Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I Write the Songs of Love and Special Things...or Part II of The Weekend

I woke up last night at 3 o'clock in the morning, feeling confused as I groggily recalled a fragment of my dream. I was sitting in front of a piano and an older man kept chanting the same song over and over and over again in Hebrew. And I kept telling him to stop, but every time I said stop, he would start all over again. It was my own version of Groundhog's Day.

Except that I wasn't actually dreaming. I was recalling the events of Sunday. Traumatic, no?

On Sunday, we were set to meet with Mr F's Cantor. This gentleman is a friend of Mr F's parents and also was there for the Bar Mitzahs of both Mr F and his younger brother. As my family doesn't go to temple and has no relationship with any Jewish officiant, this seemed like a no-brainer. (Note that not belonging to a temple does not apparently preclude my mother from going into hysterics at the mere mention of having a wedding that is not Jewish and/or is not conducted by a Jewish officiant and/or is during the Sabbath - a weekly event that I have never seen anyone in my family observe. Interesting phenomenon.)

As we pulled up to the Cantor's house I began to get inexplicably nervous. Butterflies were kicking around in my stomach and keeping the rhythm as we knocked on the door. The Cantor peered out at us. He was an older gentleman, and looked to be in his sixties, with the thick bifocaled eyeglasses that I associated with, well, Rabbis and other older Jewish people. "Mista EFFFFF. Soooo good ta see yooouuuuu." He spoke with the Yiddish/Hebrew accent that marked a New York Jew more plainly that holding a bagel with lox in the left hand and a Coney Island hot dog in the right one. (If you are having trouble picturing how you should be reading all of this dialogue, might I draw you by way of example to Mel Brook's character Yogurt in "Spaceballs".)

He shook Mr F's hand as we continued to stand out on his porch. Mr F said "This is E&E, my fiance." He shook my hand as well. We all stood on the porch awkwardly for another thirty seconds before it occurred to the Cantor to say "Come in, come in. Take a seat," as he indicated to a few couches in the corner.

We sat down on the couches and the Cantor started to make small talk with Mr F about his parents. And then he moved on to speaking about his own children. "My son, my son - he is a big time lawyer. He graduated from HARVARD. He works for a big firm now. Because he went to HARVARD. He was always such a good student. HARVARD!"

I found myself tuning out and looking around the room. I was used to the "kvelling" of Jewish parents. It was their icebreaker. Instead of "how are you" they say "my kids, they are amazing!" Although this was going on for longer than usual.

I tuned back in. He was now telling a story about how the judge that his son worked for bought him a Chanukah present of two rare Jewish texts - and the judge wasn't even Jewish! "What a mensch! Who can believe it? Me, for one, I could not believe my son to be so lucky."

This was getting a little ridiculous.

Mr F gallantly steps in to say "E&E is a lawyer."

The Cantor looks at me, nods, and goes back to speaking about his son. Two minutes later, he pauses and I think we're going to get down to chatting about me and Mr F, perhaps discuss how we met and what we were looking for in our ceremony. But instead, the Cantor starts speaking about his daughter. She's a doctor. They are so blessed, to have both a doctor and a lawyer. (I swear, you can't make this stuff up.)

And he goes on to talk about how she lives on the Upper East Side of New York, about her apartment - it's a co-op!, her job at the hospital (she had two offers at hospitals in NY - how to choose?) and how beautiful she is. Mr F is waved over the the refrigerator where her pictures are hanging up and duly acknowledges her beauty. And then, just when I think that discussion of the daughter has dried up - he goes on to discuss her son - his grandson ("the light of his life"). And how he loves bunnies and has tons of toys. Fascinating.

At which point, he says "Well, we should get down to it, no?" and I breathe a sigh of relief. I was thinking we would never talk about our ceremony - last I could recall, the actual reason we were here. And before I can open my mouth to ask a question, he says "so, first you come in and I chant the two blessings of betrothal. They are quite melodic and lovely. You will like them. Then I will chant the seven blessings. And I will need a piano. You have a keyboard right? They are wonderful. I say the prayer and then 'la la' the piano goes and it's wonderful." I'm looking around like a mouse caught in a trap (but I definitely got screwed on this one because I never saw even a damned square of swiss cheese). What in Moses' name was going on here? I thought that he knew from my Future Mother in Law that we didn't want any Hebrew in the ceremony? (Or at least "limited" Hebrew.) This sounded like our wedding was a brief visit to the Whaling Wall.

I knit my eyebrows together; I'm trying to use my ESP to get Mr F to look at me. He won't. Because he can feel the hate radiating across the couch over to him.

