Are you ready for the cutest, countryside wedding? Well, then you are in for the biggest treat ever!
Jessica and Mark got married at Jessica’s family farm in Pennsylvania. There was plenty of food (it was Shabbat weekend), freshly picked flowers from the gardens, more delicious food, a wedding, and lots of happy guests.
A couple of my favorite parts of the wedding: homemade
jam maple syrup (!!) for the guests, Jessica wearing a blue butterfly wing that belonged to her grandmother, which by chance match the “something blue,” spending a little extra time for their yichud, and having the groom’s mother introduced the Ashkenazi tradition of the two mothers breaking a plate before the wedding. This symbolizes that something is being done which cannot be undone.
Jessica and Mark share their story with us, and they have so much wonderful information to share, so grab your cup of tea!
Tell us about the wedding!
We knew we were going to have a Jewish wedding, and that meant (for us) a traditional wedding. But even when you are having a traditional wedding, it is important to think about the traditions. At its best, a traditional wedding is not an excuse to just do things automatically — every tradition (large and small) is imbued with centuries of meaning, and also with the unique personalities of the families, and the bride and groom, who are celebrating.
We have a huge combined family! The farm, which belongs to Jessica’s family, was the perfect place — there were lots of kitchens for kosher food, plenty of nice walks for the Shabbat before the wedding, and people who were coming in from overseas could camp out for the weekend. It is a really special and wonderful place, and it was just the right place to do it (even if we did have to do extra work to get kosher caterers out there!).
Our families are really mixed and include orthodox, conservative, and non-practicing Jews, as well as non-Jews. So we wanted it to be a traditional ceremony, but we also wanted it to reflect the fact that we are both very engaged with Judaism and in a constant state of exploration.
There are a couple of examples: a woman immersing in a body of water (the mikvah) is a requirement of the Jewish marriage ceremony, but I (Jessica) decided that I was going to do the mikvah at a small lake up in the woods. It was magical — and (given that you are supposed to see something beautiful as soon as you exit the water) I got to walk back to the main area through fields just alive with birds and flowers. We also wanted to have the kabbalat panim (when the bride greets people) and tisch (men’s study gathering) beforehand, but we thought it important that there be learning at the women’s gathering too, so Jessica’s cousin gave a short dvar Torah.
What was the inspiration for your wedding?
The farm, our families, and us. We wanted something that was true to ourselves and who we are — and that meant being maybe a little less traditional than some in the family might have hoped for, and a lot more traditional than others would have expected. We wanted people to think, and smile, and dance a LOT.
What was the hardest part about wedding planning?
Remembering that it doesn’t matter. That as long as the bride, groom, and the food show up, the day will be perfect. Every other disaster, you eventually realize, is just something to laugh about afterwards.
For example, one of the particular challenges we faced was keeping a farm full of people (over 100 adults and 20 small children) fed through Shabbat, especially since it was summer and Shabbat didn’t end until almost 9pm. It was certainly an extra cost, and required more planning than we’d expected, but it was important to us that we created an entire weekend for our guests.
Sure, searching for kosher food in such a rural area wasn’t easy, but we contacted the local Chabad rabbi, and he was incredible, even on such short notice, and he personally found us kosher organic chicken and hot dogs for a bonfire cookout after Havdalah!
What was your favorite part of the wedding?
Well, we organized Shabbat services on the farm, including bringing along a sefer torah. And we took people on long walks for Shabbat afternoon.
We painted Mason jars to put candles in on the tables, and we made what turns out to have been one of our best decisions: NO FLOWERS. They are expensive and ecologically wasteful… Instead we put big bowls of fruit on every table! They were beautiful, and as the party progressed and people were drinking they were available for late-night snacks. The next morning there was only a tiny bit left over.
For the ceremony itself, Jessica’s aunt organized wildflower picking (with many of the kids in attendance) from around the farm. Not only did it let the kids to feel like they were helping in creating the wedding space, it was wonderful to know that every flower that surrounded us was picked with love by our friends and family.
Because we wanted to have something for people to listen to during the circling portion of the ceremony, we asked two of Jessica’s cousins to sing a modified version of Lecha Dodi (with ‘pnei shabbat’ changed to ‘pnei chat tan’) to the tune of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.
Perhaps best of all was that we made the chuppah frame ourselves — Jessica’s mother, aunt, stepfather, and Mark cut down the trees, stripped the bark, and built it with their bare hands. We still have a branch, and the frame itself is still on the farm, now living in a grove of azaleas and rhododendrons — we are going to put a bench under it this summer.
In addition to the chuppah, the canopy was hand woven by Jessica’s mother who weaves tapestries on a traditional Greek loom. She made the canopy from scratch and according to halakha. It had little threads of gold running through it, and is one of our prized possessions. It was made with so much love, and it was so wonderful having it over our heads during this special moment.
We, and our families, along with a spectacular MOH, actually did almost everything. We hung the lights on the reception tents, put together the fruit bowls, made the table cards — we even used little containers of the maple syrup that we make on the farm as place cards (one of the cousins filled specially-sized containers for us during sugaring season!)… It WAS all a lot of work, but it meant that every part of the wedding reflected us.
Oh yes! After a long hora, one of our friends performed a belly-dance for us! We’ve spent a lot of time in the Middle East, and that is where we met quite a few of our friends, so we knew there was going to be a lot of dancing to Arabic music. It was a perfect transition into a long evening of dancing, and drinking, and joy!
What 3 words of advice do you have for future brides/grooms-to-be?
Let. It. Go.
And for all the other Jewish couples out there, yichud (being alone together for a period after the wedding ceremony) is the greatest thing on earth. Our yichud room was right near the reception tents, and for the two us to be together and laugh and relax, and hear everyone enjoying themselves outside, was wonderful.
Thank you to the very talented Two Sticks Studio for the photographs!