I felt terribly uncomfortable at the wedding, standing to the side as exuberant yeshiva students danced around the hall in frenzied circles, while black-suited rabbis looked on with pride. I remained rigidly in place, finding no opportunity to approach and congratulate the bride and groom.
The wedding customs were foreign to me. There was little tradition in my secular lifestyle. That was why I had yet to find a bride for myself, my sister often lectured me. She became ultra-Orthodox after she married. Maybe she expected the same of me. Before I left, she invited me for Sheva B’rachot the next day.
I arrived at her apartment and found a seat at a fold-away table set with bagels, herring, and cream cheese. My nephew held court at the head of the table with his bride. He acknowledged my arrival with a brief grin.
I didn’t know anyone else in the room. The minyan of men had matching grey beards; their wives were modestly attired. I balanced a borrowed purple kippa on my head, trying to deflate the dome announcing I didn’t belong.
The guests attempted to engage me in conversation, but there was just a little too much phlegm to make out the language they were speaking. I smiled, stared at my food.
Cheesecakes were brought from the kitchen, but before I had a chance to try any, the men began chanting after the meal prayers.
Special wedding blessings followed. Seven of them. A cup brimming with wine was passed from one man to the next, each reciting a blessing in turn. And then the cup was handed to me, along with an old prayer book.
My brother-in-law pointed at a line. Although my years of Hebrew school were long in the past, I recognized some of the letters. ‘Baruch,’ I muttered. ‘Ata.’ But then, the small letters dissolved into a cloudy soup of sacredness and ritual, indistinguishable one from another.
I lifted the prayer book, trying to get closer to the text, closer to the religious practices of my sister and her family, but the wine spilled, so I concentrated on keeping my hand steady instead.
The men waited impatiently. My brother-in-law pointed at the words I was to recite, not offering any assistance. I glanced across the room at my sister, saw the embarrassment in her eyes. I was determined to forge ahead with the blessing, but I had lost my place.
My head spun, scenes of frenzied wedding dancing in my mind. As the prayer book slipped from my hands, I said the only two words that made sense to me.
I passed the glass to the next man and wiped the drops of wine from my fingers. My sister’s frowns melted into a smile of relief. At the head of the table, my nephew nodded, thanking me for honoring him with my presence.
Ellis Shuman is an American-born Israeli author, travel writer, and book reviewer. His writing has appeared in The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, and The Huffington Post. He is the author of The Virtual Kibbutz, Valley of Thracians, and The Burgas Affair. His short fiction has appeared in Isele Magazine, Vagabond, Esoterica, The Write Launch, Adelaide Literary, and other literary publications. You can find him at https://ellisshuman.blogspot.