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Are you looking for a ritual officiant for the burial or memorial service of a Jewish loved one?

I am a freelance officiant of Jewish funerals and weddings. I have completed four years of rabbinical school and live in Havertown in the Mainline.

In this blog post, I will let you know what the preparation process is like. While I officiate standard traditional Jewish funerals, my largest clientele is families who are unaffiliated, have interfaith family dynamics or who want a theistically secular funeral service. In this post, I will also give you some examples of specific prayers or readings we can use in the service.

Every funeral ritual is different: As an officiant, I try to match the liturgy and content with the beliefs and wishes of the deceased as well as the sentiments of his/her loved ones. Trying to do both is possible — it just takes some time, and some conversations, to figure it out.

Many Jewish funerals include two classic pieces of Jewish liturgy: the Mourner’s Kaddish and El Male Rachamim. But today, many people favor more contemporary readings on the issues of death and grief.  For an interfaith audience, a traditional reading from the Torah (such as Psalm 23 “The Lord is My Shephard I Shall Not Want …”) works well, and is recognizable to both Jews and Christians. OR, we can substitute biblical readings with selections that are less theistic in nature, such as an excerpt from the beautiful poem by Marge Piercy called The Seven of Pentacles.

We figure out what readings or liturgy are best to include, based on the conversations I have with immediate family members and friends.

During the memorial service, I love to include one to three guests, who come up during the service and offer a few thoughts or memories about the loved one. We can also include and “open mic” situation, where we open up the floor to any of the guests present for some impromptu memory-sharing.

I also love to include a short eulogy where I share highlights of the person’s life, her loves and interests, and what she will be most remembered for. Prior to my rabbinic life, I worked as a professional journalist for 15 years; this autobiographical information I glean from family members during interviews, and write into a eulogy that I hope captures the spirit and life of the person who died.

So how, exactly, does all of this happen? The process for funeral service planning is the following:

1) An initial phone call to get acquainted and confirm the schedule.

2) If you live in the Mainline, an in-person meeting with one or two family members who knew the deceased really well. We will meet for about 1 hour in your home, and discuss what kind of service you would like, as well as share details about who the deceased was as a person.

3) If you live outside the Mainline, this planning meeting can be done via conference call.

4) Ask you to find out the deceased person’s Hebrew name. You might need to make calls to your extended family to find this out. It might also be recorded on a ketubah. A person’s Hebrew name is usually used during the memorial service.

5) Meet ½ an hour before the service begins to go over any final details or questions.

6) The service itself is usually held at the funeral home. If internment is going to take place, the service is usually followed by a much shorter graveside service, with just immediate family members attending.

If you are on a tight schedule planning your funeral, and wish to contact me, please send me an email, as well as phone call. (I have several small children at home, so I’m not always deeply attuned to all of my technological gadgets!)

They are: joysa@aol.com,  (c) 267-902-7752.

May strength, comfort and peace be with you and your family in this difficult time.

+++

Another article I wrote on this topic can be found here: http://wanderinghebrew.com/2012/08/15/planning-a-jewish-funeral-in-philly-101-what-you-need-to-know/


Honoring the death of a person who was difficult to love

- A combo memorial service / shiva minyan can help you do so

 A few weeks ago, I had the complicated privilege of helping a family plan a memorial/shiva service for their father, who had died after a long illness, and after an even longer period of pain of estrangement from his four adult children, their spouses, and his grandchildren.

“Andy,” as I will call him, was a complicated persotombstonen, which is why I described my job, as the rabbi, to be “complicated.”

Andy was in his 80s and was hard to get along with, perhaps even abusive at times to his children. He played favorites in a way that the adult children had learned to cope with, but which had surely created much pain and heartache when they were younger and less mature. Andy had divorced his kids’ mother and she had no interest in attending any kind of memorial. None of the women he had dated since  the divorce cared to attend any kind of service either. It appears he had no friends.

Jewish burial practices were clearly made with a different kind of person in mind. Jews and non-Jews alike, including the world of psychiatric research, has a great deal of admiration for the way Jewish tradition handles end-of-life mourning practices. People have written many books about the wisdom of Jewish mourning traditions, and how they seem designed to gradually lead the survivors through the stages of mourning, and eventually back into the world of the living.

