In splansky

By Rabbi Yael Splansky.

It’s wedding season. Most of my Sundays these days include a wedding.  Each one is unique.  An outside observer might think they are the same – chuppah, white dress, rings, ketubah, breaking of the glass, hora. But I know each one is distinct from all the others, because that is the very definition of Jewish marriage.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

The Talmudic term for marriage is “kiddushin.”  Like the words “kadosh” or “kiddush” or “kaddish” – its root meaning is “kedushah,” that is, “holiness” or “sanctity.”  At the centre of the vow spoken by the wedding couple is the verb “mekudash/mekudeshet.”

Everything hinges on this little word.  “By this ring you are sanctified to me as my wife/husband, according to the law of Moses and the People of Israel.”  The vow is a legal formula.  When accompanied by a ring, when spoken and heard by two witnesses, this vow is what makes the couple married.  This is the moment when they marry one another.  By Jewish law, it is not the rabbi who “marries” them; they marry each other.  (Ironically, by civil law, it IS the rabbi, an officer of the province, who “marries” them.)

I usually meet with couples four times in advance of their wedding day.  They seem relieved when I steer the conversation from the wedding to the marriage.  The multi-billion dollar wedding industry exhausts them; and they are usually grateful to be in a quiet corner of the synagogue to talk about what matters most, to talk about the one who now matters most to them.  Highlighting the language of the marriage vow, I ask: “How is she sacred to you?”  How is he holy for you?”  This isn’t our every day language; most brides and grooms are stumped by the question.  I’ve learned to give them time.  They take it away to think about and return a few weeks later, ready and enthusiastic about sharing their answer.

Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh

One aspect of holiness is distinction.  We make Shabbat holy by separating it from the other ordinary days of the week.  We call the Torah a “holy book” and treat it differently than all the other books.  Times can be made sacred.  Objects can be made sacred.  And relationships, too, can be made sacred by how we elevate them, make them distinct from the others.  There may be a divine spark in everything, but we each see it shining a little more brightly in different places.

The moments when the bride and groom seem most focused are during the rituals of distinction – when the groom lovingly brings the veil over his bride’s face, when the bride walks circles around her groom, when they carefully place the ring and carefully speak the vow.  By these rituals, they single one another out from all the other loving relationships they treasure.  The chuppah physically demarcates the Jewish home now established.  The parents are nearby, but not in the house.  They also now see right before their eyes, a new and distinct family unit of two.

The first cup is raised high under the chuppah.  We call attention to the Guest whose Presence is not seen, but certainly felt between the silhouettes of those
standing under the chuppah.  The Cantor leads the blessing in a joyful voice:  “Baruch Atah…  Praised are You, Eternal God, who sanctifies the People of Israel with chuppah, the wedding canopy, and kiddushin, all that is sacred in marriage.”   Amen.

Wedding Stories:  Were you or your parents married at Holy Blossom Temple? Do you have a story to tell? Photos to share?  We’d love to revisit those memories with you.

Please write to [email protected] and tell us your Wedding Stories, or leave your story in the comment field below.

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  • Suzie Lyon
    Reply

    I remember the story as it unfolded and loved reading it from beginning to end just now. The HABSTY kids (Mira and friends!) were all so excited that day to be sharing your wedding — and the Simcha sign from your table still holds a prominent place in our home. Thanks for sharing your love story Mike.

  • Silvia Derasner
    Reply

    Mike, what a lovely, moving, and inspiring story. G’d bless you, Thuy, and your boys. Thanks for sharing, Silvia

  • Mike Morgulis
    Reply

    Our wedding story is somewhat known throughout the HBT Family Service crowd, but we’re happy to share it with everyone else as well. Rabbi Lawrence Kushner wrote that we are messengers, but we do not know for whom the message is intended, nor do we know the message itself. Through a gliding club connection, a messenger, I somehow ended up at Royal Laser in the custom millwork department, and was transferred soon afterwards to newly acquired Seven Continents, owned by Ken Albright (son of Scarlet) to revamp their CAD/engineering department, along with another coworker from Royal Laser. The gliding person who initiated the venture went elsewhere.

    The other guys in the CAD department frequently commented about a woman named Thuy, a pattern maker and chief cutter in the upholstery department. I was somewhat oblivious, having recently endured a painful divorce and was not really looking to fill that void as of yet. Eventually curiosity got the better of me, so I poked my head around the corner and had a look at this “Thuy” person, but all I saw was a young Vietnamese woman cutting fabric and covered in frayed threads. I guess they saw something I didn’t; as I said, I wasn’t looking. And then, at the company ‘winter holiday party’, this same woman appeared in a black evening dress, showing a figure previously covered up by a working apron, blue jeans and safety shoes. Her long black hair, usually tied up or covered, was now curled and styled to show her brilliant eyes and broad smile. I was smitten. We talked often after that, I would use the phone by her table to call reception and announce my going out for lunch. She took the opportunity to use the photocopier near me to plead for my help and assistance. And of course I helped her, but not without teasing her mercilessly.

