When It Comes to the Aufruf, They’re Just Blessing Around


Jewish couples continue to make this ritual an essential part of their nuptials.

Sometimes the simplest traditions can be the most meaningful. Such is the case with the aufruf ceremony that celebrates an upcoming Jewish marriage with an aliyah and a blessing — and gives a couple’s congregational family the opportunity to celebrate the upcoming union.

“It’s a lovely tradition, and I’m glad it still exists,” said Rabbi Benjamin David, senior rabbi at Adath Emanu-El, a Reform synagogue in Mount Laurel, N.J. “It sets the tone of celebration, excitement and enthusiasm in the days leading up to the wedding.”

The aufruf ceremony — the word is Yiddish for “to be called up” — is typically observed on the Shabbat prior to a marriage, usually during a Saturday service when the Torah is being read. In Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues, it is often held on a Friday night when the Torah is taken out.

“It is one of the nice ways in which Judaism helps us mark and celebrate milestones and appreciate life’s finer moments,” David said. “The ceremony doesn’t have to be extensive in order for it to be meaningful and have an impact.”

The custom originated centuries ago and may be rooted in medieval European legal requirements aimed at making sure there were no impediments to the marriage going forward. Announcing it in synagogue was the most expedient way to do that publicly.

While that reason no longer is imperative, the idea of a community observance and the honor of being called to the Torah for an aliyah — and then receiving the rabbi’s blessing, followed by a shower of candy, raisins and/or nuts from the congregation — continues to resonate with modern couples and their families.

Depending on the traditions of a particular family and congregation, the ceremony can be personalized and include both bride and groom or, in Orthodox tradition, just the groom. But even in more observant circles, the aufruf has grown into an event with a life of its own.

Wynnewood residents Sima and David Sherman, members of Lower Merion Synagogue in Bala Cynwyd for the last 20 years, call their son Daniel’s aufruf “a modern Orthodox extended bachelor party.”

Daniel Sherman, 26, an assistant rabbi at West Side Institutional Synagogue in Manhattan and a faculty member at Yeshiva University, and Tamar York, 24, a pre-med student from Queens, N.Y., met through friends. Married Sept. 1 at Rockleigh Country Club in Rockleigh, N.J., they now live in Washington Heights near the Yeshiva campus.

Traditional Orthodox aufrufs are male-only events, although women have separate pre-wedding activities. Many Orthodox Jews hold fast to another tradition — that the bride and groom do not see each other for a week before the wedding takes place.

“What we did has nothing to do with going out and partying,” David Sherman noted. “The idea is that the friends made during years of Jewish education and camps, and Yeshiva and trips to Israel, have strong bonds and a cultural connection. So when they get married, these boys get together and have anauf­ruf in the form of a roast. My son looked forward to that almost as much as to the wedding.”

Because there is no driving on Shabbat for Orthodox Jews, the group took over Lower Merion Synagogue for the weekend, with Friday night services in a private room for male friends and family members. It was followed by Saturday congregational services where Daniel got his aliyah and read the Haftarah. Rabbi Avraham Shmidman and Rabbi Emeritus Abraham Levene spoke about the family, and Daniel was showered with candy.

There were other events as well, like a kiddush for the whole congregation and a kiddush lunch for family and friends, plus people who hosted out-of-town guests. There was also a Seudah Shlishit, a late-afternoon meal provided after the afternoon mincha service. “It’s like a rehearsal dinner,” David Sherman said. At the same time, the women were holding a Shabbat Kallah — compared to a bachelorette party by David — at York’s home in Queens.

Daniel and Tamar did see each other within the week before their wedding — unlike the Shermans’ daughter, Lauren Sherman-Kroll, who chose to observe the traditional separation period prior to her marriage to Daniel Kroll.

At Conservative Temple Sinai in Dresher, Rabbi Adam Wohlberg conducts several aufrufs during the course of a year.

“I emphasize the importance of having an aufruf and suggest that it be held here even if the wedding is somewhere else,” he said.

“I like there to be something that takes place in this synagogue that has been part of a family’s life and allows the congregation to be part of the simcha and the joy,” Wohlberg said. “For the parents especially, it’s important that the congregational family be there for this important step in their child’s life. And for the person who did not grow up in Temple Sinai, he or she and their family get a sense of how warm our congregation is.”

That’s what happened for Chelsea Zimmerman Busch, 26, and her new husband, Elliot Busch, 30. Chelsea, who grew up in Ambler and at Temple Sinai, met Elliot, an Allentown native, when the pair were on a Young Judaea program in Israel during the summer of 2009. They were engaged in 2011 and married on March 9, 2013.

Chelsea, who is earning her Ph.D. in school psychology at Lehigh University, and Elliot, a podiatric surgery resident at St. Luke’s Hospital in Allentown, now live in Allentown. They were married at the Hilton on City Line Avenue in Philadelphia, with Wohlberg and Cantor Ellen Sussman of Allentown’s Temple Shirat Shalom co-officiating.

