5774 was an incredible year for me.
It began, somewhat predictably, with Rosh haShana. Little more than a week later, on the day following Yom Kippur, my sister got married to her wonderful husband and I was honoured with being mesader qiddushin. My lovely girlfriend, Ariella, had flown up to Sydney for the occasion, and the two of us partied late into the night. (Which is to say, we partied until the wedding finished and then we both went home, for we are old.)
In November of that year, which was 2013 by the Gregorian calendar, I received a phone call from “the university” while holidaying with Ariella in Melbourne. It turns out that the thesis that I had not yet started to research nor to write was due to be submitted, and that no further possibility of deferral would be extended to me. Way to ruin a vacation.
Still, there are some vacations that cannot be so easily spoilt, and the one that was approaching fell thoroughly into that category. It commenced on Boxing Day, when my immediate family and I (with the delightful Ariella in tow) flew to Cape Town for my brother’s wedding. He was to be making official his long-standing relationship with the love of his life, his highschool sweetheart and the mother of his beautiful little boy, and since they are both so enamoured of the culture of that continent, they had picked an African location.
We spent ten days in Cape Town eating meat and seafood, basking in the thick sunlight, canyoning through ravines, climbing up Table Mountain, hiking through the dense forest, relaxing in the Botanical Gardens of Kirstenbosch, walking the old township and having a generally fabulous time. Even weighed down with books on metaphor theory and their application to biblical studies, nothing could dampen my spirit.
Having exhausted so much of what Cape Town had to offer, we then flew to Johannesburg and caught a shuttle bus up north. After a six-hour drive we had arrived at Madikwe game reserve, where we spent the next few days and where my brother was married. Once again, I was truly honoured to have been mesader qiddushin, and to have fulfilled those duties in such a beautiful and exotic location.
We saw herds of impala and zebra, a great many elephants, two ferocious lions, a lioness, several giraffes, rhinos and buffalo, and a tremendous number of birds. On the evening before the wedding, we had dinner under the stars, surrounded by trees and by rangers with guns, where we feasted on the flesh of Madikwe’s former four-legged residents.
This part of the vacation over, we drove back to Johannesburg and caught a flight to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. There we spent two days white-water rafting, hiking along the waterfall and eating feasts of epic proportions. It was sad to leave, but leave we must, and our next stop was Chobe National Park in Botswana, where we added to our list of wildlife an abundance of hippos, several crocodiles, more wild dogs and a cheetah.
When we finally arrived back in Sydney, some three weeks after we had left, Ariella moved in with me and I began to write my thesis…
In July, when the thesis was finally beginning to take shape and the deadline was little more than a month away, Ariella and I flew to Helsinki with her parents, and there I met the rest of her family. Her brother, who is married to a Finnish girl, lives in Helsinki with his wife and their two beautiful children, and for two weeks we strolled and shopped, kayaked and ate, and I tried to write more of my thesis.
Towards the end of the holiday, Ariella and I made a brief stopover in Paris for three nights, where we got to feel like Europeans, catching flights and trains without need of a passport and with only enough luggage to see us through a few days. They were some of the most wonderful days of my life: we spent approximately eight hours on each of them walking, stopping only to fill up on cheese, cured meats, red wine and roast duck. The snails, which I ate on the first night and on the third, were magnificent, and the Jewish quarter was like a slice out of time.
On our return to Sydney, I commenced the traumatic period of thesis-writing, in which I didn’t leave the apartment, barely slept and wrote for over twelve hours a day. That culminated in an awful fortnight, at the conclusion of which I reeled into the university printery, produced five copies of the finished product, submitted four of them and tried not to have a nervous breakdown.
When Rosh haShana approached once more and 5774 morphed into 5775, so too did Ariella (without whom my thesis would still be unwritten) morph from being my girlfriend into being my fiancée.
We made the announcement in Melbourne, shortly after Yom Kippur, and had an impromptu lechayim for all of her 150+ family and friends (including a handful of my own people, there to toast the end of my long bachelorhood).
While that concluded 5774, I feel that a word or two should be said for the beginning of 5775, at which Ariella and I (who both believe in short engagements) got married at the home of my parents. Ariella’s father, who is both a Torah scholar and a tzaddik, honoured us both by being mesader qiddushin, and we custom-designed the marital proceedings ourselves.
Put simply, we separated the eirusin from the nisuin by an hour, such that qabbalat panim was followed by Ariella circling me seven times, my giving her a ring and her father reciting two berakhot. While our guests ate, she and I (together with her father and our two witnesses) filled out and signed the beautiful ketubah that my parents had given us. Then, we returned downstairs for the chuppah, at which I wore a kittel and was given a new tallis by Ariella’s parents. I put it on, made a shehechiyanu, was given a ring by Ariella, draped the tallis over the two us for the seven berakhot and then stomped on a glass.
The following week was spent in Melbourne, where we had sheva berakhot almost every day, and where we turned our one-day wedding into a seven-day feast.
I look back now and I am amazed at how much has changed over so short a time. One of my two sisters is married and is due to have her first baby soon; one of my two brothers is married and now has a second baby boy; my thesis has finally been submitted, and I find myself married to the love of my life; and – as of only two days ago – my other sister is engaged!
I really don’t know what this year will bring, but it will be pretty hard to top the last.