Tag archive for : Jewish 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

I posted the photos for Amanda and Miki’s wedding earlier this week because I didn’t want them to go a moment longer without getting to see some photos, but I’ve been so back-logged with editing work on tight deadlines that I didn’t get a chance to properly rave about their wedding and how wonderful it was.

I first met Amanda and Miki at their friends’ Ben and Hinda’s wedding back in the end of August. Like Ben and Hinda, Amanda and Miki are a Modern Orthodox couple. Modern Orthodox couples tend to have shorter, whirlwind engagements, so I only connected with the bride and groom to discuss wedding planning two months ago. In that short time, I have found them to be completely delightful and charming, and I fully intend to try to lobby them to move to Rockland County. I did my best to woo them here “upstate” (in quotes because most New Yorkers consider anything north of the Bronx upstate; locals tend to disagree) during their engagement session with our beautiful autumn colors, fantastic rustic barns and charming little parks. By the end of the engagement session, I knew they were a special couple.

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For one thing, they are up for anything. Schlepping a wagon and a giant pumpkin to a nearby lake? Let’s do it! Sitting on vintage suitcases at a local farm, they’re in!

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Posing for wintry photos with sleds wearing this scarf I just bought at Target and haven’t taken the tags off yet? Why not? Let’s add in a stuffed toy moose and goose that they brought with them, two little tokens of affection that echo their nicknames for each other. They have so much fun together, and Miki didn’t resist a single quirky idea, (which is rare; most grooms don’t love the engagement session portion of our time together.

I knew that the combination of their adventurous fun-loving personalities, their exuberant and hilarious friends (some of whom I had met in August) and love of vintage-inspired details would make for a gorgeous wedding, and I was not wrong! Speaking of gorgeous vintage-styled details, I present Exhibit A, Amanda’s dress.

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To die for! She found this gown at BHLDN, Anthropologie’s wedding specialty retailer, which never disappoints.

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Her mom helped her with the finishing touches as soon as I got there.

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We snuck outside for a private first look and some romantic pictures before the sunset, because once we came back inside, the party got underway right away!

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I loved that Amanda’s bouquet contained succulents, which she can plant and continue to grow long after the wedding. That’s such a cool idea.

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We took lots of photos with friends and family (and extended family- people came from everywhere to celebrate with them!) and then it was time for the festivities to begin!

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Amanda’s mom and mother-in-law led her to a special room where they got to sit on a dais and greet everyone as they arrived. People say hello, offer their blessings and reconnect, and it’s such a beautiful way to start the day. It’s so much more fun for the bride than hiding in a room somewhere!

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This moment with one of the bride’s besties wiping away happy tears is one of my favorites.

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Meanwhile, on the other side of the synagogue, the groom was having his own celebration with food, singing and dancing.

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This moment when the bride and groom’s moms break a plate with a hammer is a significant tradition. Just like the breaking of the plate cannot be undone, the betrothal is also irreversible.

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After that, Miki was on his way to see his bride! He danced with his father and (almost) father-in-law on either arm to see Amanda. This is far and away one of the most exciting moments of an Orthodox wedding, in my opinion. Everyone is clapping and singing in Hebrew.

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Usually the bride stays seated on her throne-like chair, but Amanda knew she wanted to dance right up to her (almost) husband.

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Happy goosebumps broke out on my arms as Amanda’s dad offered her a few private blessings and words for her ears only before Miki lowered her veil.

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The men carried him away, still singing “Od Yishama,” a traditional wedding song of joy and gladness. The entire venue rocked with clapping and singing, and then things quieted down just a little as we headed into the sanctuary.

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The musicians played all Beatles songs as the procession made its way to the chuppah.

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Miki’s parents helped him into a kittel, or sacred garment worn only on the holiest of days, and then Amanda walked in with her parents.

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Oh! I should mention she was proceeded by the cutest flower girls! SO CUTE!

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At this point, the bride walked in circles around the groom, signifying the entwining of their worlds, but the truth is, Amanda and Miki have been each other’s worlds for a while now. Amanda’s sister Lexi told me that both Amanda and Miki grew close quite quickly. He had invited her to go kayaking with the synagogue’s social group, which Miki helped coordinate at the time, and at first she wasn’t sure… was this a date or was he just doing his social coordinate-y thing? Lexi says it wasn’t long after the trip that Amanda started sounding an awful lot like she had met The One.

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Speaking of sisters, I love this shot of all four of the couple’s sisters watching their siblings tie the knot.

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After an exchange of rings, the sharing of wine, the offering of blessings and the reading of the ketubah, the deed was done! Married! Yay!

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Everyone crowded around for another chorus of Od Yishama, and then the newlyweds’ friends danced them down the steps, out of the sanctuary and into the yichud room for a few minutes of solitude.

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Their peace and quiet was heavily protected by appropriately costumed guards, thanks to Miki’s sister supplying the props.

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If I thought the dancing was fun before now, I was blown away by the first dance set.

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The men and women danced separately for a little while before an excited throng of guests boosted the newlyweds up in the air during the horah.

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I knew that the shtick portion of the evening was going to be hilarious, but around the time the guests busted out the mascot costumes, I knew there was no telling what was going to happen next.

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Interestingly enough, this is not my first wedding with mascots. It’s not even my first wedding with a guest in a tiger costume. I love my clients.

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After taking a minute to catch their breath, observe blessings over the bread and light the menorah (this was the second night of Hanukkah), more surprises were in store!

