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My Genealogy Project: I’m a collage of features and qualities.

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“When you look in the mirror you see not just your face but a museum.  Although your face, in one sense, is your own, it is composed of a collage of features you have inherited from your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on.  The lips and eyes that either bother or please you are not yours alone but are also features of your ancestor, long dead perhaps as individuals but still very much alive as fragments in you.  Even complex qualities such as your sense of balance, musical abilities, shyness in crowds, or susceptibility to sickness have been lived before.  We carry the past around with us all the time, and not just in our bodies.  It also lives in our customs, including the way we speak.  The past is a set of invisible lenses we were constantly, and through these we perceive the world and the world perceives us.  We stand always on the shoulders of our ancestors, whether or not we look down to acknowledge them.”  – The Horse, the Wheel, and Language by David w. Anthony

I’ve graduated law school, found a job I love, met a wonderful man, fell in love, planned a wedding, got married, settled into our temporary home, adopted a furry baby, learned about cruelty free cosmetics and made the switch, researched food labeling and conscious producers and made that switch, educated myself on improving my financial management and opened a retirement account, and then ran out of projects.   And politics?  Well, let’s just not talk about that.  What could I possible put all of my extra mental energy into?  Genealogy.

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On and off I’ve delved into family history throughout the years.  I collected lots of information last time my paternal grandmother visited the U.S. over a decade ago and since then I have added bits here and there, but never really took the time to take it any further.  I am not sure when the world became so fascinated with genealogy and websites like Ancestry, Family Search, My Heritage, and Geni started popping up, but by the time I joined the trend there was a wealth of information out there.  I was able to fill in a lot of blanks, find reference documents and connect to unknown family members with ease.

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Then, genetic genealogy caught my attention.  Sending off a sample of my DNA to Family Tree DNA, Ancestry or 23 and Me could not only genetically match me to remote family, but could also provide some insight into where I am from, geographically.  I was hooked.  Now, I know, it’s scary to send off your DNA and have it stored forever by some company.  The term and conditions you must consent to are complicated and all vary – some won’t sell, some will sell, some will release your genetic information without your personal information for medical research, some will provide some of your personal information.  Add to that the lack of certainty in the geographic results, although the continent matches are probably pretty solid anything more specific is a little iffy, and the fact that these results are constantly being updated as the companies get new data and make internal changes.  You may reasonably ask, what’s the point?  Personally, I found it simply fascinating, innovative, and valuable and I did not care about any of the other stuff.  My parents, grandfather and I were all tested with Family Tree DNA.  I chose Family Tree because they had great reviews as to the certainty of their geographic estimates, good terms and conditions and were having a holiday sale.

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We received our initial results before the 2017 update and were all generally surprised, especially my mother (who happened to have traces of British Islander and Native American DNA).  After that, I threw all caution to the wind.  I ordered the Ancestry DNA tests for my mother and I (results still pending ) and uploaded our raw DNA information to Gedmatch, DNA Land and My Heritage (I can say their Terms and Conditions are fair and you do not have to agree to the Consent Agreement, I also like that they changed their Terms and Conditions after their users complained about certain terms).  With the DNA results I have also been able to connect to people, although our actual relationships are still a mystery.  I am somehow related to a doctor who lives in California, a programmer/analyst at UCLA, and a perhaps distant cousin who lives in Virginia.

Before taking the DNA test I had also made some great connections through Ancestry.  Using their “hints” I met a cousin from a side of the family that had lost contact a couple of generations ago and we have become very close primas.   I highly recommend Ancestry if you want a place to start.  It’s not cheap, but they do offer a free trial and their website is the best; it’s got the most resources and it is the most user friendly.  Less user friendly, but with vast resources and free is Family Search, it’s actually the site where I began my research more than a year ago.