    As fate would have it, I was asked to work with Thuy (she was part of the health and safety committee), with Thuy noting things like first aid stations and chemical storage locations, and me drafting them onto plans of the factory. The odd point was finding a cat behind some bushes where we thought the fire department hook-up should be. The cat remained motionless, and so being somewhat of a joker, I drew two plans for Thuy, one with the dead cat and the other for her to photocopy and present to the CEO, CFO and other high ranking members of the company. It was later that afternoon that I discovered Thuy’s knack for transforming her eyes into laser beams; apparently she copied the wrong plans and presented them, which prompted company president, Ken Albright, to remark upon Thuy’s great sense of humour. I barely survived the ordeal. The company was later bought-out and I left to pursue work in a similar field while Thuy remained at Seven Continents. We enjoyed many dates together and discovered that despite our cultural and racial differences, we each held similarly strong family, cultural, and traditional values. We were more alike than different. Thuy eventually met my sons Nathan and Ari (from my first marriage). She started to join us for Kabbalat Shabbat services at Holy Blossom, and then at the suggestion of a congregant, we started to come to Saturday morning Family Services.

    Thuy’s family was not quite as accepting of me as we both would have liked, and she was told to choose between them and me. Shortly afterwards, my parents took her in, literally only with the clothes on her back. I will never forget the gravity and depth of her decision, nor the commitment that she made at that time. She remarked shortly thereafter that there should only be one religion in a home, and that she was wanting to become a Jew herself. I had already decided to propose to her, but this was more than anyone could hope for.

    I flew her to New York and proposed to her, mid-span of the Brooklyn Bridge. Shortly after our return she met with Rabbi Jason Rosenberg to undertake formal conversion, and through the JIC course, she learned many new things while I was very excited to be relearning much of what had atrophied. We met 2 nice couples and together we 6 formed a tight clique. What started as a temporary stay with my parents turned into a year of bliss for Thuy and my folks; she had parents under the same roof as her, and they had a daughter whom they could dote upon. Citing Thuy as an example, my mother urged my father to learn Hebrew, another positive outcome of this story. With the JIC course completed, Thuy went before the Beit Din and was accepted. When asked for her Hebrew name, she said “Tal”, as dew is present upon awakening in the morning (in her case, a religious awakening), and “dew” closely resembled her family name “Deu”. She also said that she purposely chose a name without a tzadee or cheyt as she found them difficult to pronounce, which made the rabbis roar with laughter. Shortly thereafter, Thuy emerged from the mikveh as a Jew, and I emerged from the mikveh anew. Wedding plans were already in full swing, and despite many attempts to approach Thuy’s family, they did not respond. We chose a day in Mar Chesvan for our wedding, something to help bring joy to a month void of any Jewish holidays.

    There is an old custom whereby an orphaned bride has her family represented by the “yeshiva boys”, and so in this spirit, HABSTY was invited to stand as Thuy’s family. The chupah was raised in the Youth Chapel, a place which held much meaning for us as a couple, as well as for me during my youth. Our ketubah was made by long-time friend, artist and cantor, Ted Labow, and our chupah, formed by Rabbi Rosenberg’s grey woolen tallit, was supported by my two brothers, Lewis and Peter, and two of our Family Service friends, Alberto Quiroz and Dennis Chow. Our wedding had a definite Eastern flavour to it, our kiddush cups were saki cups and Thuy wore a traditional Vietnamese Au Dai (pronounced ‘ow yai’) with a hand painted red head piece and overcoat. Thuy entered the Youth Chapel and as we circled each other beneath the chupah, we saw some of her aunts and uncles slip into the rear pews. The rest was a blur, all I remember is both of us getting choked up as we exchanged rings while staring into each other’s eyes. Cantor Maissner chanted the sheva brachot and shortly thereafter we were cheered along our exit from the Youth Chapel.

    We were both exhausted by this point, having undertaken the traditional 24 hour pre-wedding fast. My older brother came to the rescue, having located us in our ‘yichud room’. But instead of food, he brought us champagne. Needless to say we were a little light-headed as we met our guests in the Philip Smith foyer. The music started up, a large hora formed, we were whisked up on chairs, and we took a moment to lift Nathan and Ari up on chairs as well. David Gershon helped us lead the motzi, the first time we’d officially sung together since our days as HBT youth group songleaders, and after that we ate, drank, danced, sang and enjoyed ourselves. The Philip Smith Hall was full of life and the reception ended shortly around midnight; HABSTY proved to be the life of the party!

    A few days later we were honeymooning in Israel. It was 2002, the second intifada was fully underway, and we had the country literally to ourselves. We drove over two thousand kilometres in our little Eldan car as we went from Jerusalem to Be’er Sheva, the Dead Sea, Kinneret, the Golan,Haifa and finally Tel Aviv. We met many people with whom we still keep in touch, and we picked up a young Israeli-Yemenite solider named Lior, and drove him to his base in the Golan. He was such an endearing soul that we named our own son in honour of him, in 2005, and also as a reminder of the survival of Jewish hope amidst difficult times in Israel.

    It has been nearly eleven years since our wedding; we’ve each changed a bit for the better. We’re both deeply involved in shul, as are our 3 children, and we eagerly look forward to many more years together, with more love than we had the day before. She still catches my eye, and I still tease her mercilessly.

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