My daughter Rachel’s wedding was nothing like the weddings my friends and I had back in the daze. It was a four-day celebration on a farm in Kansas and other sites in Missouri, and it was the most meaningful and ecstatic ceremony I’ve witnessed. What made it powerful for everyone attending was the sense that these two young people are truly soul mates.
I’d been thrilled when they announced their engagement, but four days before the wedding, I woke up with tears running from my eyes. Rachel is 26, a certified music therapist, and her husband, Jay, 29, is an MD doing his residency in pediatrics. They share a passion for healing, for laughter, adventure and each other. Both speak Spanish and want to do service in Latin America. They balance each other in almost every way, so why was I in tears?
I cried at the hair salon, cried at the cleaners. I was a jumble of emotions: time passing, my baby grown, my own life closer to the end than the beginning, my own marriage and how it didn’t work and yet produced two beautiful beings, my son, Andrew, and Rachel. Fortunately, by the time I got on the plane for Kansas City, I was cried out, because what I experienced in the following days was as close as humans come to unmitigated joy.
When I was married in 1968, no one I knew was having a big traditional wedding with a bridal gown and hundreds of guests. We thought it was a waste of money and inappropriate when so many people in our country were going hungry. It was another convention to toss aside.
What startles me – why am I surprised? –is that our children want what we rejected. They want the gown and all the trimmings, a wedding that goes on for days, often at a “destination.”
Rachel and Jay wanted an intimate ceremony on his family’s farm, a serene and fertile landscape that’s been in Jay’s family for generations, and then a larger reception at a hotel in Kansas City that’s a two-hour drive away. This required the planning and precision of a major troop movement. Since Kansas ain’t my home, the bulk of the planning was done by Rachel and her future in-laws.
I was assigned a few tasks related to Jewishness. Jay was not raised in any religious tradition, but Rachel wanted a Jewish ceremony and Jay said he was fine with that. My assignment was to arrange for the building of a chuppa, or bridal canopy, in rural Kansas. After many fruitless queries, I finally showed a picture of a chuppah to the hardware store owner in the one-street town of Seneca, the closest “town” to the farm. “Oh,” he said, “I saw that in Meet the Fockers. I kin do that.” Relief.
Then we searched for a rabbi who was willing to fly to Kansas City and drive four hours to marry a Jew and a non-Jew, just 3 days before Rosh ha Shana, the Jewish New Year.
Rachel emailed and interviewed many before she found a perfect fit: Rabbi Chava Bahle, who brought the spirit and passion of Jewish Renewal to Baileyville, Kansas.
Rachel wanted to spend the night before her wedding alone with her eight bridesmaids in a simple, lovely cabin built by the Rilingers on their land. The next morning, I was invited to join them. I found two hair stylists imported from Kansas City running an assembly line, styling hair for all the bridesmaids plus me and lastly, Rachel. The theme was curls: one maid had corkscrew curls framing her face; others had their hair swept up with braids, curls and twists. The only bridesmaid who had naturally curly hair wanted hers straightened, of course, as did I.
I found Rachel sitting in a t-shirt and pajama pants, having her makeup and then hair done. She’d originally wanted her long chestnut hair half up and half down, but at the last minute, she asked the stylist to sweep it to one side in a cascade of loose curls. “Bridesmaids!” she called. “Come give me your opinion.” They let out a chorus of aahhhs and Rachel said, “I love my hair! I’m so glad I changed it.” The stylist pinned three yellow flowers, fresh picked, into the curls.