The highlight of this process was probably hiring a genealogist in Cuba who amazes me every day.  With limited resources (and unbeatable prices) she’s truly helped me expand and deepen my knowledge of my family’s history.  In this process I have learned that my maternal second great grandmother attended Harvard for a summer in 1900 as part of a special session hosted for about 1,500 Cuban schoolteachers to train in American style education after the Spanish-American war.  On my paternal side I have learned that my great grandfather was born in Key West while his father was working for Jose Marti and the freedom of Cuba.  His family eventually returned to the Island and one of my great uncles went on to be a writer.

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If you choose to begin your own genealogy journey, be prepared for anything; be prepared to be disappointed, frustrated, and confused.  Be open-minded about what you may find.  A lot of what you may have been told or believe about your family history may be wrong.  Be open to the possibilities and the history, try not to impose your modern views and believes into the lives of your ancestors.  So far I have more questions than answers.  I have hit countless walls and made many mistakes.  Every time I learn something new it creates a myriad of questions in mind. I still struggle with the idea that I won’t ever know everything about everyone and that some ancestors will always remain a mystery and their stories, sadly, died with them.  But I have learned so much about myself in the process and I have fallen in love with each story, with each person.  Every minute devoted to this task has been worthwhile and it feels quite exceptional to find human stories lost to time and bring them back for posterity.  I think my personal project can turn out to be a lot more than that in the future.

Shabbat Shalom

All You Need is Chesed

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“Mankind’s true moral test . . . consists in its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals.” ― Milan Kundera

I have never doubted my Jewish soul.  Yet more and more I feel it revealing itself to me.  For my year of change I embarked on a journey to humane and cruelty free living.  It has not been easy; it has been challenging and at times it feels impossible, but I will not give up.  More and more I have excised things from my life that come as direct result of the suffering of a helpless living creature.  I have researched the food I eat and try my best to purchase strictly humanely raised and certified humane.  I have found that the most difficult item has been milk, I have yet to locate milk that is certified anything but “organic” and that means nothing in terms of how the cow is treated.  Organic Valley has grass-fed and “pastured” dairy products, but that doesn’t seem to be regulated.  I have found great eggs (conveniently sold in the Fresh Market and Winn-Dixie), meat (sold at Whole Foods, just ask the butcher), and chicken (sold at Publix by the Greenwise) that are now staples in my home (FYI, there’s an app for that!).

So I decided to shift to the next cruelty free aspect of my home, an area I have indulged in for decades: cosmetics.  I was horrified to find out most of the products I was using come from companies that test on animals.  I was horrified.  I simply could not continue to be this consumer, so I started researching.  First, I learned that a lot of companies basically lie about their animal testing, which is shameful.  Second, I learned that most companies are forced into animal testing because their products are sold internationally and other countries have rules about that sort of thing, like China.  Thankfully I was able to find great guidelines online from several sources like Peta and Paula’s Choice.

What I also learned along my journey is that my newfound passion is super Jewish.  On my quest to learn about cruelty free living I came across the phrase tza’ar ba’alei chayim.  According to Wikipedia it “literally means the suffering of living creatures.”  It turns out that I have been concerned with tza’ar ba’alei chayim, a little known mitzvah, my entire life.

The Central Conference of American Rabbis explained that while medical research on animals is acceptable if it will save human lives, animals should not be subjected to pain during these experiments or be used in frivolous experimentation, like for cosmetic testing.  In terms of consumption, Professor Richard Schwartz notes that although “Judaism forbids tsa’ar ba’alei chayim, inflicting unnecessary pain on animals, today most farm animals – including those raised for kosher consumers — are raised on ‘”factory farms”’ where they live in cramped, confined spaces and are often drugged, mutilated . . . and denied fresh air, sunlight, exercise and any enjoyment of life before they are slaughtered and eaten.” I am, therefore, inclined to believe that consuming an animal that has been made to suffer is not keeping kosher.  Rabbi David N. Young is quoted in The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic as explaining:

 God commanded Adam and Eve to be vegetarians. That was what God wanted for our dietary practices. God commanded Noah to eat whatever he wanted, as long as it was dead. That is what humans want for our own dietary practices —unrestrained omnivorism. In ultimate wisdom, God offered a compromise: God commanded Moses concerning prohibited and permitted meats and forbade boiling a kid in its mother’s milk. These were developed and evolved by the Rabbis of the Talmud into the dietary laws called kashrut. If we are able to live by this compromise, that is wonderful. If we are able to live closer to what God wants and go vegetarian, even better.

