Note: I wrote this for my friends from my childhood neighborhood, so it contains more background than usual.
I wasn’t on the original wedding invite list. In fact Shlomo and I have only been good friends for a few months, after I started to attend a sunrise minyan on Shabbos morning. Let me explain.
I’ve been acting as the Covid coordinator for my main Shul since the crisis began. That involved making sure our rules are followed and deciding whether to split our minyan, depending on attendance, to give us more social distancing. It’s hard to concentrate on the prayers and coordinate, so I would daven at an early minyan and then take up my coordinator duties at my Shul. About 6 months ago, the early minyan I was davening at changed their times and I could no longer finish with them and get to my Shul in time, so I needed to look for an alternative.
The Orthodox community is broadly divided between the Ashkenazic Jews who lived in northern countries like England, France, Germany and Eastern Russia and the Sefardic Jews from countries like Spain, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Syria and Iran. Within the Ashkenazim there is a breakdown into Chassidim, like Chabad (Crown Heights), Satmar (Williamsburg), and Bobov (Boro Park) and non Chassidim, which breaks down between the Yeshivish Orthodox (e.g. Lakewood, Parts of Brooklyn) and Modern Orthodox (e.g. Five Towns in Long Island, Teaneck). The prayer services are similar overall, but there are enough textual and cultural differences that people generally daven at a minyan which is most aligned with their background.
There are over 40 Shabbos minyanim in Kew Gardens Hills and the Shabbos morning davening takes about 2 hours. Kew Garden Hills is a mix of Yeshivish Orthodox, Modern Orthodox and Bukharian (Uzbekistan) Sefardim. When I needed to find a new minyan, I ended up at Sefardic minyan, because it was down the block from my main Shul and they start and finish very early. The minyan I joined sets the davening times so that we start the silent Shemoneh Esrai prayer, the most important part of the service, at sunrise. The start of davening ranges from 5:00 a.m. in the summer to 7:00 a.m. in the winter.
Although I originally selected this minyan for the ending time, the davening was at a slow pace, which I like, with lots of Sefardic Spirit, and a sit down kiddush after davening. The kiddush is filled with warmth, good food, l’chaims and words of Torah. After a few weeks I felt like an integral part of this group as they welcomed me with open arms. Besides myself, the group is all Sefardic and comfortable speaking Hebrew, but they switch to English to accomodate me. I’m thrilled to have a new group of friends to share a part of my Shabbos.
Shlomo, a Persian Jew, is part of the group, and last Shabbos he told me that he would really like me to attend his son’s wedding in Lakewood. Since the drive to Lakewood takes about 2 hours, people from Queens often charter a coach bus when they make a wedding in Lakewood. The benefit is that you don’t have to drive, but you’ll being staying to the end of a 5 hour affair. With the bus rides, this amounts to about a 9 hour slice of time. I’m somewhat busy at work, but I decided to make the trip for my new friend.
An Orthodox wedding is structured with an intial greeting period of about 1 hour where some food and drinks are served. There’s usually separate areas for the groom and the men and the bride and the women. The men will sometimes go to the women’s side where there is usually better food. During this period the Ketubah, or Jewish marriage agreement, is signed. After the signing is the Bedekin ceremony, where the men escort the groom to the bride’s area. At the Bedekin, the groom removes a veil from the bride according to Jewish tradition, and the fathers of the bride and groom give blessings to the bride. After the Bedekin, the guests make their way to the area where the Chuppah, or marriage ceremony, takes place. After the ceremony there is a 1 hour break for pictures of the bride and groom and their families. The guests are seated for the first course of the meal. After about an hour the first dance begins, with separate areas for the men and the women. The first dance lasts for about 45 minutes and is followed by the main course and a 30 minute break. This is followed by the second dance for about an hour. Following the second dance, seven blessings for the bride and groom are made and the wedding ends.
Our bus arrived while the Bedekin was taking place. As I entered the hall I spotted a familiar face, a childhood friend. I went over and asked the woman her name and she said Tina Taus Weissman, probably wondering who this black-hatted man was. I introduced myself and we shared a “This is Unbelievable” moment.
Tina works with the bride’s mother and she told me that when she heard that the groom was from Kew Gardens Hills, she thought that maybe I would be at the wedding, knowing that I lived in Kew Gardens Hills. As I mentioned above, it was a recent series of events, resulting in a new friendship, that brought me there. We talked for about 10 minutes and then had to make our way to the wedding ceremony area. I assured Tina that the groom was a wonderful young man with impeccable character from a fine family, which made her happy.
Although there was plenty of food, drink, singing, dancing and cameraderie at the wedding, the thing that I will remember is seeing Tina there. Like many people here, Tina and I go back to kindergarden, close to 60 years ago. We still remember sitting next to each other in 1st grade when John F Kennedy was shot. We spent a lot of quality childhood years together which created an unbreakable bond. Many of us here experience that ongoing eternal connection with others in this group.
The Torah teaches us that the destination of this world is an unparalled unity between our bodies and our souls, between humanity and G-d and among all of humanity. Every encounter, every act of kindness, every expression of love contributes to building that unity. In retrospect, it should be no surprise that Tina and I met in Lakewood last Thursday, as that is a part of the destiny that G-d is continually guiding us.
May we all merit to see that culmination of that process when the lion will lie down with the lamb and we will all be part of One World, Under G-d, with Liberty and Justice for all.