Romeo and Juliet in Jerusalem: A plea to lovers’ families and friends

From the season of mourning excess hatred among the Jewish People, we arise to celebrate love. The Talmud recalls young women dressing in simple white garments and going out to dance in the vineyards on Tu B’Av, as grapes plump to ripeness, and the moon waxes rotund over the holy land (Ta’anit 30b-31a). Commitment, betrothal, and creating families are antidotes to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temples and exile from home.

During our summer harvest of fruit and weddings, many homes are wracked by distress rather than joy. Conflicts within and among families, and across generations rend the hearts of many would-be celebrants, before, during and after the big day. There are stand-offs about budgets, guest lists, venues, menus, seating plans, attire, about distributing honors and more. Sometimes the issues are weighty — beliefs, traditions, and religious conviction. Sometimes they begin or result in bitterness, alienation, even rejection and estrangement.

I would like to offer some perspective and a plea to the families and friends of betrothed couples.

In the storm of the destruction of Jerusalem and exile from home, Jeremiah reveals a vision of returning to the land. The prophet speaks of homecoming in terms of the joyful voices of bride and groom.

Again there shall be heard in this place, which you say is ruined, without person or beast – in the towns of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem, that are desolate, without person and without inhabitant and without beast – the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those that cry, ‘Give thanks to the Lord of Hosts, for the Lord is good, for divine mercy endures forever!’, as they bring offerings of thanksgiving into the house of God. For I will cause the captivity of the land to return as at the first, says God. (Jeremiah 33.10-11)

With the modern blessing of Zionism, every wedding in Israel partakes of the fulfillment of this prophecy. Each wedding is a microcosm of the great reunion of our People and a bold affirmation of our destiny. Today’s Israeli couples have roots in the ingathering of exiles. We speak dozens of cultural languages. Immigrants contribute to the richness and the complexity of Israeli society, bringing diverse life practices from all corners of the earth. Rather than celebrating the reunion of our People in our homeland, and welcoming the opportunity to learn and live together, our communities are often riven – secular from religious, East from West, conservative from progressive, left from right, rich from poor.

Sometimes our young people find their love across these divides. In their search, some rebel against generations that preceded and blaze new paths. We hope that the values, commitments, beliefs, and traditions with which we sought to inspire our young people as they grew will inform their choices. Yet, among many young people, the relevance of behaviors once taken for granted flags. Often un-inspected contradictions surface. Sometimes our young people mirror back our uncertainties and our cynicism; some defy our complacency and our expectations – about whom and how to marry, and live. Unions challenge our divisions. As a result, many couples marry amidst tension, resistance, even coercion.

Here is the plea.

A bride and groom stand publicly together for the first time, vulnerable in our midst. In their presence, we have the potential to peer into the eyes of the future, to experience a moment of hope. The Jewish wedding canopy, huppa, is open on all sides with only a soft covering, a delicate membrane between heaven and earth.

Let us be supportive walls for each new couple; let us honor, enable, and empower bride and groom to fulfill their vision of union in our homeland.

Let us appreciate that our young people can stand on our shoulders – from that vantage point, they see and live beyond what we can imagine.

The seventh of the special wedding blessings is based upon Jeremiah’s prophecy:

Let there soon be heard in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem the sound of joy and the sound of gladness, the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the grooms’ jubilance from their canopies and of the youths from their song-filled feasts.

This blessing appeals for precious voices of the bride and groom to be heard among us. Let us find the courage and humility to live beyond feuds and “bury their parents’ strife” without their death (Romeo and Juliet, prologue). Let us be fully present, to hear, to fill with gratitude for this blessing of renewed life, and to rejoice.

Mazal tov!

About the Author
The late Bonna Devora Haberman is author of 'Israeli Feminism Liberating Judaism: Blood and Ink' and 'ReReading Israel: The Spirit of the Matter,' National Jewish Book Award finalist. Dr. Haberman taught at Harvard, Brandeis and Hebrew universities. In Jerusalem, she initiated Women of the Wall, a 25 year strong movement for women's full participation and leadership of public religious practice. -- Dr. Haberman died on June 16, 2015.
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