I agree. They are brilliant. And I encourage Jews who never do more Jewishly in their lives than appear at Kol Nidre services to take the time to familiarize themselves with the Jewish ways of mourning when a loved one dies. Together, they betray a keen awareness of how we humans process loss, and how marking intervals of time over this mourning process with specific rituals and prayers can help us move through our grief.

I won’t go into the various elements now – you can read them many places. Rather, what I would like to talk about here are those deaths that we feel a need or desire to ritually acknowledge in some way, but for a variety of reasons, the Jewish script on how to do so doesn’t fit quite right.

• The death of someone who is very old, and thus leaves few survivors, is one whole category of cases where classical Jewish mourning practices don’t entirely make sense.

• The death of someone who was, essentially, a hard person to love, is another important category. This is the situation “Andy’s” family found themselves in.

In a “typical” death of a beloved, Jewish tradition kicks in with a set of clearly prescribed actions:

1.         Call the funeral home.
2.         Plan for either a burial or cremation.
(40% of Jews today are being cremated; it’s the hush-hush secret no on talks about.)
3.         Schedule a date and plan on 100+ people coming to the funeral home for a service inside the funeral home.
4.         A portion of those mourners will then drive to the graveside, where thtexte rabbi will read a few more psalms or poems, and conclude with the mourner’s kaddish. The final act is the throwing of dirt on the casket or the urn that is being buried. You can assume steps 1-4 will take about 5 hours out of your day, much of it in travel time, since the funeral homes and the burial grounds are often located very far apart. In Philly, most of them are located in the far outskirts of the city.
5.         Then comes shiva. Traditionally, it is 7 nights, but most families outside Orthodoxy observe only 1 or 2 nights. The rabbi who led the funeral usually leads the shiva as well, unless you have an educated friend or family member who can lead the service. (This is one way of saving some money, if that is an issue.)
6.         Then, about 6 months after the death, immediate family members gather graveside for the unveiling of the tombstone. This is a brief ceremony, 15 minutes tops, but people often have lunch together afterward. Due to travel time, this often takes another 3-4 hours.

The average cost for all this (assuming a burial and not a cremation) is $35,000, according to national statistics. The rabbi makes a miniscule fraction of this sum, by the way. In Philadelphia, the fixed rate for a funeral is $545 for the rabbi; shiva minyans and tombstone unveilings are negotiated separately, and vary depending on travel time.

At the end of the day, this “whole big megilla” of a traditional Jewish burial is a whole lot of money. It’s especially a lot of money if you suspect few people will even attend the funeral, the graveside, or a shiva, either because the deceased had outlived his social circle, or because the deceased was that sort of person who was simply hard to love.

But put aside all financial considerations for a moment and just think about the emotional ones. Do you want to invest 10 or 15 hours of your life memorializing someone who, despite their kinship, caused you deep grief or heartache? How much time do you want to spend formally mourning a person who caused you to spend years of your life on a therapist’s couch?

I’m going to take a wild guess here and say: Probably not much.

But that also doesn’t mean you don’t want to do nothing at all, either.

A memorial service, however it is done, is for the living, not for the dead. So first and foremost, it needs to meet the needs of the immediate mourners. The many layered, time-consuming, expensive rituals usually done upon the death of a beloved was not what Andy’s family needed.

Although the death of a difficult family member, like Andy, is a different kind of loss than the death of someone close, but it is still very much a loss. Sometimes, quixotically, it can be an even harder loss because it can bring up all sorts of feels of regret, thoughts of “if only…” and “what if…”

The death of a person with whom you had a broken relationship means this relationship can NEVER be repaired. It likely couldn’t have been repaired by any means, because the man who died was himself too broken of a person, but the survivor is left with the shards of this broken vessel for the remainder of their days, and they need to make peace with it.

Having a brief, perhaps in-home memorial service with just immediate family members can be one way of helping them do that.

Andy’s surviving children and spouses were an incredibly wise bunch. They had already figured out, long before calling me, that doing the traditional Jewish funeral rites was not what they needed. It would have been, to put it bluntly, overkill. But they did instintively know that they needed to come together as a family, and in some way mark the passing of this person who had, for better and for worse, made such an enormous impact on their lives.

They were so right. So, working together, here is what we did. I think of it as a Jewish funeral/shiva combo. It was inexpensive; it was respectful; and it served its purpose of helping the mourners mark the loss of their father, that they might now move forward to this new phase in their lives.

