I do &mdash again

When Andrew and Theda Stone got married at San Francisco City Hall, he wore his best flannel shirt and she wore “whatever dress I was wearing that day.”

You can forgive their casual fashion sense: They’d only known each other for two weeks and didn’t put a lot of time into planning the wedding, or anything else. That was 31 years ago.

“Thirty one years and four months,” added Theda Stone.

“My daughter once said, ‘Daddy could have been an axe murderer.’ Well, so could I!” she said with a laugh.

Believe it or not, Stone’s sweet story is now tied to a lethal plague from the talmudic era — and, in fact, is all the sweeter for it.

“During the Roman period, there was a plague that was lifted on the 33rd day of the Omer, and the Zohar refers to Lag B’Omer and compares the day to a wedding,” explained Rabbi Stephen Pearce of San Francisco’s Congregation Emanu-El.

The 49 days between Passover and Shavuot are called the Omer, during which halachic Jews are not permitted to do things like cut their hair or get married. Lag B’Omer is the one-day “break” in the Omer when the prohibitions are temporarily lifted.

So, Pearce said, “we thought, what a perfect day if people want to renew their vows or were married civilly and never had a Jewish wedding.”

Or, perchance, were married in a flannel shirt.

At Pearce’s previous pulpit in Stamford, Conn., the Lag B’Omer weddings were a big hit; chuppahs sprouted within the sanctuary like mushrooms after a spring shower as Jews, mostly from the former Soviet Union, took advantage of their first chance to have a religious wedding. After 14 years at Emanu-El, Pearce thought Saturday, May 5 would be a nice day for a white wedding.

The Stones took the plunge again, along with longtime friends and fellow Emanu-El congregants Marilyn Brown and Stephen Cornell.

“As you get older, these things sort of become more important to you and you realize how nice it is to have traditions you can count on with the rest of the family,” said Theda Stone, a secretary at the JCC of San Francisco’s preschool on Brotherhood Way.

“I certainly felt married. But, of course, every woman wants a wedding, and when I saw the blurb in the temple chronicle I asked Andrew if he’d marry me again. And he said, ‘Sure.'”

The second time around, said Stephen Cornell, “it sort of made the full commitment of being Jewish people. It was a little out of sequence, but we’ve had almost every other Jewish life event.”

Brown and Cornell’s two children, aged 25 and 19, signed the marriage certificates as witnesses.

Pearce and Cantor Roslyn Barak both conducted the ceremony (and this time, the Stones thought to have someone take photos). Around 40 guests, including families, children and friends, enjoyed food, music, cake and, of course, champagne.

Pearce hopes he can marry even more couples (again) next year on Lag B’Omer. He also hopes other Bay Area congregations will join in and do the same.

“They came with their children and families and friends. How many kids get to see their parents get married? It was very lovely,” he said.

It was lovely for Theda Stone as well. But it was also something more than that.

“You know, the City Hall ceremony was very quick. We didn’t even have a witness, we had to use the judge’s secretary or the bailiff,” she recalled.

“To stand up in front of our friends and say the vows, I was very moved. I didn’t realize how much I’d missed until I did it.”

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.