It's 25 or 50 years since they stood together under the chuppah. Families share golden memories of anniversary celebrations
Ionce heard a person say, at his golden wedding anniversary party, that the first 50 years of marriage are the hardest. Witticisms aside, a happy marriage is an achievement, whether it’s after one year, twenty-five, or fifty. Reaching these milestones is a cause for celebration. How can you mark the occasion in a way that’s memorable and meaningful? We looked at the way Jewish families from across the globe acknowledged their parents and grandparents’ special day.
The Silver Age
“We put much effort and thought into celebrating my parent’s 25th wedding anniversary,” relates Michal Rosner, CEO of Yotzrim Sevivah, an Israel-based nonprofit encouraging the development of art in the chareidi world. “We called people who knew them from way back and recorded them giving my parents a message.
“The idea was that our parents would have to identify the people from different times in their lives based on their voices alone. One person refused to cooperate, but my brother was able to get him for long enough to record him saying ‘no.’ His ‘no!’ was so sharp, my parents identified him immediately.
“My parents really enjoyed the party, mostly the fact we’d thought about them and put so much into planning it.”
Michal also described an anniversary party on her husband’s side of the family. “The first Shabbos I spent with my in-laws, my mother-in-law, a”h, told me excitedly about what their children had done for their silver wedding anniversary. They bought them a beautiful set of dishes and set a gorgeous Shabbos table. My in-laws were deeply touched.
“She also pointed to a stunning silver candelabra and told me this was her silver wedding anniversary present. Only a while later did I realize that behind ‘her present’ was a story that encapsulated her personality: My mother-in-law loved silver, and knew her children would probably not have enough money to buy her a candelabra. So she saved up a nice sum, and instead of twisting herself into a pretzel hinting to her husband that she’d really like a candelabra, she simply went to a silver store and ordered herself one. She returned home, showed it to her husband, and together they enjoyed the new purchase.”
Different families have very different ways of celebrating. “In my family, every event is ‘wow,’ and we’re always looking for an excuse to make a party,” says Racheli Gottlieb, a stage designer and producer from Bnei Brak.
“As a girl, I decided I’d produce something special for my parents’ silver anniversary. Then, digital cameras were the latest rage. I decided to approach many of my parents’ friends, neighbors, and acquaintances, and to ask them to give a brachah for the occasion. I filmed many interesting, unexpected people, such as the neighbor’s child who always stood in the parking lot and blocked my father from leaving, or my father’s friend who was living in Germany at the time.
“I brought the collection of videos to my friend’s sister and asked her to create an audiovisual presentation. I paid her with money I’d earned from a Tishah B’Av day camp I’d run.
“In my husband’s family, milestones are acknowledged with dignified quiet. I, the oldest daughter-in-law, who was used to action, was stunned at the modest way they marked significant occasions. I decided that we would celebrate their silver anniversary in style. Every time we mentioned the upcoming silver anniversary, my in-laws asked us ‘not to go crazy.’
“So a secret operation got underway. Getting a celebration together involved complicated logistics and tremendous effort. I asked my sisters-and-brothers-in-law to collect lines and sayings often used in their home, and put it into a fast, upbeat song. We recorded the song in a studio. We also videoed lots of people who gave brachos to my in-laws, and made a collage of family photos as well.
“My brother- and sister-in-law came in from abroad, saying they had a cousin’s wedding. We arranged a family dinner. We had centerpieces with a specially designed logo on each table. Then, throughout the evening we presented the things we’d prepared: the song, the video, the photo collage.
“Their reaction? Absolute shock and overwhelming emotion. They wept nonstop and couldn’t stop thanking us for everything! And recently, my mother-in-law called me and told me my father-in-law was soon having his fiftieth birthday, and asked me if could start arranging his birthday party.
“My friend’s parents live in the same building as her grandmother: the parents on the first floor and the grandmother on the third,” Rachelli continues. “Ahead of their silver anniversary, the family decided to surprise their parents with a fancy dinner, which they held in their grandmother’s apartment on the third floor. They made sure their parents didn’t have any special plans for that evening, and set the table beautifully.
“They sent out a very original invitation; on the back of their ten-month-old niece, they affixed a card telling their parents to get dressed in Shabbos clothes and go up two floors. They then let her crawl into their parents’ house. The parents were stunned to discover their adorable granddaughter carrying exciting news. It was the preamble to a really special event.”
Shira’s family celebrated their parents’ anniversary in a very different way. “My father passed away suddenly at the age of 47,” Shira says. “A year later, my parents would have celebrated their silver wedding anniversary. We, the children at home, remembered how my father would buy my mother a very fancy flower arrangement for each anniversary.
“We decided that this year, as well — or perhaps especially — we’d mark the big day. We ordered flowers, prepared a fancy meal, and invited the two married siblings and their spouses to come. Surprisingly, there were hardly any tears. We were able to smile, to reminisce about funny anecdotes, and to rise above the pain. I think it was all because of my mother, who’s a real tzadeikes. To this day, ten years after his passing, we still mark their anniversary and send her a bouquet of flowers.”
The Golden Years and Beyond
“We set the table for my in-laws’ gold wedding anniversary with gold accessories,” says Rivky Hirsch of Yerushalayim. “We bought hats, ties, and plastic trumpets, all in gold, and the little grandchildren wore them. There was also a huge challah in the shape of a 50 and a grandiose balloon arrangement.
“The gift was ruchniyusdig: We presented them with a large check printed on canvas, to the ‘amount’ of the 50 sifrei Tehillim the whole family had recited that week in their merit, and presented it to them. They were very touched.”
