(JTA) — The Hamas attacks that claimed over 1,400 Jewish lives on Oct. 7 set off an intense period of global Jewish mourning. As Israel assembled troops for a possible ground invasion of Gaza, and missiles flew back and forth across the border, many Jews around the world struggled to contain their anxiety and sadness.
For many couples whose long-planned weddings fell in the days and weeks following the start of the war, the pall fell over what should have been one of the happiest days of their lives. How do you celebrate when so many are still burying their dead?
This week we asked rabbis across the United States and in Israel how they have gone about conducting weddings in the shadow of the deadliest attack on Jewish people since the Holocaust. Most acknowledged the loss and urged the couple to regard the celebration as an act of life-affirming defiance. Some were asked not to mention the crisis (and regretted that they complied).
Rabbi Jay Stein of Dobbs Ferry, New York, who officiated at his son’s wedding Sunday night in Jersey City, New Jersey, quoted Psalm 37: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,” often sung at the end of Jewish weddings.
“On a day that is really all about celebrating you — remember you are part of something much bigger, something eternal,” he told the couple. “Today, you realize that there will be times of celebration and days of suffering. Our prayer for you is to share in your joys and sorrows together. Joy can quickly turn to sadness and today. I say we must with all of our power turn the sadness into joy because the two of you deserve this day.”
Below are excerpts of remarks made by rabbis at recent weddings or thoughts they shared with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Rabbi Leora Frankel is rabbi of Larchmont Temple in Larchmont, New York.
These weeks since Oct. 7 have felt like a communal shloshim, that intense period of mourning in the first 30 days after a relative dies. Whether or not we know someone personally who has been killed, so many of us are experiencing collective bereavement and craving comfort as we mourn with our Israeli brothers and sisters. And yet somehow, as Jews, we are commanded by our tradition to keep choosing life and finding joy, even in our grief.
Just a week after the terror in Israel erupted, I found myself standing under a gorgeous chuppah at Whitby Castle in Rye, New York with a young Reform Jewish couple. Earlier that week at our final check-in, they sought my reassurance that it was “kosher” to proceed with their wedding in the midst of the unfolding horrors. They expressed anticipatory guilt singing and dancing while so many were mourning.
So I shared with them a famous passage in the Talmud — a rabbinic teaching from nearly 2,000 years ago — which speaks presciently to this moment. In tractate Ketubot, the rabbis inquire about a theoretical and symbolic scenario: If a funeral procession and wedding procession meet at a crossroads, which one has the right of way? This soon-to-be bride and groom were surprised to learn that, perhaps counterintuitively, the Talmud rules that in such a case, the wedding procession should proceed first. Even in the face of death, Judaism asserts that we must lead with life.
Rabbi Jan Salzman is founder and rabbi of Ruach haMaqom, a Jewish Renewal congregation in Burlington, Vermont.
I led a wedding on Sunday morning, Oct. 22, and as is my custom, I only offer remarks that have to do with the wedding. When I introduce the breaking of the glass, instead of the usual story about Jerusalem or tears within joy, I tell the story from the Ari (Isaac ben Solomon Luria Ashkenazi (1534-1572), about the shattering of the divine vessel at the beginning of Creation. I offer the intention that when the couple breaks the glass, their love spews out into the world, embedding shards of their love into every molecule of creation. This past Sunday, I added the line, “and, oy, how we need shards of love to embed themselves in our world!” Everyone knew that I was addressing the shattering of the hopes and dreams of the people of Israel and Gaza, who are suffering in such anguish because of the choices made by their respective leaders. A wedding, like Shabbat, is a moment of healing, of putting forth our yearning for wholeness and not the opportunity for a commentary by the rabbi.
Cantor Dana S. Anesi is director of fieldwork at Hebrew Union College. She recently performed weddings in New York City, New York’s Westchester County and Fairfield, Connecticut.
I emphasized the themes of the Sheva Brachot, the seven blessings said at a Jewish wedding, looking toward the messianic time, when the world will be whole again. But I really saved any remarks for the end, for breaking the glass. I noted that since Talmudic times, our people have acknowledged that there is sadness even amidst the joy of a couple uniting, and our feelings of profound sadness at this moment, as we think of our brothers and sisters in Israel. But I didn’t linger on that – I could see it wasn’t top of mind for the couples or families (although I choked up talking about it — not sure they noticed). And then they stepped on the glass and went off to party. I personally felt pretty isolated in my grief, in all those instances, frankly.
Rabbi Julie Roth is rabbi at Congregation Shomrei Emunah, a Conservative congregation in Montclair, New Jersey.
At a wedding this past weekend in Charleston, South Carolina, we focused on the joy. We sang and danced and celebrated this once-in-a-lifetime occasion and mentioned the heartbreak in Israel at the moment when we smashed the glass. Dancing in circles with dozens of young people, with the bride and groom in the center, when everyone started singing the words, “Am Yisrael Chai,” the aliveness of this moment reverberated with the vigils and rallies of the past two weeks. We sang the same words — the Jewish people lives — then with tears of sadness, now with unfiltered joy, making the energy at the wedding that much more precious.
