We all know how overwhelming wedding planning can be. There are so many choices to be made, from color schemes to venues to symbolism and more — and so many vendors to choose from. Of course a wedding planner can be a huge help in sorting through everything that’s out there and focusing your vision, but what if you want to do a lot of the planning yourself?
Today’s couple, Bekka, a lecturer in international relations, and Benjamin, a musician and lecturer in music went for a wedding consultancy session with Smashing the Glass’s own Karen to help and advise with their Jewish wedding.
She directed them toward many of their fantastic vendors, from Smashing the Glass Recommended Vendor Once Upon A Paper, who provided the couple’s beautiful watercolor guest book, to Adams Photography, who captured all the emotion and excitement so exquisitely, to Smashing the Glass Recommended Vendor Prezola registry, which Bekka and Benjamin loved for its wonderful selection of gifts from different stores in the UK, as well as cash funds, Judaica, and charities, to The Wedding Gallery, the world’s first wedding department store, for the groom’s outfit.
All this freed up their time and energy to focus on the many DIY elements the pair incorporated into their wedding.
Bekka and Benjamin designed their invitations themselves and built their own chuppah, but music is where the pair really put their own stamp on the day. For one thing, their ceremony venue, Belsize Square Synagogue, was chosen because Benjamin is the congregation’s music director. So it was only natural that he arranged and composed pieces to be performed during the ceremony, performed by Benjamin’s quartet, bOYbershop, and three (!) choirs that he conducts.
We’ll leave it to Bekka, who looked beautiful in her ivory lace Kenneth Winston dress, to fill you in on the rest…
A Venue with History
Bekka, the bride, and Benjamin, the groom: We got married at Belsize Square Synagogue. We chose it as Benjamin has worked there as musical director for 12 years.
The evening was at the Liberal Club (1 Whitehall Place). Bekka found the venue online. The venue had a small personal connection as Benjamin’s grandfather was a member of the Liberal Party, and Bekka’s father is fascinated with William Gladstone.
Mainly, however, we just loved the venue when we saw it. We also loved the idea of a dusky double decker bus ride through London from the synagogue (particularly for our international guests).
An International Wedding
The wedding incorporated American, British, and Jewish traditions (Bekka is American and Benjamin is British). We think we had a romantic vintagey style 🙂 Our wedding colors were ivory, grey, and blush pink with lots of greenery.
We planned the wedding ourselves and had a wedding consultancy session over Skype with the wonderful Karen at Smashing the Glass.
One of my favorite parts of the wedding was designing decorations and looking for items to order from the many talented vendors on Etsy. We got ribbons from Pompom Blossom (UK); menus, thank you cards and table numbers from L’Atelier d’Or (UK); a watercolor guest book from Once Upon A Paper (Romania); and a hand-knitted shrug for Bekka to wear in the synagogue from Lila Laine Tricot (France).
Invitations Designed by the Couple
We designed the invitations ourselves. Benjamin is a musician and is experienced at using different software for his concert programs and flyers. We included a quote we loved from Song of Songs and printed the invites on ivory cards with rose gold foil (Blush Publishing in Wales did a great job).
We wanted the invitations to be traditional but also joyous and slightly informal. We weren’t sure initially if we should spend money and time on paper invitations, but we both felt that this was one time in our lives when it would be special to send invitations by post, and one is now framed in our living room. Bekka did the calligraphy on the envelopes herself.
Hair + Makeup
I used Anita Warszawska for my hair and makeup. She was lovely and calming and offered a more natural look. I did a trial with her beforehand so that made getting ready on the wedding day easy. She was really talented and I learned a lot from the experience.
A Kenneth Winston Dress
Finding the dress was a nice memory as I went shopping with my sisters during a visit to the US. My youngest sister had just stepped off a plane from Israel, and we were lucky to find one that day (a beautiful ivory lace dress by a designer called Kenneth Winston). I don’t usually buy things on the spot but they gave me the confidence (kick!) to do it.
I loved its long train and low back. I managed to buy a sample dress, which is also a great way to save money rather than buying it custom made.
