Recognizing the World’s Oldest Nun

“Life is wonderful… however, too short.”

A number of media sites from The Vatican News to the European Jewish Congress added the details to an intriguing story in the UK’s Independent recently, which reported on the passing of the woman believed to have been world’s “oldest nun.”

Sister Cecylia Roszak passed away in the Polish convent in Krakow where she had lived for the last 90 years. She was 110.

Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Institute had awarded Sister Cecylia and her convent sisters the “Righteous Among the Nations” medal given to non-Jews who risked their lives to help Jewish people during the war.

Born in 1908, Sister Cecylia joined the Dominican monastery when she was 21. In1938, she went to Vilnius (today in Lithuania) to open a new convent. But plans were scrapped when war broke out.

The sister sheltered about a dozen people who had escaped from the ghetto there from the Nazis, one of whom was activist and writer Abba Kovner, who later testified at the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann.

The Vatican News reported that at her funeral in Krakow before she was laid to rest in the city’s historic cemetery, was a massive bouquet of flowers sent in remembrance by Wanda Jerzyniec. Sister Cecylia had sheltered Wanda, along with her brother, after the Germans shot both their parents in Vilnius in 1944. (The authorities had arrested her superior and officially closed down the convent in 1943.)

After the war, Sister Cecylia returned to Krakow—where she worked as an organist and cantor for more than 80 years.

The Mother Superior at her convent says that a favorite expression of Cecylia’s was, “Life is wonderful, however, too short.”

Wedding Planning 101-Before Your Day

What you need to know:

Before the Wedding # 1—

If you’re planning a wedding, the best advice is to first choose the officiant and the location—so you have the date, time, and place of this great event in your lives secured.

Then you’ll likely be thinking of your wedding gown, and where to hold and how to plan the reception, how many guests and what and when to serve, and then you’ll probably wonder about dancing and entertainment, photographers and videographers.. You’ll be careful to ensure that you not only have all the arrangements made to your satisfaction—but that you have the best possible suppliers—from venue to the limousine to the hairstylist—so that everything is perfect, on time, and done with the least stress to everyone concerned.

Obtaining referrals for all elements, whether it’s catering or bouquets that you’re looking at—and reading reviews, testimonials, and references—is an essential safety measure.

Unexpected Wedding Events

There are many moving parts to a wedding and if couples are working and busy with family and other commitments—a wedding ceremony can involve a ton of unexpected elements and decision making to juggle and manage.

Hiring a wedding planner is often the ideal solution, especially if you’re looking at more than a simple ceremony with a limited guest list. The Rabbi has officiated at weddings with planners and without—and is able to offer guidance to simplify and make it easier on you, either way.

Note: Rabbi David Gellman is happy to provide names if you need them to give you options and point you in the right direction. (Please see Wedding Vendors & Venues or call us and ask).  Most reputable suppliers have networks of contacts they know and trust and it takes the worry off you.

Wedding Costs in Ontario

Since one of the starting points for wedding planning is budget, here is a reference breakdown of average wedding costs in Ontario/circa 2019—*

  • The average cost of a wedding is $30,717.
  • The average cost of a wedding venue is $11,046. The average cost
    of a wedding DJ is $1,442.
  • The average cost for catering is $63 per guest.
  • The average cost for a wedding cake is $353.
    Multiple tiers, decorations, and fillings can be more expensive.
  • The average cost of wedding favors is $262.
  • The average cost for independent catering is $8,178.
  • The average cost of bridal party gifts is $253

* These are average costs/taking into account big and small weddings and associated events.  It may be key to note that 31% of couples said they exceeded their wedding budget!

MORE TO COME—STAY TUNED FOR OUR SERIES ON WEDDING PLANNING DO’S AND DON’T’S

 

Jewish Interfaith Weddings-Beyond the Numbers

A recent article in The Jerusalem Post reports that the Jewish population in America is actually increasing and a big contributor is interfaith Jewish marriages.

This may seem, at first glance, surprising. But in a period of five years, the US population of Jewish adults and children rose from 7 to 7.5 million—this is from 2013 to 2018—and reports are that rates of participation in Jewish life remain remarkably stable.

According to The Jerusalem Post, the latest research stats of 1200 non-orthodox couples, admittedly a smallish sample, shows that interfaith couples feel welcome by both sides of their families.

What the figures do show is that these couples are active in Jewish life and traditions, but may not be quite as involved as when both partners are Jewish.  Another surprise—research finds, overwhelmingly, that the non-Jewish partner does not typically practice another religion actively.

This may be something to discuss among interfaith couples where parents and other relatives—among your extended Jewish families– may not be entirely on board with your plans for an interfaith marriage before your wedding—that research shows high participation and involvement rates in Jewish life after the wedding!

