Weddings

The Rabbi's Daughter

I was a child who always imagined one, and only one, detail of my wedding--that my father would officiate.
10/27/2011 11:43am ET | Updated December 27, 2011

I've read enough wedding blogs and watched enough bridal reality TV to know that there are a great number of women out there who start thinking about their wedding day from a very young age. How many times have we heard a bride declare, "I've been dreaming of this day since I was a little girl" usually followed by something about her "Prince Charming" or "princess ball gown"? I was not one of those girls--well, almost not one of those girls. I was a child who always imagined one, and only one, detail of my wedding--that my father would officiate.

This was before the time of online ordination with the Universal Life Ministry. This was long before it was trendy for couples to pick a meaningful person in their life to officiate their momentous event. The reason I knew my dad would be presiding over my wedding ceremony is because my father is a rabbi.

I used to think it was really cool to make the announcement that I was--cue the trumpets--THE RABBI'S DAAAUUUGHTER. That was until I started fourth grade at a new Jewish day school linked to my father's synagogue. I excitedly shared the news of my parental relation with any classmate who would listen. Warning to all you little preacher's kids out there reading HuffPost -- no one your age thinks this is cool. No one.

My childhood wedding vision did have a basis in reality. I often saw my dad in action, and anyone on the Southern California Jewish events circuit circa 1987 will tell you, my dad is the best. I have often sat in awe at one of his weddings. He has this uncanny knack for addressing every couple, including those he just met, as if he has known them for a lifetime. My father is brilliant, but in reality it's not what he says at a wedding, it's how he says it.

And how was it that I saw so many weddings my dad conducted? Well, I'm not only a rabbi's daughter; I also grew up as the single rabbi's daughter. So as is only natural for any religious leader who also happens to be a single parent, my father carted me around from hospital visit to funeral to wedding. My father even had this remarkable routine of guilting the bride (on her wedding day, no less!) into allowing me to be a flower girl at the wedding. I'd walk down the aisle in my latest grey Rosh Hashanah frock holding a plastic produce bag of petals from Ralph's Supermaket, while three other "real" flower girls sashayed down the aisle in white ball gowns, holding spray painted straw baskets. As someone who has now planned her own wedding, I want to apologize publicly to all the brides out there whose weddings I may have hijacked. You see, my dad is an incredible rabbi, a fantastic father, but clearly a man with questionable tact (I'm starting to think I should be saving this for when Huffington Post starts the "Childhood Scars" section).

So in this whole childhood vision, it never occurred to me that my father wouldn't be presiding over my wedding. That was until he almost didn't. When I was twelve, my father was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. The prognosis for this type of cancer was, in all likelihood, terminal. He was given nine years statistically. I had always envisioned my father would officiate my wedding one day, but now I just hoped he'd make it to my high school graduation.

Twenty years later my father is still miraculously alive, vibrant, healthy, and regarded as cured by his medical team. Thanks to the miracle of modern science, a group of incredibly innovative oncologists, and my father's sometimes-dizzying optimism, my dad not only walked me down the aisle, but also stood under the huppah as our rabbi. While I did receive an incredible wine refrigerator (seriously throw one of those bad-boys on your registry now), there was no wedding gift that remotely compared with my father officiating my wedding. It was moving, completely emotional, and so much more than I had ever envisioned when I was a little girl. He was beaming that day, a typical reaction for the father of the bride. Yet it was almost as if my father had a dual glow--as if each role he played in our wedding fulfilled him for different reasons. When Jewish couples stand under the huppah they are wrapped in a traditional prayer shawl and blessed by the rabbi. It is the same blessing of protection that many Jewish parents, including my father, say to their children every Sabbath. As I watched my father utter the same words to my husband and me at our wedding, that he blessed me with every Friday night as a child (and still does now, usually to my voicemail), I felt truly grateful for the extra years we have been given together.

We brides are often so busy planning all the "pretty" of the big day, that it is easy to forget that a wedding is unbelievably sacred. And I promise, a marriage feels so much more transcendent when the person officiating it is someone who cherishes you and your intended. So just as you take care in choosing your guest list, be truly mindful of whom you ask to make the pronouncement of marriage. There is a reason that couples have their best friend get ordained online or fly out their childhood minister. The significant events in life can be so much more meaningful when conducted by those whom we love and who love us.

Elisha Levin
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