July 1 is my Yom Kippur, my own special Day of Atonement, a day of introspection and slate-cleaning, the end of one phase and the start of a new one. July 1 is my wedding day, and in Jewish tradition a wedding day is a sort of Yom Kippur for the couple who are getting married, a day of holiness and purity, of seeking forgiveness for past sins and committing oneself to a better future.
It is, for obvious reasons, a curious analogy. Jewish tradition also says that on their wedding day, a bride and groom are like a king and queen, and it is a mitzvah--commandment--to treat them as such and make them joyous. The outsize joy, the constantly repeating strains of wedding music, the overflowing emotions, the steady stream of delicious food and well-wishing--all these combine to make the day seem like anything but Yom Kippur, a solemn day of fasting and prayer.
Yet July 1 is my Yom Kippur. Stephanie and I will recite certain prayers of penance otherwise said only on Yom Kippur, and under the chuppah, a canopy symbolizing the home we are building together, I will don a kittel, a white overgarment worn by men in synagogue on that day alone.(Jewish brides and grooms traditionally fast the day of their wedding until after the ceremony, but Stephanie and I are forgoing that custom, feeling it might make an already hectic day even harder to handle.) We will reflect on our lives thus far, and on our hopes, dreams, and prayers for our life together. I will pray for health and happiness in the years to come and for the wisdom and strength to prevail in even the most difficult of times. Yom Kippur is a day of rebirth, and July 1 will be just that for us.
We are more than ready to be married. After more than a year of planning our wedding, we can hardly wait for the big day to finally arrive. Though some people experience post-wedding letdown--I don't think we'll fall prey to this. The wedding is a wonderfully meaningful way to begin, but it is being married, living our lives together, and setting up a household together that we're focused on.
As Stephanie and I sat in Staten Island Borough Hall last week, waiting for our wedding license to be processed, I was reminded of why we are having the kind of wedding we are having. There, in that musty government office, a sign told us that licenses cost $30 and civil ceremonies were $25. I was inexplicably transfixed by another sign that read, "No Rice Throwing on Premises."
So, if we paid that $25, we would be recognized as husband and wife by the State of New York. But what is that piece of paper worth, aside from the $25 fee? I can't say I particularly care if the government recognizes us as married. It is my family, friends, and tradition whose recognition--and participation--seals our relationship for me. The meaning of my wedding day is in the fact that Stephanie and I will stand under the chuppah, surrounded by those people who mean the most to us in the world, and enter into a marriage covenant the same way Jews have done for millennia. It is in the fact that we will both be escorted down the aisle by our parents and ushered into that covenant by a rabbi who is both an important teacher and good friend of ours. It is in the kittel I will wear, the white dress Stephanie will wear--and which I dutifully have not yet seen--and the blessings that will be recited by various family members. July 1 is my Yom Kippur. And I wouldn't trade that for anything.
We have spent the past several months studying and reflecting with our rabbi, Shai Held, who is one of our closest friends and whose interpretations have turned the elements of the wedding ceremony from traditions that were mysterious to ones that speak directly to our relationship with each other, those witnessing our wedding, and the world around us.
During my months of engagement, I have much more than usual focused on self-reflection, evaluating the person I have become, the factors and experiences that have made me that person, and where I would like to see that person go. I feel overwhelmed by gratitude for all that is happening to me--all that has happened to me, always, all that has been given to me and done for me, by my parents and so many others--and consequently, I feel a deep-seated desire to help those less fortunate. It is my challenge--our challenge, Stephanie and I--to make good on that desire, to ensure that our union benefits not just ourselves but the outside world as well.
As my engagement comes to a close, I realize how little I will miss this interim stage in our relationship or the wedding-planning details that go along with it. We are increasingly aware that no matter what happens with the ceremony, the music, the food, and a million other details, at the end of the day we will be married. And, despite all the discussion about the experience of a wedding, and the significance of marriage, it comes down to just that: Stephanie will be my wife, and I will be her husband.
Under the chuppah on that day, in a section of the ceremony we designed ourselves with the help of our rabbi, Stephanie will give me a ring and say in Hebrew, "With abundant love have I loved you." I will respond, "With everlasting love have I loved you." And so it shall be, an abundant and everlasting love. That, truly, is the only meaning we need. That is the highest meaning there is. July 1 is my Yom Kippur. July 1 is my wedding day.