Tag archive for : Jewish wedding

It was an absolute pleasure to be there for Ben and Julia on their wedding day. The venue was the beautiful Onteora Mountain House in the Catskills. Gorgeous weather, happy couple, beautiful bride…

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It’s making me ridiculously happy to imagine that Julia’s granddaughter will someday wear this beaded kippah on her wedding day, and a wedding photographer of the future will be asked to recreate a version of this photo.

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I got there just in time for the finishing touches, and then Julia went to meet Ben for their first look, family photos and the ketubah signing.

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Their first look was tender and affectionate.

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We shot some quickly family photos, and then the wedding day momentum began to kick in as shuttle buses were re-directed and guests began to arrive.

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I snuck the bride and groom away from the hustle and bustle for a few moments to take in the mountain views and take some photos together.

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We re-joined the family to sign the ketubah. The rabbi sang a beautiful song as a “spiritual palate cleanser” and invited everyone to set any last-minute details aside for a moment. She gathered everyone together to witness the bride and groom signing their traditional Jewish marriage license (with a feminist twist, as Ben and Julia chose the most egalitarian wording, and also, truly traditional Jewish brides don’t sign their ketubot).

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These two photos together really capture the energy in the room- a few tears of joy and the bride’s beaming smile.

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Once the ketubah is signed, the couple is technically married, but the chuppah ceremony is a time to exchange vows and rings.

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After Ben and Julia walked in escorted by their parents, they observed another Jewish custom, with a contemporary twist. Historically, brides circled their grooms seven times, symbolizing the seven blessings on marriage and the seven days of creation. This act signifies that a woman is making the man the center of her world, and the most traditional interpretations recall Biblical text about the miraculous tumbling of the walls around the city of Jericho. Chabad Rabbi Aron Moss writes, “If she surrounds her husband with the protective aura of her love, if she envelops him with affection, and if she makes him feel that he is the anchor, the center, the focal point of her life, then he can feel safe and comfortable. When that happens, the walls protecting his heart come tumbling down. Then she has conquered him – all of him.”

Except… that’s not really an accurate reflection of Ben and Julia’s relationship or love story. Instead, they chose to circle each other, taking turns, making each other the center of their lives in a united and equal way.

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They shared wine, which was then blessed by seven loved ones and shared again.

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They exchanged rings, vows and messages of love. “This is everything I ever wanted,” the bride said.

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The rabbi enveloped the newlyweds in her tallit, sequestering them for a moment to bless the private life they will share.

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They kissed and Ben stomped a glass- one of the most cherished traditions in a Jewish ceremony. There are many interpretations. Some say it symbolizes the destruction of the Temple. Some say that it keeps away bad luck; after all, something bad has already happened, a glass broke. Some say it’s a symbol of the marriage vows- just as a shattered glass can not be put back together, the bonds of marriage can never truly be undone. Some say that the fragility of the glass reminds us of the frailty of human nature, that you should treat each day together as you would your last. No matter which interpretation you like, all of the guests shout “Mazel tov!” and the celebration really gets under way.

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These hugging photos with everyone weeping tears of joy,especially Ben, are some of my favorite moments of their entire day.

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Ben and Julia took a few moments alone. It’s a Jewish tradition called “yichud” or seclusion, and actually, I recommend all my clients do it, Jewish or not. It’s just a moment to be alone together and process the emotions of the ceremony.

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Then we hit the woods, the koi pond and a lovely autumn tree with changing leaves in quick succession for the rest of the photos. (I love this part.)

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Cocktail hour was in full swing when we finished.

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The reception got under way with a simple introduction of the happy couple, followed by their first dance.

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They went right into the horah.

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Ben and Julia have so many friends from so many eras of their life. Friends are far-flung, and many of them met in med school. With busy residency and doctor’s schedules, this was the first time in years everyone was able to be together in one place.

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Hilarity ensues.

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Everyone hit the dance floor before the bride got on the mic and asked everyone to join her at the bar for a whiskey shot.

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You: “I can’t dance.”
Whiskey: “Yes, you can.”

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Okay, so I really debated posting this photo, because it’s not the most flattering angle of the guest. That said, everyone had broken up into guys and girls to sing “Summer Lovin,'” and this photo captures the energy of that like no other. (Sorry, not sorry.)

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The groom’s mom made this most special and amazing hand-painted cake.

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Look, I don’t mean to make this about me, but this “mother with her son on his wedding day” moment? Let’s just put it this way. I have a son named Ben myself, and he’s only nine months old, but this photo makes me imagine hugging my Ben someday on HIS wedding day. *sniffle*weepies*blows nose*

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Finally, I have to thank Ben and Julia for being willing to take time from their party at the end of the night to let me grab an umbrella and set up my remote triggers and make this shot happen. I’ve been striving for this shot since I got the remote triggers in 2017. The lighting and weather all came together for this! Thank you for humoring me! (Thank you, weather, for you know, happening.)

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Ben and Julia begin their marriage after a decade together. May all the decades to come bring you joy and adventure and so much love.

Filled Under : Wedding

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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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Meanwhile, Ben Zion was waiting on the terrace…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!”

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Emily and Ben Zion’s witnesses signed their ketubah, which was beautifully decorated by one of the groom’s sisters.

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Then men sang and danced some more, but this time they transitioned to the next pre-chuppah ceremony: the badeken.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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Ben Zion placed a ring on Emily’s finger, to great applause and happy tears from the gathered guests.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.”

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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.

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A little more dancing, a little more singing, and it was time for the toasts.

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… and a flash mob!

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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.

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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.

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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….

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…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.

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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.

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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!

Filled Under : Wedding

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