In search of spiritually enriching wedding presents

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Wedding season is approaching. It's a time for celebration, for parties and for gift-buying anxiety.

What to get the newlyweds? You can take the easy route. Call Macy's, ask if the couple is registered and order something off the list. At least you'll know they'll like it. But you'll never see the gift and, in a year, the couple will forget who sent it.

Or you could give it some time and come up with a gift that's meaningful, personal and memorable.

But that's hard.

Recently a congregant asked Rabbi Eliezer Finkelman of Berkeley's Congregation Beth Israel to suggest a wedding gift that would provide spiritual sustenance.

Helping the couple make a Jewish home together, he believed, would give them spiritual sustenance. So he suggested a kind of hands-on gift in which his congregant would prepare a seder or a Shabbat dinner with the bride and groom.

Giving a book of Jewish philosophy that the couple could read and discuss with one another was another of the rabbi's ideas. He mentioned it to his married daughter, suggesting one book in particular: "The Lonely Man of Faith" by Joseph Soloveitchik. "You have to consider who you're buying the book for," his daughter pointed out, "or you may end up with The Lonely Book of Philosophy."

After that response, he didn't even mention his idea of making a gift of original essays about issues that have affected the giver's own spiritual quest.

But Finkelman decided to put the question to his e-mail correspondents across the country.

One correspondent didn't want any part of it. "Spiritual sustenance? Sounds too California for me," he responded. "It goes with titles like `Learning to Pet Your Inner Dog.'"

Rabbi Howard Zack of Oakland's Beth Jacob Congregation is a bit more practical on the matter. "Any gift that will enhance Jewish experience and observance in the home will give spiritual sustenance," he said, suggesting Shabbat candlesticks, a kiddush cup,a mezzuzah, a tzedakah (charity) box or other ritual objects. For his own wedding, several friends got together and gave Zack and his bride a set of the Encyclopedia Judaica. It's a treasured possession still used by the whole family.

Maybe a group of friends could get together and give the newlyweds a year's membership at a synagogue.

Jerry Derblich, co-owner of Berkeley's Jewish book and art store Afikomen, probably sells more wedding gifts in a month than most people give in a lifetime. In addition to Judaica, he recommends Bibles, Torah commentaries, Jewish art books and texts about Jewish liturgy and observances. Among the store's more popular wedding-gift volumes are Eliyahu Kitov's "The Book of Our Heritage: the Jewish Year and Its Days of Significance," and Joseph Telushkin's "Jewish Literacy." Ariel and Chana Bloch's new translation of "The Song of Songs" is another good seller.

Riva Berkowitz of the Palo Alto Jewish gift and book store bob and bob, said, "Traditional gifts are the most spiritual because they are giving the gift of Judaism. It's part of building a Jewish home." And being able to do a Jewish holiday on your own brings spiritual satisfaction.

At both Afikomen and bob and bob, couples can register for books and Judaica.

While all of the above are good ideas, Finkelman continues his own quest for the spiritually sustaining wedding gift.

"It's an individualized thing, but I wish people would think about it."