While reality TV junkies don’t usually look to their favorite shows as shining beacons of cultural representation, this season of Netflix's hit series, Love Is Blind, is offering a different perspective.
During its third season, LIB treats viewers to two unique cultural weddings and wedding traditions, SK Alagbada and Raven Ross's Nigerian wedding, and Alexa Alfia and Brennon Lemieux's Reform Jewish wedding. (The others were Christian services, which is nothing new to this show.)
Brennon, a 32-year-old water treatment engineer, and Alexa, a 29-year-old insurance agency owner, were an unlikely pair from the start. He appeared quiet, conservative, and rocked cowboy hats, bible verses, and a sheepish smile. Alexa, by comparison, is a fashion icon and a confident queen who is super proud of her Iraeli heritage. (And *spoiler alert*: They both say "I Do" under the chuppah.)
It's clear that Judaism is important to Alexa's fam (need I remind you of the knife scene with her father and Brennon?), so when it came time to plan the wedding, Alexa included some important Jewish traditions. Still, everyone knows that reality TV can dumb things down and oversimplify, so Women's Health is unpacking their wedding to see what the show got right and wrong about Jewish weddings, with some help from an expert.
Rabbi Victor Appell from Temple Emanu-El, a Reform temple in Westfield, New Jersey, breaks it all down.
*Note: Appell has not yet watched this season, but he was briefed on the general events ahead of the episodes' release.
It was important to Alexa that they incorporate Jewish elements into their wedding.
First, I will note that Alexa and Brennon's wedding is what is considered to be a "Reform" wedding, which means it offers a modernized version of the customs, and one that includes more gender equity. It's also important to be aware that this depiction is certainly not the only representation of Jewish wedding customs, it's just what Alexa and Brennon decided to do for their wedding. There are different traditions for other couples, and practices can vary depending on the sect of Judaism the couple belongs to, which you can read about in The Jewish Wedding Now.
In case you need a quick refresher, the three largest sects of Judaism are Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform (there are others, like Reconstructionist, but these are the main ones), according to MyJewishLearning.com. The Reform sect focuses more on Jewish ethics than law, and takes a modern approach to social justice issues and progressive politics. On the other side of the scale, Orthodox Judaism is the most conservative and strictest sect, closely adhering to Jewish law and religious observances. Conservative Judaism sits between Reform and Orthodox, offering a blended approach to certain traditions while still modernizing the observance, including with gender equity.
"Obviously we didn't have, like, a whole Jewish wedding, but [we decided to] take certain things that were important," Alexa tells Women's Health. Specifically, the bride was glad that she was able to include those cultural elements on her wedding day and share the planning process with her Israeli dad and grandfather.
"We could have, of course, done that off-camera," Alexa adds, "but I thought it was something fun that we got to share with everyone else and teach someone, you know, what those things are."
So, how accurate was the Reform Jewish wedding everyone sees on Love Is Blind? Well, Appell, says they did a great job.
“One of the things that makes Jewish weddings so special is that it involves rituals,” says Appell. “For Jewish people, rituals are important to the way we practice Judaism.”
The couple held their ceremony under a chuppah.
Viewers first see Alexa walking down the aisle, and if you can stop your tears for just a second, you will notice she's walking towards an ornate, white, floral canopy. This is called a chuppah, says Appell.
“The chuppah is a beautiful tradition that represents the home the couple is going to establish,” he says. “It shows that this couple will establish a new home, and they will bring these traditions with them.”
Sometimes, chuppahs are banners rather than floral arches, and in that case, some couples will hang the banners in their new home as a wedding memento after the ceremony.
The men wore kippahs.
Fans will also notice that the groom, Brennon, as well as the men in the audience, are wearing small head coverings, which are called kippahs, or yarmulkes. Men wear these as a sign of respect to God. In more traditional sects of Judaism, men wear kippahs at all times.
In Reform temples, like the one Alexa and Brennon got married in, the kippah is optional for both men and women, says Appell.
Alexa and Brennon said their own vows.
When it comes to the vows, that's usually up to the couple, says Appell. Some to-be-weds, like Brennon and Alexa, decide to say their own vows, while others stick with the traditional vows given by the rabbi or cantor. At a wedding where two Jewish people are being married, the rabbi will bless the couple with a Hebrew verse that translates to: “May you be consecrated to me with this ring with keeping with heritage of Moses in Israel.”
For couples of mixed faiths, like Brennon and Alexa, the officiant uses a different, albeit still-popular verse: “I am my beloved, and my beloved is mine.”
Couples that are not both Jewish cannot be married by an Orthodox rabbi, but Reform rabbis like Appell can meet with couples and decide to perform the ceremony on a case-by-case basis.
Brennon stepped on a glass at the end of the ceremony.
This is another typical move at a Jewish wedding, says Appell. But the origin is somewhat hard to pin down. “There are as many explanations for this as there are rabbis,” he explains.
But mostly, this represents the idea that even though the couple is celebrating a joyous occasion, there is still sadness in the world. “We don’t ever want to become so enraptured in our own joy that we forget there is sadness and suffering,” adds Appell.
The glass can also represent the fragile nature of a relationship, he says: “Like glass, once broken, a relationship is hard to put back together.”
So...about that knife scene...
A refresher for those who don’t have this scene seared into their brains: When Alexa’s dad meets Brennon for the first time, he brings out a set of knives and asks him how dedicated he is to changing his faith. He is referencing, of course, whether Brennon is circumcised.
When asked about this, Appell laughs. “Converting involves a period of study, it involves an immersion of [yourself] in a mikveh, or a bath,” he says. If you're not familiar, this is like a "baptism" of sorts where you are submerged in a small pool of water and say a prayer three times. Generally, Jewish people welcome others to convert to Judaism, Appell adds. “We don’t go knocking door to door, but we love when people want to become Jewish."
When it comes to circumcision, Appell says that yes, Jewish men are circumcised, so "if a man chooses to convert and he is not circumcised, he is usually encouraged to do so.”
However, this would constitute a medical procedure at a hospital, with the requisite amount of anesthesia. Not tequila shots and a knife wielded by your future father-in-law. But jokes aside, this couple seems really happy, and Alexa tells Women's Health that marriage has been "really wonderful" so far. "Every day is just a fairy tale," she says.
Mazel tov, Alexa, and Brennon!
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