The aufruf was held two weeks earlier at Temple Sinai. “I wanted an aufruf mostly because it is a traditional custom,” Chelsea said. “My grandmother goes to minyan every morning at Temple Sinai. We were looking for a traditional Jewish wedding and the aufruf is part of that tradition.”

At Temple Sinai, Saturday mornings are when both bride and groom are called up for the aliyah and personal words from Wohlberg, and are often showered with candy as they return to their seats. Aufrufs there may occur up to a month before the wedding, according to when the couple is in town and available.

“I personalize every ceremony, doing my homework and finding out about how the couple was raised, about their professional lives, how they met and became engaged,” Wohlberg said. “It lets the congregation know more about these young people whose lives we are celebrating.”

Tax attorney Brian Footer, 31, of Philadelphia, met his wife Mandy, 27, an oncology nurse, on JDate. The couple was wed at the Westin Hotel in Philadelphia on Nov. 9, 2013, and Brian knew he wanted an aufruf at Temple Sinai, where he grew up.

“It was nice to have something to celebrate with the congregation, with people who I recognized. They were very warm and wanted to celebrate with us and know about us,” he said.

Brian’s parents, Binnie and Elliott, of Blue Bell, sponsored the oneg. “They felt strongly that we should participate in all activities surrounding marriage, and were happy to be part of the process and throw the candy at us when we came back from the bimah,” he said.

It was also welcoming for Mandy, who grew up Orthodox in Cherry Hill, N.J., and has no extended family. The couple was presented with a book about creating a Jewish home, which they considered to be another special touch.

While Wohlberg’s beliefs prohibit him from marrying couples if only one is Jewish, he said he would permit a couple to be called to the bimah for an aufruf blessing even if only one of them is Jewish. And while he hasn’t yet been asked to perform an aufruf for a same-sex couple, he would welcome it.

“Homesexuality is recognized within Conservative Judaism, and commitment ceremonies have been created. So an aufruf would be permissible,” he said.

Same-gender aufrufs, long seen at Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues, have taken on more meaning at Philadelphia’s Congregation Beth Ahavah since same-sex marriage became the law in Pennsylvania earlier this year.

The city’s LGBT synagogue is located within Reform Congregation Rodeph Shalom, sharing rabbis as well as space. Members belong to both temples and most rituals occur through Rodeph Shalom. Indeed, the synagogues are in the process of merging, Beth Ahavah board member Jeffrey Strauss said.

It was shortly after the Pennsylvania law changed that Associate Rabbi Jill Maderer, who has been at Rodeph Shalom for 13 years and officiating at Beth Ahavah since it affiliated with Rodeph Shalom in 2007, suggested that longtime partners Steve Mirman and Kenneth Galipeau of Philadelphia have anaufruf.

“I would only serve at a congregation where same-sex services are offered,” said Maderer, who noted that Rodeph Shalom had a mindset of inclusion and equality before Beth Ahavah joined with it.

“In our culture, weddings are private affairs. The aufruf gives the opportunity for couples to celebrate with the greater temple community, and most do,” said Maderer, who performs about 15 aufrufs per year. At Rodeph Shalom, couples have the option of a Friday night or Saturday morning aufruf since Torah is read both days.

Mirman, 71, an architect and Beth Ahavah board member, and Galipeau, 63, director of service and staffing for a caterer, have been partners for 39 years. They had their aufruf at Rodeph Shalom in August, shortly before their Sept. 7 wedding. The aufruf was attended by members of both congregations.

Although Galipeau is not Jewish, Maderer had no qualms about performing the aufruf or the wedding ceremony. “It’s a wonderful way to welcome people into Jewish life,” she said.

At Mount Laurel’s Adath Emanu-El, David, too, looks at same-gender aufrufs as a non-issue. “People who love each other can and should get married,” he said. “That level of love and commitment deserves to be celebrated.”

The same holds true for second marriages — and those may include children of previous marriages on the bimah for the aufruf. “I come from a place of inclusion and would never look to close the door. Whoever wants to participate, I say ‘yes,’ ” David added.

David welcomes the bride and groom at Friday night services, calling them forward and offering a priestly benediction before the open ark. A chanting of the Shehecheyanu might follow, with an oneg often sponsored by the couple’s families complete with petits fours bearing the names of the betrothed.

David’s own aufruf was at Temple Emanuel in Cherry Hill, where his father is the senior rabbi, with the wedding following a week later at Shir Ami in Newtown, Pa., his wife’s home synagogue.

“My parents had an aliyah” before they got married, “so I wanted an aliyah,” said David, who recalled requesting a special reading that held particular meaning for him and his betrothed.

“For the most part, the aufruf ceremony is fairly understated and simple tradition — yet it’s quite beautiful,” David said.

Added Wohlberg, “Even as fewer American Jews affiliate with synagogues, I hope this is a tradition that will continue to be important to couples planning a Jewish wedding ceremony.”

Barbara S. Rothschild is a longtime journalist who is a frequent contributor to the Jewish Exponent and numerous other publications.


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