There is another phrase that I feel goes hand-in-hand with tza’ar ba’alei chayim and that is shomrei adamah.  According to an article on My Jewish Learning humanity is charged with the task of protection and renewal of the earth, “[w]e are told very early on in our Jewish history of the importance of ruling over our lands responsibly, of tilling and tending to them as shomrei adamah, guardians of the land.”  It is a natural extension to think that includes all of the living things on earth and this extension is clear from several passages in the Torah.  In 2007 the Union for Reform Judaism adapted from Edith Samuel’s Your Jewish Lexicon an installment of 10 Minutes of Torah that directly addresses these mandates:

The Torah shows exquisite sensitivity to the feelings of animals —sensitivity rare in the ancient world. On the Sabbath, domestic animals as well as human beings must rest (Exodus 20:10; Deuteronomy 5:14). Deuteronomy 25:4 prohibits the muzzling of an ox while it is threshing (it may want to eat). An animal may not be slaughtered on the same day as its young (Leviticus 22:28). Before the days of tractor, farmers were forbidden to plow with an ox and an ass yoked together (the ox, being larger, might cause pain to its smaller partner). Deuteronomy 22 spells out additional injunctions for Jews living an agrarian life: If you see an ox or an ass collapsed on the road under its burden, you must help it get on its feet; if you find a stray sheep or ox, you must return it to its owner or, if the owner is unknown, you must care for it until the owner claims it.

The Rabbis of the Talmud and of later generations went even further: Jews were enjoined never to sit down to eat before their animals had been fed; they were prohibited from buying an animal unless they could afford to feed it; and hunting for sheer sport is brutally cruel and hence forbidden to Jews. Slaughtering animals for food must be done as quickly and as painlessly as possible to avoid unnecessary or prolonged torment for the animal. In Modern Hebrew, tsa’ar ba-alei chayim is refers to the mitzvah of the “prevention of cruelty to animals.”

Further, Judaism101 notes:

In the Bible, those who care for animals are heroes, while those who hunt animals are villains. Jacob, Moses and King David were all shepherds, people who cared for animals (Gen. 30, Ex. 31, I Sam. 17). A traditional story tells that Moses was chosen for his mission because of his skill in caring for animals. “The Holy One, Blessed Be He, said ‘Since you are merciful to the flock of a human being, you shall be the shepherd of My flock, Israel.'” Likewise Rebecca was chosen as a wife for Isaac because of her kindness to animals. When Abraham’s servant asked for water for himself, she volunteered to water his camels as well, and thereby proved herself a worthy wife (Gen. 24).

Tza’ar ba’alei chayim really seems rooted in one of my favorite (and sometimes most difficult) things about Judaism: thoughtfulness.  You are encouraged to think beyond yourself even about things that may make you uncomfortable or may create difficulties.  Sure, it is easier to live in ignorance and to lead your busy life day to day as best you can, but it is much more meaningful to make time to think about your life and how your actions affect others.  Tza’ar ba’alei chayim also goes hand-in-hand with tikkun olam, the call to repair the world through social action, and with another of my favorites, chesed, loving-kindness.

So in furtherance of this mitzvah I have decided to share my favorite cruelty free products and I welcome any and all comments and suggestions you may have on this topic.

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While fully recognizing the Jews don’t have a patent on humane living, but simply because the lessons here stem from Jewish teachings and values, I encourage everyone to be a little more Jewish on this issue.