 A Combined Home Memorial  / Shiva Minyan Service

(in lieu of the traditional memorial service at funeral home/graveside service/
and then shiva minyans)

Timing: Andy had died and been cremated about one month earlier. An in-home memorial was planned for a few weeks after his death to give relativmosaices from out of town time to buy plane tickets at a reasonable price and prepare time off from work and school (in the case of the grandchildren).

Location: At the home of one of Andy’s daughters in the Mainline PA.

Time: Late morning or early afternoon on a Saturday or Sunday seemed to make the most sense. This minimized impact on their own work/school lives, while also making it possible to follow the home memorial with a meal together, which they had at a restaurant. (I led the service, but did not join them at the meal).

In Attendance:  Four surviving daughters, their four spouses, and all but one of the grandchildren (the missing grandchild was in college and had only met his grandfather once, so in his case, it didn’t seem to make sense that he would incur the cost and headache of missed collegiate work.)

 A Sample Service:

We sat in chairs in a circle in the living room, where we could all face each other.

Rabbi: I began with a favorite reading from Albert Einstein, where he reflects on the meaning of life. I concluded by saying:

“Thank you to all of you who have come here today, to stand in comfort and support of the Smith family, as they mourn the passage of their father, father-in-law and grandfather, Andy Smith. Please turn to page 4a.

 Rise for the Shema

Rabbi: Read a brief writing from Chaim Stern

Volunteer Reader: Reads an English rendition of Ma’ariv Aravim

Everyone: Recite the Shema together

Volunteer Reader: Read an English rendition of V’ahavta

Rabbi: “There are times when each of us feels lost or alone, adrift and forsaken, unable to reach those next to us, or to be reached by them. And there are days and nights when existence seems to lack all purpose, and our lives seem brief sparks in an indifferent cosmos. Fear and loneliness enter into the soul. None of us is immune from doubt and fear; none escapes times when all seems dark and senseless. Then, the ebb-tide of the spirit, the soul cries out and reaches for companionship.”

Please turn to 13a as we rise and recite together the first three blessings of the psalmnatureAmidah. For the 15 remaining blessings, I invite you to recite them silently, or simply take this time for quiet personal reflection.

 Group: Recites the Amidah (Also called “The Tefillah”)

 Conclude the Amidah by singing together “Oseh Shalom”

Rabbi: Shares a reading from Marge Piercy

Rabbi: Shares some highlights from Andy Smith’s life: where he was born, raised, what kind of work he did. Mention his strengths and those things he did well in life.

Then open the circle to anyone else who would like to share some memories
Three members of the family shared some brief positive memories they had of Andy.

Volunteer Reader: The circle closed with a recitation of the poem by Albert Fine: “Death is a Beginning, Death is a Destination.” (The poem had been suggested by one of the daughters; she had heard it at other funerals and liked it.)

Rabbi: Sings/Chants El Malei Rachamim – a mournful prayer in which we ask that the soul of the departed carry on into the next world on the wings of angels.

Rabbi: Leads the concluding Mourner’s Kaddish.

 *   *   *

Shavuot: Let's keep it the harvest holiday it was originally meant to be!

This is just one of many ways a combined at-home memorial / shiva service can be conducted. The readings and content was selected after speaking with the family members. All in all, the service lasted about 40 minutes.

Every death is different. The needs of the mourners will be different for any family. To discuss what kind of service might meet the needs of your family, please give me a call. There is never any charge for a consultation, and if I feel I am not able to meet the needs of your family – for whatever reason – I am happy to help you find someone who will.

Every death, even the most difficult one, deserves to be honored and recognized in some way. Working together, we can make this happen for you. I have formal training across the non-Orthodox spectrum: Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal and Secular-Humanist. We can craft a ceremony that honors your theistic beliefs, and those of the deceased.

Please call both my numbers, and my email, if you are trying to schedule a memorial/shiva. I’m not always checking my electronic devices, so try all three. My name is Joysa and my numbers are 610-642-2420. Cell 267-902-7752. Email: joysa@aol.com


As dawn broke, the angels urged Lot on, saying, ‘Up, take your wife and your two remaining daughters, lest you be swept away because of the iniquity of the city.’

Still he delayed. So the angels seized his hand, and the hands of his wife and his two daughters – in God’s mercy – and brought him out and left him outside the city.

When they had brought them outside, one said to Lot, ‘Flee for your life! Do not look behind you, nor stop anywhere in the Plain; flee to the hills, lest you be swept away!’