Rabbi Elyssa Cherney is the founder and CEO of Tacklingtorah.
Within a wedding there are two ritual moments that stood out to me as I prepared to officiate a wedding outside Philadelphia following the events of Oct. 7.
Shared grief at a communal gathering shouldn’t be overlooked. So I led a moment of silence as a memorial and acknowledgement of remembering those who have been a part of past communities. This can be especially painful for recent loss or if a couple has lost a parent, grandparent, sibling or child whom they would have envisioned being a part of this occasion.
The second is the breaking of the glass, a reminder that we must never take moments of joy for granted. I have often noted particularly shattering moments that align with the couple’s personal values and story prior to them breaking the glass. For this moment, I shared their grief at learning of the horrors unfolding in Israel. “While we share in the blessings of the wedding couple we also remember that marriage is not only about joy, but about supporting one another through the imperfections of the world as well,” I said. “The couple has shared not only their dreams with each other but their deepest fears. They know their relationship is fragile and needs to be treated with love and respect. So as we first shatter this glass as a symbol of the brokenness of our world may their love remain whole and complete always.”
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski is a Jewish educator living in Mitzpe Yericho. He officiated at a wedding on Oct. 8 in Tel Aviv, one day after the deadly Hamas attacks on southern Israel.
“Rabbi,” the groom called me, “we’re not sure if we should get married. Our friends have all been called up for reserve duty, and we aren’t sure if it’s appropriate to get married. What do you think?” I was emphatic. “Get married. You’ll do a big party in a month when this is all over. Your family and your fiancé’s family have all flown in. Change the venue and let’s do it!” So we all did.
It was a smaller wedding than planned, but it was joyous and it was a stick in the eye of Hamas. Right in the middle of Tel Aviv we demonstrated that Jewish tradition continues and no one will stop us!
Rabbi Lori Shapiro is rabbi of The Open Temple in Venice, California.
We were in Athens, Greece. People flew in from Israel. The bride and groom were from Paris, and the wedding was held in Athens because one of the families had been saved during World War II by Prince Phillip’s mother, Princess Alice. After the news broke, we met to deliberate: Do we mention the tragedy beneath the chuppah or focus on the simcha?
Against my personal opinion, the groom emphatically chose to focus on the wedding.
Following the wishes of the groom, I limited my words to a brief euphemism during the breaking of the glass. Were I following my instinct, I would have paused and held space and said, “We are all holding space in our hearts at this moment, alive with heartbreak and futility in the face of the horrors we are seeing. And yet, the love of this couple and the work they have before them is a part of the greater plan for repair in this world. Let us take a moment to consider how deeply we observe what is broken and how each of us can rededicate our lives on the merit of this couple towards being partners in peace — from the smallest of moments of our lives, our actions matter as partners for peace in the face of loss and sorrow. And may the broken world of all we have lost make their memories for a blessing.”
But I didn’t.
After the chuppah, an Israeli in the wedding party approached me. “Why didn’t you say something?” he asked with tears in his eyes. I felt ashamed and saddened, a flood of inadequacies in my heart.
The next day, my husband and I were to leave for Santorini for our first vacation together since we had kids. Instead, we changed our flight and flew home.
Rabbi Barry Leff divides his time between the United States and Israel. He spoke at his daughter’s wedding in Jerusalem on Oct. 9, when he told the couple, “It’s a Jewish custom not to delay a wedding when bad things happen. Maybe it’s because so many bad things have happened in Jewish history. It’s an optimistic statement to continue with a wedding. A wedding is about the future. No matter how difficult today is, we are confident the future will be better.” After the wedding, he added a few more thoughts:
Earlier today, I was thinking in addition to what I said to Katherine and Avichay under the chuppah, I wanted to say something referring to the situation. And I was feeling sad and heavy.
I reminded myself of Rebbe Nachman’s teaching, “mitzvah gedolah l’hiyot b’simcha,” it’s a great and important mitzvah to be happy always, even when it’s difficult to be happy.
And I thought of the commandment in the Talmud, to gladden the heart of the bride and groom.
In other words, I was prepared to have to force myself to be happy in this terrible time.
But when I got here, and saw over a dozen friends and strangers running around, getting everything set up, musicians setting up, a chuppah, and then I saw how beautiful the bride looked, and my heart was overflowing with joy. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a more joyous wedding.
It’s impossible to say gam zu l’tovah, this too is for the best, for a milchamah, a war, but as far as the ceremony goes, this celebration was so much more intimate, so much more powerful, joyous even, than the originally planned 400 people in a hall. It was amazing, and everyone here felt it.
