Category Archives: mawidge

A Jewish Studies Wedding

Gorka! Gorka!” the crowd shouted.

And, in a manner that called to mind my ten-year-old self when first I played Spin the Bottle, the bride and groom leaned into each other and kissed.

Gorka! Gorka!” the crowd continued to chant, as insatiable as only drunk crowds can be, egging on each other and the newly-married couple. Russian relatives began to count, making it to ten (dyecyat’!) and then fifteen (pyat’nadyecyat’!) before the couple broke apart to breathe and the crowd erupted in applause.

This tradition is the Slavic equivalent, apparently, of the groom removing the bride’s garter. I have never seen that done — the weddings I’m invited to are generally high-brow affairs, full of literary pomp and godly circumstance. But I have heard garter removal is a thing, like bouquet tossing (does that too happen in real life, or only in movies?).

My old friend L., with whom I recently reconnected, married her long-term boyfriend S. this past weekend in Somerville, Massachusetts, and even by the unconventional standards of my friends’ nuptials, their celebration was unique. Instead of a rabbi, they tapped a friend of theirs, an earnest, bearded, young PhD candidate, to officiate; instead of a cantor, they asked another friend of theirs, also earnest and scholastic but much taller, to chant. No conventional authority figure at all, in fact, was there to solemnize the union. Instead, the bride and groom — both serious students themselves — canonized Academia itself. With help from Rachel Adler’s Engendering Judaism and several other texts, the couple redesigned the ceremony to fit their principles, explaining as they went the significance of each amended ritual.

I’ve been to Jewish weddings before, of course, but this was my first Jewish Studies wedding. The professors in the audience looked very proud.

It was also the most Russian of any wedding I’ve ever been to, since the groom is himself an immigrant. There were vodka shots (served with pickles) and, in lieu of an American-style wedding cake, a proud Russian aunt’s home-made “Napoleon,” the product of two weeks of work. It was, appropriately, large enough to serve an army.

“Could you eat the entire thing?” my table-mate whispered to me. “If you had to? If the lives of your family members were at stake?”

This table-mate, R., had been seated next to me by chance. I introduced myself; she stared at me with such intense focus I half-expected her to kiss me on the mouth. Instead she asked, “Did you live off Oregon Avenue?”

“Uh,” I replied. “Yes?”

“I know you!” she said. “We used to ride the bus together! Oh my god. Oh my god. I know you. This is too strange. We were really good friends.”

I looked at her, trying to remember her (remembering is one of the things I’m usually good at). She beamed while I flailed.

“This is so embarrassing,” she said, “but I …  well, I was four years older than you, and you were my little friend. We sat together on the bus! Until, well, one day … I hit you.”

Hit me? Why?

“I don’t know! I think it was some sort of power thing! It was totally unprovoked.” Her mouth twisted with the pain of the memory. “You were so small! And your hair was red?”

“It’s still auburn,” I said defensively. “Especially in the sunlight.”

She looked unconvinced but went on. “Anyway, it was terrible! I hit you! Then you told your mom, who called my mom, and I got in trouble. We weren’t friends after that. And then I switched schools. But oh my god, I can’t believe I get a chance to apologize. I’m so sorry!”

Nothing about this sounded familiar. Yes, I rode the bus, I lived off Oregon Avenue, and yes, I was small with redder hair. But if I had been hit — for no reason, by a girl four years older than myself — surely that would have left an emotional mark?

Her eyes pleaded with me and I did the only reasonable thing. “It’s totally okay,” I said. “I forgive you.”

“Really?” she said.

“Yes,” I said. “You’re absolved.”

“I can’t wait to tell my mother!” she said. “I’m going to text her right now.”

Gorka! Gorka!” cried the crowd. It seemed like the increasingly raucous guests were not going to be happy until the bride and groom actually did it on the floor in front of everyone and managed to conceive a child.

“Russians,” I said to Mr. Ben, shaking my head. He grinned at me. Then the Klezmer band started up, leading the guests in a parade across the street, back to the bride-and-groom’s apartment courtyard, where we danced until we could dance no more, and Rachel Adler had nothing whatever to say about it.

The Right Relationship for the End Times

Last night, after Mr. Ben and I finished playing Dance Central and got into bed, I started thinking about all the things I appreciate about our relationship. (Like our video game system! No, just kidding. I mean real, substantive things.) Like …

We’re On the Same Page

When one of the various alarms in our apartment goes off at night, we have the mutual reaction: “Let’s take the batteries out and hope we don’t die in our sleep.”