One of the biggest challenges was not showing it to Benjamin — I was excited to show someone but he was traditional about this and didn’t want to see it in advance.
A Simple Veil
I wore a sheer chapel veil for our more ceremony. The dress was quite detailed so I wanted to keep the veil very simple. I got silver filigree earrings from Jules Bridal (in Dublin), and wore a small pendant from my late grandmother and a silver bracelet from the groom. The synagogue board gave me a handkerchief as a “something blue.”
Freya Rose Shoes
I found a pair of satin ivory-colored shoes from a local British designer, Freya Rose. I wanted closed-toed shoes for the time of year and wore them all weekend (risky but at least this way I got more use out of them). I also love that they are dyable after the wedding so you can wear them again (I am having them dyed black to contrast with their beautiful mother-of-pearl heel).
The handsome groom
The groom looked really handsome in a charcoal grey suit and blush tie, which he bought from The Wedding Gallery (a new store also recommended by Karen). Dominic (the menswear consultant) was very helpful.
Bridesmaids in Blush and Grey
Bekka’s bridesmaids (her longtime friends and her sisters) looked beautiful in mismatched long and flowy blush pink and soft grey dresses. We also had a best man and four groomsmen including Benjamin’s ten-year-old nephew. We had two tiny flower girls (Benjamin’s 2.5-year-old niece and Bekka’s friend’s adorable fifteen-month-old daughter).
A Chuppah Built by the Couple
We wanted a natural romantic look and felt it would be sentimental to build the chuppah ourselves. We considered using live birch trees originally but scaled back to birch wood once we started researching. We ordered the structure from Decorative Birch, and built it with our wonderful synagogue caretaker, Gordon.
A Musical Ceremony
We found the ceremony very moving, partly because we invested a lot of ourselves in it. Benjamin is a musician and he arranged and composed pieces, including a piece from Song of Songs called “Matzati Et Sheahavah Nafshi” (I have Found the One my Soul Loves). This was the same text that we used on the wedding invitation.
We also included a piece composed by Bekka’s maternal grandfather, which the groom arranged for the violinist. The performers included Benjamin’s quartet, bOYbershop, and three choirs that he conducts (the Belsize Choir, the Zemel Choir, and Quorum). This made it even more personal for us and we had a thank you reception for them afterwards.
One of our favorite memories was the badeken. It was an intimate moment before the wedding ceremony. Bekka gave Benjamin a tallit (ordered from Gabrieli’s in Israel) and bOYbershop led him in singing Od Yishama.
Can’t Help Falling in Love
Our processional pieces were Dodi Li (groom) and Hariu Ladonai (bride). Dodi Li is a more American tune while Hariu is the traditional Belsize processional for brides. Our recessional included a mix of Siman Tov, Od Yishama, Y’varech’cha, and Choson Kale Mazel Tov.
Our florist was Achillea Flowers in West Hampstead. They did a wonderful job. We wanted a wilder natural look and used lots of silvery green leaves and seasonal local flowers. The florist had many great ideas including “wands” for our very young flower girls. We used lots of candles (the more the better!) and soft ivory and blush flowers for our table centerpieces.
The mirrored plates belonged to Whitehall. We rented Chiavari chairs (originally designed by the great-great-grandfather of one of the bridesmaids!) from iAM Wedding Hire and silver candle holders from Weddinghire. Bekka picked up pink and grey dinner candles from Tiger (which has great deals). Bekka and Benjamin’s cousin handwrote place cards.
Our fabulous Photographer…
We used Adams Photography (recommended by Karen!). We love that he tells a story through his pictures and he was very knowledgeable about Jewish weddings. He was so friendly and easy to work with.
The videographer was a friend of the groom — Imotion Films.
A Homemade Cake
Benjamin’s mother and sister baked a beautiful tiered cake, which we decorated with fresh flowers. It had one layer of fruitcake in the British tradition and two layers of chocolate for the Americans (we both have a serious weakness for all things chocolate).