Note from the Rabbi:
What is it like in your interfaith family? I’d welcome feedback and I (and Alex!) are always happy to help guide and discuss.

More–read the article at The Jerusalem Post.

 

Making Your Final Wishes Known—

From Alex Gellman—

Pre-planning is a difficult thing to do. Few of us like to dwell on the inevitable, and we delay even thinking about it, let alone doing it, for as long as we possibly can. But it is important to reflect on how much pre-planning your final arrangements may bring ease and reduce the stresses of this sorrowful time for your family and loved ones.

 

It’s also important not to rely on leaving your instructions in your will. Very often, the will is not located or consulted until after the final arrangements are made.

 

This may mean that your wishes are not taken into account. As well, your family and friends miss out on experiencing what you may have intended for the proceedings. Sometimes this may be the sharing of special memories or music, photographs, or videos that mean a lot to you. You may also wish people with whom you have shared memories or close bonds to have a role in the service—if family members do not know this—they may be left out.

If you only leave instructions in your will, when it is finally located, your loved ones may be further saddened that it is too late to carry out your wishes.

It saves added confusion and distress if you are able to plan for your arrangements in advance. “I tell people this often. I work with North America’s largest funeral organization, Dignity Memorial. Yet, when I lost my brother, I realized just how overwhelming the added anguish of making arrangements could be on top of the sorrow and pain of losing a beloved family member.”

“Losing my brother Javier was devastating. And although I work in this industry, I found that the stress and emotional chaos I went through pushed me over the top. David (Rabbi David Gellman) conducted the funeral for us—and this was a relief. As a rabbi, David officiates ceremonies for many of life’s important days and passages from weddings to baby naming to memorial services and everything in-between.

“But to get to this point and to the peaceful last ceremony for my brother involved steps, questions, and concerns that I and family members had to agree on and deal with. And so my feeling that pre-planning is one of the most important actions you can take for your family and loved ones is greater than ever.

“I strongly suggested to my brother to make sure arrangements were in place, but this didn’t happen in the end. However, he did say that he wanted to make his final resting place with my father at Resurrection Cemetery.

“I chose to work with one of our Dignity Memorial homes—the Thompson Funeral Home in Aurora. With David, they ensured that everything went extremely smoothly for us. The Thompson’s directors were invaluable— fantastically accommodating, empathetic, and respectful at the same time.

“However, before they were involved and funeral planning could take place, I had to resolve what form and where the funeral would occur. Some family members weren’t aware of my brother’s wishes. I knew that Javier wanted a super simple cremation and to be buried in the ground as soon as possible. He had said he didn’t wish flowers.  But some family members wanted to hold a wake with an open casket and visitation.

“Finding the will that named me as executor and his final wishes was not the end of the problem—and this is why I always advise families to always PLEASE make arrangements before. Otherwise, the family is guessing what you want and they may end up wondering for the rest of their days if they met your needs as you would have wished and if they did the right thing for you.

“My advice—and I say this even more strongly after going through this sad and painful experience of losing my brother—is to make sure you specify the details and make all your arrangements known in advance. Be sure to let everyone know where this information can be found —so that family members know how to proceed and it takes the worry away at this sad time for them.

“If there is anything a little different—such as my brother’s wish to be buried with my father—follow through with this in advance to make sure the process is as simple as possible. Finally, also ensure you have prepared a will—although this is not the place to record your wishes for final arrangements. Then be certain that everyone knows where to find your final arrangements plan and your will. Whether filed with your lawyer, at home, or in a safety deposit box, pass this information on to those who will need it. I hope everyone will take heed of these recommendations for the sake of your family and loved ones.”

“The burial for my brother—Javier Alfred Villada—was at the Resurrection Cemetery on April 16, 2019.  The officiant was Rabbi David Gellman.

 

“The ceremony and service healed and brought peace to my emotional chaos and pain.” Alex

A Wonderful Wedding in the Vineyard

Christine, the mother of the bride, says that her daughter Sadie Marie’s wedding to Cody was everything they dreamed of. Sadie Marie and Cody had known each other for about nine years and had been engaged for three—but waited to tie the knot until they were about done with their post-secondary studies. “This was important for Sadie Marie and Cody. They wanted the time to be right as they worked toward their hopes and dreams.” They officially started on life’s pathThe bride and groom together as a married couple in October.

Both the bride and groom call the Niagara area home. Although Sadie Marie attended Niagara University in the US, her mom is on our side of the border, and Cody at Niagara College in Canada. Choosing a wedding destination that was enchanting, close by, and easy to reach for family and friends was important. The Cave Spring Vineyard and Inn on the Twenty in Jordan, one of the jewels of Niagara wine country, provided the perfect setting.