But Lot argued with the angel, ‘Evil may take hold of me if I flee to the hills,’ he said. ‘Look — there is a small town nearby. Let me go there and save my life!’ The angel relented. ‘Go quickly,’ the angel said, ‘for I can do nothing until you get there.’

As the brimstone and fire then rained out of the heavens onto Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s wife looked behind him and became a pillar of salt.
(Genesis 19:15-26)

I confess, I have always had a certain affection for the woman in the Bible we know only as “Lot’s wife.” Any way you look at it, she got the raw end of a really raw deal.

For starters, she was married to a dolt — and even that descriptor is too generous when you look at just how incompetent Lot really was.

First, in Genesis 19:8, he offers his two virgin daughters to the men of the town to “do with as you please.” It is only thanks to the intervention of the angels that the young women are saved. Then, in verse 20, when the angels urge Lot to take his family and flee the city before it’s too late, he dilly dallies so long, the angels have to physically take his hand and lead them out of town.

Once outside, the angels urge him again to flee, and what does Lot do? He stands his ground and argues with them! “It’s too far!” he complains. “Can’t I just go to that town over there instead!?!” The angels acquiesce again, holding back the brimstone and fire until the family has reached safety.

Then, in a final act of irresponsibility, Lot fails to tell his wife and daughters the warning one of the angels had given him in verse 17 — that crucial piece of information about how, if they look back at the destruction, they too will be swept away. The text states clearly that the angels warned him — “al tavit achareycha” — in the masculine singular. These crucial words of warning were only spoken to Lot, not to the rest of his family. And Lot, being the kind of guy Lot was, never relayed them. We all know how this tragic series of events ends. Lot’s wife looks behind them and turns into a pillar of salt.

The question that has been occupying rabbinic commentators ever since is: Why did she look? Some have answered generously.

Writing in 12th century Egypt, Maimonides said Lot’s wife was looking behind her husband to see who might be following him, acting as a rear guard for all his household, who were hurrying to be saved.

The  late 14th century agaddic collection Midrash ha-Gadol says she felt concern for her married daughters, whom they had left behind, and she was turning to see if they were following.

Other commentators, overlooking the crucial fact that she had never heard the angels’ warning, concoct far more damning explanations. The 3rd century midrashic collection B’reishit Rabba said she had once refused to give salt to a poor person, so being turned into salt was a punishment ‘measure for measure.’

Jacob Chinitz, rabbi emeritus of Beth Ami Congregation in Philadelphia, now living in Israel, imagines that she looked back only to delight in the destruction of her townspeople. “She could not resist enjoying their failure and her success even though it was only her good fortune to be married to Abraham’s nephew,” the USCJ explains.

Good fortune!?!? Being married to this schlemiel was good fortune!?!

To my thinking, the question isn’t why did Lot’s wife look back — it’s why wouldn’t she!?

Here she is, the world literally raining down on her in flames, and her future, her fate is entirely dependent on this man who has proven himself paralyzed by indecision. And when he finally does make decisions, they are disastrously bad ones!

Lot’s wife may very well have been looking back out of concern for her other daughters, or out of sorrow at the destruction of the people she knew. We can never know because the text doesn’t give a clue about her inner life.

But what I do know is that I would have looked back — if for no other reason that to make sure we were on a safe path, that we weren’t being pursued, that flame and fire were not lapping at our heels. I would have not only looked back, I would have looked forwards and sideways too, to check, and recheck, that this course of action was the right one. To make sure my inept husband was not leading us into disaster.

When you are tethered, without recourse, to an unfortunate man, you can never be too careful.

I respect Lot’s wife for not following her husband blindly. I admire her for being cautious in a perilous situation in which she had no power. I love the woman depicted by 20th century American poet Shirley Kaufman, who offered this to say about a person so brave and so resolute, whom our history-writers never saw fit to even name:

But it was right that she
looked back. Not to be
curious, some lumpy
reaching of the mind
that turns all shapes to pillars.
But to be only who she was
apart from them, the place
exploding, and herself
defined. Seeing them melt
to slag heaps and the flames
slide into their mouths.
Testing her own lips then,
the coolness, till
she could taste the salt.

Original artwork by Charles Dickinson.


What has risen is the total number of Jews. Pew counted 6.3 million Jews this year. It also offers a second possible figure, 6.7 million, which includes children who are being raised Jewish “and something else.” This causes some confusion. Adults of Jewish parentage who practice Judaism “and something else” — usually Christianity, occasionally Buddhism — aren’t included in the Jewish population.

