When my grandfather, Melech Good z”l, was still alive, I remember looking at old pictures with him, pictures that were taken immediately post-Holocaust. One of my most favorite photos was a beautiful black and white wedding photo of him and my grandmother. They were married in Bergen Belsen DP camp right after the war. He wore a dark grey suit and a felt hat, a clean crisp white button down shirt and a look of adoration on his face. He was looking down at my grandmother who was resplendent in white. He told me that the wedding took place in a large meeting room in the camp, in Block 38, where his friends had decorated the room with streamers and that my grandmother had worn a gown that was probably worn by hundreds of hopeful brides looking to start a new, safe and happy life after experiencing the horrors of the Holocaust.
I asked him how the one gown managed to fit all the different brides and I remember that he’d laughed, his false teeth clicking in his mouth. He said that the zaftig women wore the gown unzipped in the back and the skinny women wore it pinned with safety pins. The gown was tea length on the tall women and skimming the floor on the vertically challenged ones. He said that every bride in the camp looked beautiful in that one gown. The “band” was whoever happened to have a fiddle and knew how to use it. The wedding feast consisted of herring, some kichel and some cakes and cookies. And a shot of whiskey, of course. And yet, despite the fact that neither of them had their parents present to walk them down the aisle, that most of their immediate family had been killed by the Nazis, he remembers that day fondly. He said everyone danced and had a great time.
Then he told me about weddings in his small home town of Stremeciecz, Poland. He said couples got married on late Friday afternoons. The town would gather in the shul courtyard, and have a chuppah ceremony. Then everyone would go back home to prepare for the Shabbat. Once the prayers were over, everyone brought the food that they had prepared for their own family to the shul and they would proceed to eat the wedding feast together. Everyone sang and danced and there was plenty of food for everyone.
When I got married, over two decades ago, there were over 650 people attending. It was staggering and I remember my mouth hurting from smiling and greeting every single guest. The hall was stunning, the gown even more, the seven-piece band was rocking it all night and the four course meal was delicious. While our wedding was more on the modest side, I had friends who had ice sculptures, endless dessert buffets and flower arrangements that turned the hall into an indoor garden to rival Versailles. There was an underlying desire to outdo the last wedding, whether it was the exclusive photographer you hired, the size of your flawless diamond, or the fillet steak that was served instead of the stuffed chicken.
I love weddings. I love the love that shines on the faces of the bride and groom, the palpable energy that buzzes through the hall as friends and family celebrate a truly joyous occasion. While I’m always more comfortable in a worn pair of pjs, I do my utmost to put my best foot forward, slip my feet into heels and put on a little lipstick. And I dance.
This month alone, I have attended more than ten weddings and it’s truly a blessing to get together for good reasons, for celebratory reasons. But it’s made me think about the high cost of making a wedding. And it honestly terrifies me. While my husband and I have children that have reached their twenties, and have attended weddings of their classmates, we are not planning a wedding just yet. But we are definitely in the zone and the thought of doing so is outright daunting. Several years ago an acquaintance mentioned to me that she was insulted that she had not been invited to someone’s daughter’s wedding. I asked her if they were truly close friends and she admitted that they were not, but that they were very friendly. Then I asked her if she stopped to consider the fact that maybe the family who made the wedding was having a difficult time financially and that perhaps they had to limit the amount of guests they invited. She said that the thought never occurred to her. But it stuck with me. Families everywhere are borrowing money from the bank in order to pay for weddings that are only getting fancier and fancier, and guest lists longer and longer.
When my grandfather regaled the story of how weddings were celebrated in Poland, my kids were actually enchanted with the lively picture he painted. They thought it was genius — an almost cost-free wedding and isn’t the most of important aspect of the wedding that you’re celebrating together with your loved ones? Is it really all about the flower arrangements, the band and the over-the-top amounts of food? Yes, while we all appreciate gorgeous flowers and Michelin-star rated food and designer gowns, not everyone can afford it. And personally, I would much rather make a small, intimate wedding and give my kids whatever extra money I had left in order to start their new life together. (Don’t get too excited, kids, it’s not going to be a windfall….)
But all kidding aside, maybe it’s time to start a new trend, to redirect our focus on what’s really important when two people love each other and make that lifelong decision to become each other’s family. True, there are things that you definitely need in order to make a wedding: a chuppah, some wine, a ketuba, an officiating rabbi, and it would be nice to have some food, a pretty gown and some music. But beyond that, things sometimes get out of hand.
I’m not sure that I have a concrete solution how to change what has become the norm. But the one thing I am sure of is that making a wedding shouldn’t make any of us broke. And I’d like to point out that some of the nicest, most beautiful and memorable weddings I’ve attended were the simplest. It’s definitely given me something to think about….
One of my girls told me a while ago what she dreamed about for her future wedding. She wants to be surrounded by her family, her close circle of friends and the small intimate group of people that have known her since she was a little girl, who’ve watched her grow and blossom into a young woman. And she wants to dance and be enveloped in everyone’s joy and love.
That’s all she wants.
Because nothing else really matters.
Now all I have to do is get the other side — whoever that will be — to agree