We were in the heart of a multicultural neighbourhood with changes of ethnicity within each block of the Borough Park area of Brooklyn.
The first shock was that I had to go in via a Men Only door. I got so flustered I didn't take a photo of the venue til after dark. I followed some young students along endless carpeted corridors until I came to a very brightly lit cross between a lecture room and an airport lounge. The door was manned by a little gnome like man fanning himself with a wad of notes. At first I thought he might be selling admission tickets but I then clicked that it was a charity request. It turned out that I would be asked to contribute to legitimate chariteers as well as individuals who sort of haunt weddings and make their crust that way. Once inside I noticed that every man knew what he was doing ...praying in a corner and rocking on his heels, starting a song to which his neighbours would join in then get bored and leave off, falling asleep, chatting away with old friends and occasionally going over to the official groom's table to interrupt the nervous lamb, who was poring over a prayerbook, with instructions, requests or just congratulations. His father and in laws hovered. A little blond child of indeterminable sex was passed from knee to knee and taken out occasionally to be with the women, I presume. Sweet wine, soft drink and scotch were in liberal supply as well as a perculiarly disgusting looking sponge cake that had been fingered to death.
Thank heavens I smiled at a man and he came over and shook my hand and explained that the groom was being prepared for the coming ritual and that I was welcome to sit and observe. Tovah told me later that I was not approached out of respect. I did look quite spivvy..sort of a pixieish Don Draper out of Mad Men. So for an hour I watched this seemingly rambling preparation. Sometimes everyone would rise and face the wall and it looked like something communal was about to occur. Out of politeness I popped up and down, too. At one point almost all the men started to rock and wail and then just as suddenly they dispersed leaving only a stalwart few to sway in a corner or up against a wall. The whole evening was like that. Things just happened and everyone knew they would and were where they should be when needed.
A scholarly tenor was singing directly at the groom at one stage and then stopped to ask a bystander if he'd done his quota. After a couple more sentences it seemed he had so he folded his words and backed away. A couple of photographers were aiming their cameras into the young man's face. I had figured that taking any shots in this particular place would have been rude. Hence the ramble.
A series of responses between the minister and the groom's relatives went on for a bit and quite a few groups chattered away unheeding. More than a few of the congregation continued cell phone conversations or looked up Google throughout the night.
A large number of the teens were hoeing into the cake and I am not surprised they are a large number. One official became very loud in one incantaton then immediately downed a scotch and went on with his prayers. The groom looked pretty and pretty terrified but proud and serene at the same time. Before we moved outside I realised that at any one time all individuals, adult or child, seemed perfectly at ease in their solitude.
We went into another sort of holding room and there even more men faced the wall and rocked or turned from side to side in prayer.
For a little while the men were allowed to mingle with the females in their side of the ballroom which was divided by a series of wooden screens on rollers. The womens ritual had been a dressing of, and presentation of offerings to, the bride. It was here that Tovah had realised the wedding invitation, printed mostly in Hebrew, was for her to see her first cousin's daughter wed off to a diamond dynasty in Antwerp. So lots of family reunions and introductions had been taking place while I was wafting in a daze with the men.
The wedding took place under an awning stretched over the sidewalk at the centre of the community building.
The size of the reception rooms would indicate that a vast amount of its upkeep would be via the wedding business.
The groom in the white socks is on the right
The most stunning solo and choral singing took place throughout the ceremony
And ritual objects such as the beautiful candle holders play a significant role. I was at the back all the time but that Tovah saw the whole deal front on centre!
Tovah gets the goss as the groom's sister gives his new bride the onceover
The bride had to circle the groom in a complete whiteout aided by her mother and in law
This is the lovely man who talked to me in the very first room.
The man in the fedora would be my dinner companion
Tovah and Mum in deep conversation.
This is the first sight I got of the mens' side of the ballroom
I just instinctively thought it was time to sit down for dinner.
They explained that the bride and groom were eating alone to break the ice while we noshed refectory style on chala bread, vegetable pasties, chicken and soup. Then there was more prayer against the wall.
By now the groom had returned and was thrown into a series of ritual dances which were lit and filmed very closely by a man on a set of steps. While still atop he jerked them back and forth to get the position he needed and probably will develop serious back injuries in time. Here is the groom on his Yentl chair
The dances were complex and I think dictated by tradition via the wedding singer. Circles would form and reform while the groom, partnered in rotation, moved up and down the space with pauses for a swig of Poland Springs
There's the groom in a nifty Lindy move with a senior bopper
My favourite theme, detritus !
While the men were cutting the parquet the almost invisible catering staff whisked away the debris and the furniture
The big wigs stayed at the table and hogged on or rang their friends
Heating up now and those coats sure had a life of their own
Some people can't help knowing what's going on over the fence.
These two chairs were always on hand for when the groom got a bit winded
It's here. and I scoffed a sugar laden apple crumble. Today my bones have dissolved
After pud the music pumped up and the legs really got kicking in. The groom's headpiece took on a life of its own too.
Maestro, if you please
By now Tovah had to peep into the male domain to drag me off home. It was nearly midnight and the bride and groom still hadn't done The Pride Of Erin. The shindigs were set to go on til 3 !
But all in all it was a fantastic glimpse into a very mysterious culture.
Good luck, kids