After our engagement was announced, the town was abuzz. An in-town match is always exciting and the news had spread like wildfire. Since I was still one of the first of my grade to get engaged, the excitement was high. As for me, it was surreal. I couldn’t believe I was engaged, I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Many people came over to congratulate us even though it was quite late at night.
The wedding was planned for September which was four months away. My fiancé and I sat down to talk after our engagement party. In our ultra Hasidic circles it was customary for the bride and groom to not see or talk to each other until the wedding. No phone calls, no face to face meetings and no contact whatsoever. He went back to his Yeshiva.
About 2 months later we did have to meet in order for us to get married civilly. It was nerve-wracking but actually fun to see him again. I remembered again why I said “yes”. I felt so comfortable around him, it was as if we saw each other yesterday.
It didn’t take long for the big day to arrive. I woke up early and spent the morning praying. Some brides fast until after the Chuppah (ceremony) but I didn’t. By lunchtime, we had to get ready. Makeup, hair. Some brides cover their hair with a wig from the ceremony, some only for the wedding party and others from the next morning. I covered my hair from before the ceremony.
The Chuppah was planned for the afternoon. It’s a solemn affair. Brides and grooms have great power on this day and utilize it by praying for those in need. I sat on a comfortable chair and accepted the well wishes of friends and family. The ceremony began with my fiancé coming towards me and covering my face with a veil. (It is done to show that we are not looking at the beauty only at the inner, spiritual part of the woman)
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The Chuppa is filled with rituals. The two mothers accompany me to the canopy where we circle the groom 7 times. (Under the chuppah, the custom is that the bride circles the groom seven times. Just as the world was built in seven days, the bride is figuratively building the walls of the couple’s new world together. The number seven also symbolizes the wholeness and completeness that they cannot attain separately. *)
The chuppah progresses as I stand on the right side of my soon-to-be husband. 7 blessings are recited by different men. The moment that officially makes us husband and wife is when my fiancé puts a ring on my right-hand finger and declares: “Behold, you are betrothed unto me with this ring, according to the law of Moses and Israel.”
Now the ketubah is being read out loud and signed by two witnesses. The Ketubah is a marriage contract outlining the husband’s responsibilities to his wife. After the 7 blessings, the groom cracks a glass with his foot which is an expression of sadness at the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and identifies the couple with the spiritual and national destiny of the Jewish people. *
That signals the end of the ceremony. My veil is lifted and amidst shouts of “Mazel tov” my husband takes my hand and we walk towards a room called “yichud room” where the couple gets the first chance for some alone time. (Yichud meaning seclusion.)
It’s customary for the groom to present the bride with a gift (that his mother chose) in the yichud room.
The first few minutes were naturally awkward but it didn’t take long for him to put me at ease. He presented me with a beautiful pearl necklace. The parents gave us a few minutes alone, then it was time for pictures. After the pictures, we headed home to my parents’ house. We finally got to sit down to eat. the chuppah was in the afternoon, by the time we got home it was about 6 pm. The dinner was called for 8 but the couple doesn’t usually walk in until after the second course which is usually at 9.30pm.
When everyone left, we had time to talk and get re-acquainted after 3 months of no contact. I don’t really remember what we talked about but I recall having a very pleasant experience. I remember being comfortable around him.
Time flew by and soon we got the call that it was time to leave. My husband brought me into the ladies section and then continued to the men’s section as the wedding was separated. The dancing was spirited, joyous and lots of fun. It was a welcome distraction of what awaited me after the wedding. I danced with family and friends until it was time to continue the meal.
After the last dance, most people went home. The only ones staying were the family and close friends. Now it was time for something called the “mitzvah tantz” (dance). It’s a very solemn affair reserved only for those closest to the couple. A “badchan” (jester) calls up male family members to dance with the bride. They are called up with rhymes and songs. They dance grasping the end of a cord that the bride is holding at the other end.
I danced with all my uncles, brothers and brother in laws. The badchan also remembers the deceased grandparents and in our case, my husband’s father who was no longer alive. His death had been tragic and the moment was very emotional. My brother in law was the badchan and he outdid himself. Even I, who hadn’t known him, had tears running down my face. When it was my fathers turn we danced holding hands. Then came the most emotional part of the wedding. The dance with my husband. It’s considered the holiest moment of the wedding. Many things can be prayed for at this moment. It’s the culmination of a wonderful, joyous night.
It was time to go home. I had been trying not to think about it but now the nerves were back. As a Hasidic girl (and most ultra-orthodox girls) I was a virgin and our marriage was supposed to be consummated on our wedding night. This is the least favorite part of the day as we were basically strangers to each other. It wasn’t enjoyable but whose first time is? We got it over with and were free to enjoy the next 7 days of festivities. (it’s customary for family and friends to host meals for the couple for 7 days) The next time was less awkward and it didn’t take long for us to have a satisfying intimate life. It might take us a bit longer to get comfortable but once we do, it’s no different than the rest of the world.
It will be 19 happy years of marriage soon. May it continue to be a happy union for many more years.