Random Encounters

I officiated at a re-consecration of vows for a couple this past weekend who were celebrating their 60th anniversary. Though we are far from Yom Kippur, I have a confession: my first thoughts were about a classic scene from a Naked Gun movie in which the late Leslie Nielsen, disconsolate and bereft, tells his partner, George Kennedy, how lucky he is to be married to the same woman for more than 30 years…

Rabbi Jonathan Kendall
Rabbi Jonathan Kendall

“Every morning, the same face on the pillow, the same conversations, the same sexual partner…”

leaving Kennedy foaming at the mouth in despair, inconsolably resigned to his fate. Over-the-top to be sure, but nonetheless it was a very funny scene. Somehow, by shear dint of will, I managed to keep any reference to this out of my words to the “bride” and “groom.”  Sixty years is a long time and this doesn’t include the period of courtship.

To prepare for this simcha, the couple met with me in the Temple’s library. Since I became emeritus and didn’t want an office on the campus (by my lights, another symbol of not being able to let go) the library, surrounded by treasures of Jewish history and custom, seemed a perfect site. What I heard from them was a verbal panorama of Jewish life. The bride had been spirited out of Germany as a child. The groom was a product of the Lower East Side. They met in her family’s kosher bakery. The entire family had been scattered everywhere, but was going to come together for this signal event. When the time came, there was Hebrew being spoken from the crew that made it to Palestine before Israel became Israel. Everyone in this family over 55 spoke a wonderfully florid, intrusive and loud Yiddish. The four huppa-holders never shut up and I found myself saying “sha stil” even though the closest I ever got to a Jewish patois was the Ladino my father of blessed memory recalled from his childhood.

And so, the vows were re-consecrated and there was the usual hesitation (which invited the on-cue, anticipated raucous laughter) when both pointedly paused for a moment when asked if they would take each other as wife and husband again. They held hands throughout the ceremony. They were, by the most generous standards, gnarled, old hands with blooming liver spots and visible signs of arthritis. Here a scratch, there a scrape, a festival of capillary fragility played knick-knack paddy-whack on their thumbs. They were hands that had worked, embraced, caressed, given encouraging pats and hopeful touches, raised in clenched fists of anger and opened to dazzling possibilities. In and of themselves, they were hands that spoke volumes about growing old together, about devotion, commitment, sacrifice, selflessness, patience and love. What began as routine rite for me became a universal treatise on the shared passage of time, the debilities of old age and the fulfillment of promises kept and vows remembered.

At the reception I encountered one of the younger grandchildren.

“Do you understand how lucky you are to see this,” I asked?

“Yeah, I guess I am,” he said and then went back to texting on his I-Phone.


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