But kids — hey, you never know how they’ll turn out, right? So you can’t just write them off statistically. Experience shows that some will grow up to be Jewish.

It makes sense to use a working total somewhere in the middle, around 6.5 million. Up from 5.5 million. That’s an 18% increase in a quarter-century when America’s population grew 26%. We were supposed to be declining.

Here is an article that just came out in the Jewish Daily Forward (October 2013). Think it’s worth sharing!

Published Sunday, October 13, 2013

Pew Survey About Jewish America Got It All Wrong

With Flawed Comparisons, Study Reached Faulty Conclusions

By J.J. Goldberg

If you’ve been following the news about that new survey of American Jews from the folks at the Pew Research Center, you’ve probably heard the basics. The New York Times summed it up nicely: “a significant rise in those who are not religious, marry outside the faith and are not raising their children Jewish.”

There’s one more thing you need to know: It’s not true. None of it.

A “rise in those who are not religious”? Wrong. More Jews marrying “outside the faith”? Wrong. More Jews “not raising their children Jewish”? Wrong.

No, not wrong as in “I think there’s a better way to interpret those numbers.” Wrong as in “incorrect.” Erroneous. Whoops.

Mind you, most of what’s in the study seems solid, from what this reasonably informed layman can tell. It just so happens that Pew made an honest mistake in one highly visible spot, and that  is what grabbed the headlines. Then the reporters made a few mistakes reading the material. The result was what you saw: a dark portent of doom.

Take away the errors, and you get a very different narrative. It would go something like this: Despite decades of warnings that American Jewry is dissolving in the face of assimilation and intermarriage, a major new survey by one of America’s most respected social research organizations depicts a Jewish community that is growing more robustly than even the optimists expected.

Over the past quarter-century (it continues), the data show a community that has grown in number. Intermarriage leveled off in the late 1990s after rising steadily through much of the 20th century, and has remained stable for the past 15 years.

By some measures, Jews appear to be increasing overall levels of Jewish practice and engagement. Most surprising, significant numbers of children of intermarriage have grown up to become Jewish adults, far exceeding even their own parents’ intentions.

If things are so good, why do they look so bad? Simple. After calculating its data, Pew compared its findings with an earlier survey to see where things were headed.

Unfortunately, they picked the so-called National Jewish Population Survey 2000-01, best remembered as a multimillion-dollar botch job. Its release had been delayed two years to allow two separate reviews by outside experts. The confidential reviews were devastating. This was not a useful data point.

A critical misstep in 2000 was a decision to set aside interviewees with “weak Jewish connections” and not bother asking them detailed questions about Jewish identity. One result was a falsely upbeat picture of Jewish commitment and practice. Another was the disappearance of most Jews who claimed “no religion.” You can guess the rest.

When Pew compared its findings with NJPS 2000-01, researchers were shocked to discover a huge increase in Jews answering “none” for religion. Pew’s total in 2013 was 22%. The records from 2000 turned up 7%. Conclusion: Jews were abandoning religion.

That should have rung an alarm. Fifteen percent of a highly visible and vocal religious community, three-quarters of a million people, quietly losing their religious faith inside a decade? How could that happen?

The answer is, it didn’t. For a reality check, go back to an earlier survey, NJPS 1990, which was highly regarded in most respects. Of 5.5 million Jews it found, 20% chose “none” for religion. Given a 3% margin of error, that’s the same as 22%. There’s been no rise. None.

What has risen is the total number of Jews. Pew counted 6.3 million Jews this year. It also offers a second possible figure, 6.7 million, which includes children who are being raised Jewish “and something else.” This causes some confusion. Adults of Jewish parentage who practice Judaism “and something else” — usually Christianity, occasionally Buddhism — aren’t included in the Jewish population.

But kids — hey, you never know how they’ll turn out, right? So you can’t just write them off statistically. Experience shows that some will grow up to be Jewish.

It makes sense to use a working total somewhere in the middle, around 6.5 million. Up from 5.5 million. That’s an 18% increase in a quarter-century when America’s population grew 26%. We were supposed to be declining.

Also increased, surprisingly, are rates of Passover Seder attendance, fasting on Yom Kippur, Sabbath candle-lighting and kosher food observance. Some of the increase can be explained by the growth of the Orthodox population, from 7% to 10%. But that covers less than half the rise.

