Seven years ago, facing a recalcitrant “Intro to Religion” class and looking for anything to spur more energy in the room, I stumbled across “The Wedding of Ezra and Olivia” on YouTube, an eight-minute highlight reel of a wedding in Jerusalem between possibly the two loveliest people on the planet. More moving than your typical videography, the film is filled with music, as friends and family spontaneously break out into song, people randomly show up with guitars, and the couple themselves sing under the ḥuppah. Since discovering this video, I have incorporated it into multiple classes; and by the time it concludes, the students feel as though they were at the wedding. Pedagogically, the images and the couple’s happiness concretize the memories of the wedding rituals.
The film begins with shots of the tish(es) (tables), where the bride and groom sing, laugh, and toast their friends and family. Celebrants sing a joyful version of the “Marseillaise” in honor of the groom’s French relatives, and the bride speaks of her love for Ezra. The tishers bring Ezra to meet Olivia; he immediately breaks down in tears. This scene is followed by the bedeken (veiling), the signing of the ketubah, and more singing. As the sun goes down, the groom’s parents escort a now sobbing Ezra down the aisle, and the two engage in the rituals under the ḥuppah.
For most of my Midwestern students, these rituals are brand new; most have only ever been to Protestant or Catholic ceremonies, and seeing a couple their age, clearly in love and committed to their traditions, has a profound effect on them. The wedding is traditional, but the couple have personalized it, making choices that reflect their commitments and their love of Judaism. Because the video covers almost all of the “major moments,” I am able to pause the video and ask students what is going on, discussing what changes the couple has made to the rituals they read about (I usually assign a chapter of Harvey Goldberg’s Jewish Passages as background reading).
I know it’s not very innovative to say “I use a YouTube video” in response to this question, but this find has been truly serendipitous. Year after year even the most apathetic students start smiling and laughing and contributing to discussion. If anyone out there knows Ezra or Olivia, can you tell them that for seven years, college students in Iowa have vicariously participated in celebration of their wedding and think they are the loveliest couple around? Oh, and that they have somewhat become the personification of “Jews” for them?