By Deb Silverthorn
To have and to hold …. perhaps truer words and commitment were never spoken when Sheila Brown and Hal Babitch wed March 15.
The new Mr. and Mrs. had planned their wedding and celebration for that Sunday afternoon, with scores of friends and family members and a weekend calendar full of freilach. Rather than the Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat service, a Saturday morning auf ruf and the couple’s sponsored kiddush lunch, and a Sunday ceremony with reception, all at Congregation Anshai Torah, with Rabbi Stefan Weinberg officiating — the two said “I do,” in a more intimate setting than could be imagined.
On Friday, March 13, the couple got a call from Rabbi Weinberg letting them know that regulations had been announced, that the synagogue had to close that afternoon. That meant no Friday night or Saturday services, and no more than 21 guests — allowing for the rabbi, photographer, the bride and groom. There would be no catered reception onsite.
What remained, however, was the couple’s dedication for each other, to dedicate to each other, that weekend.
“One more day and we wouldn’t have been able to be at the synagogue at all, so we are very grateful for everyone who made it happen as it did,” said Sheila, now settling in with her groom.
Sheila and Hal have known each other for more than a decade, each with their previous spouses members of Congregation Anshai Torah for even longer. Sheila was married to Arthur for 54 years, and Hal to Jane, for 52, both of blessed memory, both passing away in the last few years.
Sheila had joined the Jewish Family Service-sponsored bereavement group, which meets at Temple Emanu-El, and when Hal’s wife passed away, she encouraged him to come along. After spending time at the meetings, she eventually offered to make dinner for the two of them — something she’d stopped doing after her husband died — cooking for one not so enjoyable, she said
“Going through the support group made us each feel good, and we felt better in the time we spent together,” said Hal, laughing as he admits his bride likes to cook, and he likes to eat. “It became comfortable, and ‘we’ became ‘us.’”
At some point the two became more than a part of a support system; they were each other’s support and their friendship grew to a connection that they wanted to formalize.
“We spoke to the rabbi and asked if he’d marry us. He said ‘of course,’ but that we’d need to have three pre-marital counseling sessions,” said Hal, a lilt of giggle in tone. “We asked him what kind of expert advice did he need? We’ve got 106 years of marriage between us and have pretty much covered any issue a couple could experience.”
The couple did meet with the rabbi and plans for their happily-ever-after were put in place.
Together, as they gathered in the rabbi’s study, before the ceremony, Hal and Sheila honored Philip and Sandra Balis with the signing of their ketubah. At the chuppah, in the sanctuary, their children and grandchildren and just a few others sat amid the hundreds of empty seats — hearts big enough to fill the room over and again.
After vows were exchanged, the couple joined many of their original guest list for brunch. Others were either unable to or concerned about attending. Their simcha, their group sat alone on a patio of the Biscuit in Frisco, likely the last dining-in event before social distancing guidelines were extended
Rather than honeymooning at the beach, the couple is finding no traffic at all as they tour the rooms of their joint abode. Reading, writing and gardening, the two have become regulars of Anshai Torah’s Zoom Torah study classes, minyans and other services.
“We started out with a small ceremony planned and it morphed into something bigger so we didn’t have to exclude anyone,” said Sheila, her husband now of almost six weeks echoing her sentiments. “Make plans, and HaShem laughs — He had other ideas, bringing us back closer to our original plan. Still, it was a beautiful day that we’ll always remember and we know we have the mazel and good wishes of so many.”