Author: Snyder, Gail
Date published: June 24, 2010
Journal code: JWEX
Wen Yoni Shear and lichal Raucher maried on July 2, 2007, their wedding celebration was only just getting started. Yoni, 33, whose parents live in Abington, and Michal, 26, who hails from Connecticut, continued their merrymaking with friends and family for an additional six days by participating in a traditional Jewish ritual that dates to the marriage of Jacob and Leah: the Sheva Brachot week.
The Sheva Brachot, or seven blessings, are recited at every Jewish wedding. However, couples who forgo an immediate honeymoon can receive them again and again at intimate celebrations of 10 or more people who gather in their honor. In order to be able to recite all seven blessings, it is required that at least one person who has not previously rejoiced with the couple be present.
At the time of their marriage, Michal was living in Center City while completing her master's degree at the University of Pennsylvania. The Sheva Brachot meals made it possible for some of the couple's friends who could not attend the wedding to celebrate with the couple in Philadelphia.
The first two nights, 25 people joined in the festivities, including the couple's parents. At one celebration, friends rolled hundreds of pieces of sushi for their dinner; at another, friends who are professional chefs assembled a delicious brunch in the couple's honor. At each gathering, the seven blessings were recited after the meal over a cup of wine.
Yoni, who now lives in Jerusalem with Michal, recalls, "It was an amazing week to have things continue and continue. At the same time, it was a little bit exhausting - but in a good way"
He adds that, thanks to the Sheva Brachot meals, there was no letdown after the wedding ceremony. "We came down a littie bit and went right back up with all the celebrations and people coming together for us."
Raised m traditional Jewish homes, Yoni and Michal were eager to celebrate their first week of marriage in a traditional way. They were happy to wait for a honeymoon hi the Greek Islands they would take a year later.
For them, living together as a Jewish married couple was easier because they were already Shomer Shabbat and kosher. Yet, Yoni says, "Being married to one another only made those religious experiences more intense and even more enjoyable."
They also began a Sabbath tradition of singing to each other. Yoni sings "Eshet Chayil," a song extolling the virtues of a woman of valor, to Michal. She sings "Ashrei Ish" to him. Its lyrics praise the man who delights in studying Torah. In addition, the couple also dipped their challah in honey, a tradition newlyweds carry out to remind themselves of the sweetness of their new marriage.
As Yoni and Michal illustrate, the first year in a Jewish marriage can be an opportunity for couples to meld old and new traditions to solidify their growing bond. During this special time, notes Boston-based journalist and author Anita Diamant, brides and grooms have the right to refer to themselves as such for an entire year.
Diamant adds, "With so much going on in our lives, it takes effort to remain mindful of one's status as a bride and groom." One way to do that during the first year of marriage, she offers, is to recite the Shehecheyanu in gratitude for the new union.
Diamant's many books include Living a Jewish Life (Harper Paperbacks, 2007) and The New Jewish Wedding (Scribner, 2001). She explains that the Jewish calendar itself provides many opportunities for newlyweds to appreciate what is memorable. For example, a couple might write on their calendar "Our first Chanukah together, lighting this menorah given to us by our best friends."
Two people who have made it a point to follow Diamant's advice on creating a home that looks and feels Jewish are 24-year-old Nadia Maccabee-Ryaboy and her 34year-old Russian-born husband, who were married in 2008. They have mezuzot on the doorposts of their St. Paul, Minn. home, and have purchased art during frequent trips to Israel and at shops in their hometown. The Kiddush cups, Havdalah sets and other ritual objects sprinkled around their house, some of them family heirlooms, are cheerful reminders that theirs is a Jewish home.
During their first year of marriage, they bought their first home and became pregnant with their now 10-month-old daughter - all while Nadia attended University of Minnesota Medical School part-time. It helped that the couple has known each other for seven years.
Nadia and her husband had different upbringings. She attended a Jewish day school but her husband, who grew up in Russia, could not read Hebrew, was unfamiliar with Torah and had to learn Jewish traditions as an adult. Ultimately, Nadia discovered that her husband's ability to look at traditions with fresh eyes was a plus. They are now keeping kosher - at his behest.
For Californian Shoshana Lewin Fischer, who has been married since 2007 to Adam Fischer, part of living a Jewish life is blogging about it. Shoshana, 31, writes "Tales of a Jewish (Not So) Newlywed," for the websites The Knot (www.theknot.com) and The Nest (www.thenest.com). She began blogging during her wedding preparations when she realized that there were no other Jewish brides doing so. Now she writes about random events, such as her grandmother presenting her with a headcovering to wear during services or the process of buying the right house.
The not-so-newlyweds make it a point to light Shabbat candles and attend services often at their synagogue, where Shoshana is an active Sisterhood member. Adam, who grew up in a less traditional home than his wife, now avoids working on the High Holidays.
Like the Fischers, Isaac Bash, 37, and Alisa Ruby Bash, 32, also had to cope with differences in their religious backgrounds as newlyweds. Alisa, whose parents live in Elkins Park, married Isaac, an Israeli who immigrated from the former Soviet Union, two years ago with little familiarity with Jewish customs. The couple settled in Beverly Hills, where Alisa works as a licensed marriage and family therapist.
She says, "Even though we do not have children yet, I have decided to continue to celebrate all the Jewish holidays I grew up observing with my husband. Many of them are new to him, but I can see the sparkle in his eyes when we light the Shabbat candles and say the blessings over the siddur my great-grandparents brought over from Riga - the same town where my husband was born. We put our arms around each other and say our own special prayer each week at our own very informal Shabbat service.
"I have never shared this with anyone as it is so sacred and meaningful to us. Yet, it brings tears to my eyes, and I hope it can inspire other young newlyweds to find their own intimate connection with Judaism."
Also well on their way to forging that intimate connection are Amiel and Manya Monson of Cheltenham, who celebrated their second wedding anniversary this month.
Amiel, 37, who comes from a family of Jewish educators, and has taken up the family business, wishes that he and his 31year-old wife could find time to sit down to a regular Shabbat dinner together more often.
But he has been juggling four jobs, including serving as program director for Maccabee USA/Sports for Israel, teaching Hebrew, working with United Synagogue Youth and pursuing his third master's degree. Manya is the program and youth director at Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park and teaches Hebrew at Beth Am Israel in Penn Valley.
"I don't like to make excuses," Amiel says. "I feel like I'm copping out on myself. But it's hard. I'm exhausted come Friday." He admits to envying his brother and sister-in-law who have three children and celebrate Shabbat with 10 other couples and their children. Amiel hopes that he and Manya can do the same when they have children and applauds his brother for limiting his workdays to Monday through Friday.
But despite the frenetic pace of his present life, Amiel is happy. He says, "I waited until I was 35 years old to get married. It was worth the wait to find someone you are compatible with and care for and can grow with - and is your best friend."
Gail Snyder is a frequent contributor to Special Sections.