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Destination Wedding, Orthodox Style This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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I blinked groggily and glanced around to get my bearings. I was on an airplane, though I couldn't understand the bizarre, breathtaking, and exotic sights just outside my window. To my drowsy, 11-year-old eyes, it looked as though our plane was heading toward a mountain of glistening coal, an exquisite foreground to streaks of red and stunning yellow watercolor paint. As the sun lifted over the island of Trinidad, the shadowy silhouette gave way to a picture so majestic that I knew we were far from home.

My cousin's fiancée grew up in this tropical paradise. It was for their wedding that my family came to Trinidad's neighboring island of Tobago. Though the warm, scenic island had been the site of countless weddings, this one was going to be unlike anything the remote island had seen: an orthodox Jewish wedding, complete with kosher food, traditional music, Torah scrolls, prayer books, and guests arriving from the United States, Canada, and Israel. I giggled in anticipation. Tobago, I thought, wait until you see what we have in store for you.

From the moment we checked in to the rental-condo that my family was sharing, it was clear that the island of Tobago was completely unfamiliar with all things Jewish. My aunt, uncle, and cousins had already checked in, and when we told the man at the front desk my uncle's name, recognition bloomed in his eyes. “Oh, you mean the Jew?” he asked. His tone was innocent and slightly fascinated, and so this poorly articulated comment did not offend me the way it would have back home. I realized the skullcaps and siddurs (prayer books) we brought to the island could very well be the first the locals had seen.

Nor were they the last new sight they would see, for our Jewish culture was present in nearly everything we did during our glorious stay on the island. One day, it was my six-year-old cousins struggling with their Hebrew homework. Another day, my uncle, a rabbi, went to kasher (cleanse according to Jewish law) the kitchen we would be using for my cousin's wedding. As the Jewish Sabbath quickly approached, we relocated to a bungalow – complete with our own tiny, private pool – to be within walking distance of the other guests. A religious prohibition kept us from taking a cab over to where they were staying. The men came together for the traditional Sabbath prayers on Friday night and Saturday morning, while the women fanned themselves outside, finding no relief from the humid sun. I was permitted to stay inside with the men as they prayed, but was too distracted by the crippling heat to be mesmerized by the melodious davening (praying). Later in the day, my father and I sat down with my soon-to-be-married cousin and discussed Jewish wedding customs.

When we counted three stars gleaming in the shadowy night sky, we knew that the Sabbath was over. We lit the three-wicked candle, smelled the sweet cloves and cinnamon, and chanted the Hebrew words to God and to each other: “Behold, God is my salvation, I shall trust and not be afraid … Indeed the Lord is my strength and my song, and has become my salvation … The Jews had light and happiness, joy and honor – so may it be for us.”

As dancing broke out in the gentle night air, the sound of waves crashing just a short distance away was drowned out by joyous singing; our faith seemed to glow even more brightly than the three-wicked candle.

On the day of the wedding, we traveled to the venue. Israel's flag was placed just outside the door – likely the first that many of the island's natives had seen. The wedding included a traditional orthodox service. It was conducted by a rabbi (who happened to be the father of the groom) under a chuppa, a canopy under which vows are exchanged and Jewish couples are wed. The breaking of the glass – meant to signify the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem – did little to somber the mood; shouts of “Mazel Tov!” rang out, and as the band began to play traditional music, men and women formed respective circles, and we clasped hands tightly, dancing around and around in a hora.

As a girl from a Jewish family living in New York City, I was always exposed to my faith and had celebrated Judaism many times – dancing in the synagogue on holidays, singing zemirot (festive songs), practicing the laws outlined in the Torah, and studying the thousands of stories, parables, commentaries, and biblical tales that wove the Jewish faith together with expert stitching and beautiful threads of every texture and hue. That trip – a vacation to a country where Judaism is foreign – taught me something about my beautiful faith that I might never have learned: the Jewish religion and culture is as versatile and adaptable as a spark; it can be kindled anywhere in the world and ignite into a magnificent and radiant flame.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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