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118b1da2d9a6c0d2fa61a19bbc348d4a--the-map-ancient-egyptRecently I heard about a fascinating community of Hebrews who lived on a small island in southern Egypt around the years 495–399 BCE.

They are a tremendously important community to anyone interested in early Israelite history because of how much we have been able to learn about the inner-workings of their society, their legal codes, and their Jewish practices, thanks to the near-perfect preservation of thousands of papyrii written in Aramaic, buried when the community was wiped out, and slowly unearthed over the last century.

The presence of the community is also narrative-shattering for Jewish historians because of the fact the Hebrews there unabashedly built a temple to YHVH in a time when building any place of worship for the Hebrew god outside of Jerusalem was utterly forbidden (think of the angry admonitions by Ezra and Nehemiah—same time period).

I began reading a great scholarly book on the topic The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words 1000 BC-1492 AD and then bee-lined for Youtube hoping to find a video that might show pictures of everything I was reading. That is how I found one lone video on the topic, produced by a British video company NWTV. They pride themselves in being the first “free-to-view TV channel online”.

I must say, however, that I was quite dismayed by the casual anti-semitism and sexism of the narrator, who never identifies himself. Suffice it to say, he’s basically the kind of old white man who that gives all the decent white men of the world a bad name.

Oh Those Stiff-Necked Jews

First, our narrator  describes the destruction of the Jewish temple in Elephantine by their Egyptian neighbors with the remark, oh those “Jews often have a knack of upsetting people.” (9:20) “The Jews here at Elephantine also made themselves unpopular with their fellow mercenaries.”

At the time these events took place, around 500 BCE, there had been a fraction of the anti-Judaism that would later flourish around the world. So to suggest this is just another case of Jewish victimization is historically completely incoherent.

But what is worse is this: If the narrator were to do even the most cursory scholarly research, he would discover that there are three very simple explanations for why these two particular groups got into conflict—and none of them have to do with any notion of “pesky” Jews reigning destruction on themselves.

No 1: The act of a majority group rising up against the minority group living among them is found in every corner of every country in the world for all of human history. It is truly endemic.

Human beings are profoundly xenophobic; even today, hundreds of years after the Enlightenment and the birth of DNA and genetic science and the scientific understanding that all human beings are interchangeably the same, we humans are still killing, marginalizing, or demonizing the “other” among us, every chance we get. (Anyone care to notice what happened in the US presidential election in 2016!?!?)

The Bible is filled with stories of one group sacking another group—oftentimes it even being the Israelites doing the sacking. That’s what human societies do. Is it so hard to imagine why, for various political reasons, the Egyptians might suddenly turn on the tiny minority living among them? Of course it isn’t.

No. 2: In the case of these two groups—the Egyptians and the Israelites—there are particularly simple explanations for the enmity.

bible-archeology-Elephantine-Egyptian-papyrus-letters-Bagohi-governor-Judea-Sanballat-governor-Samaria-Delaiah-Shelemiah-Arsames-Vidranga-rebuild-YHWH-temple-site-plan-536-410BCAt the time of the temple’s destruction, the entire region was ruled by the massive Persian empire; southern Egypt was the outer-most region of its empire. We don’t have any records of what brought the Israelites to the region initially—they were probably the poor remnants who had been left behind when Babylonia sacked the Jerusalem Temple and carted the intelligentsia off to Babylon. Rather than live under severe oppression, the survivors probably fled south.

But whatever the reason for their initial migration, what we do know is that their main purpose in Elphantine was as mercenaries—hired militiamen living in a military garrison alongside their wives and children, hired to defend Persia’s rule.

325px-KhnoumTempleElephantine

The Egyptians’ Khnun Temple.

The two communities co-existed peacefully for 200 years. In time, however, Persia’s power began to wane, and Egyptian nationalism and desire for self-independence began to blossom. The Israelites were then perceived as just a “tool”—hired guns helping prop up an occupying force. Is it really any surprise, then, that the Egyptians would turn their swords against the Israelites – the hired army that was keeping them from self-independence?

Put another way: What else could the Egyptians have done, in light of these new desires? Kindly ask them to quit their jobs and just leave!?

Then there is an important No. 3: The main form of Israelite worship and practice at the time was to sacrifice animals, mostly bulls, which, in a terrible coincidence was the same animal their Egyptian neighbors revered as gods!