Shabbat Shalom

The Dirty Thirty, or How I am Choosing to be Thirty, Flirty and Thriving‏

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     This year I am turning thirty.  It sounds relatively terrifying as a number.  I definitely thought I would be in a completely different place in my life at thirty.  However, the more I have agonized over it, the more it has become clear that these ideas are total bullsh*t and that whining about it makes me sound exceedingly ungrateful.  I love my life.  I feel as though I have been blessed, even on the most difficult days.  I have an incredible family comprised of wonderful individuals who have all taught me something, loved me, supported me.  I have a job that I love.  I have the loveliest of friends who put up with me.  I have an amazing husband who makes me believe in soulmates, makes me laugh everyday, makes me better.  I won’t allow myself to hate some number anymore just because it is attached to my age.

These thirty years have been a testament to my blessed life and I look forward to continuing on this path, but more than that I want to push myself in the next thirty years to be better, to do better.   Here is where it starts: Diet.  I know, that does not in any way seem groundbreaking.  A woman turning thirty who wants to slim down, big whoop, but that is not what I am referring to.

Over the last few years I have become very cognizant of what I eat, particularly the animals I consume to nourish me.  I have even cut some out completely and I have felt like a better person for it, not to pat myself in the back or anything.  Still I continue to eat most others, beef, chicken, turkey, and a plethora of dairy products.  I consciously upgraded to things labeled “cage-free” and “free range” believing that what I was consuming was humanely raised and that I should feel okay with my consumption because I am an omnivore and it is a necessity of my diet to have the habitual burger.  Now, I don’t proffer to know if we are really omnivores or were just “opportunistic feeders” trying to make sure we got enough nutrients in our diet or if at this point we don’t really need to consume other animals because we can get the necessary vitamins from other things,  I honestly don’t even know for sure if in an ideal world where farm animals were humanely raised and slaughtered I would feel a-okay about consuming their flesh.  But here we are, at a turning for my diet.

When I  first started reading about USDA standards I was pretty horrified at what people were allowed to do to animals.  I immediately felt sick and swore off animals products completely.  I will refrain from posting the absolutely horrifying information, but I will share a little bit of the Humane Society’s “How to Read Egg Carton Labels”:

First of all, virtually all hens in commercial egg operations—whether cage or cage-free—come from hatcheries that kill all male chicks shortly after hatching. The males are of no use to the egg industry because they don’t lay eggs and aren’t bred to grow as large or as rapidly as chickens used in the meat industry. Common methods of killing male chicks include suffocation, gassing and grinding. Hundreds of millions of male chicks are killed at hatcheries each year in the United States.

Cage-Free
Hens laying eggs labeled are uncaged inside barns, but they generally do not have access to the outdoors. They can engage in many of their natural behaviors such as walking, nesting and spreading their wings. Beak cutting and forced molting (losing feathers) through starvation are permitted.

Free-Range/Free-Roaming
While the USDA has defined the meaning of “free-range” for some poultry products, there are no government-regulated standards in “free-range” egg production required to make the claim. Typically, free-range hens are uncaged inside barns and have some degree of outdoor access, but because there is no regulation of the term, there are no restrictions regarding what the birds can be fed and no requirements for the amount, duration or quality of outdoor access. Because they are not caged, they can engage in many natural behaviors such as nesting and foraging. Beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted.

Pasture-Raised
The USDA has not defined the meaning of “pasture-raised” for egg production, and therefore no government-regulated standards in “pasture-raised” egg production are required to make the claim. Typically, pasture-raised hens are kept outdoors for most of the year, on a spacious pasture covered with living plants, and are kept indoors at night for protection. While on the pasture, they can engage in many natural behaviors such as dust-bathing and foraging. However, because there is no regulation of the term, there are no restrictions regarding what the birds can be fed and no requirements for the amount of time spent on the pasture, the amount of space per bird, or the quality of the pasture. Beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted.

Certified Organic
The birds are uncaged inside barns, and are required to have outdoor access, but the amount, duration, and quality of outdoor access is undefined. They are fed an organic, all-vegetarian diet free of antibiotics and pesticides, as required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program. Beak cutting and forded molting through starvation are permitted.

Vegetarian-Fed
These birds’ feed does not contain animal byproducts, but this label does not have significant relevance to the animals’ living conditions. In fact, this label often signifies that the hens spend no time outside foraging.

