The Coincidental Ketubah

California’s Caldor fire. (Photo by Michael Nigro/Sipa via AP Images)

One of the joys of having my ketubah designs available on for over a decade now is that I will frequently meet folks in the Jewish community who have one of my designs. They will hear my name, and it will sound familiar. Later on, it may flash before them: she did our ketubah! I always love to hear this, and enjoy getting all the details of their wedding and how they have chosen to display their ketubah in their home. I feel so grateful to be able to give them a meaningful work of art that represents their marriage union for the couple, their families, and any visitors to their home. My only regret is that I do not usually get to have a personal relationship with the folks who purchase my designs.

Yet the most extraordinary occurence of this kind of post-wedding ketubah recognition happened to me this past fall. While I spent the majority of my adult life in the Bay Area and was lucky to mingle with many different Jewish communities of all stripes and colors, I moved in 2021 to a rural area outside of Sacramento, two hours away. The Covid pandemic had changed what I was looking for in my life– since community was no longer possible in the way it was before, I chose to get closer to nature. I now live on 20 wooded acres abutting the El Dorado National Forest. 

Unfortunately, the Covid crisis was quickly followed by a devastating wildfire that raged through the National Forest and threatened everyone’s home in my small town, as well as dozens of other small settlements that skirt Highway 50 headed towards South Lake Tahoe. As pyrocumulus clouds ballooned on the horizon from the origin of the fire just three miles away, I helped my neighbors pack up their trailer and we all evacuated to a safer spot 20 miles away. It would be three weeks before we were allowed to return, but thankfully none of us lost our homes or endured property damage. The Caldor Fire was one of the most destructive and quick-spreading fires in California history, and it ultimately burned up over 200,000 acres of forest.

Every day was filled with anxiety and dread, hoping that the winds would not blow the fire closer to my community, and that it would stay away from other towns as it raced east, fueled on by an unusually dry season of drought.

As is the custom these days when communities go through difficulty and constantly need up-to-date news, multiple Facebook groups were formed to connect evacuees. We used these groups to help neighbors, locate lost pets, share info about when the evacuation would end, and donate money and time to the local shelters that were putting up tens of thousands of people who couldn’t be in their homes. One day after my evacuation had ended, I was looking through recent posts and noticed that one man was asking everyone where he could buy challah nearby. Challah? In my area? This must be the only other Jew around, I thought to myself. So I did what we do when we sense another member of the Tribe, and I reached out through a direct message to find out who this was and if we could have Shabbat dinner sometime, with that elusive local challah bread.

To my amazement, the fellow wasn’t Jewish, but his wife is, and he is actually the music director at an Episcopalian church in Sacramento. We got married four years ago, he mentioned, and then discussed the rabbi and synagogue where the nuptials occurred. Having so recently married, I thought I would ask if they had a ketubah. I explained to him that it was my habit to always ask about ketubahs, since I designed them and loved to know what choices people made for their special day.

Before I had a chance to inhale, he sent me an image of their ketubah.

I was floored. It was indeed one of my designs – Four Seasons – and they had purchased it from!

Perhaps I was a little too excited, as I proceeded to use more exclamation points than I think I had used the entire year in total, but the rush of Jewish connection amidst the difficult and traumatizing experience of getting evacuated and having our homes threatened was worthy of exclaiming. Here’s our exchange on Facebook Messenger.

Like me, he and his wife were equally moved to be connected through this 2500-year-old tradition of ketubah creation in the midst of such a turbulent time. We promised to stay in touch and get together for Shabbat when things calmed down.

More than anything, this experience ignited my sense that Jewish identity and tradition constitute a ballast of strength and beauty, no matter what is going on in politics, climate, pandemic, plagues, pogroms or wars. And reaching out to those who share this identity and tradition leads to wonderful connections that can help us remain resilient during tough times. But I’m still floored by the coincidence.

Elie Wiesel once said that “in Jewish history, there are no coincidences.” He meant that there is meaning in everything that happens.

I’m looking forward to more and more coincidences and ketubah recognitions, each bringing an opportunity to create meaning and new relationships.