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Rabbi, Priest for Ari's Nuptials

December 2002

This article first appeared in the Forward and is reprinted with permission.

The rabbi who officiated at the marriage of White House press secretary Ari Fleischer and bride Rebecca Davis describes the ceremony combining his Jewish and her Catholic traditions as "traditional."

Rabbi Harold White, senior Jewish chaplain at Georgetown University, and Reverend Michael Kelley, of Saint Martin's Church in Washington, co-officiated at the Saturday evening ceremony, which was held at the Westin Hotel in Indianapolis.

"Ari Fleischer is really traditional--as is his family--in terms of his commitment to Judaism," said White, the Catholic university's Jewish chaplain since 1968. "It really fit the pattern of any interfaith service I've ever done. The language is neutral; there is inclusiveness on both sides."

Despite its interfaith elements, Saturday's ceremony "followed the traditional Jewish mold," White said. The couple even wrote their own version of an interfaith ketubah (Jewish marriage certificate).

"Actually, the ceremony had more Jewish elements than Catholic," said White, a Reform rabbi. "The ritual in a Catholic ceremony would be the mass. Once you take the mass out, there are more rituals in Judaism than Catholicism."

Held under a chuppah, the Jewish wedding canopy, the ceremony began with a welcome and a blessing from the rabbi, followed by a reading from Ecclesiastes by a member of Fleischer's family and a reading from the chasidic master Baal Shem Tov by Indiana's secretary of state, Sue Anne Gilroy, a friend of the bride.

The priest spoke about values--"spiritual values; not Christian, just general," White said-- before the rabbi offered the vows and oversaw the exchange of rings. The couple lit candles in memory of departed relatives--"Ari was very close to his grandparents," White said--and recited the seven customary Jewish blessings over wine.

Kelley offered another blessing, and then White, the official witness, "gave a talk on the meaning of the symbols of the ceremony" before the couple completed the hallmark of a traditional Jewish wedding--the breaking of the glass.

The parents of the press secretary, the youngest of three brothers, reportedly approved of the match. "We're not young parents," mother Martha Fleischer, 70, told The Washington Post. "We should have been grandparents long ago."

The Times reported that Martha Fleischer is a database coordinator at the Sabin Vaccine Institute in New Canaan, and father Alan Fleischer retired as owner of an executive recruiting company in Mount Kisco, N.Y.

According to press reports, Fleischer, 41, met Davis, 26, an Indiana native and staffer at the Office of Management and Budget, at the White House during the spring of 2001. The couple dated for a year; Fleischer proposed with a Tiffany's solitaire ring on a Sunday afternoon in late April. Prior to his engagement, Fleischer was reputed to be one of Washington's "most eligible bachelors."

"She's a wonderful, marvelous woman, and I'm incredibly lucky she said yes," Fleischer told The Washington Post at the time.

The tight-lipped presidential spokesman otherwise declined to comment on his romance with Davis, making the engagement a source of widespread gossip and media speculation, inside and outside the Beltway. Tongues wagged over the couple's decision to register at the discount chain Target, where they requested such frugal items as a "Forrest Gump" DVD and the board game Scattergories.

Peter Sagal, the host of National Public Radio's comedy quiz show "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me," logged onto the Target site and dropped $9.99 to buy the couple a bundt cake pan. "Anytime a bald Jewish guy--and I'm one myself--manages to get a nice girl, it's a cause for celebration," he told The Washington Post.

Of course, some raised their eyebrows at the couple's decision to announce their nuptials in The New York Times wedding/celebrations pages--a bastion of East Coast privilege at odds with the down-home demeanor of the Bush White House.

Still, of last weekend's 350 assembled guests, "There really weren't any bigwigs," White said. "I gather it was Ari's choice; he wanted the wedding to be a wedding and not have the distraction of having bigwigs at it."

Like many Jews who toil in government, Fleischer attends White's High Holy Day services at the Georgetown campus. "I knew him from his attendance at services," White said. Nevertheless, when Fleischer asked White to officiate at his wedding, "I was flattered," he said. White and Kelley have had an "ongoing relationship," co-officiating weddings and working on joint programs in the Washington area.

Kelley declined to speak to The Forward.

As is his custom when officiating at interfaith marriages, White had a series of meetings with the couple prior to the wedding in order to discuss "the ways in which an interfaith marriage could be successful," he said. "Basically, the only advice I imparted to them, in terms of what options they had in raising their children, that they raise their child in one religion, enlighten them in the other. But no dual identities." "I have a feeling from what I've heard that the children will be raised as Jews," he added. "My knowledge of Ari would indicate that."

The White House declined requests for comment.

Hebrew for "pious," commonly refers to a member of an Orthodox Jewish mystic movement founded in the 18th century in Eastern Europe by Baal Shem Tov that reacted against Talmudic learning and maintained that God's presence was in all of one's surroundings and that one should serve God in one's every deed and word. Hebrew for "canopy" or "covering," the structure (open on all four sides) under which a Jewish wedding ceremony takes place. In its simplest for, it consists of a cloth, sheet, or tallit stretched or supported over four poles. Hebrew for "document," a legal document that is both a prenuptial agreement and a certification that a Jewish marriage has taken place. Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.

Lisa Keys is a freelance writer.

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