In This Family We Dance at Weddings
If there’s any sight that sends a crowd over the moon, it’s a bride gliding down the aisle, her silvery veil trailing as she steps towards her beloved.
The second she appears everyone unfailingly gasps from the beauty, her white gown evoking gauzy memories of heaven itself. The only moment that could possibly be more breathtaking than beholding one such bride is two of them.
The nuptials of Carly Moskowitz and Alexandra Goff dazzled the room into a swoon last Saturday at Atlanta’s Summerour Studio, the brides complementing each other in sequins and tulle as their bridesmaids and bridesmen fanned out beside them. Sniffles were muted into lacy hankies, and eyes shone with the gloss of joyful tears at the official commemoration of this decade-long union that the rabbi called “a long time coming.”
Family members far outnumbered the couple’s friends, as this was one of those enormous simchas hosted by my husband’s sprawling band of Southern Jewish cousins, the biggest chunk of the guest list comprised of relatives who have been attending each other’s weddings and bar mitzvahs for four generations. Maybe that doesn’t seem fair, though this is how these copious descendants of five siblings from 1920’s Tampa have managed to stick together, gathering their druthers and their finery whenever it’s time to celebrate.
All of the original Argintar sisters and brothers are long gone, but the first cousins—now enthusiastic elders in their 80s—continue to preside over a flock of descendants so large it could throw an election. (After almost 25 years, I am finally getting everyone’s names right, but Mark is still constantly asking me who so-and-so is and how they are related, prompting me to draw a family tree on a cocktail napkin with an eyebrow pencil.)
“I can’t believe all these people came from my Grandpa Max and Grandma Annie,” marveled my father-in-law, Dr. Harvey Lebos, as he and his longtime lady friend Christine Sheffler looked out at the fabulously-coiffed coterie at the rehearsal dinner.
Here was his sister Sue Ellen Horwitz, bedecked in jewels from the Raleigh-based shop founded by her husband, Philip, and surrounded by their daughters, Marlene, Paula, and Amy, who grew up playing pranks on Mark and his brother, David. There was cousin Carol Guld, a lifelong dancer still performing at 87, arm-in-arm with her older sister, Sandy Moskowitz, grandmother of a bride, who was chatting with various other progeny hailing from Brooklyn and Austin to Greensboro and Tifton. (Until I married into this mishpocheh, I had no idea that big Jewish families could come from small Southern towns.)
We were tremendously honored to be included—I mean, you’ve got to draw the line somewhere, and second cousins once removed seems like a reasonable cutoff—though I like to think our past performances on the dance floor kept us on the invitation list. Perhaps Carly’s parents Neil and Susan also understand how much we appreciate the importance of honoring family traditions as our children adapt them to their own lives.
And oh, the ceremony was a picture of tradition! Tall blond Alexandra walked first to Bach “Air on the G String,” followed by curly-haired Carly to Pachelbel’s “Canon in D,” the two sparkling visions standing together under the chuppah draped with the tallis worn by Neil at his bar mitzvah. After circling each other seven times and reciting the seven blessings, the newly-minted wives each crushed a glass under their heels to a resounding “L’chaim!”
The elders batted not a single curled eyelash to the modifications to the rituals that accommodated the two brides, and frankly, the most-talked about transition was Alexandra’s recent conversion to Judaism. I’m assuming she’ll keep as kosher as the rest of us, which is to say, bacon only at brunch.
I suppose it would have been easy—perhaps even understandable—for a bunch of folks born before it was acceptable for women to wear pants to express discomfiture about pronouns and gender expression and inclusion. Yet with the soon-to-be Dr. Carly now almost finished with her psychiatric residency in Tucson and Alexandra’s remote job as a web developer, the only lament anyone seemed to have is to hope they’ll move back closer to home.
I was not surprised at all to witness the non-traditional aspects of this wedding subsumed into the mishpocheh’s squishy, convivial embrace—the greatest story here was only about love.
It made the odious, unfabulous parallel universe where bullies cannot wrap their heads around the concept of non-binary and freak out about saying gay seem so blessedly very far away.
“You can get depressed about the politics, but you can live in this moment,” reminded cousin Paula as the brides shimmied to Tom Petty’s “American Girl” before gliding formally into their first dance, taking turns dipping each other.
(Speaking of wonderful inclusive moments, back in Savannah, anyone who caught the original musical Rockabye by Savannah’s own Sushi Soucy this weekend at the Bay Street Theatre knows that the cool kids have irrevocably claimed the stage for queer and BIPOC voices. Kudos to this production and its campy delightful weirdness!
Also, the upcoming Tybee Equality Fest Sept. 9-11 promises to be a buoyant intersection where all are welcome: Ebullient founder Angie Celeste Snow describes the annual family-friendly celebration as “rainbow-heavy” while enfolding the island’s strong human rights movement: Tybee MLK director Julia Pearce will serve as the first non-white resident Grand Marshal in the history of the island’s approximately eleventy gazillion parades.)
In the ATL, after some boogieing with Aunt Carol came slices of rainbow cake and a rousing Hava Nagila, during which the brides and their parents were lifted into the air on chairs and we spun in circles trying to keep up with the ones who have been celebrating longer than anybody.
“C’mon!” called 89 year-old Sandy as she grabbed my hand and pulled me into the family gyre. “I’d rather wear out than sit around and rust!”
I’ve been thinking about traditions a lot lately, and I’m starting to wonder if the actual reason they survive is because they’re adaptable—which sounds like a paradox, since traditions are supposed to be immutable by their very definition.
But what if widening them—which might mean stretching them, pushing at them, and even breaking certain parts of them and throwing them in the garbage—is the way we make room for each other, and how four generations celebrating together becomes five, six, a dozen more? What if traditions are meant not to cleave us to the past, but help us evolve into a more inclusive future?
The brides made their exit under a shower of rose petals, outdanced by great aunts and grandmothers for whom this wedding was hardly any different from hundreds they’d attended before—full of joy and sincere wishes for a good life.
Me, I’m so glad to live in this moment, in this universe, where it is glorious to witness the closing gap between mere acceptance and true inclusion—centering everyone’s birthright to live, love, and be loved.
The young people get it, and the olds do too; and if we’re smart, those of us in between will follow their leads. We’ll all be over here dancing until the rest of the universe catches up.
Cha cha real smooth ~ JLL
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