Madeline and Alex met through their shared Jewish faith and, after a long friendship, their romance began followed by a beautifully planned literary proposal.
As a wedding planner, bride Madeline had a real head start and the couple had no problems planning their perfect day. From the breathtaking location with its stunning autumnal colours to the grand entrance made by groom Alex on the couple’s boat, affectionately dubbed the ‘Oar Vey’.
Their ‘book of love’ theme was captured by photographer Ben Keeling and incorporated a plethora of literary and library-related details, to celebrate the couple’s shared love of reading and, of course, their unique proposal.
We adore the idea of having themed ID badges to help the wedding party stand out so that people knew where to direct their questions — that’s definitely an idea to steal, especially for festival-themed celebrations!
We’re also totally in love with incredible Smashing Supplier, Ink With Intent’s beautifully crafted Ketubah and the couple’s ‘Tree of Life’ Chuppah, onto which they sewed personal materials, packed with meaning and memories.
Madeline and Alex wrote a beautifully eloquent account of their wedding planning journey, so we’ll hand over to them to tell you all about it! Enjoy!
How we met
Madeline and Alex, the bride and groom: Alex sat on the interview panel when Madeline applied as choir director at our synagogue. He rolled his eyes and asked snide questions, showed up late for the first rehearsal, and convinced Madeline that he hated her. However, we quickly formed an unconditional friendship. Four years later, in an ironic twist, the friendship went on hiatus when Alex thought Madeline hated him. Convinced Alex was angry with her, Madeline avoided temple for the next two years.
Alex finally called on 25 September, 2015 to let Madeline know a mutual friend had suddenly passed away. He didn’t expect her to answer, and she nearly didn’t. During the brief conversation, she felt prompted to ask him to meet. He told her to call back in an hour, after Erev Shabbat services. She drove to temple and stood in the sukkah as a cold rain began to fall. Alex stood next to her with his arms crossed as she apologised for ending their friendship. He brushed the apology aside, then gave the greatest impromptu, heartfelt speech a man has ever made.
“I had to stop looking for you. I wanted you to be there. I wanted you to be there so bad, and you weren’t. So I had to put it away. I had to put all that in a box, and put it up on the shelf, and close the door. Because I couldn’t keep looking for you anymore.”
After a few minutes of uncertain conversation, we parted. Alex’s final words were, “Call me every five minutes.” Four months later, on a trip to meet her mother in Washington, DC, Alex visited the Library of Congress with Madeline. Having made almost a full circle of the mezzanine, he stopped her in her tracks.
“This is the place for questions, right?” he asked.
“No,” she replied, “This is a library. It’s a place for answers.”
“Yeah, but answers to what kind of questions?”
Madeline rolled her eyes and replied as if explaining to a child, “It’s the Library of Congress. It has ALL the answers.”
“So what’s the question?”
Madeline was thoroughly flummoxed. Her patience was wearing thin.
“The question is,” Alex paused and knelt, “The question is, will you marry me?”
Madeline was furious. The night before, Alex had faked her and her mother out in a busy restaurant. She thought he was pulling a similar prank. Then she saw the ring in his hand, quivering over her left fingertip.
“Oh!” she exclaimed, smiling and nodding, “Yes!”
Alex planned the perfect proposal, from the setting to the photographer who captured the entire event.
A stunning venue with personal meaning
We chose Natural Bridge State Park in Slade, Kentucky. Years before we started dating, we shared an incredible havdalah on the bridge that radically altered our individual perspectives and brought us closer spiritually.
Both of our birthdays are in September, and Sukkot has special meaning for us. Planning our date, we knew Natural Bridge would have spectacular fall color. We wanted our wedding to create both a physical and spiritual space that would invite our guests to recognize it as G-d’s time. Where better than on an island ringed by mountains?
A ‘book of love’ theme
Both bride and groom are Virgos and Madeline is a former wedding planner. Needless to say, we had no trouble planning our wedding! In all seriousness, G-d was so active in bringing us together and most of our choices really seemed like foregone conclusions, from the location to the theme and even Madeline’s ring.
Our colours were navy and pink — navy to bring out Alex’s eyes and pink because the first roses he gave Madeline were blush pink (he continues to give her flowers every Shabbat, as he has since they started dating). The Tree of Life has always been the theme of our relationship from a painting Madeline made Alex one Chanukah to a tapestry on Alex’s wall, and of course our in-depth Torah discussions. The theme of our romance was definitely ‘the book of love’ — again, the Torah, Madeline’s obsession with reading, and Alex’s proposal in the Library of Congress.
Everything about our wedding was so spiritual, but also totally us. We’re very tongue-in-cheek, and details like the program, the ID badges, a barefoot bride, and the Oar Vey reflected our sense of humor. There was a definite sense that this occasion had been a long time coming, and was only going to happen once, so why not celebrate in every possible way?
Our save the dates were library due-date cards complete with pocket! We stamped dates that were significant to us and included a photo of the moment Alex proposed in the Library of Congress.
Our pocket invitations continued the book theme; the invitation featured gingko leaves around storybook wording and the enclosure read like a magazine table of contents. A sticker with our tree, names, and date sealed the invitations.
