This is part ONE of a series this week on Orthodox Jewish Weddings. Please come back for more!
If you are a follower of mine on Instagram you may have seen an image I posted this week from the first Orthodox Jewish wedding I had ever shot. I had photographed plenty of modern Orthodox weddings but definitely not a Hasidic one. I am dedicating this week to some of the Chabad weddings I have done.
Little did I know just how much of a journey this wedding would take me on and what an impact on my life it would have.
I was hired to photograph both the daughter’s wedding (Elisheva) and her brother’s wedding (Dovie) within a month of each other. The daughter had told her mother that the one thing she really wanted a part of with the planning was to choose her own photographer.
After years in Brooklyn I came in to this process with so many misconceptions and ignorance and and curiosity about this group of people in black and white with big beards. My only social interactions were via the salesmen at B&H. I am not even Jewish. I am a former punk rocker, who at the time had platinum and hot pink hair (before everyone was dying their hair multi-colors). But I am respectful. I am considerate and I am curious and I like to learn. And here was a perfect opportunity!
Bracha (the mother of the bride) walked me through a crash course on what makes the Lubavitch movement different, what I can expect to encounter, how I should dress and behave and even gave me lessons on how to properly vocalize my ‘ch’s. Prior to the wedding day I agonized over just what to wear and should I do something special with my hair to be more respectful? (one acquaintance told me to wear daisy duke shorts… ha. right – to another friend reminding me to simply be myself, that’s why they hired me). Quick note here: while at this wedding, I was actually welcomed to the day by an older family member who said “thank you for bringing your blondie pinkiness here!” That instantly relaxed me!
So let me cut to the chase here. I was prepared for handling all of the moments of the day and the wedding photographically. I was prepared on how to interact with everyone and the gender differences and what my boundaries were and what allowances I was being given as a goyim. What I was not prepared for was just how incredibly intense and exhilarating the experience would be.
Here is what I remember from 4 years ago:
Insanity. In a good way. So many family members to keep track of for family portraits. The families are large, kids are getting married all the time – so they had the family formal format down pat. They approached it with a light attitude and happiness to be together.
Elisheva’s smile. As custom dictates, the couple won’t see each other for a week prior to the day. I simply can’t forget the moment her face lit up when I mentioned Berry’s name during her bridal portraits and asked if she was excited to see him. LIT.UP.
Intensity. The bedeken ceremony is where the groom is brought in to see the bride flanked by his father and father-in-law and he will cover her with her veil. The bride (kallah) and groom (choson) have not seen each other all week and have spent the day fasting and in prayer. A solemn melody is played by musicians during this procession. Everyone is packed around the bride. The anticipation is so high. The intensity on Berry’s face as he sees the woman he is about to wed after a long week is simply a moment that is forever etched in my mind. There were so many people in that room but I imagine he saw only her.
Small Details: During the chuppah ceremony it was the small details that were so immediately apparent. The tears that trickled down the bride’s face under her veil (fyi: the veil is an opaque veil and the bride cannot see out it, and others cannot see in it) so I was one of the only ones in attendance that was able to even see that! I saw how delicate her finger was as the ring was slipped on her finger and how she tried to hold it steady for him to slide the ring on. The way she held hands with her parents behind their backs during the ceremony. The overflowing chalice of wine during the blessings, how the drops were JUST on the edge of dripping off but never seemed to. And finally, the intensity of the smiles after the ceremony was completed and the bride’s veil came off.
The Singing and Dancing: Always singing and dancing. So much celebration and outpouring of emotion through song and dance. You are just caught up and carried away with it. The energy that comes forth from pure celebration is just infectious and intense.
The Party: WOW. Just WOW. I was NOT prepared for what I saw. Non-stop dancing. Acrobatics. The bride standing on a table as a group of GIRLS lift her into the air to see her groom on the other side of the room who is also standing on a table lifted by his guys. I felt like I was photographing a carnival. Action everywhere you look. Movement everywhere. Kids running around and playing with freedom. Men on each others shoulders. Men doing handstands and flips. Women doing jump rope with tied up napkins. This is a group of people that knows how to party.
And I was there. And my smile never left my face. And my eyes were on overload from so much action to capture. And there… in the middle of the action, a tender moment between two family members pausing to hug each other.
At the end of the night I said to Steven (my partner and second shooter) and Megan (my third shooter and assistant) “I think I want to be wed in a Jewish wedding!”
That day/night was just the beginning. Not only in wedding experiences, but experiences in my life as a result of having gotten to know this amazing group of people. One story is really chilling. One story is healing. What they all have in common is up for you to decide. I know what I choose it to be.
PLEASE come back to see the rest of this week’s stories and head over to my Instagram feed for more images and tidbits.
Elisheva’s smile when I asked her about Berry, she hadn’t seen him for a week at this point.
Father and Daughter. Photograph by Steven Fontas