Under-the-weather rabbi marries pair from sick bed

BOSTON — Jody Kipnis had her wedding day all planned out. Like any excited and well-organized bride, she had all the details set many months before her November 1998 wedding to Stuart Pergament.

Most importantly, the Malden, Mass., native knew Rabbi Howard Kummer of Malden's Temple Ezrath Israel, the rabbi who officiated at her bat mitzvah 15 years earlier, would serve as the rabbi at this most happy day in her life.

Several times in the year preceding the wedding, Kipnis, 28, and her 33-year-old fiancé met with Kummer in anticipation of their upcoming simcha.

But two days prior to the big day, the couple encountered an unexpected glitch: Kummer was admitted to the hospital for a series of tests and would be unable to officiate at their wedding.

The rabbi came up with an alternative plan. His daughter Judy, a rabbi at a synagogue in New Jersey, would stand in his place.

The couple agreed and planned to meet with the younger Kummer the next day. She was scheduled to be in the Boston area that weekend because of the Thanksgiving holiday.

So just a day before their wedding, Kipnis and Pergament drove to the hospital where Kummer had been admitted to meet with his daughter to discuss the ceremony.

The couple, however, had another plan.

"Right as we were leaving the house I came up with this idea. I said to Stu, `Let's bring the stuff' and see if we can do it," Kipnis said of the idea of having a marriage ceremony in the hospital room.

"The stuff" was the couple's marriage license, rings … and a camera.

After discussions at the hospital with the younger rabbi and the elder Kummer's wife, it was agreed the rabbi could officiate at a "mini" service.

Propped up on pillows in his hospital room, Kummer officiated at a brief civil service, complete with vows, an exchanging of rings and singing "Siman Tov."

At the end of the ceremony, someone jokingly picked up a Styrofoam cup for Pergament to step on.

There were four guests in the hospital room, with the men properly garbed in yarmulkes. The rabbi's wife acted as the "crying mother," Kipnis recalled, and friends of the rabbi and his daughter served as witnesses and photographers.

A brief interruption took place during the exchanging of vows when an ambulance driver walked into the room and asked if the rabbi was ready to be taken to another hospital where he was to be transferred.

To the Pergaments, having the rabbi take part was priceless.

"Jody and I met with the rabbi quite a bit. It meant a lot to me and Jody that he was able to perform the ceremony," Pergament said.

Added his wife: "The rabbi was very upset that he could not do it. We made him feel like he was still a part. I always knew that I wanted Rabbi Kummer to marry me. And I want him to be at my child's bris!"

Kummer has known Kipnis and her family since he joined Temple Ezrath Israel as its rabbi in 1981. Participating in the wedding, despite being hospitalized, filled him with gratitude and happiness, he said.

"It was a wonderful, warm feeling to be able to participate in the ceremony," Kummer said from home, where he is now being cared for. "I had worked with Jody and Stuart for a couple of months before in preparation; for them, it wasn't just another event, they invested a lot of themselves in the religious aspects of the ceremony."

Rabbi Judy Kummer, meanwhile, officiated the next evening at the couple's "real" wedding. And that next afternoon, the day after their wedding, Jody and Stuart went to the hospital to visit Kummer again — this time, bearing two large centerpieces from the wedding reception.

"We brought the rest of the wedding to him," Jody said. "It was something very special."