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First, some of their friends declared it time for “a shtickathon” with all kinds of props, toys, and art supplies. It even had its own hashtag.

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Then, their East Coast and West Coast friends decided to battle out where Amanda and Miki should live eventually- New York or California?- in an epic, choreographed danceoff, the kind that people must have gotten together earlier in the event weekend to practice.

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It was amazing. Of course, Amanda and Miki weren’t going to just let their friends have all that fun without them, so they joined in before making an announcement of their own…

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They surprised their guests with a group funk dance lesson, taught by their friend Milo.

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After that, their parents got a whirl around the dance floor before it was time to cut the cake!

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In keeping with their nicknames, the cake topper featured a moose and goose. So cute!

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After the cake cutting, everyone gathered for grace after meals. This is a uniquely Jewish custom practiced in more traditional circles. Although there are prayers before the meal- over the challah, for example- everyone gathers together after the meal to be thankful for sustenance, and fellowship, and fullness. It’s lovely.

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This was a peaceful and spiritual way to wind down the night, and soon everyone was saying their goodbyes.

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The bride and groom had one last dance in the middle of the ballroom all by themselves. They were basking in the glow of the festival of lights, of good food and good friends, from dance-offs and shtick and toasts and prayers, and of course, in their love for each other.

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The future is so, so bright for this couple, and I wish you all the best!

Filled Under : Wedding

On Sunday, I photographed Suzanne and Richard’s wedding at the Prince George Ballroom in Manhattan. It’s an amazing space, an elegant early 20th century gilded ballroom in a historic hotel turned supportive housing community for the homeless. By choosing to have their wedding there, Suzanne and Richard were supporting this amazing outreach effort for people with HIV/AIDS or chronic mental illness. I mention this because I really think it speaks volumes about the bride and groom. They just have the biggest hearts.

You can see it in the way they treat each other with genuine tenderness, but also the kindness they show to their family and friends. Their friendships span decades, continents and generations. People came from as far away as London, and the groom’s oldest friend- since he was four years old!- gave a great toast. In fact, it was their friends that brought them together.

Their friends Adam and Margaret kept telling them they had to meet each other. They would have so much in common, they said. “They’re both so weird!” Margaret told me, but she meant it very lovingly. “They can both talk about anything, any subject. They have really diverse interests, and we knew they’d hit it off.” Suzanne and Richard finally met when she went to a show he was working on sound effects for. It wasn’t even their first official date, but it lasted for hours, moving from the theater to drinks to a conversation that just didn’t end. Their real first date was a few days later, and they never looked back.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. There’s nothing I love more than seeing couples whose weddings I photographed in recent years as guests at my current weddings. I photographed Adam and Margaret’s wedding in 2011, and it was so great to see them at Suzanne and Richard’s wedding last weekend. The bride and groom even got married under Adam and Margaret’s chuppah, which is just a really awesome act of kindness and generosity. Anyway, it was so great to see one of “my” couples three years into their marriage, still having a blast together, rockin’ a baby bump on the dance floor.

But back to the bride and groom! After a very sweet first look in the rooftop garden at the Prince George, we ventured over to the Flatiron Building for some of my favorite photos of the day. When we got back to the venue, guests were beginning to arrive. The bride and groom signed their ketubah, and then they embraced the Jewish custom of the bedecken, but with an egalitarian twist. Typically, the groom veils the bride, but Suzanne also took a moment to wrap Richards prayer shawl around him before the ceremony. It was a very sweet moment. Then it was time to get married!

Those amazing friends I mentioned? The ones who traveled the world to be there, who’ve known them for decades and set them up? They all participated in the ceremony as they took turns reading the seven blessings of marriage. Their parents and siblings surrounded them under the marriage canopy, and then before we knew it, they were off for a few moments of seclusion while the guests went to cocktail hour…. which included the most amazing sushi display I’ve ever seen. It was epic.

The reception was a blast. A klezmer band kept the dance floor hopping from the horah through the mezinka, a circle dance in which the parents of the bride were crowned with flowers and showered with love and best wishes upon the marriage of their only daughter. Richard performed two original songs for his bride, one with just him and his guitar, the second where he was backed up by fellow members of his band. I have to say, I heard a lot about Richard’s musical ability from his bandmates and during the toasts, but seeing him actually perform? It was a whole different side of him. He was so comfortable in his own skin while he played, and Suzanne just beamed.

I’ll end now with a quote from the couple’s ceremony program by Walt Whitman: “I give my love more precious than money. I give you myself before preaching or law. Will you give me yourself? Will you come travel with me? Shall we stick by each other as love as we live?”

So they shall! Mazel tov, Suzanne and Richard!

Filled Under : Celebration , Wedding

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!

Filled Under : Celebration , Wedding

Margaret and Adam got married at the Liberty Warehouse in Brooklyn on Saturday. We got lucky with quite possibly the best sunset over the East River that we could have hoped for, but it really doesn’t compare to the light that this couple shines on each other. Margaret’s bridesmaids were an unbelievable team of awesome, from the handmade gourmet truffles to their group toast to Maura’s spectacular belly-dancing performance, and the groomsmen were were so nice and funny. (Sorry we did get to meet in person, Phil! Hope that whole wife-having-a-baby thing is working out well for ya.) Their families made me feel so welcome appreciated, which honestly, means the world to me. It was truly a pleasure to work with you all, and I hope you like the sneak peek!

Filled Under : Celebration , Wedding

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