So I break into the Cantor's diatribe. "Uhm, Cantor - I think we need to take a step back. Perhaps FMIL didn't mention this to you, but we were under the impression that you knew that we didn't want a religious ceremony. We're not religious. So we don't really think that all these blessings are appropriate for us."

Mr F chimes in "Yeah, I don't believe in anything. I'm like the anti-Jew." A little much, but he's trying to help.

But I was proud. Now it was out there. He knew how we felt. We could move on and discuss some alternate English readings or other ways to incorporate the Jewish culture in to the ceremony without the stuffy verse.

"You will love the melodies. We will do the blessings. I will play them for you now. Listen."

All of a sudden, out of nowhere, he pulls out a tiny Walkman tape recorder, circa 1988, and instead of playing Prince's "Kiss", he presses play and we start hearing chanting. And more chanting. I look over at the Cantor and he's closing his eyes and lip syncing the words (actually much like I did when I was 12 and dancing around the house to a Prince song). I turn to look at Mr F who's sitting to my left and he is laughing so hard that his face is turning red.

I think I just got a disturbing glimpse into the boy that Mr F was at age 12. I felt like it was B'nai Mitzvah prep class all over again.

And since we were all reverting to age 12, I leaned into the couch and looked out the window and let my mind go blank as it used to when I was stuck in temple or doing anything religious (which is why I don't want to have that very same music at my wedding), concentrating on the fact that it really is quite amazing that the New Kids on the Block are getting back together and remembering that I (ironically) won a giant NKOTB poster at our former temple's annual Purim Fair (and wondering where in the world that darn thing is now...my parents' basement?). A few minutes later it was quiet. Mr F was trying to discreetly wipe away the tears of laughter from the corner of his eye and control his giggles.

"Well?" The Cantor was looking at Mr F. In fact, it seemed that unless I was speaking, the Cantor always looked at Mr F. I brushed the back of my hand across my cheeks. Perhaps I had a stowaway crumb and the Cantor couldn't bear to look at it any longer?

"Well, Cantor, it's a beautiful melody. But it's not really us. As E&E just mentioned, we're really not religious and we had hoped to skip all of the blessings in Hebrew and --"

"You can't hear on the tape properly. I will play for you. Come to the piano."

And like pigs, er - cows to the slaughter, we dragged ourselves over to the piano. My stomach grumbled. It was already seven o clock and I hadn't eaten lunch. I wanted a cheeseburger. Or lobster. Or a bacon cheeseburger lobster sandwich. I really was reverting to a passive aggressive twelve-year old.

"Let me get some hot tea. I need to prepare my throat." And so we waited while the Cantor sipped some tea to prepare his throat. We just stood by. Helpless. Prisoners of the seven blessings. My cheeseburger lobster sandwich would also have mayo on it.

And then he sat down at the piano and began to sing. A whole bunch of Hebrew stuff that I didn't know. And he kept going. And going. I looked around his house. He continued to sing. I began to meditate (if meditating involves violence and hatred). I imagined myself taking a mallet and smashing the piano. And then yelling at the Cantor that he needed to SHUT UP and listen to what we had to say. He continued to sing.

And when he was done, once again he looked at Mr F and he said "See! I told you that you would like it - it is a festive melody! When there is a festive occasion, you play a festive melody!" Finally he turned to me and said, "Right? Isn't this what you would play for a happy occasion?" To which I responded:


Mr F looked at me with concern - his crazy Hebrew music-hating bride. And I looked back at him - squinting my eyes as if to say "I thought we were on the same page - I thought neither of us wanted chanting!!"

To which he responding - without saying a word - "I don't want chanting - but this is my parents' friend. SO BE NICE."

At the same time Mr F's eyes were warning me, the Cantor said, "I don't know what you mean."

I thought for a moment and then said: "Well, I would play something that I actually understand. I don't understand a word you just said. I would play the Beatles, or Jack Johnson, or something that means something to me. This is precisely the reason that we don't want Hebrew in our ceremony. We don't know what you're saying."

"Would you like me to sing it again?"

Mr F and I were a team again; we exchanged bewildered glances and a silent "NO!" but before we have even finished the conversation with our eyes, the Cantor has broken into song. Again.

Do you understand?? HE IS SINGING AGAIN. It's like we're in a Bob Fosse musical. I can feel that we're just two minutes away from jazz hands and excessive wearing of black tights.

I can't believe it, but I am the father in "Footloose." I hate music. It is evil. It kills young girls driving in cars at high speeds.