Equally as important, says Christine, was a personalized and personable wedding. This is why they chose Rabbi David Gellman, whom they have known quite a long time, to be the officiant.

“We’ve experienced very sad losses recently on both sides of the family. David understood our feelings and was able to bring a warmth and inclusiveness to the ceremony that brought in everyone. These were personal touches and memories—including those who were able to be present and those we were all missing. He performed a ceremony that was warm and delightful and also pulled at the heartstrings. David also enlisted family members as part of the ceremony and made sure that nobody, whether they were at the wedding or only in our hearts, was left out.”

David included items to highlight fond memories for the bride and groom and families. This included a hand-crafted gumball machine made by the bride’s maternal grandfather.  The “Unity Gumball Machine” was viewed as similar to a Unity Candle. “This was a unique element for a wedding ceremony, and was lighthearted but created many tender moments. Instead of lighting unity candles, Sadie Marie and Cody poured blue and white gumballs into the ‘Unity Gumball Machine’. We were all touched and connected by this. David’s ability to involve everyone and bring those we had lost and missed so much into the ceremony takes a very unique skill and was moving for all of us.”

Wedding Vows

David also built in the seven blessings, which are a traditional part of Jewish wedding ceremonies. Members of the wedding group, including Sadie Marie’s sisters and parents, and Cody’s parents and brother, participated in giving blessings. Another area where David was able to assist the bridal couple in the lead up to the wedding was guidance in composing their vows. “These were beautiful,” says Sadie Marie’s mom Christine.

Everything also went perfectly with the wedding arrangements at Cave Spring Vineyard and the Inn on the Twenty. The couple opted to be married outside even though it was October. It was a little nippier than they had hoped, but the sun shone through the ceremony.  A limo was on call to carry the bridal party and guests to and from the Inn to the vineyard.

The Inn on the Twenty in Jordan has a reputation for outstanding dining showcasing the bounty of Niagara. With Cave Spring Vineyard, it is known for hosting charming and elegant wedding celebrations. “We had about 100 guests at the wedding, and everything was managed beautifully. I couldn’t recommend the Inn on the Twenty and Cave Spring Vineyards more highly,” says Christine.

The happy couple took a delayed honeymoon on a cruise in the Mediterranean—waiting until their school years were done and they were in job search (and interview!) mode before they took a break. They have recently returned, ready for the joys of married life and with fond memories of their wonderful wedding day in the Vineyard!

Weddings and Families

Families and Weddings

You may feel you have the date, you’ve booked the Rabbi, and you’re ready… However, as almost any wedding planner will tell you, that may be when things start to go awry.

Your wedding ceremony will stay in your memory as one of the most important days of your life (and probably the most astonishing so far!). It’s essential that the ceremony lives up to your dreams and hopes.

IS THERE FAMILY CONFLICT OVER YOUR WEDDING?

“Sometimes family attitudes and judgments or their expectations of your wedding may get in the way,” says Rabbi David Gellman. “We’re very pleased to be of service, so this doesn’t happen. We will work with you to incorporate the rituals and customs you would like to include from any faith or background, and that may be important to both sides of the family. Every wedding ceremony is individually created for the couple with observances dear to you both.”

PLANNING AN INTERFAITH WEDDING

Initially, the two partners to be married may feel somewhat overwhelmed with how to plan the perfect ceremony. How do you include Jewish and non-Jewish traditions and customs, or highlight elements that may be significant to you both or to your respective families?

“Through our personal experience, Alexandra and I know both the challenges and joys of a ceremony that’s inclusive, sensitive, and meaningful to everyone. This is why we use a tailored approach to bring couples, families, loved ones, and friends together to share in an ecumenical ceremony that respects your past, enshrines your moment of the day, and collectively puts faith in your future as a loving couple.”

AVOIDING FAMILY STRESS AT THE WEDDING

Understanding everyone’s wishes in advance helps to avoid tensions with extended families that could intrude on the happiness and specialness of your day. Your ceremony will be written for you individually. It will be customized for you with the rituals and traditions that you choose to honor and reflect both religions. Whether you select only a few traditions or all—these are woven into the ceremony for you.

Often, some simple guidance is all that is needed to craft a service that will be a dream ceremony for you, your families, and for everyone in attendance. Creating a ceremony that exemplifies the cooperation and love that will be central to the life you envisage together is always the goal, regardless of the starting point. “We find our tailored approach guides us to the perfect solution for our wedding couples and your families.”

