celebration, sacred ceremony was linked with weekly sacred Jewish time.  We welcomed Shabbat with selected prayers before the rehearsal dinner, participating with Juli's parents, Steve and Nancie.  We recited Havdalah before the signing of the Ketubah and the wedding itself (at which Rabbis Rick Jacobs and Ken Kanter officiated).   We had marked the beginning and end of Shabbat, so that we entered the holy space and moment of KIDDUSHIN having marked the very observance of which it has been said, "More than the Jewish people have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jewish people."    As with Rhonda and me,  Shabbat will be a time which will define a regular part of life for Adam and Juli, not only in time, but in its underlying values of creation and working for freedom and liberation for all people.  Those principles reflect a KEDUSHAH all their own. 
    AHAVAH, love, is central to what Rabbi Akiba called the "fundamental principle of the Torah" - "Love your neighbor as yourself."   It is, of course, all important in a marriage, in all family relationships and friendships, and in the interconnections of community which we have the opportunity to create together.   
    As I looked around at those assembled for Adam's and Juli's wedding, I could see the love in their eyes for the couple.  I could hear the depth of the bonds between each of the rabbis and the bride and groom.   I could sense the spirit that flowed between the parents standing on either side of the chuppah and the two people who were about to merge their life stories into one.   Throughout the weekend, as I looked around at those present whom I already knew, I thought about how they were a part of my own story and Rhonda's and my shared journey.   Yes, there was MISHPACHAH - family.  Yes, there was KEDUSHAH, holiness, because of the uniqueness of the tales we have spun through shared experiences.   And there was love, not only among family, but with friends as well.   Picking up Adam's high school friends at the train station reminded me of the love of friendship that exists between them all and is a joy to behold, connections in which I have, in some way, always been a participant, not just a bystander.  AHAVAH, between family and friends, whether they are present in body or spirit, can be a powerful source of joy, inspiration and hope.  
     So Rhonda and I have returned home.   There is a young woman who now calls us Mom and Dad.   Adam will do the same with her parents.   MISHPAHCHAH, KEDUSHAH and AHAVAH will guide us in strengthening newly formed ties that we will always cherish. 
     And we know that this can happen in any type of community, if we see each other as part of the same family, if we are willing to recognize that what brings us together is unique and special, and if we allow the love of our neighbor and the love of God to embrace and engulf our souls.  Then we will know what it truly means to be one.   

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