My Brother the Rabbi

Holy energy was thick in the air as a procession of rabbis cast the seven sacred blessings upon the glowing couple. A sea of black hats nodded back in approval. The bride beamed with the look of a woman who’s waited her whole life for this moment. An axis amid the action, the groom rocked back and forth with eyes closed, as if in a trance. Somehow unfolding simultaneously in slow motion and at mach speed, the ceremony had transcended time and space. The crunch of glass under my brother’s foot was a slingshot back to reality. Not only was my little brother married, his union had been sealed in the tradition of the Jewish orthodox. Remind me again how this happened?

When I remember Carter’s youth, I think of him as a troubled child. He was deeply affected by being the shortest kid in school and that frustration, compounded with other issues, led him into therapy. Attending college at the University of Pennsylvania he started to shake his feelings of alienation. He took on the persona of the popular frat guy whom everyone loved. Compensating for his lack of height, he logged countless hours in the gym becoming a bodybuilder. Despite all his activities he never could shake the void he felt in his soul. Something was missing.

After his junior year he took the trip that would alter the course of his life. The March of the Living is a program that takes people on tours of many of the Nazi‑era concentration camps in Poland and Germany. The intense sadness of this experience is contrasted with the joy of arriving in Israel at its conclusion. Carter fell in love with “the promised land” and gradually committed himself to learning more about Judaism. Raised in a reform household, there was a depth to the religion he knew had eluded him.

Before long, graduation approached and law school became the hot topic. Expectations run high for Ivy Leaguers and my parents hoped for some return on their huge investment. If there ever was a crossroads for Carter, this was it. I’ve got to give little bro credit for following his heart all the way to Israel to study to be a rabbi at a Yeshiva instead. Only now do I appreciate the irony, considering the emphasis he places on the virtues of the logical mind always trumping the will of the heart. Carter’s extreme transformation of ideology, morality, and general personality comes across as some sort of heavenly intervention. It must be, in order to get the former king of late‑sleeping up every day at 6 a.m. to go pray. He eats only kosher food, which in the U.S. can be quite a chore. Deeply committed to obeying the 613 laws outlined by God in the Torah, it wasn’t long before any doubt was erased that this would be more than a passing phase. He’s been in the Old City of Jerusalem now for more than three years and to him it’s paradise.

For orthodox Jews, getting married is the first priority of adult life. They believe a soul is incomplete until it finds its soul mate. The whole process of seeking a bride is quite fascinating. Carter was assigned a matchmaker by his rabbi’s wife. She would find out about women through various word‑of‑mouth sources and meet them. They even go to such lengths as DNA testing to check for proclivities to specific diseases. The matchmaker orchestrates all the details of the courtship including when to call, where to go, what to do, etc. It sure does simplify what normally can be a complex series of events.

Inevitably feeling some pressure, Carter was discouraged after dating six women and feeling no chemistry with any of them. Once he had taken a break from looking, that’s when it happened. Naomi was visiting Israel from New York and decided to extend her trip. During that time she was introduced to the matchmaker, Sara Faige, who immediately knew Naomi had to meet Carter. They went out virtually every day for a week and that was all it took. Within two and a half weeks they were engaged — a far cry from the six-and-a-half years it took me to propose to my fiancée.

Among the most notable orthodox guidelines is the one restricting females from being touched by anyone except immediate family and their husbands. It boggles the average mind to acknowledge that women like Naomi have never held hands with a guy, let alone been kissed. Moving at a pace only second to Vegas‑bound celebrities, the wedding was planned a mere two and a half months out. It was an elegant affair on Long Island hosting a small army of 375 people. Good thing it all happened so fast or my mom could have had a nervous breakdown.

We all braced ourselves for a stuffy wedding full of religious freaks and separation of the sexes. It turned out to be a lot more fun than anyone expected. The overwhelming spread of kosher delights left little to be desired. The raucous dance floor was a spectacle. The only disappointment was the ceremony, which didn’t get through to the secular part of the crowd who couldn’t understand Hebrew and everyone else obscured by a wall of “paparazzi.” I lucked out with my prime real estate next to the groom. Immediately afterward the couple retreats to a private room to spend 15 minutes alone for the first time. The intensity of the moment is powerful to contemplate. At the end of the night I gave the toast I had spent so much time preparing. Feeling so fortunate to reflect on sweet childhood memories, I held back tears of joy seeing my brother happier than he’s ever been in his life. It was the perfect affirmation for someone defying rhyme or reason to tap in to his special potential.

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