MINIMIZING FAMILY ANXIETY AT THE WEDDING

So don’t feel overwhelmed if various family members sometimes look like they’re readying for an argument instead of a marriage.  Minimizing any anxieties for the couple and all interested members of the wedding party—and ensuring your wonderful precious memories of the ceremony of your dreams—sometimes takes just a little extra timely understanding, planning, and creativity.

Note: We are happy to meet with you and your family members beforehand for marriage and couple guidance counselling to help create a happy and healthy supportive framework for your life together based on love, respect, and trust.

Choosing a Ketubah for Your Jewish Interfaith Wedding

Ketubahs can be fine art or modern art—they can be papercut, gold leaf, letterpress, canvas—there are many different options to choose from re the design inspiration or approach, often by leading artists and very distinctive and unique. Choose budget-friendly or select a custom-design for this important element of your wedding. This decision will be totally dictated by your personal taste.

The Ketubah can be at the heart of your Jewish interfaith wedding and the signing ceremony may signify for you your first task or steps together into married life.

Traditionally, the Ketubah outlines the husband’s obligations to his wife and establishes provisions for her protection. The Ketubah is also considered a religious document and a binding legal and official marriage contract. It may be a good idea to check with your Rabbi or wedding officiant before you order yours, according to one of the key suppliers (Ketubah.com), for text decisions. You may need to determine whether this is crafted with Reform/Orthodox/Conservative or Humanistic text, for example.  You can also order specific interfaith Ketubahs from some suppliers—or select text that reflects your beliefs and vows or craft unique words that are meaningful to you both and created in your customized chosen design.

Regardless of your personal choices, the document has profound meaning and history behind it and is seen as a symbol of the couple’s devotion to each other and the marriage. The Ketubah often grows into a precious family heirloom and many couples love to display them in their homes.

According to Jessy Judaica, also an excellent source for the Ketubah, there are “usually five signature lines (for the groom, the bride, two witnesses, and a Rabbi or officiant) for Hebrew / English Ketubahs. For Orthodox and Conservative texts there are generally two witness signature lines under the Aramaic text.” Traditional Ketubahs are in Aramaic.

Whatever your choice, the Ketubah will not only be integrated to form a central part of your wedding ceremony, but it will likely hold a special place in your heart (and home).

Choosing a Chuppah for Your Wedding

Chuppahs are an important element of the Jewish wedding ceremony and are often an integral feature of interfaith weddings. Chuppahs are almost always used in outdoor Jewish weddings and are also a focal point for indoor ceremonies of all faiths.

The chuppah is significant for what it symbolizes—the unification of the bride and groom and the “home you will build together. It is open on all sides to signify that your home will be open and welcoming.”

Under the Chuppah

The wedding party including the bride, groom, parents, and the officiant stand under the chuppah for the ceremony. Sometimes, other members of the party (such as the best man and the maid of honor)will join them.

It’s traditional for the fabric to be a single piece with no supporting structures—but trends are changing and many couples opt for floral chuppahs, or combinations of natural and fabric designs; some are hand held with maple or birch branches and are carried during the ceremony; others are more solid structures. The chuppah often becomes a precious family heirloom.

Jewish Romance and Wedding Ceremonies

Susan and Itay Avny, of www.chuppah.ca, recount that they made their first chuppah for their own wedding—and launched a business that has grown to supply this important element of Jewish romance and wedding ceremonies in the GTA and throughout much of Ontario and into Quebec. “We realized that other couples, besides us, wanted a reasonably-priced option that they could customize to match the theme and personality of their ceremony.”

Susan and Itay have been in business for seven years. “We love to work with couples  to create an artistic, and reasonably priced service that is as personal and stress-free as we can manage—and as our own was—once we hit on the idea of designing and creating exactly the chuppah we wanted to be married beneath!”

Weddings and More Weddings—

“It was important to get married when and where we did and to have all our kids there, but it was also very important to be married by David,” says Luc Baril, who is one-half of one of the first couples married by Rabbi David Gellman. And, says Luc, it was such a special and memorable event—“we’re thinking of doing it again.”

Luc and Debbie live and work together, owners of Get Bent Painting—providers of quality painting services since 2001 in the GTA. They work on residential and commercial contracts, and also offer mural painting from Oakville to Ajax to Barrie—from a home base in Nobleton. Perhaps, not surprisingly, painting has a lot to do with Luc and Debbie (and Alex and David’s!) back-story.

“David and Alex had the same attitudes and thought the same thoughts as we did—we spoke the same language and tried to expand ourselves the same way. There couldn’t have been anybody else to marry us. David and Alex represented one of life’s big signposts for me. To illustrate how exceptional he is and was, David was a real help to me in reassessing my life goals to help get my business going in the right direction. My thing was doing murals and faux finishing back then mostly—.