We Speak The Same Language

Which is a bizarro, unintelligible one. A good portion of our daily conversation is made up of quotes from Clueless and Pulp Fiction. I’d hazard a guess that it is vital that if you go into an impromptu Massacre Theatre routine, your partner laughs rather than assumes you have gone cray-cray.

We Share Values

Like enjoying life in Brooklyn, and Tina Fey and Eddie Izzard and Margaret Cho, and gardens, and movies that are so funny they make you cry (in my case, at least).

Like the importance of both cooking and “cooking.”

Like religious observance. We’re both Jews, so neither of us is Rapture-ready for the morrow or, failing that, for when Jesus comes back in 2012.

We’re both skeptical of religion in general ways, yet we go together to shul on Saturday mornings. In fact, my actually-Rapture-ready friend Tara Leigh is coming with us tomorrow! As she mentioned on Twitter:


The point is, if the world ends tomorrow or next year, I’m glad I will be hand in hand with a really good guy who agrees that washing glasses really isn’t so necessary when it’s just the two of us drinking water from them most of the time.

An Exciting Summer

Now that he has recovered and once again looks as pretty as Betty Draper, I can show you this. Ready? This is the Before shot. It’s a little gruesome but, let’s be honest, also a little bit of a turn on, am I right? Mr. Ben, post-trauma:

Aftermath of the accident

Now I can look at it without cringing (in fact I keep a copy on my iPhone, the way men used to carry photos of their spouse and kids in their wallets). At the time, I walked in the door, saw him, and burst into tears. I may have said, like Amy in “Little Women” did when Jo cut her hair, “How could you! Your one beauty!” But only for effect.

To add to the drama of this hottest-July-on-record, I went to my very first NYT-sanctioned, gay, Jewish wedding in a Friends Meeting House this past weekend. The lovely Mr. Ben scraped himself off the floor of his office, where he has been spending all of his time since he finished recovering from head trauma, to accompany me. Also lovely: hanging out with lots of Swatties in floral dresses and sneaking downstairs to play ping pong in Tarble with Little Eva.

Less lovely, and more in keeping with the themes of Summer 2010: One of the brides collapsed under the chuppah. It was about 110 degrees outside, where we had all spent a lemonade-infused cocktail hour, and the FMH, where the wedding was held, had no air-conditioning. The Quakers, bless their well-lit, self-abnegating souls, nearly had blood on their hands.

It being a Jewish wedding, about ten doctors immediately rushed forward. Everything about me was paralyzed except my heart, which sounded like a popcorn popper — I couldn’t help but remember what happened the last time I saw someone collapse at a wedding.* In this case, the bride was revived and she and her co-bride finished out the ceremony sitting on the floor hand-in-hand. They rose to stomp on one glass each to a shout of “Mazel tov!” from the very-relieved crowd.

I also chipped my toenail polish. A lesser tragedy, I guess. Could the rest of this summer manage to be a little calmer, please? Or, for your own sakes, would you all promise not to ride bikes or get married until this cloud has passed. Thank you.

*Not to give the story away but it was the priest officiating my babysitter’s nuptials and he, um, died. Just like that. (He was old; I was only 10. Those sorts of things leave a mark.)


Mr. Ben has photos up from our tour through Israel on his Flickr page, as well on the Book Face. They show an experience of extremes: tranquil scenes on the Sea of Galilee and refugee camps in Jerusalem; old churches and modern beaches; desert hikes and a Netanya wedding for one of the most beautiful brides I’ve ever seen, the sick-but-beaming, accommodating*, eminently-deserving Tamar.

Well, that’s the holy land for you.

And now for a short tangent:

Who among you hates the subject of Israel/Palestine? Could I get a “whoop, whoop!” please? Certainly I’m not the only one.

The subject has been coming up persistently over the last month or so, mostly in my office but also, of course, in the news. Without getting into the details, I can say that it’s been frustrating, and I have had to talk to and/or listen to people who do not meet my stringent standards for conversation on the topic.

What are my stringent standards? I’m so glad you asked:

1) No Bumper Stickers. I am thoroughly uninterested in anyone whose thoughts on the subject can be summed up by two words and an exclamation point, unless those words are “It’s complicated!”