The Royal Horse Guards Hotel, which manages the Liberal Club, catered the dinner. We thought the food was delicious and they were very sensitive to our guests’ complicated health and religious restrictions.
A Live Band
Our band leader was Daniel Benisty, who combined songs from two of his bands, The London Swing and Soul Band and The Simcha Band. He invited Angela from the Brooklyn Shakers to sing with them. We loved the energetic Jewish dance music before dinner as well as the jazzy soul music later on. The soul music was so engaging and reminded Bekka of home a bit. It was also fun to hear them play at one of their performances before the wedding and gave us an excuse to go out.
We got Yair Emanuel silk pomegranate kippot from Israel. We loved the colors and that pomegranates are a Jewish symbol. They matched an early wedding gift we got from our retired rabbi (a pomegranate challah cover by the same artist). Bekka’s sister transported them from Israel for us.
We loved the speeches and readings at our wedding. Both of us spoke and we are proud that we had slightly more speeches from women than from men! We also had lots of poetry. Another highlight was having help from so many members of the Jewish community, particularly given Benjamin’s longstanding involvement. We had two rabbis, two cantors (Paul Heller and Robert Brody), and lots of musicians. Benjamin created a personalized order of service using Davka.
Bekka’s brother and cousin sang in the evening. Benjamin sang Bekka a beautiful Ladino song (Durme, Durme) during dinner (this was the most sentimental part of the wedding for me).
We had a number of pre-wedding gatherings. As we had a lot of international guests, we had a Shabbat dinner and invited all our guests to our aufruf. Bekka’s friends threw her a wonderful bridal shower on the Thursday night.
Bekka also really enjoyed going to the Central London Mikvah through the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue. She had never been and went with her sisters and our cantor’s wife and it was a wonderful experience.
Another highlight was the bus ride between the synagogue and Whitehall. We provided shortbread made by Benjamin’s aunt from his Scottish grandmother’s cookbook. We had two “guides of honor” (Benjamin’s university friends) providing a commentary along the way. Two of Benjamin’s friends drove us to the venue in their Maserati, which was a chance to unwind and let us get to the evening venue faster to greet the guests.
We recommend Prezola registry – it has a wonderful selection of gifts from different stores in the UK, as well as cash funds, Judaica, and charities.
Advice to couples currently planning their wedding
We organized the wedding ourselves, although we are grateful that a number of friends and family helped. We would recommend some down time/rest time for the couple before the wedding (this can be hard when lots of people you haven’t seen for a long time arrive). Also, try not to allow others’ visions to undermine your own, find people you trust to work with, and make sure anyone involved is clear on your plans in advance.
A small tip might also be to order things a bit more generously to allow for mishaps — Bekka ran out of envelopes due to calligraphy blunders, and we had forgotten to count a few of the musicians who wanted kippot and programs. That said, I think one of our good ideas was having a wedding website and a joint wedding email address. Doing more groundwork in the beginning saved us work later on! An order of service was also helpful for the non-Jewish guests and a lovely keepsake for guests to take home.
Bekka & Ben’s little white book
Photography – Adams Photography
Gift registry – Prezola
Guest book – Once Upon A Paper
Groom’s attire – purchased at The Wedding Gallery
Videography – Imotion Wedding Films
Venues – Belsize Square Synagogue and Liberal Club
Bride’s dress – Kenneth Winston
Bride’s shrug – Lila Laine Tricot
Bride’s earrings – Jules Bridal
Bride’s shoes – Freya Rose
Hair + Makeup – Anita Warszawska
Food – The Royal Horse Guards Hotel
Flowers – Achillea Flowers
Bands – Daniel Benisty with The London Swing and Soul Band and The Simcha Band
Tallit – Gabrieli Tallit
Kippot – Yair Emanuel
Chuppah structure – Decorative Birch
Canopy for chuppah – Silk Centre
Ketubah – Danny Azoulay framed by Abbey Road Framing
Invitation – Blush Publishing
Stationery – L’Atelier d’Or
Candles – Tiger
Ribbons – Pompom Blossom
Chairs – iAM Wedding Hire