A bridal fair for Jewish couples

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The ceremony and reception hall are booked, as is the band, the photographer and the florist. But Jewish couples planning a wedding have a host of other decisions to make before getting to the chuppah.

Speaking of which, will that wedding canopy be a prayer shawl, a rented piece of fabric or a handmade tapestry with personal meaning for the couple?

If they are an interfaith or same-sex couple, which traditions should be adhered to and which revised?

And, when choosing a ketubah, the traditional marriage contract, what must be considered?

To make these decisions a little bit easier, Project Welcome of the Union for Reform Judaism is sponsoring its first-ever Jewish wedding fair Sunday, Jan. 29 at the Peninsula Jewish Community Center in Foster City.

The idea originated at the Reform movement’s biennial a few months ago. Rabbi Yitzhak Miller, spiritual leader of Gilroy’s Congregation Emeth, told a group of colleagues that on occasion, he has attended various wedding fairs in his area. But it’s a stab in the dark, he said, as he can’t possibly know whether any Jewish couples will turn up.

“He does an ‘ask the rabbi’ booth, where couples can ask him anything they want, but it’s hit or miss because you never know how many people there are Jewish,” said Anna Marx, who was part of the conversation that turned into a brainstorming session.

Marx, the Project Welcome associate at the URJ in San Francisco, said they began wondering how they could reach more Jewish couples in the throes of wedding planning.

“We thought, ‘What if we could narrow down the population?’ What if we knew that everyone was Jewish?”

Project Welcome was begun to help unaffiliated Jews feel welcome in synagogues. Part of that is done by providing workshops for clergy and lay leaders, to “be as welcoming as they think they are,” said Marx.

With that in mind, the goal of the wedding fair is to not only showcase the work of local Jewish artists, but “to make a longer-lasting connection,” Marx said.

“We want to help the couples that come to find a community, because that’s the most important thing they can be looking for as they prepare to get married.”

Wedding fairs are generally designed for couples to meet various photographers, florists, planners, musicians and other vendors they might want to hire. In this case, the list of vendors has been narrowed down: Only those vendors providing specifically Jewish content are allowed to have booths.

Local ketubah artists Melissa Dinwiddie of Ketubahworks and Lisa Rauschwerger of Cutting Edge Creations will both be there, along with several kosher caterers, chuppah-makers and photographers that specialize in Jewish weddings.

In addition to the vendors, though, are the workshops. Project Welcome has partnered with a number of local agencies and synagogues to offer sessions on topics including how to choose a rabbi, creating a spiritual life together, what makes a wedding ceremony Jewish, Jewish perspectives on sex within marriage and creating a Jewish ceremony for interfaith couples as well as for same-sex couples.

Ellen Bob, the co-owner of Palo Alto’s Judaica store bob and bob, is doing a workshop about how to choose a ketubah.

For most Jewish couples who got married before the 1970s, the ketubah was a piece of paper that was kept in a drawer with other important papers or in a safe deposit box, said Bob.

Now, couples choosing a ketubah have several choices to make, she said. The first is whether the document will sit in a drawer or hang on the wall, and if the answer is the wall, the next decision is what text it will have.

The tradition of a ketubah being a work of art goes back to medieval Italy. But over the years, that tradition was dropped as standard documents came into favor. It was only in the 1970s that modern artists were inspired by the old documents and started recreating the ketubah as an art form, Bob said.

In the old days, the documents were written in Aramaic, and the text involved what the groom promised his bride should he leave her. There is nothing to protect the rights of the groom.

With the exception of Orthodox couples, however, this text has not remained so popular, Bob said. “Many people don’t want to look up at breakfast and see a document on the wall that says ‘if he leaves me, he’ll give me 200 zuzim,'” (an old form of currency).

In the 1950s, the traditional Aramaic text was modified with the addition of what’s known as the “Lieberman clause,” which stipulates that if the husband should leave his wife, he must give her the Jewish divorce document known as a get. The Lieberman clause, authored by the Conservative Rabbi Saul Lieberman, is recommended by most Conservative rabbis.

But today’s non-Orthodox couples are most likely to want an egalitarian ketubah that not only stipulates what the groom promises the bride, but what she promises him in return.

Many egalitarian texts are widely available, noted Bob, and then some brides and grooms write their own.

Bob remembered advice offered to her 23 years ago: “Don’t get too mushy, because stuff that sounds great when you’re 25 feels kind of stupid when you’re 65.”

The drawback with egalitarian or original ketubahs is that they are not accepted as binding by Jewish law in Israel and other more traditional societies, Bob cautioned. Therefore, some couples who might need to prove they are Jewish later in life choose to get an inexpensive traditional ketubah that they keep in the drawer, and an artistic, egalitarian one they hang on the wall.

Beyond how to choose a ketubah, numerous other resources will be available at the wedding fair, including copies of what has become the primer on the topic, Anita Diamant’s “The New Jewish Wedding.”

The Jewish Wedding Fair takes place 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Peninsula Jewish Community Center, 800 Foster City Blvd., Foster City. Advance registration for workshops is recommended: http://urj.org/pcw/outreach/workshops. Information: (415) 392-7080 ext. 16.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."