The wedding was located at the Synagogue des Tournelles. A middle-class French Jewish couple, 50-year-old Jacques Rubenstein and Jacqueline Montel (Bernard was her maiden name), who was in her early thirties, were preparing for their wedding. This would be his third marriage and hers second. He wore a kippah and a kittel—a short, white linen robe over his black tallit. She wore a veil over her face and a medium-length sleeveless, elegant dark red and gold dress. He wore thick glasses and a brown beard covered his face. Her titan hair was long as a horse’s tail.
Moreover, due to certain customs and in order to avoid emotional turmoil, his two teenage sons and her nine-year-old daughter were not allowed to attend the wedding, but they may attend the reception.
Prior to the ceremony, the chatan (groom) and the kallah (bride) greeted the guests separately. It was called Kabbalat Panim. The kallah sat on a throne to receive her guests while the chatan was surrounded by guests who sang and toasted to him.
Jennifer and Jessica arrived at 10 a.m. instead of the hour before. Seeing what was happening at the front, Jennifer checked her watch and said, “F—!”. Jessica shushed her. They assumed that Naomi must’ve mixed up the times or told them the wrong time on purpose. Who knows? They wore elegant black and blue dresses. Jennifer’s dress had more lace than Jessica’s. They walked to the front of the benches. Jessica set up her equipment. A Frenchman assured them that they did not miss anything important. It was only the pre-wedding customs.
Meanwhile, as for the Ashkenazi tradition, the mother of the bride and the mother of the groom stood together and broke a plate to prove the seriousness of the commitment just as a plate can never be fully repaired, so a broken relationship can never be repaired.
“According to the Jewish wedding sites, the bride is called the kallah and the groom is called the chatan,” said Jessica.
“Fascinating,” said Jennifer sarcastically.
“At least, it’s not World War II,” said Jessica.
“Oh no! That’d be nasty if those Nazi pigs were here,” said Jennifer.
The next step was time for the badeken. The Ashkenazi custom was that Jacques, accompanied by his family and friends, proceeded to where Jacqueline was seated and placed the veil over her face. That signaled Jacques’ commitment to clothe and protect his wife. Jacqueline followed Jacques. They were escorted to the chuppah (canopy) by their parents. Under the chuppah, Jacqueline circled Jacques seven times. It symbolized the wholeness and completeness that they could not attain separately. She carried a bouquet of red roses and pink and white lilies. Jacques thought she was beautiful as a diamond. She settled at his right-hand side. At this point, the Sefardic custom was that Jacques say the blessing: “She’hechneyano” over a new tallit. The tallit was then held by four young men over the head of the chatan and the kallah.
The blessing of Betrothal (Kiddushin) was the beginning of the wedding. The first cup of wine accompanied the betrothal blessings, recited by the rabbi. The couple drank from the cup. Jacques took the wedding ring in his hand and declared in French, “Behold, you are betrothed unto me with this ring, according to the law of Moses and Israel.” He then placed the ring on the forefinger of Jacqueline’s right hand. At this point, they were married. Jacqueline slipped the ring on the forefinger of Jacques’s left hand, not under the chuppah to prevent confusion as to what constituted the actual marriage, according to the Torah. The Seven Blessings (Sheva Brachot) were recited over the second cup of wine. The theme of these blessings linked the chatan and kallah to the faith in God as Creator of the world, Bestower of joy and love, and the ultimate Redeemer of the people. The rabbi recited the blessings and the newlyweds drank the wine.
Jacques kissed Jacqueline devotedly and stepped on the glass with his right foot.
People gave them a standing ovation. A few yelled, “MAZEL TOV!”
The reception was at the synagogue’s garden under a tent. The rabbi recited blessings of what to eat: bread, chicken, fish, and sutlach (rice pudding). The wedded couple, their children, and the guests danced to the Hora.
Suddenly, a huge, grizzly brown bear entered and roared loudly. The Hora stopped. Everyone panicked. The bear munched on the salmon at the table. Everyone was disgusted except the kids who laughed. Some of the guests took pictures or recorded the incident with their iPhones. One of them recognized it as the bear that escaped from the zoo last night. Jessica took a picture of the bear. Jacqueline’s father quietly called for Animal Control on his cell phone. Jacques’ mother poked the bear with her cane. “Bad ours, mauvais! Allez-vous en! Vous ruinez la réception! (Bad bear, bad! Go away! You are ruining the reception!)” Provoked, the bear roared loudly. Jacques pulled her away.
“She poked the bear,” said Jessica.
Thankfully, two Animal Control officers arrived on time with a metal leash. The bear ran away. The Animal Control officers pursued for the bear. The reception went on as if nothing had happened.
When it was time for dessert, Jacques and Jacqueline fed each other Kosher vanilla cake. They trusted Jacques’ parents to look after the children while they go on their honeymoon.
After the reception, the couple walked out, guests cheered, blew bubbles, and threw rice. They waved goodbye at the newlyweds as they climbed into a tiny red car. A sign on the trunk was said, “Epousé Juste.”
Jennifer and Jessica returned to their hotel.
“Our work is done,” said Jennifer.
It was sunset. After they emailed Naomi the Paris article and pictures, the travelling duo changed into jeans and cashmere sweaters. They walked around the city with croissants and coffee. Jessica mentioned that it was her first time in Paris.
“London and Paris. It’s like the Tale of Two Cities,” said Jessica.
“The reception dance was entertaining. Hora! Hora! Hora!” said Jennifer. She imitated the dance. Jessica chuckled.
“Overall, despite the ‘wedding crasher’, it was a lovely wedding,” said Jessica.
“Sure, it was,” said Jennifer sarcastically. “It was nearly a disaster. I’m sure the next few weddings will either be enjoyable or utterly turn into disasters. Most wedding attendees are idiot. Not all of the marriages will last long.”
