About ten years ago I was approached by a friend who was soon to be married. She told me she really didn’t want a traditional bridal shower and asked if there was some sort of simple Jewish celebration she could do. I was a little surprised, since she is one of the least observant Jews I know but I suggested maybe going to the mikveh. She could have a bridal bath instead of a bridal shower! She seemed a bit skeptical — I think she may have had visions of an old Russian bath house in her head — so I told her about Mayyim Hayyim. Still leery but intrigued, she asked if I would lead a little ceremony to personalize the experience for her and a few friends and family members. “Sure, I’d love to!” I exclaimed while thinking, “What have I just talked myself into?!”
While thinking about the ceremony, I was also thinking about what I wanted to give the two of them for a wedding gift. Am I the only one tormented by the pressure of coming up with the perfect gift? My mom was great at it but not me. I thought and thought about it and finally came up with what I hoped would be the perfect gift from their professional Jew friend.
I loosely modeled the ceremony after havdalah (literally, separation). Havdalah is a brief ritual recited at the end of shabbat to formally mark the end of the day of rest and the beginning of the new week. The basic structure seemed appropriate for the occasion, formally acknowledging the end of one stage of her life and the beginning of the next, not unlike the symbolic cleansing in the mikveh. In addition, I asked each woman attending to write an original wedding blessing for the couple, handwritten on anything but plain white paper. Between each reinterpreted havdalah blessing, I asked two or three people to read the blessing they had written. All in all, the day was a beautiful blend of tradition, innovation, and personalized love and affection for an amazing woman.
At the end, I collected the handwritten blessings for the next part of my plan: the wedding gift. I asked a friend to make a small wooden bird house. One side of the roof was hinged and had a slot carved out of it. I painted the house some fun colors and decoupaged all of the blessings her friends had written onto the outside of the house. My wedding gift for the happy couple was a handmade tzedakah box disguised as a home full of personalized blessings for the happy couple. I think the totem worked as the couple recently celebrated their tenth anniversary.
Cantor Lori Salzman is a graduate of Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion. She has served pulpits in NY and MA and taught at Hebrew College in Newton. She now freelances in the Boston area and works as a move manager, assisting older adults who are downsizing their homes. In her free time she sings in the chorus for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and pursues other artistic passions.