2) No Assholes. Do you write emails in Comic Sans bold? Do you roll your eyes and/or sigh heavily a lot anytime anyone else talks? Do you refuse to admit when you don’t know enough about a subject to venture an opinion? Then go talk to a message board filled with your compatriots, friend, and stop making my ears bleed.

With that in mind, I was a bit nervous about heading over to Israel. As it turned out, I needn’t have been: I’m a lot more comfortable talking Israel/Palestine politics while in the neighborhood, so to speak. Maybe it’s because, if my discussion buddies are there too, that testifies to a certain level of understanding and commitment to the issue? I’m not sure. At any rate, Mr. Ben and I talked to each other, international strangers in our Tel Aviv hostel, and folks on our Im Amim tour, and we never had a problem. That was a significant relief.

Politics aside, we had a wonderful time. I’m not quite sure I’m ready to be home, to tell the truth. And seeing Tamar get married to a great guy ten years after we lived in Israel together, and spent most of our time moping to the Indigo Girls, was a nearly-transcendental experience. A whole cluster of us traveled over from the US to celebrate with her — and that included improvising a mikvah experience** in the Mediterranean Sea at sunset and fetching chairs for the hora and finally cutting the neglected wedding cake and dancing to techno remixes until our legs collapsed beneath us. I am so privileged to have gotten a chance to be there.

*This is not flattery. The huppah started an hour late, after the sun had already set; the rabbi overfilled the ceremonial glass of wine (red, not white), and then splashed it on Tamar’s wedding dress; the cake was forgotten about until after the guests had left; and yet despite these, and other provocations, Tamar remained radiantly graceful and happy. What’s the opposite of a Bridezilla? A BrideTeresa? The world needs a new word.

**The Hebrew word for immersion in a mikvah, “t’vilah,” is the same verb used for immersion in baptismal waters AND for immersion in water that leads to drowning. That sums up a pretty complex and crazy country, doesn’t it?

Delayed Gratification

It has been edited in parts, and the name of the byline is not quite mine, but who cares?* My essay, “Delayed Gratification,” is up on as one of their featured pieces! Check it out:

N.B.: Family members and anyone worried about knowing too much about me, read at your own risk. Nerve is, you know, a sexy site, with sexy stuff in it. Also, they italicize an awful lot of words.

*Okay, I kind of do care. I’m trying not to! I remember this feeling from working at the Swarthmore student paper, the Phoenix. Focusing on the edits is silly. I’m on Nerve! The world can see me! The one comment that’s up so far is incredibly sweet!

New calling

PHONE: Ring! Ring!

ME: Hello?

T.: Hi, sweetie! I have some bad news.

ME: Okay, shoot.

T.: You can’t be a bridesmaid at my wedding …

ME: Okay, that’s okay …

T.: … because we want you to officiate!

CONFIRMATION EMAIL: Congratulations! You are now a legally ordained minister for life, though you may relinquish your credentials at any time. AS OF Thursday the 14th of January 2010 YOU HAVE BECOME A MEMBER OF THE PRESTIGIOUS CLERGY. You have earned a title worthy of admiration and respect.

And a new chapter begins.

I wonder whether being the minister will be more or less fun than being the bride. (I also wonder whether I’ll ever get to be a bridesmaid, but as I recognize that anxiety is both perverse and premature, I won’t dwell on it.)

A Good Year

dancey dancey
Originally uploaded by shorterstory.

Instead of doing work, I’m reading archives, since work right now makes me cranky and archives make me agreeably nostalgic.

One year and sixteen days ago, Mr. Ben studies — hilariously — for the Bar.

One year and five days ago, I reflect, “I’ve had over a year to get used to the idea of being a “wife.” I’m not quite there yet. I am more comfortable with the idea of being a “bride,” anyway, but that’s largely because my mother has made it easy on me. And now the wedding is in five days. FIVE DAYS!”

And one year ago, a woman on the street gives me a pre-celebration blessing: “‘My GAWD,’ she twanged, hand over heart, ‘you look so beautiful! You look just like I did before MY first marriage!'”

Here is the wedding entry. Thanks to mystical good fortune, I am as happy now as I was then, although I am still not yet okay with the idea of being a “wife.” Perhaps I can just be a Newlywed for a really long time.

Happy One Year, baby.

Lifestyle Justified!

