“Wedding Bell Blues”
New York Jewish Week, First Person Singular
September 1, 2006

Weddings are magic. The details have come together according to plan. Two people have found each other and decided to spend their lives together, no matter what fate brings them. The bride looks like a queen; plus, she has special powers.

On her wedding day, the Jewish bride has the “Bridas Touch” — a temporary condition in which, particularly under the wedding canopy, her marital fortune is contagious. While she’s under the canopy accepting a ring from her betrothed, she gives single women her regular jewelry to wear, for added luck. The remainder of wine from her glass is also imbued with special powers and distributed to single wedding guests; this “segulah” wine is a Red Bull energy drink for the uncoupled, increasing the inherent bashertiness of the imbiber.

The bridal wizardry begins even before the ceremony. When the mothers of the bride and groom break a plate before the ceremony, signifying that a kinyan, or transaction, has taken place, the shards are given to single women for good luck. At my brother’s wedding, I reached into my purse during the reception, and promptly sliced my finger open on such a lucky shard. Luckily, a handsome doctor with a great sense of humor came to my rescue, cleaning the wound with vanilla vodka and suturing it using frayed napkin strands. After cocktails and dancing, we hid from the crowd under the Viennese Table and he told me he loved me — that table of delicious pastries serving as chuppah to our love. (Or if you prefer the truth to literary license: The finger-slicing was followed by a band-aid, and a hora, during which some other dancer impaled her four-inch heel in the center of my big toe.)

Whether bridal luck exists or is just an old bride’s tale, weddings themselves are as much a display to the community as they are a celebration of couplehood. Weddings are supposed to motivate the rest of us to achieve similar stability; to inspire other walkings-down of aisles. We are meant to take our places, two by two, in the parade of matches, happily marching toward the goal of founding a bayit ne’eman b’yisrael, a faithfully Jewish home for your newly expanded family.

But it’s not that easy. In celebrating love, weddings also shine an unwanted spotlight on the absence thereof. Sometimes, when weddings fail to inspire, singles begin to sense that we have failed the community and ourselves and perhaps the incredible shrinking Jewish people. When we sit as wedding spectators, we are, of course, happy for the happy couple. But those of us who are selfish enough to also want that spiritual and emotional connection for ourselves — magical incantations be damned — sit there, hands folded in our laps, legs crossed demurely, holding magic jewelry and shards that — like life — may cut or cure us. Well-intentioned seating plans and awkward introductions to the only other single person at the wedding in hopes that sparks will fly, makes us embittered, angry and sarcastic, as the futility is reinforced. We wait for the ceremony to be over so that the thinking can end and the drinking can begin. Maybe, if we dance fast enough to this generic set of songs, adrenalin will reign, reinforce our external displays of celebration and prevent the tears from coming. In these moments, we’d give anything to believe in a little magic.

When I dance in honor of my friends, it’s not the rhythm that eludes me, it’s the fervor. And what impedes the enthusiasm is the fear that, for whatever reason, I’ll never get there myself. I can’t imagine myself there, in “the dress.” Tendrils and ringlets seem unnatural and unattainable on so many levels; a white dress so impractical for a klutz like me. There seems to be an interchangeability here that erases individuality — the bride loses herself and becomes a construct, an object, a vision in white, taking her place in the structure of the wedding and community as society has deemed she should.

Even trying positive visualization, imagining myself there so I can someday get there in three dimensions, I don’t know where I stand — I’m a romantic who believes it’s possible, a cynic who doubts the potential. I try to imagine myself enjoying the certainty and confidence of true companionship, when clichéd melodies will seem bereft of the lyrical platitudes that my ears discern today, because the crowds will clamor in support of a love elusive and long-awaited, and a day that contains equal parts miracle and magic.

Esther D. Kustanowitz is really happy that her married friends found each other and hopes that they don’t read anything into this column.