Celebrations & More: Music and dance bring free spirits together and apart

When Rachel Kaplan and Douglas Chermak chose their wedding date of Aug. 24, they had no idea that one of their favorite bands, Phish, was going to play a three-night stint in San Francisco the week before. For a couple who first realized their attraction while dancing to beloved jam bands Phish and others, the timing was perfect.

Kaplan, 32, is a therapist and yoga instructor. Chermak, 33, is an environmental lawyer and also serves as co-director of the chevra kadisha (burial society) at Chochmat HaLev, where he sometimes drums at services.

Douglas and Rachel

The Oakland residents had been part of the same East Bay Jewish community and had known each other since 2006. But like with so many things, timing was everything. When they first met, both were in other relationships, but slowly, over time, a friendship grew. While they both noticed an attraction — especially when dancing together at concerts — they continued their pursuits of other partners, even having numerous discussions at different times about why they weren’t right for each other, or sometimes offering relationship advice.

By the time the two free spirits began dating each other in early 2011, many of their friends had the same reaction: “Finally!”

But back to Phish.

Kaplan and Chermak attended the Aug. 17 Phish show together. On Saturday morning, Aug. 18, they went to synagogue for their aufruf, and to receive pre-wedding blessings from their community. Wanting to observe the tradition of not seeing each other the week before their wedding, on Saturday and Sunday nights they attended the Phish shows with friends acting as their shomrim (guards), texting when they were on the move, to make sure they wouldn’t bump into each other.

On Aug. 22, Chermak attended a sweat lodge ceremony with his male friends. And on Aug. 23, Chermak and Kaplan drove separately to Saratoga Springs for their wedding.

With shomrim using walkie-talkies to keep them apart, Kaplan went to the mikvah that afternoon in a nearby lake with some women friends, and at dinner that night, a mechitza (barrier) was placed down the center of the dining room. Kaplan and Chermak each stayed on their respective sides, with family and friends free to mingle freely to visit with each of them.

Chermak went to the mikvah with a large group of men a few hours before the wedding.

And then it was time. The men gathered in one space, to do shots and toast the groom, while the women sang and received blessings from the bride, who was seated in a wicker rocking chair that has held at least 15 brides before her.

When the couple finally saw each other, they did so in the tradition of the bedeken: the men escorted the groom to his bride, accompanied by loud drumming, dancing, chanting, and blasts from the shofar.

Tears streamed down the couple’s cheeks.

And then, after making sure she was indeed his bride (the tradition comes from a biblical story in which Jacob was tricked into marrying Rachel’s sister Leah), Chermak lowered her veil. They then signed the ketubah.

The couple stood beneath a white silk chuppah made by a friend. It featured a mesh cutout of a Magen David trimmed in brightly colored lace and adorned with crystals and lace from Kaplan’s mother’s wedding dress.

During the wedding ceremony, Rabbi Jack Gabriel had the congregation stand and make the sign of the priestly blessing (also known as Spock’s Vulcan hand salute from “Star Trek”) and sing the blessing to the tune of the Beatles “Let It Be.”

A post-ceremony highlight came after the hora, when guests entertained the bride and groom with utter silliness. Friends juggled and hula-hooped, one man danced bare-chested in a tutu, and a yoga-teacher friend ran out in nothing but his boxer briefs to do splits on the grass.

After dinner, everyone watched a puppet show conceived of and performed by friends, that enacted the couple’s lives and how they met (see story, 14).

And their first dance? After the bride had changed out of her figure-hugging wedding gown and into a lacy outfit in which she could actually dance, it was to Phish, of course.

Unions features a recently married couple with an interesting story. If you want to share your tale, or want to nominate a couple married within the last year, contact liz@jweekly.com.

Headshot of Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."