On Sunday, August 28th, 2005 my friends Oliver Baker and Sophie Petersen got married. Catherine, [wee] Oliver and I were, through the magic of high-speed air travel, able to attend, and I had the added pleasure of being Oliver’s best man (yes, it is confusing that there are two Oliver’s in this post; it’s also delightful).
That their wedding was to be an Orthodox Jewish wedding was somewhat daunting to me during the days leading up to it; I’m irreligious at the best of times, and my knowledge of Judaism is even worse than my knowledge of Christianity (I live in a place where “Jewish” doesn’t appear in the list of top 10 religions and the number of self-identified Jews is 55 out of 132,910). But Oliver was a helpful guide, and the officiating Rabbi, a Canadian no-less, was pleasantly improvisational and expository, so I needn’t have worried; once I got the kippah to stay on my head, I was set.
Beth Israel was also the site of Oliver’s Bar Mitzvah twenty-five years ago, and was coming to the end of a substantial renovation as we gathered for the wedding: Oliver and Sophie were the first couple to be married in the new configuration.
Our kippah nervousness was sated quickly by the presence of a helpful basket of loaners; [wee] Oliver and I found a couple that fit us and the fear of heaven was upon us.
As I was in charge of the music for the reception, I busied myself with hooking up my iPod to Oliver’s stereo system. Rabbi Silverman arrived a few minutes later, and I was whisked away to an impromptu run-through with Oliver, Sophie, and the chuppah holders.
It wasn’t until this point that I learned that my best man’s speech was to be delivered not in the rollicking atmosphere of the reception, but rather under the solemn cover of the chuppah mid-way through the festivities at a point where, historically, there would be a month-long break while the bride and groom considered their options and gathered resources to make a home. I had a brief panic, thinking the my casual, breezey, irreverent tone wouldn’t be under-chuppah suitable, and that I was going to take up too much time in the proceedings. So I darted out the back door to try to make quick revisions. Ultimately I decided to just deliver the speech as-is; how many times in life to you get to hang out under a chuppah and say whatever you like, I asked myself.
As it turns out, my dash outside left me locked out of the building, and so as to not disturb the bride during her wedding pre-flight, I walked around to the front, appearing to [wee] Oliver as if by magic through the front door again.
Around 1:30 p.m., almost on time, the formal proceedings began. With Sophie squirreled away in a secluded antechamber, Oliver signed on for the Ketubah and its secular equivalent; the party, minus Oliver and supporters, then moved to Sophie who did likewise. Oliver and Sophie then joined each other in the antechamber for a blessing by Oliver’s mother Judith and various other ministrations after which we all repaired to the main part of the hall for the main part of the ceremony.
The four chuppah holders came in first, each holding up a pole that, in turn, held up the large piece of fabric on top. Oliver and his mother and step-father walked in next, and finally Sophie and her mother. The formal ceremony was divided into two parts, with the aforementioned best man’s speech acting as a sort of intermission. I won’t try to do justice to the details of the ceremony suffice to say that Sophie had to walk around Oliver seven times, there was a lot of Aramaic recitation, some wine, and a glass got crushed. My speech (transcript) seemed to have been well-received — the jokes were laughed at and I even made an unintended “all over Oliver” pun.
And so Oliver and Sophie became Oliver and Sophie.
Afterwards we all repaired to the reception hall for kosher champagne and hors d’oeuvres, the cutting of the cake, some ritual singing in Hebrew, and lots of photo opportunities.
Around 4:00 p.m. things came to an end, and we joined Oliver and Sophie at his mother’s house high in the Berkeley hills for a snack and then returned, happy but exhausted, back to our hotel just before darkness fell. For their part, Oliver and Sophie had no time to honeymoon, as Oliver is at the start of law school and Sophie at the start of a veterinary residency, so they’ll honeymoon sometime in 2008.