One of the biggest surprises in the Pew survey is how many children of intermarriage actually grew up to be Jewish. In the 1990 survey, 28% of intermarried couples said they were raising their children as Jews.

In 2013, a generation later, at least 43% of those children grew up to be Jewish anyway. And why not? In a world where half-Jews like Gwyneth Paltrow, Ryan Braun, Scarlett Johannson and Drake proudly identify as Jews, Jewish is cool.

It would be a mistake to see the picture as entirely rosy. Adult children of intermarriage who identify as Jews are split roughly evenly between Jews by religion and Jews of no religion. By contrast, adults with two Jewish parents identify with religion by a 7-to-1 margin.

This is significant for several reasons. Non-religious Jews tend to have a far more ambivalent tie to Jewish identity. They’re only half as likely to say that being Jewish is important in their lives, that they feel themselves to be part of a Jewish community or that they feel a special obligation to other Jews in need. Only one-third of those with children say they’re raising them as Jews.

On the other hand, if we know anything about the future, it’s that we can’t know the future. Back in 1990, only 28% of half-Jewish children were supposed to end up Jewish, yet nearly half did. Will the children of today’s non-religious Jews turn out the same way? Who knows?

Besides, we know a great deal about what non-religious Jews don’t do or believe, but very little about what they do. Nearly all the survey tools for measuring Jewish behavior describe religious rituals. Non-religious Jews obviously score low.

But we get hints, and they’re intriguing. For example: We know that as interfaith marriages grow in raw numbers, their children increase as a proportion of both religious and especially non-religious Jewry. That should increase the downward pull of non-religious Jews’ ties. And yet the proportion of non-religious Jews who fast on Yom Kippur has more than doubled since 1990, from 10% to 22%.

The lead technical advisor on the 1990 survey, the distinguished Brown University sociologist Sidney Goldstein, wrote in the 1992 American Jewish Year Book that with low birthrate, aging, high intermarriage and few intermarried couples raising Jewish children, “there seems little prospect that the total core Jewish population of the United States will rise above 5.5 million.”

In fact, he wrote, it’s “more likely that the core population will decline toward 5.0 million and possibly even below it in the early decades of the 21st century.”

Like I said: Whoops.

Contact J.J. Goldberg at goldberg@forward.com


The Jewish New Year is upon us, making the time ripe for a wistful reflection on all those beautiful, stunning, heart-felt vow exchanges I had the pleasure of officiating and witnessing this past year in metropolitan Philly.

Do you have wedding coming ahead in the 2014 calendar year? If so, here are a few of my Favorites, for all things related to weddings. By the way, none of these places or businesses are giving me any “kickbacks” for endorsing them — they are, quite simply, my favorite sites and sounds for weddings in Philadelphia!

Drop me a line at Joysa@aol.com if you’d like information on hiring me to be your officiant. I specialize in Jewish and interfaith weddings, as well as secular/nontheistic weddings for couples coming out of any religious tradition.

#1: Best Philly Wedding Venue: Sweet Water Farms in Glen Mills takes the cake as most elegant. sophisticated, and yet tuned-into-nature venue of anywhere in metro Philly.

The former summer home of the infamous Grace Kelly, Sweet Water farm today acts as a winery, a small-scale B&B, and a rustic venue replete with an old-time wooden water well, a two-story farm house decked out in twinkly white lights, and rolling views overlooking horses, wild flowers, and a heated pool and jacuzzi.

The 50–acre historic estate features 14 guest rooms: three in the original 1734 Quaker farmhouse wing and four in the 1815 Georgian wing.  The original carriage house, greenhouse and caretaker’s cottage have all been transformed into seven guest cottages, five of which are pet– and child–friendly.

Other amenities for a perfect getaway are a swimming pool, outdoor hot tub, golf chipping range, nine-hole disc golf course, private massage room, fitness room, walking trail and a friendly family of horses, sheep and goats.

Check out their online photo gallery here, to get a complete picture of this beautiful property!: http://sweetwaterfarmbb.gracewinery.com/property/property.php

#2 Best Wedding Dress Shopping Online: BHLDN.

When it comes to shopping for that perfect wedding dress, you can’t do better than BHLDN. Their beautiful, flowing — and most important of all — UNIQUE gowns flatter every body size and can work with nearly every budget.

When it comes to wedding dresses, BHLDN has captured my soul. This Kauai wedding dress costs only $800 and is probably one of the most unique, imaginative dresses I’ve ever imagined walking down the aisle in!

