One of the most iconic and highly anticipated moments in a Jewish wedding is the ending. Not because the ceremony is interminable (as a Passover seder seems), but because it implies the beginning of a long and happy relationship. And, maybe more importantly, it is heralded by a curious ritual – a source of significant anxiety at our celebration. You might not be surprised by the existence of angst when we’re talking anything Jewish. But, the story has its quirks – after all, we’re a same-sex female couple, only one of us is a Jew, and the worries came from the one who was raised a Christian.
You may have realized that the ritual I’m talking about is the smashing of the glass, followed by congratulatory song from the audience. The inevitable question of why Jews crush a glass to mark the end of a wedding has numerous explanations. They include: a reminder that even in times of joy, there is sadness and pain in the world; the importance of remembering the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem; a symbol of the hoped-for fecundity of the couple; and that the marriage should last as long as the glass remains broken, i.e., forever. Any or all are valid in my book. And, except for the fecundity one, we had no reason to choose one over another. What was key was that we were going to continue the tradition.
But, we did have reason to modify tradition slightly. Usually, it’s the groom who stomps on the glass, which is wrapped in a napkin so that the shards don’t scatter all over. We had no groom and were adamant that neither of us would take on the appearance of a groom – not because we’re against grooms, but because we were two brides. We decided we would both smash glasses simultaneously. Double the excitement, double the shattering sound effects!
While this was what I had in mind all along, it was not what Eileen initially wanted. Her hesitancy was not because it was a Jewish custom. She had grown up Catholic but was fine having a Jewish wedding – especially so because she had attended weddings of our Jewish friends, liked the rabbi and the rituals, and felt comfortable having the same rabbi as our officiant. But, early on she said that she didn’t want to “do the glass smashing thing.” What? I thought. How can you have a Jewish wedding without it?
For months, I didn’t understand why she was opposed to one of the most indispensable parts of a Jewish ceremony. When I asked, I never got a clear answer. Finally, as the day drew near, I surmised her concern: she was afraid that she’d miss the glass, failing to crush it on the first stomp. You may wonder, how serious is that? Good question. After all, you can just try again. However, we have a jokester friend, J, who has turned a simple blunder into an act of humiliation.
We’d see J often, and for years after we had attended the wedding of mutual friends, he would remark about how the bride inadvertently kicked the glass away milliseconds before the groom’s foot was to have come down upon it. Inherent in his anecdote was the implication that if this first act of married life does not go as planned, the marriage would be doomed. Now, this was never stated outright, but the suggestion that such a superstition exists fueled Eileen’s anxiety. And, lest she forget, our jokester friend approached us shortly before the wedding with, “Are you going to smash a glass? You remember what happened at our friends’ wedding, don’t you?”