The book The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words 1000 BC-1492 AD explains it like this:

“It wasn’t as if the Jewish rites were easily ignored. There would have been constant activity from within the walls of its compound: smoke, blood, chants. And as if angrily elbowing their irreverent neighbors, the priests of Khnum [the Egyptian temple right next door] were expanding their own premises, pressing against the narrow boundary separating the two ritual houses …

At some point the priests of Khnum mobilized resentment against the Jewish troop as the hirelings of the Persians to be rid of their temple, if not of their soldiers and families. They compelled the “wicked’ commander of the island to act …”

Yet our narrator ignores all of this. Instead of pointing out how this was yet one more example of religious leaders using their faith as an instrument of terror, to grab land and resources from another group, instead he would have the audience believe this is just another case of those stiff-necked Hebrews pissing everybody off!

Khnoum temple

Because the settlement was so swiftly destroyed, the archives left behind have been a treasure trove for historians, much like the Cairo genizah.

The question of why Jews have been so maligned and targeted for so long in Western civilization is certainly a valid one—but it is one that is incredibly complex. Scholars have devoted many full-length books to the topic. To reduce such a complex question to little more than a victim-blaming statement akin to “Oh, those Jews are so good at making others hate them!” – well, it is flat-out grotesque.

It’s even more obscene given that the bulk of the real answer to that question rests with the scriptures that Christianity and Islam revere. For the narrator – a man I can only presume is a believing Chrisitian—to point the finger at the victims rather than his own church’s scripture and institutions—well, its gross. And inexcuseable.

“Oh What A G-I-R-L”

Given that bigotry usually goes hand-in-hand with other types of prejudice, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised to hear what this jackass would then have to say about women. But alas, I was unprepared for his next verbal bombshell …

When speaking about the ability of Elephantine’s Hebrew women to divorce their husbands—a concept pretty novel for the Ancient Near East and not something their sisters over in Palestine could do—this anecdote is relayed with both dismissiveness and contempt. (22:20)

th

The rocks lining the Nile look a bit like elephants, hence the modern name of the island.

With a smirk on his face, the narrator recounts the case of one woman, Mitbahiah, who is reported to have married three times, making the snide remark that she “must have been quite some girl!” (22:37) Oh what a nightmare she must have been to go through so many men! he implies. (And a “girl” not a “woman” no less.)

Well Herr Jackass, Mitbahiah is also written about in the above-cited book and you have your facts wrong. Yes, she married three times, but she divorced once, not twice. Her first husband died. It was only her 2nd husband she divorced, thus leading to a 3rd marriage (the documents of which were found among the Elephantine papyrii.)

But even if she had divorced twice, what of it?! Is it so hard to imagine that a person could make a bad choice in marriage more than once?! That never happens with women who grow up in abusive households especially, right … the pattern of being abused as a child, so then you get into a series of abusive marriages as an adult. Who has ever heard of that phenomenon, right!? (And yes dude, that is SARCASM.)

The point is: Would you have EVER made such a snide remark about a man who is recorded as having divorced twice?

Of course you wouldn’t.

It’s a completely sexist double standard.

51BHqWS7Y1L._AC_US218_(Oh and one more thing: The name of the Hebrew month isn’t Chisleu—it’s Kislev. Given you English-ized all the other words from Aramaic, I can only imagine leaving the Aramaic name for the month was an editing error).

The saddest part of this video is not that the narrator alone could be so pig-headed to make remarks like these—it’s all the script writers and editors who processed this film and did nothing about it along the way. How many people went through the process of making the film and thought nothing of these bigoted statements?

I don’t know when this video was made, but it was uploaded only 2 years ago, and by NWTV itself, so it’s a reasonable guess it was made around 2016. If this were made in the ’60s, heck even the ’80s, it would be too unremarkable to warrant comment. But it wasn’t. Not even close.

Dear NWTV: You folks really need to join the 21st century. Take a serious look at your implicit biases and prejudice, because they destroy whatever credibility you might otherwise have.

Dear Readers: Run out and buy Schama’s book today. It’s a wonderful, exciting read!


The Willows Radnor Township.jpg

The Willows historic mansion is visible in the distance. A bridge connects the park to a small peninsula that juts into the lake, shaded by a gorgeous willow tree. It’s the perfect spot for an intimate wedding ceremony.

If you are looking for a short and sweet wedding ceremony with just you, your beloved, and a handful of guests, The Willows is one of the most perfect, picturesque places to do so in Philly’s western suburbs.

