Monday, September 08, 2008

In Ste. Agathe, a very public wedding story

Resort town hosts Hasidic ceremony; Age-old ritual conducted in the open to demystify ultraorthodox Jewish sect

The Gazette

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

"As water mirrors a face, a heart responds to another."

- Proverbs 27:1

- - -

The veiled bride wore a long white gown, the bearded groom wore a big black hat, and with 300 friends, relatives, dignitaries and curious onlookers gathered by the lake yesterday in this Laurentians town, the two were married in an unusually public Hasidic Jewish ceremony.

By custom and fundamentalist religious belief, Hana Sellem, a French immigrant, and Moshe Barouk, an American visiting from Florida - who met only several months ago, through a matchmaker - hadn't seen each other for one week before the ceremony. They had also fasted and studied the Torah to prepare for their big day.

Their ceremony was meant not only for them but for Ste. Agathe. Despite close to a century of Jewish presence, the town has been under a cloud lately because of an incident two weeks ago in which a visiting Montreal Jew was attacked and assaulted by a gang of local youths while walking to synagogue.

With uniformed security guards watching discreetly, Sellem and Barouk yesterday solemnly observed the rituals of their tradition, so strange yet so fascinating to the non-initiates who watched from the lawn of downtown Place Lagny on the shores of Lac des Sables, where the early evening wedding took place under a tiny raised canopy beneath balmy late-summer skies.

Inside a reception room of the park's pavilion, provided free by the town, the groom first brought down a veil over the bride's face, a symbol that she's now off-limits to other men. Then the knots on the groom's clothing were untied, emphasizing the couple's new bond of holy matrimony.

Bride and groom and their entourages then proceeded outside to the canopy, singing in Hebrew and carrying lit candles. There, Sellem and her family circled the groom seven times, symbolizing the number of days the devout believe it took God to create the Earth.

Readings and blessings in Hebrew followed, kosher Israeli white wine was sipped, witnesses were called to attest to the procedures, and finally the groom placed a simple gold band on the bride's right forefinger.

The marriage contract was then read out in Aramaic, more blessings were read, a second glass of wine was sipped, and a glass was broken under the groom's right foot to remember the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Her veil finally lifted, and with the crowd whistling and cheering before the setting sun, the bride and her husband then retired to a private room in the pavilion, first stepping over a silver spoon on the threshold, and spent a few minutes together to break their fast and live their first moments unobserved by others.

The wedding was deliberately public. By doing it in the open, Sellem, an educator and administrator at a local Jewish girl's seminary, had hoped to demystify her Chabad-Lubavitch brand of Jewish ultraorthodoxy in this otherwise nominally Roman Catholic town.

To that end, guests yesterday were handed a wedding guide in English and French explaining the rituals and their meaning.

Mission accomplished, it seems.

"I hope this event will inspire others - it should have been done a long time ago, because it's so necessary to bring our nationalities together," said retired nurse Marie Fortin, who lives in a condo complex next to the park and whose downstairs neighbours are Jews from Texas.

Like many of the onlookers, this was was her first Jewish wedding.

Now it'll be up to the new couple to make something of their new life together. But it won't be in Ste. Agathe.

In the coming year, they'll move to Florida to start a home and have children - "lots of them, God willing," the 26-year-old bride said with a chuckle.
© The Gazette (Montreal) 2008

1 comment:

Jong Briscoe said...

Inspiring and educational at the same time!