The drafting table where I have been perched, creating ketubot for the past 37 years, has proven to be a ringside seat for detecting trends in the Jewish community. In honor of June, which was once peak wedding month and still is a popular time to exchange vows, here are some of my ethno-sociological observations:
May and June were popular wedding months when brides and grooms were younger, scheduling celebrations around their academic schedules. Now, average American Jewish brides and grooms are, unless they are ultra-Orthodox, way beyond their academic years.
They schedule weddings around work schedules; pretty much any three-day weekend is now prime time for weddings. As Jews have migrated to the Sunbelt, with large Jewish populations in Florida, California and Arizona, winter weddings have become increasingly popular.
A big part of my work involves names. The bride's and groom's names in English as well as Hebrew, along with the same for their fathers and mothers, are all included, six per ketubah order. A generation of Irvings and Harriets (Yitzchak and Chana) or Mildreds and Mannys (Malka and Mendel) are fading from the scene, giving way to the next generation, baby-boomer parents.
Now it's Linda, Debbi and Barbara, known in Hebrew as Leah, Devorah and Baila, along with their husbands, (or just as likely, ex-husbands) Mark, Barry and Alan -- that would be Moshe, Baruch and Avraham -- proudly escorting their children to today's chupahs. They're Ashley, Lindsay and Elana, marrying Ian, Josh and Ari.
These names reflect dominant Jewish American trends, but I am also seeing brides and grooms from recent immigrant groups with names far less familiar. Iranian Jewish names frequently appear for couples from southern California. Their Hebrew names are classic, but when I encounter parents' Farsi names like Parviz and Shahnaz, I am perplexed: Which is the mother and which the father?
Recalling how hard so many American Jews worked to achieve Soviet Jewish emigration, I find the Russian names appearing on the information sheets especially touching.
Yelena, daughter of Svetlana and Igor, marrying Eugene, son of Galina and Vladimir, all very foreign, but the Hebrew looks just the same as for any other Jews: Leah bat Sara v'Yisrael, Gershon ben Gitel v' Velvel. Had they not left the USSR, what is the likelihood that now, 20 years later, they'd still be part of the Jewish people?
Sometimes the names are transliterations of Asian languages, which I then need to write in Hebrew -- hard to do if I can't pronounce them! One common Chinese last name, Pei, is easy to pronounce, but transliterates as peh.heh, the Hebrew word for mouth. Oy.
Another surprise is how much technology has crept into what is still an essentially handcrafted product. If the spellings are especially challenging or the handwriting illegible, my ace in the hole is to Google in two last names, and a Wedding Channel Registry usually pops up, along with the wedding date and location. (Sometimes there are links to a wedding website, which I have been known to check out, just for fun.)
And if the rabbi wants to read the ketubah in advance, to avoid any last-minute crisis, I simply snap a digital photo and shoot him or her off a jpg.
Expanding the marriage pool, we now have brides marrying brides and grooms marrying grooms. That stack of ketubot I printed with commitment ceremony wording? Progressive in its time, it is now obsolete. Bride /brides and groom/grooms are using the same wedding language as any other couple.
Marrying on Shabbat is clearly prohibited. The gray area is a before sundown start time for a Saturday night wedding, not at all uncommon in Reform circles. But Saturday afternoon Jewish weddings? This summer, an afternoon bride confirmed her wedding was scheduled for Saturday afternoon. When I looked up the Hebrew date, it was Yom Kippur, the 10th of Tishri. I'm still curious about a couple who marries on Yom Kippur but buys a ketubah. It is indeed a new world.
Last spring, I created a ketubah for our son Zach and his bride, Becca. There I was, on the ketubah as mother, a full generation after creating my first ketubah, when I was the bride. Zach's ketubah was followed by those of Zach's nursery school buddies Josh and Bension, both marrying this summer. I am thrilled to be a witness, as well as a participant, in Jewish continuity.