May 8, 2013
Tales from a mother: The Jewish wedding
Every time my son, Jonathan, left for school, for camp, for college, I felt a heartbreaking sense of loss. That’s because your main instinct as a mother is to keep your child as close to you as possible. But your main job as a mother is to prepare your kids to separate. It’s the cruel catch-22 of parenting.
I am generally an outspoken person, but with Jonathan I often kept my feelings to myself. He announced that he was going to work in London for a year. What I said was: “Oooh, that sounds wonderful!” What I was really thinking: “You’ll be looking the wrong way and get hit by a bus, you’ll get chronic bronchitis from that miserable climate, and you will learn to think of toast as a meal!”
The only good thing about working in England is that the Brits know zilch about Jewish culture, so whenever Jono wanted to visit he could just make up a holiday. “I’ll be out next week. I have to be with my family for the first five nights of Kishka.”
When he got here, Jono told us that things with his girlfriend had gotten “serious.” Oh, my God! A WEDDING! “I have dreamed about this day for years! This is the best Kishka present you could have given me!”
That was a big fat lie. The fact is I’d be perfectly content if Jonathan stayed single forever. That way I wouldn’t have to share him on holidays, I would remain the leading lady in his life, and I wouldn’t have to watch him making googly eyes at some trollop! But there’s a rumor going around that I might die someday, and I didn’t want my child to be alone. He called a few weeks later to describe the wedding plans: a huge, traditional, black-tie affair in New York after he moved back from London. “Oooh, that sounds wonderful!” Oy!
I took a valium and spent the rest of the day on the phone with the Yenta Brigade. “Are they out of their minds? It’s too big, it’s too formal, and it’s too Jewish. … What do you mean ‘It’s not my wedding?’ Why does everyone keep saying that?”
I said nothing to my son about my concerns. For starters, why black-tie? In our artsy, hippy crowd we don’t wear tuxes and evening gowns. And why the huge guest list? People are not going to fly in from all over the world for a glass of champagne and some chopped liver.
Most importantly, I’m not comfortable with all that traditional Jewy stuff — a rabbi saying prayers, a Hebrew marriage contract, and 100 baby-blue yarmulkes from UnderTheHuppah.com. Our family is not observant in any way. We are secular Jews who believe in the time-honored ancestral values of eating out, going to the theater and bargain shopping. But, again, I kept quiet.
Things got frantic. I had to buy a gown, we had to fly to New York, and my husband Benni’s huge Danish family was coming in from Copenhagen. I figured we’d take them out for Chinese — as an introduction to Jewish culture. And then things went from frantic to insane: Benni’s brother was coming with his two ex-wives, and they were all staying in the same room with one king-sized bed. And now you know why the Danes are considered the happiest people in the world!
I found a beaded gown at a yard sale that still had a $1,200 price tag on it. I paid 20 bucks, and kept the tag in case I wanted to resell it on eBay. Benni dug out his old tux from 1967, which still fit perfectly — as long as he didn’t button it or zip up the fly.
To my surprise, people did fly into Manhattan from all over the world, and everyone looked magnificent in their evening clothes. I got a shiver when Benni’s very assimilated Danish Jewish family put on yarmulkes for the first time in their lives.
Four young men carried the chuppah, which was draped with the bride’s late father’s prayer shawl. When the music changed, Alisa, the bride, entered wearing her great-grandmother’s lace wedding veil. And when my son looked at her, I felt that same sense of loss that I used to feel when he went off to school, to camp, to college. Only this time, he wasn’t coming back.
Then — just like in “Fiddler” — Jonathan broke the glass and everyone shouted “Mazel tov!” We danced back up the aisle, and we kept dancing, eating, drinking, laughing and crying the whole night. And all the things I worried about — the formal attire, the big crowd, the Jewish stuff — turned out to be all the things I liked best about the wedding. I am so glad that I did a mother’s job and kept my big mouth shut!
Humorist Annie Korzen is an actress (“Seinfeld”), writer and speaker. She is the author of “Bargain Junkie: Living the Good Life on the Cheap.”