Enough is enough. Time to step up. thought Jessica. She was clearly annoyed and stopped in her tracks.
“All right! That’s it! This is the last straw! I am trying to ignore this, but your stupid comments…ugh! Enough is enough!” exclaimed Jessica.
“Blimey! Calm down, Jess. Don’t make a scene here. You’re overreacting,” said Jennifer. “You’re probably tired from all that travelling and working.”
“I am not overreacting!” said Jessica.
“What’s the big deal, Jess?” asked Jennifer.
“We agreed to set aside our differences, but no. Perhaps that alcohol at the reception made you forget to keep your opinions and comments to yourself,” said Jessica. “We’re too different.”
Jessica walked faster. Jennifer chased after her.
“Look, I’m sorry I broke our agreement. I forgot about it. I should’ve written it down,” said Jennifer. “I didn’t drink today. Just a little champagne.”
Jessica stopped in her tracks. Jennifer caught her breathe.
“What’s your deal, huh? Why don’t you believe in marriage? At first, I assumed you were jealous and resentful of other people and I figured it was none of my business, but that was bull—-. Is there more to it than your preference of singlehood?” asked Jessica.
“What do you mean?” asked Jennifer.
“Why do you oppose marriage?” asked Jessica.
Jennifer sighed. She hesitated to answer. “My parents divorced when I was ten. I vowed to myself to never ever be like them. When I dreamed of getting married, I had doubts about love and marriage and all. Things changed as I grew up. I set sail on the ocean of love twice, but I just wasted away in the desert. My first engagement to my college sweetheart—I thought marriage would lead to happiness and fix all of our problems: the dislike of each other’s families, the major lifestyle, and personality differences, and my deep desire to leave the relationship. Unfortunately, I was a completely stupid, blindsided idiot. I was completely consumed by him and the relationship. I gave up a lot—-my hobbies, my friends, including the Carltons—they didn’t get along because I always chose him over them—and focused on my relationship.”
Maybe that’s why that woman, April what’s-her-name wasn’t too happy to see her. thought Jessica.
“I wanted to make it work no matter how many deal breakers there were,” continued Jennifer. “Three months after we got engaged, one thing led to another, he cheated on me, and we called it off. I vowed not to make that mistake again. Two years later, I was engaged again. Things were better than before. Within later, he was not very supportive of my writing career. Four months later, I learned that he was a lying snake imposter. He was pretending to be a wealthy man when he was really a con artist. I confronted him and turned him in.”
“Crazy,” said Jessica. She felt a little guilty about her outburst.
They stopped at Pont Neuf and stared at the river. Silence.
“Truthfully, I was more interested in my career than having a family. After my second ex-fiancé hit the slammer, I realized that I was much happier as a bachelorette. I lost my trust in men,” said Jennifer. “Speaking of children, not that I don’t like them, I just don’t think it’s for me. No interest. Besides, I’m extremely busy with my current career.”
Jessica apologized and Jennifer accepted it.
“When I said “writing career,” I meant writing romance novels. I was not always a journalist til I was around…your age or close. I tried to be the next Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte, but that didn’t quite pan out. It was after I called off my second engagement. So, I switched to travel journalism instead. Geography fascinates me. I don’t regret that for one bit,” said Jennifer. “Pretty ironic, huh?”
She straightened out her clothes a little.
“You know, I wasn’t always a travel photographer ’til after the divorce. I tried to be the next Picasso with robots, but that didn’t quite pan out either. I chose this career the same reason you chose yours. No regrets,” said Jessica.
The wind blew their hair. The ladies straightened their hair out and continued to walk in the city.
“My parents divorced when I was sixteen. I met my husband in high school. We eloped after graduation. Things went downhill, starting him losing his job. Drugs, alcohol, and strippers came along. And whenever I tried to help him, he would…hurt me…,” said Jessica.
She pointed at where her husband beat her up: upper shoulders, stomach, and legs. There was a scar that faded on her left shoulder. Jennifer was speechless, feeling sorry for her.
“So, one day, I had the courage to turn him into the police. Good riddance,” said Jessica.
Jennifer didn’t understand why Jessica would marry her ex-husband right after high school. They probably didn’t know better. They were young. It was not the old days anymore. She patted Jessica on the back. Jessica explained that since the divorce, she lost her trust in men until she started dating again. That prompted her to believe in love again. In the wake of her divorce, she vowed to do a better background check on every man she dates and remarry a decent guy. She would like to start fresh and have children. She will manage to balance between a family and her career.
“I’m sure you will. You’re the type. You know, life is not a fairytale. There’s more to life than marriage and kids. Whatever you do, you rely on yourself for happiness, not other people,” said Jennifer. “Not every woman needs a man.”
Jessica absorbed that information. Jennifer did have a point.
“And no should ever be alone. There’s more to life than a career. Without family, friends, or in some cases, a life partner, you have nothing,” said Jessica. “It’s called loneliness.”
Jennifer absorbed that information. Jessica also did have a point.
“You know, you’re not a bad person at all,” said Jessica. “You’re ok.”
“You’re not a bad person either. I like it when you see the best in situations,” said Jennifer. “I know I have difficulty expressing my feelings, but don’t push me, ok?”
Jessica nodded. “I know I can be a bit pushy and overly enthusiastic, but I like positivity. It helped me move from my divorce. From now on, I’ll let you open up on your own terms. Don’t push me away, ok?”
Again, they made an agreement to set aside their differences and work together and ignore each other’s opinions and comments. Jessica will remind Jennifer in case she forgets, respectfully of course. They did a little more sightseeing and took some pictures including selfies until they felt wan. It was close to midnight.
It was the beginning of their friendship.