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Friday, February 15, 2019

As summer ends, and before the theme of guilt of the High Holidays arrives in the Jewish calendar, there is one other unofficial theme during this time of year: marriage.

Almost as soon as Tisha B’Av ends, ads for Tu B’Av singles events pop up everywhere, giving you FOMO (fear of missing out) about a holiday that used to just be about not saying Tachanun on a random Thursday. There’s this subtle but not so subtle “you should meet someone” atmosphere surrounding these events, so that it’s almost like Tu B’Av was invented by Jewish mothers. The why-aren’t-you-married-yet pressure is so in your face, it even comes close to making those who are already married think, Man, I really gotta get married.

But Tu B’Av is just the tip of the iceberg. This month-and-a-half feels like it’s only about weddings—also kids going back to school—but mostly, especially for those “of a certain age,” weddings. Everyone seems to either be getting engaged, getting married or very much into watching “The Bachelor.” Maybe it’s to give some balance to every conversation that would otherwise just be guys talking about fantasy football drafts that wedding talk is so prevalent. And since you’ll probably find yourself at some weddings around this time of year, let’s talk even more about being a guest at them.

Bag Check

The first stop you’ll likely make when you get to the wedding venue is to the bag-check room. The bag check is where women leave their extra pair of shoes for dancing, their seminary sweatshirts for shtick and the super-important entrance arches that every wedding must have. Guys can drop off their Target bags full of shtick without fear of judgment. I can’t imagine what the bag check people must think when people hand them a bag and say, “In two hours, I’m going to need this bag back; it has my penguin suit, clown shoes and bowling pins for my ‘dance routine.’”

Place Cards

After dropping your bag off and head toward the shmorg, you notice the place cards laid out on the tables. This is where single men inevitably realize that they never sent in their response card and married men have that internal debate regarding whether they’re supposed to take their place card or not while their wives are in the bathroom. After spending a few minutes wondering where whoever set up these place cards learned their ABCs, you eventually find your card. You quickly check the number on the card and hope this hand-scrawled numeral was also written on a card for friends of yours. But, you can’t worry about that now, because you have important business to attend to: the shmorg.

The Shmorg

The most important part of a wedding is the shmorg. Sure, people will try to tell you it’s about two people who love each other and yada, yada, yada, but let’s be clear: It’s really about the food. The level of enjoyment at a Jewish event is directly related to how quickly you will be able to have food. The longer we’re held hungry, the more miserable we are, as evident from Yom Kippur, Tisha B’Av and long speeches at siyums. Making it in time for the shmorg is of such vital importance that if you miss it, the wedding is ruined for you. I’m surprised that when people come late and realize they’ve missed the shmorg, they don’t just quickly get back in the car and go home.

Missing the shmorg is like missing movie previews. You haven’t had a chance to get settled, you have to rush to find a seat, and if you drove over a bridge to get there, you think “Uch, I can’t believe I paid $15 for this.” Some people don’t care about movie previews, and I call these people monsters.

Now the goal of the shmorg is to load up on food from as many stations as possible without looking back. It’s helpful to be on a first-name basis with the waiters, so you can find out when they’re refilling the mini hot dog plates. Once a man stocks up enough on the food and resigns himself to the fact that the women’s side will always have better food than the men’s side, he heads over to the Chosson’s Tisch.

Chosson’s Tisch

The Chosson’s Tisch has the same cacophony of incoherent singing that you may hear at an Irish pub. Ironically, it’s bunch of guys who haven’t sang since attending NCSY Shabbatons—which they only attended to meet women—now voluntarily singing, mostly to avoid the women they came with. Aside for the off-tune singing and the realization that there are only about three fast-paced wedding songs, the Tisch is a nice experience. It gives guys a chance to act like they’re at a Shalom Zachor, without having to worry about destroying someone’s living room.

While there’s a background of guys trying to think if they sang this tune of “Meheira” already, in the forefront, there are other guys signing documents. It like someone’s doing their taxes or applying for a mortgage in the middle of a birthday party. Some of the people signing are close friends of the groom, and some are just people that were sober enough to get a nice little promotion.

After things are signed, there’s the custom where the two mothers break the plate. This is symbolic to teach you that your mother and mother-in-law are going to do things you’ll just never understand, but it’s a good idea to stand out of their way so you don’t get hurt. If you didn’t know any better, you would think that the wedding ceremony was all about destroying domestic utensils. Maybe that’s why everyone is registered at Bed, Bath and Beyond.

Bedekin

The groom is then escorted to the women’s side to do The Bedekin where he lifts the bride’s veil to ensure that he is marrying the right woman. This custom stems from a Biblical tradition where Yaakov inadvertently married the wrong sister. Let’s be thankful that he made this mistake, because if he didn’t, we wouldn’t have most of the tribes of the Jewish people, nor a reason for a shmorg.

Everyone cheers as the groom whispers some inside joke into his bride’s ear just as Yaakov did. The groom’s friends then put him on their shoulders—some of them are evidently so drunk that they think it’s Simchat Torah—and sing some more. Everyone then abruptly scatters as they try to grab one last drink before it’s time for The Chuppah.

By Eli Lebowicz