"Cantor, Cantor - it's beautiful, but I just don't think it's 'us'," Mr F finally interrupts him.

The Cantor pauses for a moment and looks pensive; then he exclaims in glee, "OK, I will read it to you in English! Then we can use that...although of course I have to read the last verse in Hebrew or you're not married."

And before we can say "no thank you", he is off to the races. And this is what he read:

Blessed are You, our God, King of the universe, Who has created everything for His glory.

Blessed are You, our God, King of the universe, Who fashioned the Man.

Blessed are You, our God, King of the universe, Who fashioned the Man in His image, in the image of his likeness and prepared for him from himself a building for eternity. Blessed are You, Who fashioned the Man.

OK, so those are only the first three blessings. But really, we can stop there since we've already reached what I find fundamentally wrong with Judaism. I'm sorry, but I'm just not on board with half the blessings at my wedding focusing on how frickin great man is and how I'm so psyched that God allegedly created him first. And yes, I understand that I'm saying words that others before me have said and "keeping tradition alive", but screw it - it just doesn't sit right with me and I don't want to say it. And all that aside, honestly, all of those words - even in English - mean absolutely nothing to me. It's like reading the instructions for building an IKEA bookshelf aloud at my wedding. Which might actually be better because then I could have a valid excuse to serve Swedish meatballs.

So I decide to lay down the law and tell the Cantor my feelings on Judaism and what we really want and that if he can't provide it, that we fully respect that, but perhaps this isn't the best match. But instead, I start to cry.

Holy burning bush, Batman. I jump up and run out the door.

I walk around our car and take deep breaths before returning back inside. I apologize, having decided that I'll make it through this meeting if it's the last thing I do.

Luckily, a little tears seemed to moisten the gears of the Chosen People's negotiation as the Cantor pronounced: "OK. I think...we do not need to do the Seven Blessings."


"Cantor," Mr F says, "How about we run through the entire ceremony so that E&E and I get a sense of the whole thing?"

"OK. Well, first, before the ceremony you will sign the ketubah. Do you have a ketubah?"


"You must get a ketubah. You can get it in a Jewish bookstore."

"OK, thank you."

"And then, after we sign the ketubah - do you have a ketubah yet?"


"You can get one anywhere - in a Jewish bookstore, online, whatever. But you must get one."


"And you need an easel. To display it during the ceremony."


"Are you going to display your ketubah in the home?"

"We don't know. We don't have one yet."

The Cantor goes on to explain that during the signing of the ketubah portion prior to the ceremony, he will ask Mr F if he agrees to take on the very important responsibility of caring for his new bride. And he starts to move on to the next portion of the ceremony.

"Excuse me - but Cantor - what do I say?"

He looks at me. "You do not say anything. I am asking Mr F if he is ready to take on his responsibility."

"But I think we should share the responsibility."

He looks at me as if I am a slow child. A very slow child. "Well you know E&E, should things not work out - things aren't really equal. You know that he would have more responsibility. So he must agree to this."

"No, I'm sorry, Cantor. But I disagree. I think we both should have the responsibility."

He looks at me kindly, as one might look at an injured mare before shooting it in the head to put it out of its sad misery. "But that's not how it really is, E&E."

"Actually Cantor...I'm a lawyer. And that is how it really is. There is this thing they have now - it's called 'No Fault Divorce.' So that's how it is."

Let's just say that this continued on. And on. And on. The Cantor broke into song no less than two or three more times. He pressed us to include other blessings. And all of it was fine for I had already resolved that we were not using him. That being said, the moment we left I burst into tears again in the car.

I just thought it would be so different.

I thought he would ask us about ourselves and want to know us and hear about the hilarious story about how we met in California (even thought we were both from NJ!) and hear about our first and perhaps our second dates (the second date being the day after the first, and yes, the third being the day after the second). I imagined that after knowing us, we would transition into explaining how we envisioned our ceremony and the Cantor would work with us to reach that goal.

Mr F and I drove in silence for a few moments (except for my sniffling) before he asked if I wanted to talk about it. I tried to explain but wasn't doing a very good job. At which point Mr F said to me, "How about some pizza?"

He looked at me as I dried the tears from my cheeks and under my eyes. I held up two fingers: "I want TWO slices."

We made a quick jughandle and popped into Scotty's pizza on Route 33 in New Jersey. Sweet ten commandments, was it a crappy day - but boy, this was the best frickin pizza ever.


tallulahbloom said...

You deserved at least three slices!

Kristy said...