Rabbi Aviva Fellman is spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel in Worcester, Massachusetts. She officiated at a wedding in South Berwick, Maine on Sunday, Oct. 22.
In our daily prayers, we read from Psalms, hafachta mispdi lmachol li, pitachta saki vatazreni simcha — God, You turn my mourning into dancing, You change my sackcloth into robes of joy. While our hearts break for those who have been lost, those living in constant fear, and especially those still missing, we respond with the fervor of our Israeli brothers and sisters and the resilience of our people throughout history. We declare Am Yisrael Chai, and we keep going, knowing that living, celebrating, and creating a new Jewish family is in and of itself an act of solidarity with Israel, an act of defiance against Hamas, and an act of Jewish survival. So we smile even more widely, we laugh more loudly; we love more deeply and fiercely; we dance more fervently.
Rabbi Craig Axler leads Temple Isaiah in Fulton, Maryland. This past weekend, he officiated at weddings on Saturday night and Sunday evening. He offered these remarks at the wedding Sunday in Bluemont, Virginia:
We will momentarily say the Sheva Brachot, the seven wedding blessings. These blessings are less focused specifically on the wedding couple at first, but rather build on the idea that we live in a world of brokenness and pain, where things are not perfect or even ideal. However, the union of this couple, your love that we celebrate in this moment is one act of tikkun, one repair of the broken world that we live in. Your love makes the world more whole. This is true every time I stand with a couple under the chuppah, but in this particular moment of pain, and recognizing that the culmination of the Sheva Brachot links your wedding rejoicing to the songs of joy and gladness heard on the “cities of Judah and the courtyards of Jerusalem,” we can see that this moment of celebration for you and your family provides one bright and shining opportunity for joy not only here, but reverberating through the Jewish world. May the joy of this union be one step towards bringing us back to a time of celebration and rejoicing here, in Israel for the whole Jewish family, and throughout the world.
Rabbi Aderet Drucker is executive director of the Den Collective, a community of 20-, 30- and 40-somethings in Greater Washington, D.C. She also officiated at a wedding in Bluemont, Virginia on Oct. 22, and said this to the couple:
Your wedding ceremony and marriage today is a dream come true for each of you, for your parents, and also for the Jewish people. The simple act of living your lives, gathering together as we are right now with all of your family, friends, and community to celebrate your love, your union, in this beautiful big Jewish wedding, this is also one of the most beautiful acts of defiance in the face of those who seek to harm the Jewish people.
Rabbi Karen Glazer Perolman is senior associate rabbi at Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, New Jersey. She officiated at a wedding on Oct. 14, where her remarks included these words:
Our tradition also teaches that there are certain commandments for which we assign special meaning — upon performing them in this world we are granted life in the World to Come: one of these is to celebrate with a couple under the chuppah — to dance and eat and drink, to help turn the spark of love into flames of hope in the midst of a dark season. I encourage all of those here tonight to take this commandment seriously and to celebrate as much as humanly possible — to lift up their joy and through them, the spirits of our people.
Rabbi Jay M. Stein, of the Greenburgh Hebrew Center in Dobbs Ferry, New York, officiated at the Oct. 23 wedding of his son. He closed his remarks with these words of advice:
Today you stand under this chuppah while so many in Israel rush to safe rooms. Both provide shelter. This chuppah is extraordinary in the support it provides. Constructed of my father’s tallis, and both of your grandfathers’ tallisim. As we are all able to look into this chuppah and you can feel everyone here, we hope you will always feel the safety of knowing that everyone here is invested in you and you can always count on us.
Rabbi Amanda K. Weiss is assistant rabbi of Temple Isaiah in Fulton, Maryland. She officiated at a wedding on Oct. 21 in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.
In our last counseling session, a little over a week before, on Oct. 13 — the “Global Day of Jihad,” calling for violence against Israel and the Jewish people worldwide — the brides, with deep respect for the sensitivity of the moment, asked how they might recognize the severity of the war in Israel while maintaining the joy of their well-deserved celebration.
Guided by the wisdom found in the Talmud’s Berakhot 30b-31b, which poignantly speaks of the remembrance of the Temple’s destruction in Jerusalem, the brides and I decided that they would connect it to their rehearsal dinner, and they chose to explain the significance of remembering the brokenness of the world even in our brightest moments. Whether a broken glass at a wedding or a missing piece of a newly constructed home, we are meant to remember that the world is never quite complete — that there is always something that requires a bit of awareness and compassion. As they spoke to this during their rehearsal dinner, the room quieted; their acknowledgement allowed their guests to share that many of their loved ones knew people (or knew people who knew people) who were fighting, were in reserves, or had fallen in battle during this war.
During the wedding ceremony itself, I drew back to the brides’ points and connected it specifically to the glass breaking to conclude the wedding ceremony. This, combined with the joy of the brides breaking their own glasses in tandem allowed for the joy to envelop the sadness, reminding us that there is always the opportunity to overcome.