by Lisa Berman, Mikveh and Education Director
December 16, 1990, our wedding day, was the culmination of some very speedy planning. My then-boyfriend Jeff and I, living 200 miles apart for two years, waited until we knew we could both be employed in the same city to get engaged. We managed the trifecta of life transitions – apartment hunting and moving, starting a new job, and planning a wedding – in less than two months. Our “bibles” were the classifieds (remember those, printed in an actual newspaper?), the phone (landlines only!), and The New Jewish Wedding by Anita Diamant.
In those few busy weeks, we poured over Anita’s book, feeling empowered by her accessible and relatable explanations of traditional practices. Neither one of us was particularly knowledgeable about many of the elements of a traditional wedding, but in Anita’s words we found deep meaning and connection. To the surprise of ourselves and our families, we chose to include many elements that were new to us, ones that now stand out as some of the high points of the day.
We had a public ketubah (marriage contract) signing with both men, women, Jewish, and other-than-Jewish signers, a bedeken (veiling), a huppah (wedding canopy) consisting of nothing but Jeff’s new tallit (prayer shawl) and wooden poles, circling – when I circled Jeff three times, kiddushin (betrothal) and nissuin (nuptials), and yichud (a time of brief seclusion for the bride and groom before the celebrations).
We had to write a booklet for our guests to explain these special moments and the meaning we ascribed to them, drawing heavily from Anita’s chapters. These days, many, if not all, of these beautiful traditions are found at many Jewish weddings, a significant culture shift in the panoply of customs that together make a wedding.
Fast forward thirteen years. I’m sitting in my synagogue social hall, hearing THE Anita Diamant speak in person for the first time about her idea for a new kind of mikveh that would be built in my hometown of Newton, MA. I summoned my nerve at the end of her talk, introduced myself, and told her I definitely wanted to be involved in this foundling organization. I was soon ensconced in the first ever Mayyim Hayyim Mikveh Guide Training, and a few years later joined the staff.
It is no accident that my personal experience of creating a wedding filled with authentic traditions infused with deep and relevant meaning sounds so much like what we have been doing at Mayyim Hayyim for the past 13+ years. Anita’s vision for this idea translated perfectly into the creation of a re-envisioned mikveh.
And just as rituals sometimes require a breath of fresh air, so too, do books. Anita has recently written a new edition of “my” wedding planning source, now entitled, The Jewish Wedding Now. To celebrate this special new resource, Mayyim Hayyim is hosting a book launch party on August 7 at 5:30pm; we hope you’ll join us.
And if you are inspired and want to be involved, consider learning more about becoming a Mikveh Guide at an information session on October 2.