Radnor Township has a park called The Willows (430 Darby Paoli Road; Villanova PA 19085). If you type the address in Google Maps, and select Satellite view, you will see that the park is centered around a small lake with a view of a historic mansion.

Jutting out into the lake is a small piece of land with an enormous flowering willow tree (hence the park’s name, presumably!) It’s all the space you need for a group of 3 to 10 people to stand in a semi-circle and watch you become married!

Here is The Willows on  GoogleMaps.

The Willows park is a 47.5-acre estate purchased by Radnor Township in 1973 from the Zantzinger family. Situated at the end of a long, winding driveway is the beautifully restored three-story mansion. The mansion was built in 1910 by John Sinnott Jr. and Rose Garland.

The mansion still contains many of the original architectural features that add to the historical value of the property. The cottage (or gatehouse) was a multipurpose building. It housed estate employees, stabled horses and other animals of the estate, as well as cars. It was the first point of contact visitors made to the estate.

Today, the property also contains a nature trail, picnic areas, and restrooms open to the public.

For more information on visiting the park, as well as information on reserving the park for a larger more-formal event, visit the township website here: www.radnor.com/Facilities/Facility/Details/The-Willows-29.

 

The Willows Radnor Township.jpg


chuppah2As a wedding officiant, one of the first questions couples ask me is where they can find a chuppah — the wedding canopy that is used traditionally in Jewish weddings.

Chuppahs remain a popular element in Jewish weddings, including interfaith weddings, and for very good reasons.

For starters, they are beautiful! They create a picturesque “frame” around the couple and carve out a visual space for the ritual events to unfold.

Secondly, the meaning of a chuppah works in so many different types of weddings. Although it is clearly a Jewish tradition, there is nothing Jewishly “exclusive” about it — meaning, it works perfectly well for Christians too.

The idea of a chuppah is that you are symbolically creating the new home that the couple is making together. Like a home, it has a cover, to provide shelter, but unlike a home, it is open on all sides. This symbolizes the idea that all couples need the help, love and support of the people around them; by keeping the walls open, they are inviting all of this love inside.

You may have noticed that there is nothing theistic about anything I have just said. The majority of weddings I officiate are for couples where at least one person self-identifies as an agnostic, atheist or secular humanist — and chuppahs work perfectly with these kinds of ideologies too! Inviting in the love of friends and family into your new home has nothing to do with an omnipotent being.

How To Find a Chuppah: The Nuts and Bolts

All of that said, allow me to return to my previous point, which is the literal question: Where do I find a chuppah? Here is some advice that I have culled from couples whom I have married:

1) Start with your wedding venue. They may have chuppahs they can rent you, or they may have an “arch”-type piece of decoration worked into their grounds, which you can use as a symbolic chuppah.

2) Next stop is a florist. Many florists also rent chuppahs. If you have a florist and they don’t offer chuppahs, move to point 3.

3) Third stop is looking for vendors who are strictly in the business of renting chuppahs. Keep in mind, the closer the vendor is located to the location of your wedding, the better the price they can offer. Travel time is often the biggest time drain for every person you are hiring to do your wedding! You will also pay more on a Saturday in May, when folks in the wedding business are booked out to the hilt, than you will on a Thursday in December.

4) Last idea: For those crafty inclined — or for those on a budget — or both, buy a chuppah starter kit (about $125 from one website I like, called www.galleryjudaica.com) and get handy. These kits will give you the basics of what you need, and you will usually need to figure out the polls.

I officiated a wedding for a couple who chose Organza Chuppah Silver for $125, free ground shipping, from Gallery Judaica. They invested a fair amount of time making polls with matching fabric and gold ribbon hanging off the end; I loved it!5-27-12 Alanah & Scott (5).jpg

Another couple I married went the super-simple route and just bought four matching poles and then tied a tallis (prayer shawl) over the top. The tallis they used was an old one, which had been passed down in the family. Here is a picture of how theirs came out (at right). As you can see, it’s gorgeous! You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a chuppah, especially if you are willing to work with the type you hold.

One of the best chuppah-making secrets I’ve learned about of late is a guy who sells on Etsy full-sized birchwood polls, fashioned to hold a fabric top on one end. The price? $51 for four polls! (How he makes any profit at that price, I have no idea!)

Buy some birchwood polls on Etsy, add a family tallis on top, and you’ve got yourself a gorgeous handmade chuppah for under $100! Right off the bat, you’ve carved $900 off your wedding budget; not too shabby, I’d say!