While the form flows free, elegant details like intricate embroidery, an asymmetrical hem, and a slender braided neck ribbon with crystal button closure ensure this dress is anything but ordinary. Can’t you just picture it on a seashore wedding, walking barefoot in the sand?

This Lita Gown (below right) sells for a bit pricier at $2,400. But it is made of pearly beads that trim the edges of a gauzy, attached coverlet above a sleek dress of luminous silk charmeuse. Though not pictured here, a thin, self-tie string of silk at the nape of the neck ensures sleeves won’t slip off your shoulders.

The gown has underwire and bust cups, silk tulle and silk charmeuse shell, as well as a silk charmeuse lining.

*****

The company sells all sorts of other keepsakes useful for a wedding. For example, check out these beautiful, antique-looking gifts for the bridal party, as well as picture holders that could be used to decorate tables in a reception room.

This beautifully articulated  shining scallop opens to reveal a single pearl to hold the wedding bands. Handmade from silver, nickel-plated brass and pearl, they measure 1.5”H, 2.75”W, 2.75”L.

More decors can be viewed here: www.bhldn.com/the-shop-decor-keepsakes/.

For more on Jewish weddings, please see some of my other posts:

For you unaffiliated students who do not have a synagogue home, there are numerous synagogues of many tastes and flavors that offer free or near-free services. Please don’t use “I’m not a member!” as an excuse to miss out on some of the most beautiful services and rituals of our tradition!

Putting on multi-day-long religious services is VERY expensive, especially when choirs are hired and they are paid respectable living wages. If you attend a free service, please consider writing a personal thank you note to the congregation that hosted you, and making a donation — however little or much you can afford — to help them offset their expenses.

 

 

Synagogues and High Holiday Ticket Availability for Students

Germantown Jewish Centre (Mt. Airy, PA) — www.germantownjewishcentre.org
GJC warmly welcomes students to share the High Holidays. For full-time students beyond college age, our suggested donation is $36 per person, but students can also make arrangements to pay what works for their household. Contact Nina Peskin (director@germantownjewishcentre.org). There will be four davenning options within GJC: Dorshei Derekh Reconstructionist Minyan; the main sanctuary service (“Charry” service); Minyan Masorti; as well as a “Kol D’mama” contemplative service.


Kol Tzedek (West Philadelphia) — www.kol-tzedek.org
All students are welcome to come to Kol Tzedek for services. There is no cost for tickets but donations are suggested/requested. There will be an opportunity for online donations.


Mishkan Shalom (Philadelphia/Manyunk, PA) – www.mishkan.org
All students are welcome to come to High Holiday services at Mishkan Shalom. There is no fee and no tickets required; you can just show up. Of course, donations are welcome and accepted!


Pnai Or  (Mt. Airy, PA)– www.pnaior-phila.org/find-us-contact-us
Pnai Or is the Jewish Renewal community located in Mt. Airy. Students are welcome for High Holidays! No tickets required. As R. Marica Prager, Pnai Or’s spiritual leader told me, “just show up with open hearts and an inclination to celebration.” The schedule and details for services will be on their website.


Or Hadash Reconstructionist Synagogue (Ft. Washington, PA) — www.orhadash.com
All students are welcome to attend High Holiday services free of charge. Call or e-mail Laurie at 215-283-0276 or Office@OrHadash.com.


Congregation Beth Israel (Media, PA) – http://bethisraelmedia.org
Congregation Beth Israel is happy to welcome students for its High Holiday services. There is no cost for students but donations are requested.


New – Tikkun Olam Havurah
All students are welcome to participate in these services. This is a new/emerging havurah that will be led by Rabbi Linda Holtzman (RRC ’79). There will be services on both Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. For more details go to their facebook page: www.facebook.com/pages/Tikkun-Olam-Chavurah/175989759247342 or email Rabbi Linda at rabbilinda18@gmail.com


Congregation Shireinu (Gladwyn, PA) — www.shireinu.com
Students are welcome any time, including for High Holiday services. No tickets or money is required!


This is the world’s greatest wedding engagement! Wouldn’t it be fun to work this directly into the ceremony itself, have the crowds separate to reveal an entire banquet area, chuppah, officiant waiting under a chuppah, the works? Engagement and wedding all in one!

It was would a lot of work to execute, and you’d need to have a pretty laid back couple and in-laws, but it sure would be fun!