Joey and I went to Israel this winter on Birthright, a wonderful program that allows any Jewish person between the ages of 18 and 26 who has not done so yet to spend ten days touring Israel with other people their age. Joey had never been to Israel before, and when I visited with Leo Baeck Temple several years ago, there was nobody my age, but there was a six-month-old Eliana Lee Chasen and several grandparents. Lucky for me, Birthright decided I should have the experience of travelling with my peers, and so, on December 18th, Joey and I landed together in Tel Aviv to begin our Israeli adventure.
Birthright does a great job of making sure you visit "mandatory Israel", as our friend, Gili, who lives outside Tel Aviv, calls the sites that you really can't leave Israel without seeing. They took us up Masada, down to the Dead Sea, through Jerusalem to the Western Wall, into the nightlife of Tel Aviv, all the things that would be on any respectable "Israel Must-Do" checklist. There was one thing, however, that Joey and I had on our personal to-do list while we were there, and that was to purchase our wedding rings.
Before my parents got married, my highly academic father did a lot of research into the hows and whys of Jewish marriage customs. Of course, as I have studied these same rituals, both academically and personally, I have learned very different things than he did. This has led him to the new conclusion that, despite everyone being absolutely certain in their understanding of Jewish marriage law, nobody's certainties align quite right. One such matter is that of the rings. According to my father, a Jewish wedding band must be a simple circle of pure gold. No diamonds, no breaks. This to support the initial object of the wedding ring. That is, for the groom to give an amount of money to the bride that she
keeps for herself in case of emergency. Should her husband mistreat her and she need to leave him, she has at least something to live on. In order that the value of the ring be indisputable, it must be made of solid gold (a consistently standardized value) with no stones or adornments, the added value of which could be quibbled over. In this system, the bride is actually not allowed to give a ring to the groom, as that would negate the value of the ring he just gave her.
Now, I've seen Orthodox rabbi's wives with diamonds in the band, and just about every groom these days wears a wedding ring, so who knows. And, in fact, traditionally traditonally, (we're talking Anatevka here), the whole village would share a big, elaborate ring that was used just for the ceremony, then passed on to the next couple to wed and the married people wore no signifying jewelry.
Joey and I decided we wanted the simple gold bands quite a while ago. Since there's nothing visually spectacular about that, we decided to take advantage of the ability to really get them anywhere we wanted. When shopping for my engagement ring, Joey had very particular things in mind, either that he wanted or that he didn't want, and there were a lot more factors at play, particularly with the stone. So he shopped around and ultimately, with the help of a good friend, found the ring he wanted in a jewelry shop in Omaha. For my engagement ring, the specialness and the beauty and the care are evident when you look at it. For the wedding rings, there would be no way visually to tell them from just about any other simple gold ring, so we wanted their special qualities to come from their making.
While we were in Israel, we asked two of our Israeli guides, Rami and Adi, to give us the name of a good jeweler in Jerusalem, Joey's and my collective favorite city in Israel. We asked them to help us find someone with a good neshama, a good soul. This is a little bit of my California hippy heritage coming into play, and many of you have heard me discuss this concept in relation to food, but I believe that the quality and emotions of the person making something (rings, bread pudding) absolutely come through in the finished product. I think that a simple ring made by a good man carries different qualities than an identical ring made by a greedy, dishonest man. Joey is perhaps not quite so invested in this strange branch of my personal theology, but he was willing enough to accept it, especially when both Rami and Adi came back to us, independently, with the same name: Meltzer.
The Meltzer shop is just far enough off Ben Yehuda Street, the remarkably touristy area of shops, to be a different type of place entirely. Gone are the "Special discount for Birthright!" signs and large, brightly-lit displays. Meltzer's shop has a quiet sign out front and about 100 square feet of space inside. I walked in and asked the man at the counter "Are you Mr. Meltzer?" "Yes," he responded, pointing around to the other men in the shop. "I'm Meltzer, and he's Meltzer, and he's Meltzer. We are all Meltzers!" I explained, nervously, why we were there and he pulled out a few trays of rings to show us, none of which quite seemed right. We said as much, and he pulled a big bag of rings from the back and dumped them out on the display case. This was definitely not the luxury boutique experience. We spent quite some time discussing style, finish, thickness, and size, before we left. Who knew "simple gold band" could be so complicated? He had to make them special for us, and, being unable to really see the exact rings we wanted fitting on our hands, I was very nervous about what we'd think when we picked them up the next day. One of the Mr. Meltzers told me I shouldn't be so worried, "it's only marriage." Joey laughed at his joke. I did not.