Jessie and Ilan’s wedding took place at the beautiful Isabella Freedman Retreat Center in the Connecticut Berkshires. The weekend schedule was full of prayer services, campfires and meditative hikes. Jessie planned every little detail with love, thoughtful intention and precision, bringing together family and friends from Canada, Israel, Florida, Massachusetts, New York and many other places. Ilan’s siblings joined forces with a groomsman and sang a song at the reception that was parody of Daft Punk’s song Get Lucky, gently ribbing Ilan for his tendency to stay up all night for no reason and Jessie’s remarkable ability to get things done.
It was a fabulous tribute to them as a couple. More than one person who toasted them contrasted Jessie’s determination and efficiency with Ilan’s tendency toward contemplation and maybe just a little procrastination. (Okay, so maybe the groom took a little longer to propose than Jessie’s dad anticipated after giving Ilan his blessing, but the man proposed on a cruise in Central America… so that’s pretty awesome.) It’s those contrasts, though, that make them such a good team. In fact, I’d say they are a perfect match.
Although the bride and groom’s love for each other radiated from within and shone on everyone around them, the real highlights of the day all stemmed from the expressions of their faith. Although I’ve photographed many Jewish weddings and documented every tradition that Jessie and Ilan included in one way or another before, I’ve never seen another couple revel in the joy of each and every ritual the way they did. They didn’t just incorporate Jewish customs or honor their heritage, although they did that, too. Their spirituality infused every aspect of the wedding.
Starting with the morning service where Ilan gathered with some of the men to pray, the groomsmen and others lifted him up, literally and figuratively, all day long. After signing the ketubah, Ilan rode into the room where the bride was greeting the guests atop his entourage’s shoulders. Although this couple had a very sweet “first look” about 90 minutes earlier, I love the shot I got of Jessie’s reaction as Ilan came toward her for the bedecken. The mother and sister of the groom’s expressions are pretty priceless, too, and the excitement on the women’s faces as they hugged Jessie during the bride’s reception was absolutely infectious. (Special thanks to my second shooter Tom for getting great shots of the men while I was shooting the ladies.)
During the bedecken, the groom veils the bride, taking a moment to whisper words only she could hear. In some communities, the almost-newlyweds recite the Song of Songs to each other. I have no idea what this couple actually said, because THIS. ROOM. WAS. ROCKING. I mean, the floor shook beneath our feet as everyone stomped and cheered. In any case, this custom gives the bride and groom a moment to make eye contact, with no veil between them, to basically affirm, “You’re totally the right one for me” before the ceremony at the chuppah begins. The bride’s father and step-father also knelt before Jessie to offer their blessings before Ilan was carried away again atop the crowd.
The ceremony was held by a lake under a gorgeous blue sky. The bride circled the groom seven times, symbolizing the creation of their new world together. Parents and sisters and bridesmaids all wiped away tears as two rabbis officiated, reading the ketubah out loud and calling loved ones up to offers the seven blessings of marriage after a ring was placed on the bride’s index finger. Wine was shared, and I was so touched by the tenderness with which Ilan lifted Jessie’s veil so she could drink from the Kiddush cup. As soon as the groom stomped on a glass, the crowd shouted “Mazel Tov!” and we were off again! The bridesmaids kicked off an amazing, raucous procession to the cabin where Jessie and Ilan would spend their first moments of married life in solitude. Afterwards, I confess to pulling them away for a few more pictures by the lake, and then we were onto the reception.
The bride and groom ran through two lines of guests bearing sparklers and archway made of hockey sticks in honor of the groom’s Canadian upbringing. The horah went on for a good 45 minutes as the bride and groom were lifted high above the throng of well-wishers yet again. I gotta say, this was some of the best “schtick” I’ve seen. Schtick is a portion of the first dance set where the guests entertain the newlyweds with silly signs, crazy dance moves and general hilarity. The rest of the afternoon flew by, and before you knew it, the meal was served and the cake was cut. All the important dances were danced, and toasts were offered. Jessie had a thorough list of important people she wanted pictures with, and I have to thank the bridesmaids and the bride’s cousin Sharon for all your help! I never would have tracked down all the right combinations of roommates, co-workers and childhood friends hailing from Chicago to Israel without you. THANK YOU!
The afternoon slowed down for the recitation of the birkat hamazon, or the grace after meals, although the prayers after a wedding are particularly special. Lots of guests grabbed a bencher booklet, a traditional Jewish wedding favor, and moved their chairs close to the bride and groom for prayers and wine. Some say it’s lucky to be close to a bride and groom on their wedding day. Some say sharing the post-meal wine is a blessing. As Ilan knelt on one knee and sang just to Jessie, it was easy to see she was both lucky and blessed.
They are now honeymooning in Israel and I’m sure Jessie is dying to see these. Mazel tov, you guys!