I don't know how you handled that so calmly. I probably would've run out the door in tears much sooner. And then I would've gotten into the car and screamed. Cheers to you for hanging in there.

Anonymous said...

what are you going to do????

Engaged & Enraged said...

Kristy, it's funny because I feel like I wasn't calm at all! I'm so mad at myself for crying in front of him. (And Tallulahbloom, I would have had a third slice but not for the fact that I burned the roof of my mouth on the first two.)

Anonymous - This may be a new post unto itself - but I think the plan is to find a "rent a rabbi" here in Baltimore (we actually have a good lead already but am open to suggestions if anyone has a name!!!). We want some hippy dippy rabbi/cantor who is ok with gender equality and won't require we do ANYTHING.

Peonies and Polaroids said...

Bloody hell. I'm not normally a fan of the bridezilla mentality but I really feel you need to start shouting more. That or hire a wedding planner to start shouting for you. Seriously, someone needs to start shouting. Someone who's on your side that is.

Engaged & Enraged said...

P and P - You jumped the gun on my next post...I do have a wedding coordinator (who works with my venue) - she WON'T CALL ME BACK!

Peonies and Polaroids said...

You need to shout at her! Let me come over there, I'll shout at everyone for you. Ok, granted I didn't manage to shout at any of the idiots involved in my own wedding but I feel I could manage with someone else's.

Why don't any of these people realise that it's YOUR wedding? (By 'your' I do of course mean you and your fella's) I think you should hire a stand in couple for the two weddings your respective parents are planning and elope! Where does one hire stand in brides and grooms? Anyone?

Engaged & Enraged said...

I just left her another message...and I'm having a bad day at work, so I'm thinking about calling her boss to ask "WTF?". The problem is that I then worry she will take it out on my wedding and sabotage me or something on the day of. I know I'm being wimpy - I want to yell, but I'm worried about the ramifications.

beautifulbravebride said...

I'm curious...have you informed your mother in law yet? How is she handling it?

Engaged & Enraged said...

BBB - We actually did tell Mr F's mother (my mother in law) right after we left (actually, as we were sitting in pizza shop's parking lot) and I have to say that she was amazing about it. She said she just wanted us to be happy - which I'm just going to take at face value and hope that she's not secretly angry. But her great response is the only reason I haven't had a total meltdown since I was SOOOO worried about how she would react. :)

Jessica McLeod said...

Oh my god, what a horrible experience! I'm so glad you didn't fold and just go with this guy. We met our civil celebrant a couple of nights ago (I'm going to blog about it today) and she was lovely. I'm sure you can find someone who is on your wavelength (as opposed to a guy who is living in 1952)!

One Love Photo said...

Love this, every little bit. I know it seems awful but I bet that will be one of your favorite memories as a couple. I always think our best moments are usually are worst. It just takes time for them to seem that way. Great writing!

Sarah said...

I am in awe of your restraint! It is stories like this that make me very glad that Boy is dragging his feet on proposing. We've wanted his older brother to officiate since we started talking about our plans, but he's a bit more extreme in his beliefs that we are.

I hope that you find someone who can give you a ceremony that is meaningful in the way that YOU want, rather than an archaic meaning that obviously doesn't apply to you and Mr. F.

Peonies and Polaroids said...

I'm so glad that Mr F's mother was ok about it, what a relief for you.

And that is exactly the reason I didn't shout at the people involved in our wedding. Although the wanting to shout came on the actual day when they were already sabotaging it. So maybe I should have shouted anyway? I'm going to put it down to being too loved up and not because I'm a total wimp!

hwong14 said...

That is simultaneously the most hilarious and heart-breaking story I've ever heard. You told it very well, although I know it killed you to live through it. Pizza, though -- that's a plus! My friend Jamie got married in April in Baltimore to a Catholic boy, and their rabbi was 100% OK with everything and very cool. The rumor is, he's gay, even. He was wonderful. Let me know if you want me to get his name for you.

Figuring Out The Details said...

I absolutely, positively understand why you cried. Sorry hun!

Cory and Becca said...

Just came across your blog -- 1) that was a hilarious post, but only because I know exactly how you must have felt! and 2) I have a rabbi for you! She's very hippy dippy, she officiated an interfaith wedding before sundown, she sang about 2 sentences in Hebrew and she wanted our family/friends to write/read new 7 blessings instead of the traditional ones. I didn't think it was possible, but I really loved our ceremony. Her name is Rabbi Sigal Brier, and her website is www.rabbisigal.com. She's in NYC. Hope that helps somewhat!