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Beyond the December Dilemma: I Do!

Howard, who is Jewish, and Heidi, an agnostic, are living together and became engaged in April. Since many couples communicate a great deal via e-mail, this column series will be just that: A situation or conflict which is discussed primarily through e-mail between the two. In their first column, Howard wrote, "I would be going through this search no matter what, but being with you pushes it even further because it forces me to strip away all the baggage from childhood and ask what, fundamentally, is Judaism to me?" In this, their second column, they begin a discussion of what kind of wedding ceremony they will have.

From: Heidi
To: Howard
Subject: I do!

Good morning, My Sweet:

Now that we have a date and a place confirmed for our wedding, we have to figure out what kind of ceremony we're going to have and who's going to officiate.

The thought that first comes to mind for me is to have a completely secular ceremony by some sort of justice of the peace. Thoughts?

Heidi

PS: I'm not having any coffee today, so be nice.

From: Howard
To: Heidi
Subject: RE: I do!

Good morning, My Dear,

Well, then why bother inviting my family to the wedding at all? For that matter, why even invite me? I realize that Jewish traditions do not mean much to you, but seeing as how I'm going to be standing beside you, and my two older brothers are going to be standing next to me when I say, "I do," or "whatever," or however we want to frame the "alternative vows," perhaps we can incorporate some sort of nod to the fact that I'm Jewish and that I wish in some way to keep Jewish culture and traditions a small part of our future life together.

We can start by seeking out a Reform or secular rabbi, and using the chuppah (wedding canopy) made by my late grandmother.

Howard

P.S. Better go grab yourself a venti mocha with an extra shot. It's going to be a long day.

From: Heidi
To: Howard
Subject: Re: I do!

I can't imagine us getting married without some sort of "nod" to the fact that you're Jewish. If it weren't acknowledged, I'd have to hear about it for the rest of my life.

With some hesitation, I think we can explore having a rabbi perform the ceremony. I hesitate only because I have a hard time believing that there's a rabbi out there who is observant enough to make you feel comfortable, but secular enough to please me. Where on earth can we find such a person?

It is my preference that there's no mention of any kind of god. These are huge vows we're taking and it's important that we both agree with every single syllable that comes out of the officiant's mouth, don't you think? Therefore, if this person utters anything about god--it's complete baloney to me.

I'd be honored to use your grandmother's chuppah. Also, I like the idea of sharing wine during the ceremony and you breaking the glass at the end - both Jewish traditions, right? Even heathens can be agreeable, my sweet.

Heidi

To: Heidi
From: Howard
Subject: That voodoo that you do

Heidi,

So, again, I get to keep the cute, quaint cultural eccentricities of Judaism--the smashing of the glass (I think a light bulb makes a better noise) and a sip of Manischewitz, but when it comes to the central concept of Judaism--that is, the upper case God--that's where you draw the line.

OK. Fine. You know that I don't believe in the Charlton Heston, suburban Sunday school version of G-hyphen-d, anyway. How about some sort of nod to Ein sof--that which cannot be comprehended? It's part of the Kabbalah tradition. You do not care to believe in any lower- or upper-case deity because you feel it's a waste of time, while I admit that I lack the capacity to comprehend a God that is capable of creating, with just a thought, a universe, a child, a union between a couple.

It amounts to the same thing. You choose to call the structure of your lack of belief "agnosticism," while I call the vast labyrinth of tradition around which I mask my inability to grasp the infinite, "Judaism."

Don't you believe that something larger than ourselves brought us together, Heidi? Or was it simply chance that we met? Maybe we can agree that, despite our obvious outward differences--a tall, redhead Czech-German child of hippies vs. a shorter, brown-haired, Hungarian Jew--we have somehow been brought together by some force we don't understand. Our wedding should not only bring our families together for a weekend, but it should also reflect how miraculous--yes, Upper Case Miraculous--it is that we've found each other. Our wedding should not be prosaic. It should be poetry.

There is a good deal of poetry in the Bible that can reflect this, Heidi--some that never even mentions God.

Anyway, I've heard of a rabbi who left the Humanistic Judaism movement because she believes in God. Sounds like somebody we should check out.

Howard

From: Heidi:
To: Howard
Subject: Re: That voodoo that you do

Let's contact that rabbi--she sounds interesting, I guess. But please don't forget, this is OUR marriage. We BOTH have to feel comfortable with this person.

I'm not sure why you think I'm "drawing the line." I feel very OK with my understanding of religion and have become comfortable with the fact that I'm marrying a minimally observant Jewish man. I encourage you to continue your minimal observance--it's part of who you are, thus it's part of the person I love. You see that as a line I've drawn? That makes no sense to me. If anything, I've partially REMOVED previous barriers I've had when it comes to dealing with religious people.

The Bible. Oh dear. If it were one of your favorite works of fiction, I could reasonably consider quoting from the non-god sections during our ceremony. But to be quite honest Howard, it's not the words within the Great Book of God, it's what the Bible represents. I would rather not incorporate such an obvious religious symbol into our ceremony. No bibles, no prayers, no god. Is that so much to ask?

There are volumes of beautiful, artistic poetry out there that I think can more than adequately illustrate our love for each other. You like Walt Whitman ... Why not find something of his that has meaning to both of us? We could also consider William Blake, Ogden Nash, Shakespeare or even Henry Rollins, for that matter. We don't need the stinking Bible.

From: Howard
To: Heidi
Subject: Dead Jewish Poet's Society

Well, how about Whitman's Jewish incarnate, Allen Ginsberg? I guess howling out, "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness ..." would not be appropriate for a wedding.

OK, Heidi. Let's go over what we've decided here: It's yes on Grandma's chuppah, sharing a cup, stomping on a light bulb and a Humanist-leaning rabbi to perform the ceremony. It's a big no on the upper-case "G" or quotes from the Bible.

I think we have the beginnings of a compromise we can both be happy with.

It's possible, though, that I may grab your hand after the ceremony and force you to do the hora (Jewish circle dance)!

Howard

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 "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. Hebrew, derived from the Greek word for "dance," a variety of dances done in a circle, popular in Israel (and the Balkans).
Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is a Detroit-based freelance writer. Heidi Rehak is a communications professional and a Detroit-based freelance writer.

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