Congrats, Ben Zion and Emily!- New Jersey Wedding Photographer
Emily and Ben Zion are married! I was excited to meet them over the summer for their engagement session back in June. They were doing a long-distance relationship at the time, with Ben Zion in Israel and Emily in New York. Emily and her mom were planning the wedding locally, with lots and lots of Skype calls between the bride and groom. They not only planned the wedding, but they also were making arrangements for Emily to move to Israel just three days afterwards.
Having spent so much time working with Emily and her mom on the wedding plans, I was truly honored to be with them and document this quiet, emotional moment before the festivities got under way.
The mother of the bride arranged her veil, held her hands and told her daughter that wherever your children are, wherever they go, a mother always feels them right there in her heart. And she said, “You are going to be so happy.” It was a moment that resonated with truth, because this bride and this groom truly are so very well-matched, in morality and intellect and kindness.
Then, it was time for Emily to go see her groom in a American-style “first look,” but she saw some well-wishers along the way…
Other than the groom, the man who is most delighted when he first lays eyes on the bride on her wedding day is always, always her dad. I love the father of the bride’s smile here.
Meanwhile, Ben Zion was waiting on the terrace…
A few minutes after Ben Zion and Emily saw each other for the first time that day in their wedding attire, they joined their families for photos.
Posed photos- and coordinating with large groups of people on a tight timeline- is the most chaotic part of the day, and that’s saying something when you’re talking about a Modern Orthodox wedding, where joyful cacophony, random outbursts of singing, and crowds of well-wishers pressing in on all sides are the norm.
Emily and Ben Zion got through posed pictures like champs, and then I whisked the wedding party down the stairs and into the cool September air for more relaxed (but still posed) photos.
Emily took a few minutes to herself to collect her thoughts and daven, and then she was danced into the bride’s cocktail hour. She greeted many of the wedding guests who came to wish her well and was generally treated like a queen.
Meanwhile, Ben Zion was in the groom’s with the rabbi, a.k.a. “Daddy/Rabbi” as he endearingly called himself, since Emily and BZ were lucky enough to be married by the father of the groom.
Then men sang, and danced, and drank, and read from the Torah, until the mothers of the bride and groom came in to ritually break a plate.
Like the plate, a broken engagement can’t be mended, so this reflects the finality of the commitment. Basically, this means, “Oh, yeah, this wedding is HAPPENING!”
Emily and Ben Zion’s witnesses signed their ketubah, which was beautifully decorated by one of the groom’s sisters.
Then men sang and danced some more, but this time they transitioned to the next pre-chuppah ceremony: the badeken.
I’ve blogged about this before, how this moment always gives me chills. The groom is escorted to the bride’s room with his parents and takes a special moment to whisper words only she can hear before lowering her veil. It’s a way for the bride and groom to affirm their desire to be together with nothing between them- not even the tulle of her veil- before they go to the chuppah for the official wedding ceremony. It’s just the two of them, face to face, surrounded by hundreds of singing, clapping guests. It is very public and chaste, yet very intimate and very beautiful. Goosebumps!
I saw on Facebook that another guest captured this moment of Emily with her eyes closed as her groom was danced toward her for that moment, and the guest captioned it, “Here he comes!” I can’t think of a better caption to describe her excitement.
The bride and groom were then blessed by their parents and grandparents, and we all transitioned to the outdoor ceremony space for the exchange or rings and vows.
As the bride and groom’s dear friends set up the wedding canopy, a helpful uncle to whom I will always be grateful came up and pointed out that the fabric overhead was made from the prayer shawls of Emily’s great-grandfathers sewn together. Although this is beautifully described in the program, I wouldn’t have known to look for the bride’s great-grandfathers’ names embroidered on their tallitot if he hadn’t said something. (Thank you, helpful uncle. I wish I caught your name so I could thank you properly.)
The bride and groom were escorted down the aisle by their parents. Emily walked around Ben Zion several times. Some say this symbolizes her becoming the protective, encircling light of the their new household. As the happy couple mentioned in their program, 16th-century scholar Rabbi Moses Isserles said the circling indicates the creation of “a special space shared exclusively by the bride and groom.” Then, the groom’s sister helped him into his kittel, a white garment symbolizing purity and new beginnings.
At this point in the ceremony, the bride and groom drank wine, which is a beautiful metaphor for marriage. In the beginning, wine is just grape juice, right? Then, it ferments, at which point it tastes sour, before transforming into, well, wine, which is delicious and drunk in times of celebration and great joy. What was even more special at this wedding, in keeping with the sentiment of honoring those who came before them, Emily and Ben Zion used his grandfather’s cups for the Kiddushin ceremony. The wine was blessed, and a second blessing honored God for the sanctity of the marriage.
Ben Zion placed a ring on Emily’s finger, to great applause and happy tears from the gathered guests.