Below I have listed a few vendors that have been recommended to me personally, and at prices that strike me as reasonable. Keep in mind, you can pay upwards of $1,000 for a chuppah, depending on how fancy you want to get.

** Philly Event Rental (http://phillyeventrental.com/) offered a price quote of $450, with an additional $50 for lights. Their warehouse is located in the NE Philly / Port Richmond area. “We were very happy with how it turned out.”

* A florist in South Philly, Baileflor, recently offered a price of $350, which included draping, flowers and hanging crystals. But she was also being paid separately for larger floral work at the ceremony, so it’s not a straight comparison in the price department. “She can also customize depending on your budget,” my source told me, and the couple “seems to be very pleased with her thus far.”

Her contact info:
Leah Reinhard Albarouki
MD wedding (3).JPGbaileflor
www.baileflor.com
484.557.8010

Of course the best place to go these days to just scope out ideas is Pinterest. There, you will find thousands of pictures of chuppahs that people have uploaded to the site.

For example, check out this beautiful chuppah one of my couple’s made, overlooking a lake in Delaware. It is nothing more than unadorned tree branches, with a large piece of lace draped over the top. Simple, yet perfect!

Have you rented a chuppah in the Philly area and liked the service you received? If so, please email me the name of the provider, the price you paid, and whatever other details are helpful to know, and I will add them to this list!


Honoring the death of a person who was difficult to love

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

 A few months 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.

 *   *   *

Before we explore what alternatives might work best in these types of situations, let’s first review what a “typical” series of events would be following the death of a beloved, when 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.) While a shiva service itself usually takes just 40 or so minutes, it is essentially a daylong event, emotionally speaking. Folks almost never go to work during shiva, and many families feel obligated to have food on hand for those attending — even if it’s food that others have brought.
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 — so in other words, another half day spent.

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 $600 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, (and time, and emotional latitude.) 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 did not endear himself much to others.

But forget the money for a moment and just focus on the emotional costs. When the relationship was strained, you can’t help but ask yourself honestly whether you want to invest 10 or 20 hours of your life memorializing someone who, despite their kinship, caused you unmitigated 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.

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

After all, a memorial event, however it is done, is done for the living, not for the dead. So, more than anything else, the event needs to meet the needs of those who are left behind. In the case of this family, the many layered, time-consuming, and expensive Jewish traditions 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. Of course it couldn’t have been repaired by any means, because the man who died was himself too broken of a person, but having the window close of even an imaginary opportunity is its own sort of terrible finality. You, the survivor, is left with the shards of this broken vessel, and a memorial service, done the right way, can be your own first step to making peace with that fact.

Fortunately for me, Andy’s surviving children and spouses were an incredibly wise bunch. While they didn’t know exactly what they wanted as far as a formal ceremony or event marking Andy’s passing, they had figured out — intuitively really — that doing the traditional Jewish funeral rites was not what they needed. It would have been, pardon the expression, overkill. But they intuited that they needed to come together in some manner as a family, and in some way mark the passing of this person who had, for better and worse, made such an enormous impact on their lives.

After speaking at length with one of Andy’s daughters, and learning the details of their story, we concluded that having a modest, in-home memorial service with just immediate family members would be the best way to help them do that. 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 and grandfather.

It was almost like building a new foundation out of the rubble: By making peace with the brokenness, they could then move forward in their own unbroken lives and relationships with each other.

 *   *   *

Combined Home Memorial  / Shiva Minyan Service

(in lieu of the traditional memorial service at funeral home /
graves
ide service / and then shiva minyan)

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.)

Our 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: After group recitation of the Shema, service-leader reads a brief writing from Chaim Stern.

Mourner #1: Reads an English rendition of Ma’ariv Aravim.

Everyone: Recites the Shema together.

Mourner #2: Reads 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. (We all knew that these thoughts did not reflect the larger arc of his life, but that was okay. It was an act of love, really — one final unrequited gift that they gave him — by choosing to focus only on the positive and the joyous.)

Mourner #3: The circle closed with a recitation of the poem by Albert Fine: “Birth is a Beginning, Death is a Destination.” (The poem had been suggested by one of the daughters; she had heard it at another funeral and liked it.)

Rabbi: Sings/Chants El Malei Rachamim – a chanted prayer of mourning filled with beautiful allegory whereby the petitioners 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. In total, the service lasted about 40 minutes.