Studies in newspapers exist to confirm what we already know. All the same, sometimes it’s nice to get that little refresher, like someone handing you a towel when you’ve just stumbled into a puddle of doubt. Two studies recently have functioned in this cheerful way: first, this one showing there is no difference anymore between the math scores of boys and girls. And second, this one, letting us know that living together before marriage decreases the likelihood of divorce!

None of this would have happened had Betty Friedan not thrown down her apron.

The researchers found no difference in the scores of boys versus girls — not even in high school. Studies 20 years ago showed girls and boys did equally well on math in elementary school, but girls fell behind in high school. “Girls have now achieved gender parity in performance on standardized math tests,” Hyde said.

And as for the “living in sin” business:

The odds of divorce among women who married their only cohabiting partner were 28% lower than among women who never cohabited before marriage, according to sociologist Daniel Lichter of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

For people who believe in sin cohabitation can still feel wrong, of course. But I like that it has been proven to have the social utility I instinctively believed it had. What pleasant news to come along right before my very first wedding anniversary.

okay, *now* i’m ready

Having been thoroughly inspired by other retellings of the magical weekend, and having had my head finally settled back on my shoulders and with its hearing restored, I’m ready. Are you ready? It’s time to hit the highlights!

PRE-WEDDING (thru Thurs.)
My office surprised me with Tiffany candlesticks in addition to the department lunch in my honor, which Mr. Ben got to attend. I was overwhelmed — I couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to have such a wonderful boss and to be surrounded by such sweet, smart co-workers. And funny, too. Said coworkers all signed cards, wishing me good luck. The best message came from N., a young editor and one of the few straight men around. “Dear Ester,” it read, “May your first child be a masculine child.”

I had to see the immortal Dr. L., also, for a refill of my rx. for adulthood. Though the office visit was quick and dirty, of course I still owed the $40 co-pay. Feeling a bit frisky, I asked, as I passed over the cash, “How is this different than a drug deal?” Dr. L. laughed. “Ha ha ha!” he said. “Ha ha! — But seriously, drug dealers don’t care about your health.”

Down in DC, I woke up early, met two of my ‘maidz, and, for the first time in my life, visited the Mikvah. Ritual bathing — i.e., skinny dipping for the Lord — was not something I had really looked forward to, but it turned out to be one of the most moving parts of the weekend. The Mikvah Lady was calm and easy-going; being in the quiet water was strangely comforting; and the walk through the synagogue past where I had gone to nursery school lo these many years ago was a nice little bit of sentiment to start me off right.

A flurry of more secular spa treatments followed and then a huge Shabbes dinner for both sides of the newly blended family. People began to tell me I looked different. I wondered if it was true.

Step 2 on our Path to a Jewish Wedding was an aufruf at my family’s synagogue. It felt a bit funny to me to be observing all these religious customs when basically I don’t practice in my real life. But when Mr. Ben and I got up to the Torah and read the blessing and were greeted with a rousing chorus of “Siman Tov en Mazel Tov!” twice over, the joy of it felt right. Community — that’s what religion is for.

Once everyone recovered from the Rehearsal outside in the 97 degree heat, Mr. Ben’s father (Dr. Mr. Ben?) threw a rousing rehearsal dinner at an Indian restaurant; my mother countered by throwing a rousing dinner/dessert shindig back at the apartment for all out of town guests. Being the bride, I was passed from person to person, smiling, greeting, thanking, laughing. Before long, all that rousing left me giddy but woozy and it was up to my ‘maidz to take me upstairs, figure out how to remove my jewelry, and then unhook my corset and let me fall out of it to sleep.

Hair! Makeup! Get ready! Put the now-adorned corset back on (with help from the ‘maidz)! Breathe deep! Don’t smudge anything! Look up and realize, holy shit, it’s going to rain.

It won’t rain, said my mother, looking ravishing. Don’t worry.

Once at Woodend and into my dress, I became a Bride. Cameras bloomed everywhere, cameras at every angle. Smile! Smile! I am an adult and can handle whatever comes along, especially when I’ve found the right chemical balance.

Outside (photographers trailing) I met up with Mr. Ben for the first time, all tuxedo-ed up. He looked fantastic. Walk a little way into that prettyish wilderness, instructed the photographer. We obliged and on the way, as cameras snapped behind us, Mr. Ben whispered, “Wanna hear something that’ll freak you out?”