After a few personal blessings and words from Ben Zion’s father, two poems were read. Then, the bride and groom made a shehecheyanu, a prayer that is said when you wish to be thankful for a new experience, garment, and/or phase of life. They recited the prayer before covering themselves with Ben Zenio’s tallit in a benediction for the private life they will share. Emily embroidered the shoulder band of Ben Zion’s prayer shawl in honor of the occasion. Even though he has been wearing his prayer shawl since he became a bar mitzvah, now he will wear it adorned with his wife’s handiwork whenever he prays, from the moment of marriage onward. How beautiful is that?
The seven blessings were recited by honored family members over a second glass of wine before Ben Zion broke a glass at the end of the ceremony.
That bittersweet moment when the glass shattered- it’s an act of remembrance and acknowledgement of suffering- was followed by shouts of “Mazel Tov!” before guests began hugging and singing.
I love the look on Ben Zion’s sister’s face. You just know how excited she is to have Emily as her new sister-in-law.
A happy throng- there’s no other word for it; it was a throng- danced the newlyweds back up the aisle, up the stairs and through the reception venue until they reached the yichud room where they had a few minutes of seclusion before the party started.
Dozens of young people danced around them sing-shouting “Od Yishama,” the wedding song, which translates as, “It will yet be heard in the cities of Judea,/ And in the streets of Jerusalem,/The sound of joy and the sound of happiness/ The voice of a groom and the voice of a bride.” This song is sung at Modern Orthodox weddings wherever they take place- New York City, New Jersey, Long Island, Jerusalem, wherever- but I think it was especially fitting for Ben Zion and Emily, who began their married life together in Israel 72 hours after the wedding.
Ben Zion and Emily blew kisses to the happy crowd and disappeared for a few moments alone. Everyone else headed into the ballroom to start the evening celebration.
The bride and groom ran into the reception, holding hands for just a moment before they separated- Ben Zion to dance with the men, and Emily to dance with the women.
Now, personally, I love documenting this. I love the circles of happy women, each taking their turn to dance with the bride, parting respectfully to give grandmothers and older women a chance in the middle.
The men’s side is a little more raucous, and I give full credit for the photos of the men dancing to my second, Tom. He never escapes fully unscathed. He has been (unintentionally, totally unintentionally) kicked in the head, stepped on and nearly bowled over at more than one wedding. Tom, I salute you and thank you for your service in pursuit of amazing dance floor photos.
For me, though, this wedding was particularly special because Emily and Ben Zion were referred to me by their friends; three different couples, in fact. As my camera and I tried to blend in with the women during the first dance set, I had a moment where I literally had a client bride from May 2014 on my immediate left and a client bride from December 2015 on my immediate right, all of us vibrating with happiness for Emily. I love getting to see my clients at wedding years after their own, living their happily ever afters, with their babies in tow. It’s just the best. Anyway, back to Emily and Ben Zion…
Eventually, the bride and groom are lifted into chairs and brought together for the horah, before they are seated side by side for the hilarious spectacle known as “schtick.”
Guests entertain the bride and groom by balancing bottles of wine on their heads, donning silly outfits or joking about Skype, that amazing modern marvel keeping long distance couples everywhere connected daily.
A little more dancing, a little more singing, and it was time for the toasts.
… and a flash mob!
This was a total surprise for Emily and Ben Zion. The groom’s sisters sent around a video with choreography, and everyone learned it. It was awesome.
The flash mob wasn’t the only surprise. Emily’s sister Amanda and an uncle- I think?- sang “Sunrise, Sunset” from “Fiddler on the Roof,” which Emily saw on Broadway a few months ago with her family. Although she wasn’t planning on a traditional father-daughter dance, she and her dad spontaneously took a turn around the dance floor. It was incredibly sweet.
After that, everyone gathered for grace after meals. It’s a time to sing, the give thanks, to drink wine, to feel nourished and sustained….
…And to exuberantly pound on tables! The room fills with this great energy, and like all things at Ben Zion and Emily’s wedding, the newlyweds participated with joy and gusto.
For the last dance set of the night, Ben Zion’s siblings took control of the playlist with their iPhones, calling up the latest Israeli hip hop tunes on YouTube. The party ended on a high note.
How to end this? Of course, I want to wish Emily and Ben Zion all the best. I am so appreciative of their patience as they viewed their sneak peek on Dropbox and waited for me to figure out why I couldn’t upload photos to this blog. (Spoiler: my hosting service went kablooey, but it’s fine now.) They are now happily residing in Israel, celebrating the High Holy days and starting their marriage living together at last in the same time zone. Hooray!
As I try to find a way to finish this up, I offer these words, quoted from a poem that a relative read during the chuppah ceremony, by Rav Amram Gaon, in the hopes that it rings true for you always: “Love will flourish in Israel, blessing will flourish in Israel,/ Joy will flourish in Israel, delight will flourish in Israel.” Congrats!
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