Star-Bulletin Features

Saturday, June 16, 2001


Shayna Magid showed off a decorated marriage contract while
standing in front of the original painting that it features.

Jewish tradition
becomes basis for
popular wedding

Isle artist Shayna Magid has
created beautiful ketubahs for
thousands of couples

By Mary Adamski

Photographs and cards in albums, flowers pressed and dried, even cake in the freezer. People take great care to save and savor memories of their wedding day.

But somehow the actual signed record of the tie that binds became a dry legal document, the state license, designed to be tucked into a safe deposit box.

That's not true in the Jewish tradition and, thanks in part to a local artist, the tradition of displaying the marriage contract as art has been adopted by lovers no matter what their faith, if any.

Thousands of couples who live here or come here to be married now choose the romantic, personalized memento to frame and hang as a keepsake, but only those with Jewish ties recognize it as a ketubah.

Shayna Baecker Magid has added Hawaiian touches and modern language to the format used for thousands of years and still central to a wedding in her religion.

"In the Jewish faith, you're not married unless you sign it," said Magid. "You don't have to have a ceremony."

The traditional ketubah is in the Aramaic language, following a text that has been handed down, and is still used by Orthodox and other Jews.

"Basically it is a contract containing the groom's promise, 'I'll give your parents this and that for you, and you are mine.'

"The ancient text speaks of women as chattel to be bartered. Reform Jews don't like that," said Magid, and her modern version "speaks of women as equals."

The age-old text does include some romantic language, from the Song of Songs by Solomon -- "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine. Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm" -- and invokes God in the "covenant sealed according to the laws of Moses and Israel." Artists enhanced the pact, signed by the couple and witnesses, with calligraphy and a decorative border.

Magid's "hands-down bestseller" today is bordered by entwined maile and pikake lei, and uses Hawaiian language text with English translation.

The 18-by-24-inch size has the wedding vow used by the Rev. David Kaupu, who provided the Hawaiian text, and has a spiritual perspective: "May the blessings of God Almighty be near us to defend our place with each other, within us to refresh our hope in one another, around us to reserve our trust for each other, before us to guide our path of love for one another, behind us to justify our affirmation of each other and above us to bless our faith and love in one another."

The religious reference is absent from the more popular 12-by-16-inch version, which has been adopted by several island businesses as part of their wedding package. Magid and her husband, Rabbi Avi Magid, wrote some of the text: "May we create a home that surrounds our family and friends with laughter, warmth and love."

The island artist wove a sketch of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel -- "my favorite place from childhood" -- into a border of island flowers for one ketubah pattern. The hotel bought exclusive use of the design, and distributes framed copies to couples married there.

Another is the "Evening of Roses" design, named for a tune sung at weddings.

"It looks very Jewish, with 'Fiddler on the Roof' images, a couple under a wedding canopy, violinist and dancers."

A face to be found among the dancers is that of Lily, the artist's 10-year-old daughter and "my greatest work of art."

Magid, born in Hawaii and an art teacher in island schools for 15 years, adopted ketubahs -- ketubot, in Hebrew -- as her art form 10 years ago during "six homesick years" in New York where her husband took a position in a White Plains synagogue.

There was a revival of interest in the art form among Jews, and her initial Hawaiian floral pattern "was like nothing you see anywhere else. It was one of the best sellers in the United States." She said the ketubahs -- both in the traditional Hebrew script as well as Hawaiian-English versions -- are sold "in every major Judaica store in the United States."

Also, "the wedding checklist that bridal magazines carry now has getting a marriage contract."

They are available in island bridal shops, and she has recently added a line of wedding invitations that pick up the floral theme of each ketubah pattern.

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