I, for one, feel cheated not only of my money but also of my peace of mind.  So going vegan was the only answer to my nauseous and unsettled feeling.  But a vegetarian lifestyle is difficult to maintain, let alone a vegan lifestyle!   First of all I don’t really like vegetables and second I love dairy.  I struggled, I drove my husband crazy, and I researched.  Eventually I came to my step one: cutting back, choosing some substitutions, making well-informed decisions.

     Thinking and learning about my food led me to find out that there are non-profit organizations involved in the third party certification of farm animals.  The Animal Welfare Institution (which offers an Animal Welfare Approved certification), for example, makes yearly visits to certified farms to ensure continued compliance and on the Certified Humane website you can read the standards and policies in place for farms to receive the Certified Humane certification.   Food Alliance Certified also has some information on their website about their standards, but I did not find it as thorough and I could not find information about products they certify, however the Humane Society  notes that they have very specific standards for egg-laying hens:

The birds are cage-free and must be provided with at least 1.23 square feet (177 square inches) of floor space per bird. Access to outdoors or natural daylight is required for at least eight hours per day. If an outdoor area is provided, it must have living vegetation. There are specific requirements for perches and nesting boxes. Forced molting through starvation is prohibited, but beak cutting is allowed. No meat or animal byproducts are permitted in feed.  They must be able to perform natural behaviors such as nesting, perching and dust bathing. There are specific requirements for stocking density, perching, space and nesting boxes.

For these third party certifications the facilities must meet precise and objective standards established with the help of doctors, veterinarians and the like and they often employ well-qualified third party inspectors.  This is the well-informed decisions element, the meat, dairy and poultry I consume will come from farms and facilities that have received independent certifications from organizations I can learn about.  For example I learned about White Oak Pastures on the AWA website and my supportive husband pointed me to a recent article about White Oak published by the New York Times.  After reading the article, which focused largely on its chief cattleman Will Harris who I found to be charming and smart, I felt comfortable with the thought of buying their products, for the first time all week I didn’t feel nauseous.   Harris thinks and operates like a true farmer “With two of his three daughters and about 100 cowboys and meat cutters… [h]e grows vegetables and raises 10 species of animals, most of which roam around in a model of farming based on the way animals graze on the Serengeti plains. Goats goof off near a pile of sleeping hogs. Chickens wander past cows. Sheep hang out with ducks. The idea is that together, the animals make a stronger ecosystem. Some eat certain plants but not others. Some species eat the feces of others. All totaled, the animals and pasture are healthier for it.”  He built his own slaughterhouses on site with the help of Temple Grandin, “We are professional herdsmen. We do all that we know to do to show our cattle dignity and respect and give them compassionate care every day of their lives, including the day that they are slaughtered to become food for me, my family, and for my customers.”  He may have the heart of a farmer, but Harris saw a growing market in the practices he believed in so he took risks and incurred debt to grow his farm, but keep his practices “we never let even one animal within the herd suffer if I can prevent it. I am their steward and they are my responsibility.”  It looks like it is paying off and he can add my few dollars to his pot; I will be going to Whole Foods today to pick up some White Oak Pastures products instead of our usual Greenwise from Publix.

Lastly, I had to consider substitutions.  So I googled recipes for meatless meatballs and vegetarian enchiladas, I read about vegan butter and milk and made a shopping list.  I feel better for having taken the time to understand the effect my careless choices have had on the world, I feel better equipped to make well-informed decisions,  I have started to ask questions and find answers and I will go into my thirties trying to be better.  I read somewhere that 29 is a year of major changes and it definitely has been so far, this will just be the last one before the big three-oh and tonight it starts with tofu stir fry.

