Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Prayer Shawl Envelops Me in Warm Memories of Family by Dr. Alan Singer

June is the time for weddings and this essay which the Home News printed on 06/20/07 is as personal as it gets. I describe the custom of using a Talis (prayer shawl) as a Chupa (wedding canopy).

June is the most popular month for weddings. Over the centuries, a custom evolved in Jewish communities to use a prayer shawl (tallis) as a wedding canopy (chupa). My in-laws gave me one shawl for weekdays and one for Sabbath. I attached my Sabbath shawl to the ceiling of our wedding canopy, knowing that the Sabbath and holidays would provide the best time for connection with family and tradition, like our wedding did. During our 30 years of marriage, I noticed my shawl getting a bit tattered and yellowed. Today's consumer culture would likely suggest that I purchase a new model. That won't happen, because I like the warmth and recollections of the real article.

The daily blessing on the shawl refers to protection and elevation. Until our wedding, it was my parents who were responsible to protect and elevate me; after that, it would be my wife.
My shawl surrounds me with memories. It reminds me of who stood under our canopy and witnessed our vows of commitment, especially my parents (of blessed memory) and the decades of watching their marriage.

My parents weren't keen on saying "I love you" in public to each other. But I remember them demonstrating it in little ways. The daily hello/goodbye kiss was important, as was the good-morning/night kiss. Dad checked on Mom's car daily: tires, oil, and wiper fluid; everything had to be safe. Mom would buy Dad record albums of opera music and tape it so he could listen in his car.

I marveled at how, despite their different upbringings, they enjoyed many activities together. Dad, a mechanical engineer, loved skiing, boating, and raising orchids. Mom, a teacher and pianist, was raised in the Midwest surrounded by fine arts and activism. Opera night in South Florida was a revered time that my parents enjoyed together in their front-row seats.
Mom was more emotional; Dad was more physical. She loved to read; he loved to build and repair things. Only after I was married, did I realize that their marriage didn't last despite their differences; rather it thrived because of them.

Concerning parenting skills, they were of one mind. That consistency has been a model for how my wife and I raise our four children. When I broke a rule and needed disciplining, I would receive a deep-voiced reprimand from my father, "Your mother and I do not approve of how you acted."

As a child, I was sad when a good friend and his mother left their home on my block and moved into the tall building on Parkview Point. That's when I first heard the d-word — divorce. That was in the '60s, when the divorce rate in the United States began to soar. I wondered how a family problem or argument could be so severe that parents would divorce, but then came the night of the flying dishes.

My father decided to help his friend Milton in a run for City Council in Miami Beach. For three weeks, he never came home until after midnight when everyone was asleep. Our family dinners continued, but it was Mom and her boys; we hardly saw Dad. (It's interesting that my parents knew the importance of the family dinner ritual back then.) My mother was fed up. She could not endure raising three sons by herself, so things got nasty. One night we awoke to the sound of Mom smashing dishes and yelling at Dad. My father convinced her to stop her tantrum by promising to resign from Milton's political campaign. Our house was quiet again, although in a state of disorder.

I couldn't sleep that night because I assumed the d-word was next and we would be moving to Parkview Point. But the next morning, Dad brought Mom coffee and checked the fluids in her car. He took his morning bike ride with his best friend Milton and resigned from his campaign. He apologized to Mom, kissed her goodbye and went to work. That day I learned what forgiveness means in a marriage.

These are some of the warm memories that envelop me as I wear the prayer shawl that was our wedding canopy. Five years ago, one of the fringes of my shawl tore off, rendering it unsuitable for use. I could have disposed of it but I realized that when something precious breaks, you don't toss it, you fix it. That's one more lesson my prayer shawl taught me about marriage. This column is dedicated to my son Noam and his new bride Rachel.

"Be Counted" columnist Dr. Alan Singer blogs at He is a marriage therapist in Highland Park and can be reached at