The night before my wedding I was having trouble sleeping. Like a child anticipating the first day of school, I was consumed with the excitement of the adventure that awaited me. It was either that or the fact that I went to the bathroom during the night about 18 times.
No, the frequency of restroom visits had nothing to do with any wild bachelor party the night before (at my bachelor party we spent the day playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey and ate pastrami sandwiches). Rather, like a marathon runner preparing for game day, I was continuously hydrating myself in preparation for my big day - my own personal Day of Atonement. The Rabbis tell us that when a person gets married, all of his sins are forgiven, so the day is treated like Yom Kippur by fasting, immersing in the ritual waters of the mikvah and praying. So, just like the day before Yom Kippur, in camel-like fashion, I was building up reserves for the coming day in order to prevent any awkward fainting/vomiting moments.
I "awoke" from my evening of wind-sprints and went to synagogue for morning services. I was accompanied by my "shomrim" or "guards" - friends who accompany the groom wherever he goes the day of the wedding. I kind of felt like Fifty Cent.
After an extended session of prayer and reflection I went to the mikvah to continue the sin cleansing process. I thought about some of the things that I have done in my past for which I wanted to atone. I lingered in the mikvah for longer than usual because the warm water felt a bit like a hot tub.
I returned home to shower and get changed. This process took me about 45 minutes total. I had a feeling that it would take Talia about 45 minutes to simply decide if she wanted her hair up or down, side part or no side part, curls or no curls… I cannot recall if I actually brushed my hair or not.
I arrived at the wedding hall early for pictures and pre-game show. The excitement was starting to build. Were these decorations being set up for me? Was that band going to be playing for my wedding? Were those hors d'oeuvres going to be served to my guests? "
"Stop looking at the food!" I had to tell myself. "Its 'Richard Rabkin's Yom Kippur' remember?"
My friends and family began to file in. They came all the way from Vancouver to New York, Los Angeles to Israel, and the fact that they undertook an arduous trip just to celebrate this special event with me spoke volumes about the special connection that I shared with each of them. That or they heard who was catering the wedding and felt compelled to sample their world famous smoked meat station.
The guests arrived and the men entered the room where the Chosson's Tisch (literally "groom's table") was taking place with singing and l'chaims, while the women greeted Talia, the bride, in her room where she was seated majestically on the bridal throne. As for me, I sat on a brown folding chair. There was not much majesty there.
After about 45 minutes, escorted by my father and future father-in-law on either side of me, my friends encircled me, singing and dancing, and leading me towards Talia for the "Bedekin." Customarily, brides and grooms are not supposed to see each other, and many do not even speak the week before the wedding. Some say that this is done in order to enhance the wedding through their separation, while others suggest that it is so you don't get in any last minute arguments about what the vegetarian guests should do while the smoked meat station is in full swing. Talia and I had actually not seen each other for nine days before the wedding. We're very religious.
It was my first time seeing her in days, and although she looked beautiful, she also looked a little different - radiant.
I entered the room and saw Talia crying with excitement while she held the hands of my mother and her mother on either side. It was my first time seeing her in nine days, and although she looked beautiful, she also looked a little different - radiant. I almost didn't recognize her and wondered if we walked in on the Yamazaki/Velez wedding by mistake. But as I got closer, I was relieved to find out that it was indeed Talia.
We shared a few moments together, bursting with excitement that in less than an hour we would be husband and wife. I approached her and covered her face with her veil, reminiscent of the Biblical account of the veiling of Rebecca before marrying Isaac. The next thing I knew, my friend Gregg propped me up on his shoulders and took me back into the groom's room accompanied by the rest of my friends who were singing and dancing. I believe at that point I also yelled out, "I am a rock star!" I don't think the rabbi was impressed.
Talia and I then moved towards the ceremony - the "Chuppah" or "canopy" which symbolizes the home that Talia and I will build together. It was open on all sides, recalling our forefather Abraham's tent which was open to welcome visitors at all times.
I donned my "kittel," a white robe that signifies purity. Jewish tradition tells us that on the wedding day the prayers of a bride and groom have special meaning. So as Talia walked towards the chuppah and encircled me seven times, I prayed that not only God should grant us a happy and healthy life together, but He should do the same for others. I prayed for friends and family, for sick people in Israel and around the world. I prayed for our future children as well.
As I prayed, I cried. Now I am not a big crier. I think the last time I cried was when I saw Luke Skywalker get his hand chopped off in the Empire Strikes Back. But I cried under my chuppah. Not out of sadness, but out of joy and thanks - thanks to the Almighty that He helped me find my soul mate.
To conclude the ceremony, I stepped on a glass in order to commemorate the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and all that it represents - unity of the Jewish people, our return to the Promised Land, and peace amongst mankind.
After I wiggled all of my toes to make sure that no glass pierced through the bottom of my shoe, Talia and I looked at each other and smiled. I thought to myself - it was all worth it. All of those years of flying around the world for blind dates. Our six months of dating, two of which Talia spent in Israel. Our four-month engagement period when we admittedly had some difficult moments. All of those years wondering who my soul mate was, and hoping that she was out there. It was all worth it because now we were finally together.
Talia and I were again danced by our friends to the "heder yichud" or the "room of privacy" where we spent our first few moments as a married couple together in seclusion.
After we ate (remember we didn't eat all day) and some more pictures, we were announced as husband and wife for the first time by the band leader and rushed out onto the dance floor. During the week of their wedding the bride and groom are likened to a king and queen, and guests are obliged to entertain us in whatever way they know how.
The excitement in the hall was infectious. In the traditional Jewish "Horah" I danced with my father and new father-in-law, and had a few moments with each of my friends and family that came from near or far to celebrate with me. As I danced, I exuded jubilation, affection, and sweaty arm-pits all at the same time.
We continued with the meal and speeches, and more dancing, and more eating, and all the while, I looked at Talia and realized how lucky I am.
Now, some months later, even if the excitement of the wedding day has worn off, the excitement about our future together hasn't. Granted, it's not the "I can't sleep at night" type of excitement that I experienced the night before the wedding, but rather, one of purpose and commitment. I know that our life together won't simply be a Hollywood "happily ever after" story, because there could be some difficult days ahead. But I am comforted by the fact that the woman whom I have chosen to marry knows that too. We have made a commitment to one another to work on our relationship, to grow together and to raise a loving family. To this day, that is what helps me get to sleep at night.