Shabbat Shalom

My Big Fat Jewban Wedding

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I don’t get the ‘party’ element of a wedding, it is just not in my nature to be excited about a room full of people drinking where the music is too loud to talk and the faces are too many to remember.  I like casual, relaxed, and limited social settings.  I love spending time with friends, listening to their lively rants and sharing some of my own.  I like deep and meaningful relationships and exchanges where I can hear my thoughts and their words.  I like knowing everyone in the room and having the time to have a valuable exchange with them.  This unquestionably expands to my wedding day.  I want a room full of people happy to share the moment with us, a room full of people we know and love who won’t care about the shade of the tablecloth or the temperature of the salmon.  I want laughter to ring louder than the music.

I always thought we would just go down to the courthouse and be married, since I’ve never really understood weddings except for legal purposes.  Furthermore, that way we could avoid the awkwardness of planning a nontraditional and totally uncool reception,  but after a reasonable discussion between two attorneys we reached a reasonable settlement.  If it was to take place, my fiance and I discussed our wedding in similar terms.  We both wanted something small and meaningful and we agreed that the ceremony was the most important part.  We both continually and tirelessly emphasized the importance of the ceremony, of our vow before G-d and our loved ones to be together for the rest of our lives.  Without that, I figured, we might as well walk down to City Hall during our lunch hour and be legally bound.  Still, neither of us knew absolutely anything about Jewish weddings.  I asked Greg, hoping he could be a helpful resource and as far as I can recall he could only offer a chuppah, some wine and the breaking of the glass.  “When do we say our vows?”  I wondered, he shrugged.  “When do we kiss?”  I asked, he googled.  We were hopeless, so I turned to the only resource I could think of: books!

My sister sent me books, my friend who had just gotten married sent me books, and then I rushed to the library for more books (I owe $30 in overdue fees).  Here’s some of what I learned:

The Jewish wedding ceremony is a two-parter, consisting of the erusin and the nesuin. The erusin, or betrothal, was a ceremony that traditionally took place about a year before the second part of the wedding ceremony and it is sort of the equivalent of a modern engagement.  Traditionally the erusin begins with the hakafot, the act of the bride circling the groom seven times to set aside sacred space and ward off evil spirits.  Thereafter the groom says Haray at m’kudeshet li b’ataba’at zu k’dat Moshe v’Yisrael (Behold, you are consecrated to me with this ring, according to the tradition of Moses and Israel.) and then gives his bride something of value (now we use a ring, and halakha states that wedding ring must be a pure, solid band, so that its value may be easily assessed). However, traditionally the groom presented the bride with a coin and not a ring.   Similarly a traditional wedding custom in Spain consisted of the groom presenting the bride with 13 coins known as arras, which represent his commitment to support her.   By following these formulaic steps the woman was thus set apart exclusively for that one man for the purpose of procreation.  Hooray! 

The second part of the ceremony is the nesuin (from the verb “to carry”) and it is in vast contrast from the legal nature of erusin. This is where love, spirituality, and connection to G-d enter the picture with joy and the timeless quality of two people loving each other.  It begins with the sheva brachot, the seven blessings and end with the breaking of the glass.  The latter custom has a plethora of fascinating explanations, from medieval superstitions that the shattering of the glass would ward off evil spirits to the more common interpretation that the shattering of the glass is a reminder of the destruction of the Temple, a reflection that even in moments of greatest joy we remember the sadness and lack of wholeness in the world.  My personal favorites are that a broken glass cannot be mended and likewise, marriage is irrevocable and it is a transforming experience that leaves individuals forever changed and also said to represent that the couple’s happiness will be as plentiful as the shards of glass (or that their children will be as plentiful as the shards of glass).   Traditionally the following song is sung after the glass is shattered: “Siman tov u’mazel tov, mazel tov siman tove (3x) Y’hei lanu Y’hei lanu, y’hei lanu, u’lichol Yisrael (2x)” (It is good and fortunate sign for us and for all Israel).  Interestingly enough it is also an Italian wedding tradition to break a glass when the ceremony is complete and to then count the shards of glass that remain to indicate the number of years the couple will stay happily married. Mazel Tov!

