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From Wine to Water

What could be more sacred than water? It is essential to all life, refreshing to drink, and beautiful to behold. In May of 2013 we celebrated our marriage with a carefully crafted and lovingly personalized Jewish ceremony. When it came to designing the Kiddush for our wedding, the blessing traditionally said over wine, we chose instead to sanctify water. Neither of us drink alcohol and so the decision to leave out wine was an easy one. We had been using water for our Friday Night Kiddush since we moved in together nine months earlier and it felt like a natural extension to have it at our wedding.

We feel that it is important to make Jewish ritual our own rather than doing something simply because it is how people have done it in the past. We truly believe that the Mitzvoth, Jewish good deeds and ceremonial actions, are opportunities to connect with God and the world in a deeper way. They are rich with meaning and potential but sometimes if they don’t speak to us initially, it takes just a small change to have them feel just right. We both see Judaism as an evolving pathway and feel empowered to adapt ancient wisdom and customs to fit our life circumstance and hearts’ call.

For example, the Sheva Brachot are seven traditional blessings recited by friends and family for the couple at a wedding. We did not entirely connect with the words of those blessings when we read over them in planning for the ceremony. So instead, for that part of the ritual, we chose to invite seven of our close friends and family to speak blessings in their own words. It was a truly touching experience and it made us glad that we had reworked the custom in that way.

In the same spirit, we felt that by exchanging wine for water we were really able to connect with the Kiddush at the wedding. We both wanted to honor water as a ceremonial substance because we feel that it is such a precious resource. We wanted to give it a special place in our Jewish rituals. We began by pouring the water into two Kiddush cups, the ones we had each had from our single lives. We then poured the water from these cups into a single cup that had been made especially for the wedding and was to be our new household’s Kiddush cup. Our Rabbi recounted a teaching that a place where two sources of water meet is a holy place. We said the blessing “she hakol nihyeh bidvaro” – through whose word everything comes into being – the traditional prayer over water. We believe that water as a substance, since it is neutral, is able to take on the qualities of the blessings said over it. We certainly put a lot of really good intentions into that water, blessings for the present as well as the future. We kept these in mind as we each savored a sip from the cup.

In these changing times, when crucial life support systems are being increasingly threatened on our planet, we feel that it is essential to remind ourselves of the sanctity of our most precious resources. By placing water in a central ritual during our wedding ceremony and in our home, we are honoring its irreplaceable role in our lives. It is our hope that by making Kiddush over water we can help to create a culture that treats water with the honor due to a sacred substance.

We wondered how this change from tradition would be received by our community. After the wedding, we heard nothing but positive feedback and one of our very traditional Orthodox guests said that he was particularly touched by the water blessing. We have an ongoing creative relationship with Jewish customs and traditions. We look forward to seeing how replacing wine with water will echo in our lives and in the world as a whole.

Matt and Melina Ponak have been happily married for six months. They enjoy hosting creative Jewish rituals in their home in Boulder, Colorado.

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