“My husband is a sought-after badchan, who performs at weddings almost every evening,” says Leah of Bnei Brak. “Half a year ago he got a very unconventional invitation: to be the badchan at a golden wedding anniversary celebration. He prepared a lot more for that than he does for a regular wedding. After all, he needed to mention all the offspring!
“The event took place in an upscale hotel and was attended by hundreds of people. At the entrance to the hall was a huge copy of the couple’s wedding invitation from 50 years back. My husband regaled the audience with divrei brachah, stories, and mention of all the virtues of the couple of honor and their family. He’d sent the chorus of his grammen to the family earlier, so they could sing along with him.
“My husband came home very moved and gave us a brachah that we should also merit to celebrate our golden wedding anniversary that way…”
Some families harness their unique talents to celebrate. “My grandparents always encouraged us to pursue our creativity, be it in writing, music, etc.,” says Mishpacha writer Rachael Lavon. “There are a number of guitar players, singers, and pianists in the family, as well as writers, so for their 60th anniversary, all the cousins got together and produced a family CD.
“I wrote the theme song, and all the male cousins played the music and sang all the songs. It was a full CD of original music and compositions, plus some family favorites of non-original songs. It was really, really special, and my grandparents absolutely treasured the CD.”
Mrs. Borenstein* of Monsey recalls her fun-filled golden anniversary celebration. “As the big day was nearing, I knew my kids were deep into planning. I told them, ‘You plan it, and we’ll pay for it.’ They took care of everything from A-Z.
“Still, I had an idea of my own up my sleeve. I took down our wedding album, removed a chassan and kallah picture, cut out the faces, and sent it to a company that turned it into masks. Then I booked an appointment to rent a wedding gown from a gemach. The owner of the gemach had never had such a good laugh. How many 70-year-old women come for real-stuff white gown fittings? She got her comic relief for the month.
“My husband, a sport to a fault, was completely on board. He went on a quest for a shtreimel dating back to the 1970s. The plan was that the two of us would walk into the celebration looking like we did 50 years ago at our wedding, albeit a tad rounder at our middles.
“On the day of our anniversary, our kids told us what time we’d be picked up. There was a horse and buggy waiting for us. I was dressed in a beautiful dress, not the wedding gown yet, and my husband was in Shabbosdig attire, too. First, the horse and buggy made prearranged stops to the homes of a couple of our siblings. There, their entire families were waiting outside, and sang ‘Happy Anniversary’ in a small drive-by celebration.
“The horse and buggy continued on to a hall, where we were greeted by a red carpet flanked by two rows of grandchildren. We walked down that carpet accompanied by a four-man band and a choir consisting of my sons and grandsons. When we reached the end, the two of us went into the ‘yichud room.’ That’s when we switched into our ‘costumes,’ me in a wedding gown and my husband in a beketshe and old shtreimel, both of us with masks on our faces depicting as a young chassan and kallah.
“You can imagine the reaction of our children and grandchildren when we stepped out to the strains of ‘Od Yishamah.’ It was as if we’d traveled 50 years back.
“What followed was a complete wedding celebration. There were bouquets of flowers on the tables, a band, food, waiters… the works. There was a separate room with entertainment for the kids.
“We wrapped up the night by watching a magnificent film featuring 50 years of milestones and a personalized song. Our children also gifted us with an oversized leather-bound Tehillim with all the children and grandchildren’s names embossed on the cover. Whenever a new grandchild is born, I want to send it back to the gift store for the name to be added. But my husband says, ‘We can’t run back every few weeks.We’ll take care of it at our 75th anniversary, b’ezras Hashem.’”
B’ezras Hashem, indeed!
The custom of silver and gold wedding anniversaries, marking 25 and 50 years of marriage, began in Germany in the Middle Ages, when it was customary for a woman who celebrated her 25th wedding anniversary receive a silver wreath from her friends; for the 50th, she received a gold wreath.
The opinion of the poskim seems to be that there’s no prohibition against celebrating a silver or gold wedding anniversary. Some poskim even say that if the celebration is done according to all boundaries of tzniyus and halachah, and it fosters love and harmony and friendship, it’s a desirable thing to do.
The sefer Oro Shel Olam, about the life of HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ztz”l, features a family picture sent to America in honor of the golden anniversary of Rav Shlomo Zalman’s wife’s grandfather.
There’s another interesting reference to the subject in sefer Birchas Yaakov, authored by Rav Yaakov Yokel Hirsch, av beis din of Neumarkt, printed in 5639 (1879). He writes there that the words of the brachah instituted by Chazal: “Sameach tesamach rei’im ha’ahuvim kesamechecha yetzircha b’Gan Eden mikedem,” refers to Adam and Chava rejoicing in Gan Eden, sure that they were destined for each other. This was before they sinned.
Until then, they had the ability to discern between truth and falsehood, but not between good and bad. After the sin, they were given the insight to differentiate between good and bad, between pleasant and offensive.
When a person marries, his tendency is to forge a connection on the basis of physical and external factors, such as money, family, or looks. The work of marriage is to transform that superficially driven bond to an eternal and spiritual bond that isn’t dependent on outside factors, and to develop a deep emotional connection. And that is the essence of the brachah “Kesamechacha yetzircha b’Gan Eden mikedem” — that a couple should merit a genuine spiritual bond that existed before the sin, that isn’t confused by the tension between good and evil, and is deep and pure.
Rav Hirsch connects this to the silver and gold anniversaries, and says there is a purpose in celebrating after so many years. As each year passes, the personal charm fades, yet when the bond remains stable, and grows into something deep and spiritual — that’s a reason to mark an anniversary and rejoice.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 767)
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