Tales of a Huppa Holder

by Allison Kaplan

Jewish wedding tradition, so Iíve been told, considers carrying the huppa (ritual canopy held over over bride and groom in Jewish weddings) to be a higher honor than the more social conventions of serving as a bridesmaid or groomsman.

Having stood up in a wedding for the first time this past weekend -- as a huppa holder, no less--I can understand why carrying the bridal canopy is a position held in such high esteem. Much more can go wrong when youíre balancing a quarter of the bride and groomís symbolic home than when youíre just holding a bouquet and looking pretty.

I was very much aware, throughout my appointment as huppa holder, that if I went down, the very fabric of the bride and groomís house would collapse. I didnít fall. But thank goodness for wedding rehearsals.

It hadnít crossed my mind, prior to my cousinís wedding rehearsal, that weddings donít just spontaneously come to order, with couples expertly waltzing two-by-two down the aisle at precisely the right moments.

Enter: the wedding planner.

At once, my cousinís wedding planner had us quietly lined up single file, afraid to so much as breathe until she sternly whispered "go".

But more than her orchestrating abilities, Iíve never seen someone so prepared. Iíd like to hire a wedding planner just to follow me around so I wouldnít have to carry a purse. If a button pops off my jacket, sheís got thread to fix it. If I get a little hungry, she brings snacks that wonít stain (white food, this is apparently called in the wedding world). And if the snack leaves an aftertaste, no problem. The wedding planner always carries mints!

No wonder wedding planners donít come cheap.

The day of the big event, we huppa holders required an extra practice session. And itís a good thing, because our whole routine had been disrupted. The smooth, bare bamboo poles we used in the rehearsal were now covered with delicate leaves and flowers. I could barely find a place to grab hold.

And the stairs. There hadnít been any stairs when we practiced. Now there were two. Having nearly lost my balance when the huppa pole stayed on the first step as I ascended to the second, I learned the most important rule in huppa holding: Raise that pole up high.

It must have looked good when the four of us reached the bimah (stage) and spread out to our appointed corners without ripping the huppa. Now all I had to do was stand quietly--glancing from time to time to make sure the huppa wasnít resting on the over 6-foot-tall groomís head.

The rabbi offered perhaps the most important piece of wedding advice just before we went on. I was expecting some philosophical thoughts on love, commitment and attending Friday night services. But the rabbi came through with these practical words I contemplated throughout the entire ceremony: Donít lock your knees!

Just as I was feeling a little fidgety on stage, worried the muscles in my hand could very well be permanently locked around that bamboo pole, the bride addressed me. "Psst," she said. "Move over".

Move over? The stage was all of four feet wide. And hey, the wedding planner never said the bride was allowed to boss me during the ceremony. So I evaluated the huppa, certain that my pole was not properly angled, and therefore causing the fabric to hang askew in a manner bothersome to the bride.

Not the case. But my cousin told me again to move, this time motioning which direction with her bouquet. The rabbi, meanwhile, was pouring wine or something.

Thankfully I got the message without causing her to miss an important question. My cousin was afraid our seriously petite grandma couldnít see and wanted me to scoot out of her sight line. Not the treatment an honorable huppa holder might expect, but for my grandma, I can let it go.

Iíve attended a lot of weddings in the last couple of years--now that my friends are approaching their sobering mid-to-late-twenties. But the experience of being part of the wedding--especially for someone with whom I used to play pretend fast food restaurant (we took the orders, our brothers played customers)--is rather extraordinary.

I think my cousin put it best, as we were summoned from the dressing room to pose for bridal party pictures. Looking like she had stepped out of a fairy tale, my cousin the bride turned to me and said, "Isnít this just the weirdest thing weíve ever done?"

That, indeed, it was.

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