“David provided invaluable mentorship and guidance that helped show the way to expand and develop, even going so far as to advise how best to approach prospective clients.

“That’s what’s so special. David and Alex are always doing and always learning. They are very generous and pleased to share who they are and what they do (and know!).

“Back then, David asked me to do a mural for them showing all of the celestial bodies as they were on the exact day that he and Alex married.  At the time, I thought that God himself had provided a scenario that was so in touch with us that it just flowered.”

“The key to his presence as a rabbi,” says Luc, “ is that David is able to bring depth of meaning—and the right meaning for you—to the ceremony and everything associated with it. He helped us write vows that reflected who we were and exactly what we wanted to say.

“We’re considering renewing those vows, with Rabbi David, of course, and my sister and my parents are thinking of doing theirs also—the venue will be our backyard. Debbie and I are keen gardeners and have built a unique steel gazebo—the perfect location for many reasons personal to us. Part of the backyard is a Thank You Garden in the shape of the Tree of Life, which also came from David’s teachings. I trust David absolutely to bring the right elements to make the ceremony ideal.”

“It’s hard to put into words how thorough they are—and how much they really did to give us the perfect wedding.”

Jay and Leah with Rabbi David Gellman

Our Interfaith Jewish Wedding with Horses, a Dog, and a Strong Hint of Winter!

From the moment we met with Rabbi David, we knew we had found the one to lead our Interfaith ceremony. He made us feel comfortable and any worry we had about the ceremony was put aside when he walked us through the process with confidence and experience. 

“Rabbi David went above and beyond to make our wedding ceremony absolutely perfect. He made the ceremony truly unique to reflect our needs by listening to our story and weaving it into the words he so beautifully wrote.  He also incorporated both English and Hebrew and explained the meaning behind everything he did. Our family and friends can’t say enough about how beautiful, in-depth, and meaningful the ceremony was and how it was a true reflection of us both.

“We feel very fortunate to have found Rabbi David! It was truly an honor.” Leah and Jay.

 

How to start planning an interfaith wedding—

Leah and Jay decided on an interfaith wedding but didn’t quite know what to do next. So Leah says she did what most of us resort to these days when stumped—she googled interfaith weddings in Toronto—and was lucky enough, she says, to find Rabbi David Gellman.

“And we were very very happy that we did,” says Leah, who works for an advertising agency in Toronto, and wanted everything not only to be just right on her dream wedding day —but to represent them both in exactly the way they see themselves.

“Jay works in film as a production designer, and I’m in advertising—we wanted everything to feel real and just right, and it did.

“My family—my mother and grandparents—were rooting for a Jewish wedding. Jay isn’t Jewish. We talked about it with Rabbi David, and he was able to incorporate the Jewish elements we requested. I didn’t want to include the seven circles, for example—and we had a wonderful wedding that pleased us both very much as well as all the family. The ceremony was emotional and moving and a perfect mix of Jay and me. Everyone was touched by the ceremony and that it stayed true to who we are.”

Jay and Leah have been married just a few months now, and life is wonderful. They had been together about three years before tying the knot, and Leah said they love to do typical everyday things. Having a local outdoor wedding on an amazing farm suited their lifestyle and hopes for a memorable wedding day. “We love simple things—walking the dog (Jack!), hosting dinner parties for friends, going to movies—all the everyday stuff, and we didn’t want a big event-type wedding or one that was too-tailored. We wanted our day to be moving and true to who we are and enjoyable for everyone.” With Rabbi David Gellman, Leah says, this was achieved and more.

The video of the wedding shows the emotion and warmth of the day—even though it was chilly out in the fields. “We told everyone to dress warm, and they did.” This included the bride who donned a jacket over her beautiful lacy wedding dress later to warm up.

Because the wedding was outdoors, they were also able to involve another important member of the family in the festivities—Jay and Leah’s lovely dog Jack seemed to enjoy the entire ceremony, as well, especially the visits with the horses. The hosts added another unique element to the mix when they made a very generous gesture and introduced their horses to everyone for a great photo opportunity.

The reception took place in a tent set up for the day on the grounds of the lovely farm near Milton, which is where the ceremony itself took place.

Leah says that the day was such a nice coming together of family. Everybody was happy. “It was intimate, with not too many people. This made it more special to us because everyone was able to gather around and just enjoy our wonderful wedding.”

“You were a huge part of our day and we will remember you and your wife’s involvement forever. Jay and I are so thankful to have found you! You made our day!!!! Thank you again and again!”  All our love, Leah and Jay