Every death is different, and the needs of every family of mourners is always different. The service outlined above, for example, assumes that those attending have a basic understanding of core Jewish liturgy, and that the mourners are in favor of references to God in Hebrew. What the right service might be for your family could look very different.

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 am an ordained rabbi with formal training all across the non-Orthodox spectrum: Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal, and Secular-Humanist. (I’ve been a quintessential “Wandering Jew” in my learning and life; hence the name of this blog! 🙂 ).

We can craft a ceremony that reflects your relationship with the deceased, however it might have been.

I’m not always checking my electronic devices, so if you have a time-sensitive inquiry for a funeral, a memorial service, or a shiva minyan, please text my cell and send me an email. I will be in touch as soon as I see one of the other. If possible, please give me a general sense of what day you either must or hope to have your gathering, and how much flexibility you have on that scheduling.

To reach me, please fill out the contact form found at SecularJewishFunerals.com


In 2014, I had the pleasure of officiating a wedding at the most unlikely of places: a downtown antique auction house and furniture store called Material Culture. Located in north Philadelphia, just east of East Falls at 4700 Wissahickon Ave., the store promotes itself as “A spacious emporium carrying an array of global antiques, arts & crafts, plus other unique finds.”

Unique indeed! Built in 1920, the 60,000-square-foot store occupies a former train station of the Atwater Kent Radio Factory. With towering ceilings, expanses of glittering light, and galleries adorned with architectural elements and artwork from around the globe, the store provides an amazing backdrop for any couple looking to bring a Pier One-aesthetic to their wedding day.

Here are just a few shots I captured that day. The smudge on all of them came from a toddler’s fingerprint that I didn’t know what there! 😦 You can view much better photos from a variety of events in the store’s photo gallery, which you can find here. 

cool wedding venue material culture (4).JPG

From the outside, Material Culture looks utterly commonplace. It isn’t until you go inside that the real magic begins!

cool wedding venue material culture (13).JPG

Looking down at the reception.

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One of the funky furniture pieces for sale.

cool wedding venue material culture (6).JPG

The colorful chuppah under construction before the ceremony.

cool wedding venue.JPG

The carpet room provides lots of places for folks to sit down and enjoy cocktails. 

cool wedding venue material culture (3).JPG

The tech-savvy couple had fun jumping online right after the ceremony and registering the change from Dating to Married on their relationship status on Facebook!

 


Their Secret Was
Jalal al-Din Rumi, 1207 – 1273

A married couple used to come see me once in
a while. Among the many I knew who were wed,
they appeared the most happy.

One day I said to them, “What marital advice
could you offer to others that might help them
achieve the grace you found?”

And the young woman blushed and so did her
husband; so I did not press them to answer.
But I knew.

Their secret was this: That once every day, for
an hour, they treated each other as if they were
gods and would, with all their heart, do anything,
anything, their beloved desired.

Sometimes that just meant holding hands and
walking in a forest that renewed their souls.


It’s possible to be married under twinkling stars in the planetarium of The Franklin Institute! It is definitely one of the most memorable and ethereal wedding venues in metro Philly.

Should you write your own wedding vows? It’s a question only you can answer; it’s a challenge only about 1 in 10 couples whose weddings I officiate choose to take on.

Below is an example of a great personally written vow — it’s an ideal length and strikes the perfect tone.

I’m sharing it with permission; their anonymity was requested:

They say love comes to those who still hope after disappointment, who still believe after betrayal and who still love after they’ve been hurt. I know this is true because I found you.

Patrick – you are my best friend and I thank god he brought you into my life.

I love how tenderhearted you are toward me and when you show your sentimental side, the side that comes out when I am having a bad day and lifts my spirit.

I love how you love me, a pure love that I have never found in anyone else; the kind of love that is accepting of my flaws, knows my deepest insecurities and pain and continues to love me without judgment, but with acceptance and strength.

In this sometimes chaotic world, I know I can find peace with you by my side (and by that I mean binge watching Netflix and HBO Go).  I know with you beside me it will all be okay because of the love and friendship we share.

I promise my unconditional love for a lifetime, to listen and to hold your hand, to always kiss you goodnight and to do my best to always make you feel loved.

I promise to remember that although neither of us is perfect, we are perfect for each other.

I promise to fight for us, and to forgive quickly, no matter what challenges might carry us apart.

I promise to always find my way back to you.

Finally, (because this could be a deal breaker), I vow to love you when you are 65, retired and still playing Xbox.

I love your soul.