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Goodbye, Columbus, 2007    

Goodbye, Columbus, 2007

People plan weddings, spend an arm and a leg on food, flowers, and frills. Oftentimes, no one thinks about hiring reputable premarital instructors for the...


April, 2007. The caller from New York had wonderful intentions; he simply didn't realize that in Israel, the time was two o'clock in the morning.
"Hello, is this the Rabbi Lazer Brody? I'm Jeremy Slavin from Brooklyn, and I'd like to speak to the rabbi."
I made a valiant effort to sound coherent and polite. Mr. Slavin wasn't responsible for my being up so late trying to meet my deadlines. "This is Lazer Brody speaking. How can I help you?"
A Browning 0.3 machine gun can fire up to six hundred rounds per minute. If you'd substitute words for bullets, Mr. Slavin spoke at about the same tempo. "Wow, it's really you, the Rabbi Brody? I'm a big fan of your website. So is my fiancé. Her name is Karen Fisher, and she's in her first year at Columbia Law. At the end of this semester, I'll be finishing my MBA. We plan to get married this summer. We both want you to perform the ceremony."
Before I had a chance to exhale, much less sneak a word in, Jeremy again released his tongue's safety catch and let another verbal burst fly. "We won't take no for an answer. If we're flying fresh flowers in from Hawaii and hickory-smoked salmon from Vancouver, we can certainly bring you in from Israel. Don't worry; both our parents are established business people. We're having two separate bands - one traditional one from Brooklyn - you know, the Fiddler-on-the-Roof kind of stuff - and the other one from Harlem, that plays all the great oldies from James Brown to the Temptations. The lead singer is as mellow as Smoky Robinson. The reception room will cater to the old folks, with a classical string quartet. We wanted to bring Kleiderman, but he was booked".
My mind flashed back to college days in the late 60's, when I saw a movie starring Ali McGraw called "Goodbye, Columbus" about a similar splurge wedding. What's it all for, I started to ask myself…
Jeremy didn't give my brain a chance to wander. If this guy plays basketball, I thought, he's got the best full-court press there is. "Wait 'til you see the photography! The Presidential inauguration doesn't have the coverage that my wedding will. We've rented three whole floors on the Waldorf Astoria. You've got four different dining rooms to choose from, each with a distinct motif. Each dining room and dance floor will have its own crew of cameramen."
Three floors at the Waldorf Astoria? All those cameras? My mental calculator was reaching the high six figures in U.S. dollars. He continued to tell me about the clothes, the rented limos, the gold-engraved art-print invitations, the table settings, and the complimentary favors for each guest. My head was swimming. Before Jeremy paused to catch his breath, he acknowledged that the cost of the wedding would come close to a million dollars, not including the gold watch, the flawless one-point-four carat diamond ring, and the other gifts exchanged between the bride and the groom.
"Jeremy", I said, finally getting my baby toe wet in the conversational waters, "I'll perform the ceremony on one condition."
"Name your price, Rabbi Brody. You get a blank check - fill in whatever amount you want."
"No, you don't understand, Jeremy. I'm not negotiating for money. My condition is that you and your fiancé undergo premarital coaching, what we call in Israel hadracha, and not only learn the laws of family purity but learn what it means to build a Jewish home."
"But we know how to build a home. We've got the best contractor in Great Neck building a gorgeous split level for us."
"I'm not talking about wood and bricks. I'm talking about you and Miss Fisher your fiancé. I'm talking about communication, mutual respect and consideration, a common goal. What the Torah expects of a husband, a wife, and a marital relationship. You need to be prepared for all sorts of surprise challenges, so that your wife's periodic biologically-influenced moods don't catch you off-guard. Your fiancé also needs to learn what makes you tick. You both need qualified counselors – a man for you and a woman for her - with proven track records in your community of building marriages. You both must prepare you for your emotional and spiritual lives together. If not that, then you should listen to at least 5 or six of our CDs in English. They're all based on Rabbi Shalom Arush's teachings. Rabbi Shalom has successfully built and saved thousands of marriages."
"But we're fine, Rabbi. We don't need outside help. Besides, any rooster and any hen can pair off successfully. Karen and I are intelligent people with very similar backgrounds. I'm sorry you feel that way, Rabbi, but we don't need premarital analysis. I guess I'll have to find a local chaplain. Good night!" The phone slammed in my ear. C'est la vie (French for "that's life"), I thought; but really, it was c'est la guerre (French for "that's war").
June, 2007. Jeremy Slavin's wedding cost slightly over a million dollars.
September, 2007. Three months after the wedding, Karen threw a Teflon frying pan at Jeremy, and then ran crying home to her mama in Far Rockaway. Jeremy called me the day before I left for Rosh Hashanna in Uman, again at two in the morning Israel time, after receiving four stitches in his forehead, this time begging me to come and save his marriage. The million bucks was almost down the drain…

* * *
As far as I know, Jeremy and Karen are still separated. I hate saying, "I told you so," so I wrote this column. If you're contemplating marriage, think about picking a superb madrich or madricha (marital coach) before you pick the band and the menu. And whatever you do, read The Garden of Emuna and listen to First Place, Respecting Your Wife, and Peace in the Home. You won't regret it.
Editor's note: All the names and places in the above article are fictitious. The story and background are painfully true.

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