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"This is the most exciting day of my life...and I was pulled on stage once to dance at a Bruce Springsteen concert."
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Friday, September 09, 2005

Excuse Me, But Can I Be A Jew For Awhile?

A few months ago I wrote all about how I was invited to my first Orthodox wedding. Many of you acted like Santa's reindeers, practically shouting out with glee at the idea of my attending this event and documenting it all with my digital camera, of course. So I decided, who am I to disappoint?

Truth be told, I honestly had no intention of going to this wedding. No offense to my friend, but I hadn't seen this girl in ages and it had been even longer than that since we had been anything resembling close. She's lived 20 minutes from me for years now so to drive much further than that to see her, but to not catch up with her, seemed quite pointless to me.

But another friend of mine went ahead and RSVP'ed yes before we could talk about it, so the good friend that I am decided I couldn't leave her in the lurch, so I begrudingly replied yes as well. Only immediately after doing so, we both grew to regret our decision.

For starters, there's the garb. As if finding something decent to wear to a wedding isn't trying enough, now I had the added pressure of finding something modest and chaste to wear. Butter churning attire, if you will. Now anyone who knows me knows I don't exactly dress like a hussy, so when someone as relatively conservatively dressed as I am looks through her closet and is STILL stumped, you know the requirements are strict.

We thought things were bad enough when we had to find long skirts and shirts that covered our elbows but then we emailed the bride for further clarification. Apparently the long skirt had to come past the knee and the shirt had to be above the collar bone. Oh and the sleeves had to be past the elbow, when sitting. Oh joy.

My goal was simple: If I had to buy something new to wear to this wedding you better believe I was going to purchase something I could get use out of again. So imagine my surprise when lo and behold Kohl's had the perfect long black skirt, and on sale to boot. I went home, put it on with a blouse I already had and I decided I had just the right dash of Little House On The Prairie.

Then I sat down.

The skirt I got has buttons up the front and, a rather large slit. When I stand up this is no big deal. When I sit down, however, the slit comes all the way up to my impure thought generating...knee.

At this point though, there was no going back. No I would just pin it, or suck it up and sit as still as possible until I got to a table that had a tablecloth to hide the shame and never, never get up from that table during the festivities, under any circumstances. My friend who I would be going to the wedding with had a similar philosophy. I mean we were trying to adhere to the rules as best as we could. What would they do? Kick us out?

When we got there I quickly realized two things: 1. my camera wasn't working (thus the lack of pictures at this time) and 2. there were people who definitely pushed the envelope more dressing wise than I did. The first problem was easy enough to solve...just get the pics from someone else. The attire was just something I had to ride out. These people who didn't adhere as closely to the rules were eager to to flock to (see below) as "Hey! We're All Non Jews!" companion pieces. Meanwhile I accepted the fact that I would just have to look like the lost keyboardist for Flock of Seagulls for one evening.

We went to greet the bride to be but realized the line was really long. Before we knew it, her sister had come to us and drawn us in for the picture you see above. Shortly after that we went into the ceremony. I'd like to tell you what happened during that ceremony, but I can't. This is because I could hardly hear anything and the little I did hear was mostly spoken in another language. It was interesting though to watch guests randomly sorta rise every so often. I thought they were trying in vain to start the wave. As it turns out it has something to do with paying the rabbi respect. I still like my theory better.

For as different as the experience of an Orthodox wedding can be, there was one big difference that I was down with. After the walking on broken glass segment and the enthusiastic cries of "Mazel Tov!", the bride and the groom are immediately swept away to have "some time alone" and to take pictures. I say "some time alone" because up until now, the man and the wife have not been intimate, at all. I'm including even the holding of hands here. In fact, they still might not have. I've heard rumors about needing an extra set of sheets on the night of the wedding (wink, wink, nudge nudge), but it's all speculation. Still, when helpful Jews come up to you and beg you to ask any questions you might have, something tells me that isn't the sort of thing they're talking about. It's just a hunch.

So anyway, while they are off doing...whatever it is they're doing, we're heading into the actual reception. There's no awkward time span between the church. No filling up on pigs in a blanket while waiting for the so-so food that badly needs to be nuked. It's one stop shopping my friends. All that seperates you from your salad is a partition and smile.