The Jewish wedding ceremony is to take place under a chuppah. According to The Creative Jewish Wedding book by Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer “throughout Jewish history the chuppah has been most commonly interpreted as a symbol of the matriarch and patriarch, Sarah and Abraham. It is said that Sarah and Abraham’s tent was open on all sides to let guests know that they were always welcome to come in. Because both Sarah and Abraham were thought of as having special relationships with God, their tents marked a sacred space where God’s presence could be felt upon entering. So, too, in contemporary weddings, the chuppah serves to create a sacred space, both open and private. It is open for all the bride and groom’s friends and relatives who are present to witness their covenant to each other. At the same time it is private, creating a feeling of warmth and intimacy that surrounds the special couple.”  Another pivotal element of the Jewish wedding is the  ketubah. Ketubah means “writing” or “written” and came to refer to the written marriage contract that is signed and read as part of the Jewish wedding, it traditionally contained the obligations of the husband to the wife, but currently can describe just about anything the couple wishes to include.

The we could be married by one o’clock thought still crosses my mind sometimes on very stressful days, it would be so simple, so fast, and then so over.  Yet, after reading countless books on wedding traditions I can’t help but want to incorporate so much history and meaning into the day we make that forever vow.

Flowers, Platters, & Cakes… Oh My…

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OyWedding Planning is… a full-time job… an overwhelming task… exhausting.  Every time I have started to plan over the last few months I have found something more pressing (fun) to do.  We started new jobs, we got an apartment, and in all of the we-are-all-grown-up excitement we had completely forgotten to plan our wedding… and then we were seven months out with only a ceremony space and an officiant to speak of.  Granted, that’s probably all we really need to be married, but it is not even remotely close to what we need to have a wedding.

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Pinterest had definitely become a close friend, from the comfort of my couch wedding planning seemed like a breeze, all I had to do was ‘Pin It’ and everything seemed to come together.  Then I realized I was totally wasting my time, one Pin at a time.  Sure, Pinterest can be a great resource for ideas, as long as there’s some sort of focus.  However, looking back at my wedding board it was all over the place, and very little truly spoke to what our wedding was about.  So my fiance and I sat down, we talked about our priorities and what would feel both meaningful and comfortable.  Yet, that seemed to be the easy part.  We made decisions, but something generally got in the way.  There were a lot of arguments (not between the two of us) and a lot of strong dissenting opinions (again, not between the two of us).  Our florist shrugged and told us it was par for the course, but why did it have to be that way?  My fiance cared about having a meaningful ceremony, that is what mattered to us both.  Thereafter we wanted to celebrate our union, the blessed event commemorating our great luck in finding each other, with family and friends so close they were practically family, but that seemed inconsistent with the opinions of many who wanted a lavish wedding with an endless invite list.

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As you may know I never really dreamt about a wedding, so I don’t really get all of the hoopla.  I don’t judge anyone who spends hours oohing and ahing centerpieces (okay, maybe I do a little bit), but I just don’t get it.  However, knowing G-d led me to my soulmate and solidifying that commitment before loved ones in our Temple moves me.  I want a deeply meaningful ceremony, a ceremony that reflects who we are as individuals and who we are as a couple, a ceremony which reflects that we make each other better people and that we are better together.   I am eager for that moment, I am eager to look into Greg’s eyes and vow my commitment to him for eternity, to assure him with that one look that I will be with him through all of life’s difficulties.  So I have labored over Jewish wedding books, I have googled wedding traditions from our varied backgrounds, and I have considered what would be meaningful to us both.

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Some days I feel like we have made great progress, some days I feel like we have taken ten steps back, but if I just focus on putting together a meaningful wedding I know that things will fall into place and those near and dear to us will feel the joy in our union and have a great time.  There is a Yiddish saying “No ketubah was ever signed without an argument.”  As Anita Diamant points out in The New Jewish Wedding “[t]he result of all of this learning, choosing, and even arguing is much more than a glorious party.  As rites of passage, weddings clarify and express a great deal about the people under the huppah.  A wedding is a public announcement and demonstration of who you are as a couple.  When you draw on Jewish tradition -borrowing, revising, even rejecting, in essence struggling to create meaning with it- the tradition becomes yours.”