> The Hull Reform Synagogue - Ne've Shalom
The Hull Reform Synagogue - Ne've Shalom



The first wedding in 10 years at Ne've Shalom took place on Sunday 31May 2015. Having ask our roving correspondent, Jackie Lukes, for her thoughts on the happy occasion, she has sent us the following report. We would also like to thank Helen Jackman and Veronika Keczkes who sent us photographs of the occasion, a number of which we have used within the report.

'Touching', 'emotional', 'moving' - everyone used the same words and said the same things about it: 'they were so happy, and everyone was so happy.' 'A good, happy atmosphere, you can't buy it.'

Why so moving? 'Because they're older, thoughtful, have come through a lot together, have a strong relationship, strong love, and wanted to reaffirm and celebrate it with us as a special point reached in their journey?' - guessing, many of us again used the same words.

I could see a double bonding going on: inwards to each other, and outwards between the nuptial pair and us, the community all around: the Chupah (bridal canopy) was in the centre of the gathering, like Theatre in the Round. I could see it but couldn't, at the time, explain it. These two-fold bonds were there before the ceremony yet were strengthened and deepened by it. How was that achieved?

Louis Jacobs in the Jewish Religion: A Companion says, "The ceremony originally had two stages separated by days, but combined into one process since the medieval time of Rashi. Stage one, 'the betrothal', after introductory psalms includes the ring, the ketubah 'a social contract', and the couple's declarations; stage two 'the marriage proper' after more psalms and prayers has the Seven Blessings and the Last Putting of the Foot Down."

Stage one could perhaps be seen as the private bonding of the couple to each other, stage two as their public bonding with the community. Jacobs sees marriage in several ways which are more personal and social than religious; e.g. "The officiant is usually a Rabbi or another learned man, but there is no such thing in Judaism as a priest 'marrying' people as in the sacraments of the Christian Church." In other words, they marry each other, before witnesses especially family. At Hull Reform, the community is in effect a family.

But what made it all so moving, what created the amazing emotions and sense of happiness?

Firstly, the fact that the Chupah was in the centre. A tent, open and square, it reminded us of Sukkot under a canopy open to the sky and of erecting a tent for the ark and moving on over the desert and "we were there" as slaves fleeing Egypt: Theatre in the Round is right, it drew us all into the drama before our eyes and our taking part in the responsive recital of prayers made us feel even more involved.

Secondly, the music, rhythmic, gentle and sad, played when Ann and Aimi walked the bride, Marija, round the Chupah seven times. This stilled and lulled and entranced us. It sounded like nostalgic klezmer music, evoking a warm Chagall or Yiddish heritage of a sentimental sort.

Thirdly, the lights were on, but were dimmed for the central core of the ceremony. The hall went dark and the Chupah's four posts were lit by tiny white lights on wires, visible through the white net like twinkling stars. The mood was magic. Breath-taking. You could have heard a pin drop when they exchanged rings. Ian said later that at that point he felt only the three of them under the Chupah were there, Michael and Marija and himself taking the service, with no-one else in the room.

Fourthly, the glorious words of stage two's service which is short, powerful and astonishing. It opens with "Happy are those that live in Your house and can always praise you. Happy the people of whom this is true!" Followed by joyous psalms, it goes uphill from there.

The responsive section starts with mention of eternity, greatness to all generations, creation of highest heavens, then swoops down to an individual private Yom Kippur-like forgive us for we have sinned, pardon us for we have disobeyed, heal our afflictions, pleading for our own repentance; then soars upward and outward again calling for "life-giving water to all of the earth, sound the great horn for freedom, raise a banner to restore all those in exile. May the voice of liberty and freedom be heard throughout the four corners of the earth for all its inhabitants" plus hopes for true peace. Surprising, gripping and awesome, like a rollercoaster ride.

Psalms 84 and 100 generate a surge of joy to read, let alone say together as we did. Finally the great Seven Blessings open in a global universal way, then quietly asks "Give these companions in love great happiness, the happiness of Your creatures in Eden long ago", then end exuberantly with "joy and happiness, bride and bridegroom, mirth, celebration, pleasure and delight, love and companionship, peace and friendship". You couldn't ask for more!

Lest you sink in a surfeit of sugar, the smashing of the glass at the very end is "to remind bride and groom on their happy day of the destruction of the Temple" (Jacobs), a phrase which is short-hand or code for: not everything is going to go perfectly, something can go wrong, be steadfast or adaptable to it, 'be prepared'.

Finally, the plain unadorned Chupah and hall seemed unostentatious, simple and sincere. This was the most touching feature of all as the sincerity suits Michael and Marija and reminded me of page 393 in the old siddur: when Adam awoke and found Eve at his side, he asked: "What is going to be the plan of our life together?' She replied: "We shall have a common table, you will seek to provide it with bread, and I shall cover it with fresh flowers."

It seems to me that these five things engaged the mind rationally, with the words, and the heart emotionally with the music, lights and Chupah as a stage of a drama involving us all. At the same time these five things were both personal, addressed to the happy couple, and communal, including everyone, in a complex interwoven and thus strongly binding way, thereby creating or reinforcing those double bonds.

Will it inspire any more to follow suit? As the Gemara (Berakot: 34a) put it with 5th century humour: "Three things are good in a little measure and evil in large: yeast, salt, and hesitation."


Ne've Shalom
Great Gutter Lane
HU10 6DP



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