I am a “planner” and I am an English major obsessed with layers of meaning, symbolism, and subtext. Thus, my wedding, like so many ceremonies, was made up of countless intentional decisions that reaffirmed me and our relationship. And true to the nature of religious ceremony, it also challenged us. The most obvious example was our ritual gone wrong—but ultimately “gone right”—the story of our ketubahThe Jewish wedding contract. Traditionally, the ketubah protected the wife in marriage by spelling out the husband's obligations to her and guaranteeing her a financial settlement in case of divorce. Throughout the ages, ketubot (plural) have been illuminated and calligraphed, becoming significant as Jewish art. Today, all manner of egalitarian ketubot are written. Some dispense with the financial and legal aspects, focusing more on the emotional and spiritual sides of the relationship. Others maintain the rabbis' concern with the practical, but define mutual obligations for each spouse..
We chose our ketubah from an online Etsy shop directly from the artist, chose the text from many templates she had to offer, complete with creative and non-sexist language. We even requested “beloveds” for the Hebrew rather than gendered spouses. A few weeks before the ceremony, I took the ketubah to Michael’s to frame. I chose the nicest mid-range frame we could afford, and I let the framing specialist “upsell” me on the UV-protective glass. “Of course!” I replied. “It’s worth it since this is something I plan to have forever!” When the ceremony, the beginning of forever, arrived, we had intentionally chosen to have three signing witnesses, rather than the traditional two, in order to include someone important to each of us and a third person who was mutually our friend.
In retrospect, it’s clear now that everything about our wedding planning was done with so much care that something absolutely had to go wrong. As an afterthought, we asked a friend, Benjamin, to be in charge of the ketubah after the reception. We did not give him instructions on exactly what that meant. At the end of the night, we loaded everything into the car, dropped the stuff at our apartment, and went to spend the night at the fancy hotel our friend had so graciously given us for a “mini honeymoon.”
The next evening, we returned home to go through our gifts with our friend Samantha. She mentioned how cool our ketubah was and asked if she could look at it again. We searched through all of the boxes piled up in our studio apartment, and since it was a 200-square-foot apartment, it didn’t take us long to realize that the ketubah was not there! I immediately texted Benjamin, “What did you do with the ketubah last night?” but even before he wrote back, Graie (my husband) and I were looking at each other, both knowing that that was what the thudding sound had been the night before…that sound that had caused us to pull over the car and check that the trunk was closed. That sound that we had decided must be “the gifts moving around in the trunk.” That sound had actually been our ketubah falling off the car and into the road.
Benjamin texted back, “I put it on top of the car because the car was was locked and I knew you’d see it there when you got to the car,” confirming what we already knew. I began to cry a little, imagining our ketubah in its beautiful frame, smashed to a million pieces by so many cars.
I stopped crying pretty quickly, though, as the absurdity of the situation washed over me. What Benjamin had failed to realize was that I am 5-feet nothing and Graie is only 5’6’’. We were not in fact going to see a ketubah, in the dark, on top of a car. As our rabbi would later point out to us, this was an excellent lesson in “the power of perspective” to getA writ of divorce. Traditionally, only a man can grant his wife a get. Liberal Jews have amended this tradition, making divorce more egalitarian. right at the beginning of marriage!
An even better sign at the beginning of a marriage was the fact that we could both laugh at the situation pretty immediately. Graie just kept saying, “And to think, you paid extra for UV-protective glass!” And, trying to laugh, I just kept repeating to myself, “It’s just stuff.” And soon, it really did just feel like stuff.
The good news is that the artist was so surprised at our story that she immediately offered to send a replacement ketubah for just the cost of materials. Things worked out fine. My experience with our ketubah didn’t change my fundamental nature as a planner. But it did force me to see just how ridiculous planning can be. Most importantly, it reminded me that stuff really is just stuff, and that nothing can take away the amazingly beautiful ketubah ceremony replete with black and white photos of our beaming parents.
And now, as a rabbinical student, I have an excellent cautionary story to share with couples getting married. In fact, I’m lucky. I get that memory and I get a hilarious but true cautionary tale that other clergy only dream about.
Share this story and tell us your own #ritualgonewrong, just in time for PurimLit. "Lots." A carnival holiday celebrated on the 14th of the Jewish month of Adar, commemorating the Jewish victory over the Persians as told in the Book of Esther. Purim is celebrated by reading the megilla (Book of Esther), exchanging gifts, giving money to the poor, and holding a festive meal. At the megilla reading, merrymakers are dressed in costumes, people drink, and noisemakers (graggers) are sounded whenever the villain Haman's name is mentioned..