Part TWO of my week-long series on Orthodox Jewish Weddings. Part One can be read here.
In part one I wrote about my introduction to the Chabad world. A tangent if I may. I will write this piece with my experiences but also with a small bit of information for my readers who may not be familiar with terms. “Chabad” is an Orthodox Jewish Hasidic movement (that’s from Wiki folks!). Chabad is also known as Lubavitch. It took me a long time to understand that as I knew of “Lubavitch” from the beginning and then suddenly I would hear some saying “Chabad” and well, I was just confused. So, for the uninitiated, you just learned quicker than I did! For my fellow NY’ers you may be most familiar with Chabad from the Mitzvah Trucks around town that have the face of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson on them. The Rebbe was a pretty amazing man by anyone’s background. You should look him up and know more.
I might add…. that explanation seems easy doesn’t it? But as I would soon learn, nothing really gets explained easily among Chabad!!
I was thinking about my last post and realizing how some other things have stood out in my mind aside from the wedding itself. Elisheva. Vibrant, forward-thinking, intelligent Elisheva. At our meeting she opened up about what the young Orthodox Jews face today. “We are young and live next to Williamsburg, we want to be hip too!” I will always remember that. It was the beginning of a bridge to empathy with a group of people I felt isolated from. She spoke about the challenges they face of holding to their traditions and religious beliefs while also being young and wanting to embrace a new world in NYC.
And Bracha strengthened the bridge as she told me it was “ok” as I struggled with how to use the “ch” to say her name properly. And we laughed together talking about I can just call her Barbara Anne (and segued into discussing the Beatles and the song Barbara Anne). She sang a little bit in her South African accent at that point (she’s originally from S.Africa. Yes. Chabad are around the world!). She didn’t mind that I would ask totally random questions and she answered each and every one as patiently as she could.
But meeting the women was one thing. I was a woman. Meeting the men had me nervous! They always seemed so serious. And honestly, some of my past dealings at B&H (way back in the day) weren’t so great. And while I knew of some of the boundaries around the sexes, there was still so much I didn’t know. I wanted to be regarded as professional and respected, even as an outsider.
By the end of the night I had gotten to know Berry. Berry was the perfect match for Elisheva. He has a way of folding his body in a certain way that empathetically mimics the person he is talking to (so he becomes smaller if you are smaller, taller if you are at his height, etc). He is warm and also very intelligent. And he was rocking the dance moves from atop that table like he was in a club.
And my favorite Berry moment? At Dovie and Noi’s wedding he spent his time in the hallway – an area where the men and women could mingle, because he wanted to spend as much time as possible with his new wife Elisheva.
Dovie and Noi.
At Dovie and Noi’s wedding I experienced the full NYC Chabad wedding experience. The wedding was held at 770 – the world headquarters of the Lubavitch movement (770 Eastern Parkway). I was prepped for this of course. This wedding would be slightly different. They would get married under a chuppah under the office of the famous Rebbe, wearing an article of his clothing. It’s a big deal.
And now I get to see this young couple that shyly gravitated towards each other at the first wedding finally get to be together.
And here I was standing on the sidewalk outside of the world headquarters. With my platinum and pink hair, standing out among the sea of black and white and best of all…. I am included. I am allowed to be there. I am part of it! That was super exciting after years of wanting to photograph this group of people but respectfully keeping my distance. It was a cool feeling. And after the chuppah ceremony, I was requested to go inside 770 to accompany the couple to the yichud room (a period of being alone after the ceremony). I was so hesitant because I was being given entry to something I never dreamed I would be given entry to. I wouldn’t normally be allowed to go here and here I was following in historical footsteps. Maybe it was in my head, but I definitely felt a larger presence in that hallway and office. And the office, dark wood and packed from floor to ceiling with books and other small objects that just felt magical. Old. Full of knowledge. That room always leaves me feeling like there are answers to mysteries as well as questions leading to new mysteries. And Earth. It felt earthy. OK, if you will allow me a moment to be nerdy Kristin…. I kept thinking of The Hobbit and Gandalf!!!
And at Noi’s wedding I kept hearing whispers of Noi’s mother arriving. Noi’s mother being a famous spiritual healer. What is a spiritual healer? I was so curious. More questions for later! I can say that she definitely had a calming and assured presence when I met her. At the reception I kept seeing women gathered around Mrs. H, seemingly paying respects to her. I was very intrigued by her! Could she read all the myriad emotions I was experiencing right then?
And Noi and Dovie. So playful. I was right! They were a blast to photograph. Dovid is a ham! They just played together for the camera. There is a calming aura to both of them too. As I felt “earth” in the Rabbi’s office, with Dovid and Noi, I felt the word “air.” There was a lightness to them, like a dandelion. Child-like and ready to be blown into the air to seek adventure or lifted up in spirituality. Fast forward… it’s no surprise to learn that Dovie has a successful mind/body emotional healing therapy practice! (Btw, if you want to capture some of his methods for yourself, check out this guide he created on mind-body emotional self-care! Dovid’s Guide.)
And then I met the “backbone” of the bride’s family – Mr. H. He arrived on the scene with laughter that originated from his whole being and seemed to boom outwards around him. Making jokes, putting everyone at ease and yet at the same time keeping our schedule and making sure things were running smoothly. He was like so many dads I have met at weddings that I further felt the “outsider” thoughts slip away.
At Noi and Dovie’s wedding, the light was more dim because we were between two buildings. I say this because it was here I “felt” the experience of the lamps that are carried by the parents. The couple is escorted to the chuppah by the mothers/fathers and mother-in-law/father-in-law as representative of emotional support as well as an “honor guard” of sorts because the bride/groom are seen as a king/queen during this time period. The lamps they hold during this escort represent the desire for love and joy in their relationship.
Light. This is one of my favorite concepts from their beliefs. Along the line I continue to hear more symbolic meanings of light in their faith. As a photographer, with light being a key element, I am really down with this one!
And this all brings to me to another aspect of Orthodox weddings I simply adore. I am a person who loves ritual. I love symbolism. I’ve always been drawn to anything that has “rites” to it. Indian weddings are great for this too! Every aspect of the wedding ceremony has a meaning behind it (actually everything has a meaning behind it in Chabad!). There are too many for me to go into here, so I suggest if you want to know more, go here: Chuppah Customs. One that I am intrigued by is that the chuppah needs to be under the heavens and unenclosed. As a lover of nature, and light, this is another I drawn to. I was confused recently by a wedding held in a wedding hall in Crown Heights wondering where the heavens would be until a dear friend pointed out that there should be a window it will be under. Sure enough… a skylight was directly above the chuppah!
And Noi led me to Leigh. Leigh is Noi’s twin sister. Leigh would go on to have an important place in my life. A fellow creative (a marvelous author) who was an open book (ha, see what I did there!) to me. Leigh was my next guide into the Chabad world. The first of several dear women I would eventually meet and become friends with.
Also at Noi’s wedding I met Chanie. Charismatic and cosmopolitan Chanie who spoke with conviction to me at that wedding: “someday you will be my wedding photographer. I just need the guy and then we will talk again.”
Below 2 images by Steven Fontas
Below image by Steven Fontas
Below image by Steven Fontas
Below image by Steven Fontas
That is the groom balancing between the two chairs!
And then Chanie met Uli.
Before I get to Chanie and Uli’s story, tomorrow’s post will be my “chilling’ experience. The story that continues to give me goose bumps to this day when I tell it.
Don’t forget to head to Instagram where there is a fun image of Noi and Dovie you won’t see here!!