Another thing I had been warned about before attending this wedding was the food. Imagine my surprise when the warnings weren't true. First we had salad and then we had a choice of matzoh ball chicken soup or vegetable soup. I opted for the matzoh. No matter what happened after that, the inclusion of good soup anywhere, at anytime immediately improves the quality of any event, period.

While waiting for the bride and groom's arrival I took in the sights. I would like to include more of them here, but the pictures, although I have them, are not cooperating. The tables themselves were a bit unusual. There was no open bar, but with it there's no chance of your Aunt Gertrude getting shit faced and telling Uncle Harry off. Instead there was actual liters of drinks at the table, sans pitchers. The choices themselves were equally random: Diet Coke, seltzer water, Fresca, and a lone bottle of wine. All of us Unorthies eyed up that bottle of wine, but we did have some sense of decorum. So we waited to crack it open till the arrival of the happy couple.

Some weddings are full of tension so thick, you can cut it with a knife. Fortunately, this wedding was full of a big wall that neatly replaced all that tension. As rumored, men were to mix on one side of the wall while women were to mingle on the other. There were ladders on each side. At first we wondered why. Then we realized that the camera crew needed access to both sides. We wondered if men would be able to watch the women's video and vice versa and if so, what was the point of the wall anyhow? I halfway expected The Scorpion's "Wind of Change" to start playing as the wall started to "move" throughout the night. We thought we were so cool to make it past the wall, until, that is, we saw what was going down on the other side. Nothing.

After the soup was when the newlyweds arrived, albeit sold seperately. See in Orthodox weddings there is no traditional first dance, which ain't all bad considering this means there's also no danger of the latest God awful Shania tune surfacing anytime soon. But while Shania is absent, so is any mystery. The guests know what song is coming first and for that matter, second and third...because I believe it's always the same song. There's no Macarena. No Electric Slide, although I did see a Jewish dance that came pretty damn close to it. Not even a Hava Negila in the bunch if you can believe that! There's also no gag me with a spoon, cute traditions like the bouquet toss, the cutting of the cake or the sappy speeches. No it's just a bride and her posse, playing ring around the rosy. Seriously.

The bride comes out and everyone dances in a circle around her. And she dances in a circle in the middle, taking turns with different guests in her inner circle. Unfortunately even the non Jews were not exempt from this. Ashes, to ashes we all almost fell down...well not really, but damn it's easy to get dizzy doing that. It reminded me of the time I was a kid and turned to every single mention of a turn in The Byrds hit "Turn! Turn! Turn!" Let's just say I wouldn't try it at home.

After running around in circles grew a little tiresome, the bride jump roped for a little bit (I've got proof) before finally sitting down as it was her turn to be entertained by her guests. Immediately I had flashbacks to childhood block parties where as kids, we would put together seemingly random skits that in our mind, looked much more put together than they actually were. But in between the random entertainment, there was gong show like entertainment. There were clowns and even a juggler, I shit you not. No fire breathing though. I know. I was disappointed too.

Finally the dancing stopped and the bride was carried back to her table which rested on the equator of the men and women's sides- behind a plant. We also returned to our respective tables as dinner was being served. Once again, the main course was a pleasant surprise. We had our choice between breaded chicken or stuffed chicken. We tried to ask what the chicken was stuffed with but got nowhere. My guess was it was stuffed with breading, which actually wasn't far from the truth. Throughout the event I was taken aback by how friendly the Orthos were to us random non Orthos. We were dressed similarly, but the old school Orthos knew we were moles. We wondered what about us tipped them off. Perhaps it was the snickering and the constant snapping of pictures of random things like the long bearded gentleman at the make your own sundae bar.

As the even winded down I realized that I had just achieved one more thing that I could cross off my list of things to do before I die: Attend an Orthodox Jewish wedding. Ok, so maybe that wasn't really on my list. But it would have been- had I made a list in the first place.

In closing, I'd like to say Mazel Tov! to the happy couple, because I'm cultured now and I hear that's what you're supposed to say.

Now if only I could say I actually met the groom...



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