He’d forgotten his tuxedo jacket in New York. Luckily his best man had given him the coat of his back — and more luckily, they’re roughly the same size. Just don’t tell my mother, I whispered.

Smile! Smile!

Back inside, we waited almost an hour for the rabbi to come sign the Ketubah. My little brother, the problem solver & sometime pirate, called him at home to hurry him along; and when he heard that Mr. Ben had (oops!) also forgotten his tallit to wear to the ceremony, he hopped over to the synagogue and nipped one out of the sanctuary, setting off alarms but not staying to get caught. And it was his birthday! Way to go, bro.

The rabbi arrived at last. The ink from our signing our lives away had hardly dried before the wedding planner started whisking everyone toward the grove. A light mist kept everyone cool, including some deer, who wandered up to watch as I joined my ‘maidz, my family, and Mr. Ben looking magnificent in his borrowed finery under the chuppah.

After the exchange of rings and sips of wine, Mr. Ben broke the glass with real verve and we kissed and there were butterflies (real ones!) and to yet another round of “Siman Tov en Mazel Tov!” we were off, hand in hand, to the main house for a few minutes in private before the party.

And oh, then, WHAT a party it was. People everywhere, and food, and beautiful toasts (my older brother, polished and funny as always, gave about six of them), gorgeous tropical flowers, and a multi-colored cake that looked like a tower of presents, and music! The band played on and on and everyone danced until they were exhausted and beyond, and there was a Hora like nothing I’d ever experienced — a whirling dervish of a Hora that just got madder and madder as guests ran in circles, singing their hearts out, grabbing each others’ hands, lifting us up on chairs … If, when the music medley finally stopped, everyone had fallen down on the ground a la “the Time Warp” I would not have been the least bit surprised.

And the best part was my father, chemo’ed and running on borrowed blood cells, Hora-ing right along with the rest. He didn’t faint; he didn’t so much as trip. He danced at my wedding.

We couldn’t stop dancing even when the band took a well-deserved break because the best man put on 69 Love Songs. People I loved from across the country, some of whom I hadn’t seen in years, bopped along to “The Ugliest Guy from the Lower East Side” and “Let’s Pretend We’re Bunny Rabbits” and it was perfect. Just perfect. Then the band came back and one of the singers — a buxom black woman with a great voice and a huge, rhinestone Star of David — came out on the floor to lead us all in “I Will Survive.” Because — why? Because it’s a wedding, fool! Dance!

At midnight, Mr. Ben and I were pulled reluctantly away from the shining mass of goodwill and we made it to our honeymoon suite where we were really alone for the first time in days. There, gently and painstakingly, he disassembled what the hairdresser, the makeup artist, six ‘maidz, and my mother had put together, and, transformation complete, submerged the post-bride in the bathtub.

It was an amazing weekend, one I’ll never forget, and I have my parents to thank for all of it — as well as everyone who came for enjoying it so much and Mr. Ben for looking so radiantly happy. I can’t believe it’s over but then, I can’t believe something so beautiful and transformative could have really happened.

around the corner

In less than three weeks, I’m going to get married. Well, first I turn 25 and have lunch at Bolo, courtesy of Restaurant Week. Then I find out whether little Harry lives or dies (no nasty cheating spoilers for me). Then Mr. Ben takes the bar and either lives to tell about it or keels over from the exhaustion of constant studying, the celebratory champagne bottle his law firm sent no doubt clutched in one hand. THEN I jump the broom.

Holy shit.

Thank god for Harry Potter VII. What could be better distraction? Except, perhaps, the most amazing pair of shoes and best birthday present EVER. Writhe with jealousy over that picture. Covet, even. Go ahead, it’s okay, God understands.

On Sunday, while recovering from much joyous wandering about in the sun — to Governor’s Island, at last!, among other places — and doing chores, I rewatched all of the A&E Pride and Prejudice. Appropriate, since it’s about marriage, more or less from start to finish. It’s a good reminder to be grateful that marriage is an option, not something I have to do to get out of my father’s house or because there’s no other way to be financially secure. To further encourage myself along those lines, I’ve also been thinking about the gay marriage advocates out there (more power to them). If they’re willing to fight as hard as they’ve been fighting to form a more blessed union, then there must be something to it, mustn’t there? I mean, besides salad bowls.

Perhaps if gay marriage were legal I’d be calmer about getting married. The world needs more queer wives, and I’d feel better about being compared to them than to the great straight wives of history.