A simple and elegant dress
Madeline wanted something simple, elegant, and affordable. After an agonizing search, she chose a design from ModBridal.com and sent her custom measurements. A local tailor created the bustle and did the final alteration. It didn’t need any support garments and she didn’t need help getting into it!
A Star of David wedding ring
The bride wore diamond stud earrings, a gift from the groom. Madeline surprised Alex with a handcrafted sterling silver cufflink and tie clip set featuring the Tree of Life (purchased from A Bella Gift on Etsy).
Family-owned Staples Jewelry crafted our rings. Alex’s is carved to look like sweet gum tree bark. Madeline’s engagement ring is Alex’s mother’s original band with a princess-cut solitaire diamond that belonged to a dear family friend. Her wedding ring is a white gold guard featuring four baguettes and six round-cut diamonds in the shape of a Star of David.
A barefoot bride
Madeline hates wearing shoes. An outdoor wedding was the perfect excuse to be barefoot! She got a pair of handmade lace barefoot sandals from Bulgaria on Etsy, Barefoot Shop. Although she purchased a pair of flats in case of gravel or inclement weather, Madeline did spend her entire wedding day wearing nothing but lace and a fantastic pedicure!
Alternate wedding attire
Alex insisted on not seeing Madeline in her dress before the ceremony, however, we were supposed to sign the marriage license on top of the bridge an hour before the ceremony! We came up with the idea of alternate wedding attire. Madeline wore a lace navy dress and Alex wore navy slacks and a bespoke shirt with mother-of-pearl buttons.
For the wedding ceremony, Alex wore a bespoke navy wool suit with horn buttons, brown oxfords, and a blush pink tie. His socks had black Labradors on them, a nod to his dog, Snickers. His arrival by rowboat created an opportunity for a truly special moment when Madeline’s father helped Alex with his suit coat, welcoming him to the family. Alex’s wool kippah was hand knitted by Madeline.
Bridesmaids with braids
We got pink ties for all the men: family, ushers, and the best man. Madeline’s Matron of Honour wore a sleeveless chiffon navy dress. Her hair was braided to tie in with a side braid in Madeline’s hair, and her bouquet had the same flowers and ribbon.
An Ink With Intent Ketubah
We wanted a ketubah that would reflect our wedding theme as well as our relationship. We couldn’t find an artist that offered exactly what we wanted. We wrote our own text, which was a beautiful process that involved both introspection and collaboration and really sealed our commitment. Adriana Saipe of Ink With Intent did a beautiful job of designing our text with the Hebrew translation.
Our Chuppah design
We knew we wanted a tree, but we couldn’t find a tapestry or Chuppah we liked. Finally, Madeline decided to make a fabric tree that combined a design they had seen with the style of lettering on the siddur their congregation uses.
The tree was created using scraps of fabric from both families: pieces of her mother’s dress, a dress her mother made when she was eight, handkerchiefs from her great aunt and Alex’s late father, the yarmulkes from Alex’s children’s b’nai mitzvoth as well as Alex’s, a costume Madeline made for Meg (her MOH), curtains from Alex and Madeline’s home, and fabric from Alex’s mother’s quilting stash. Madeline braided blessing bells for each corner using yarn in the wedding colours (Ballyhoo Fiber Emporium). She purchased the bells at Incahoots in her hometown of McMinnville, Oregon.
A precisely timed ceremony
We had been adamant that our ceremony would begin at 4:37pm, a time at which we’d shared a meaningful moment. When we ascended to the actual bridge at 3pm, we discovered our witnesses were late and we wouldn’t be able to sign the ketubah as planned. We signed the state certificate and took some portraits.
By the time we waited in line for the sky lift and descended, it was 4.15pm and we both needed to change. We arranged to have our witnesses meet us in the bride’s tent, and we signed the ketubah at 4:37pm. Alex left to get into position at the boat while the rabbi made an announcement. Guests continued trickling in. We found out at our reception that a giant piece of equipment had blocked the highway to the park, and if we had started on time hardly any of our guests would have been there.
We really struggled with the tradition of circling. Alex was ambivalent, our rabbi strongly suggested we include it, and Madeline was very anxious about being in the spotlight any longer than necessary. In the end, we decided to split the circles — three each, one together.
We invited family to recite the English parts of the Sheva Brachot (our rabbi recited the Hebrew). Each person read on behalf of a loved one who had passed away. Practically, it allowed us to involve family members without overwhelming them, but it turned out to be the most powerful moment in the ceremony. The loving presence of those not physically present surrounded us like an invisible tallis. Connecting with the readers in the sacred space under our chuppah was so intimate and truly drove home the meaning of each blessing.
The Oar Vey!
Our ceremony began with a 27-second shofar blast, signaling Alex to begin rowing to the island in a boat we painted navy and named the Oar Vey! John Williams’ Bugler’s Dream, more commonly known as the Olympic Fanfare, played as he rowed and took his place at the end of the aisle.
Madeline’s parents, Alex’s mother and daughter, and the attendants processed to Sheppard’s Geronimo.
Instead of having multiple attendants, Madeline chose to have some of her closest friends sing her down the aisle. Composer Zoe Blackwell arranged Leonard Cohen’s Come Healing, sung by Matron of Honor Meg Gusler, Krystal Gilbert, and Whitney Taylor with violin accompaniment by Josh Druin and Zoe on the accordion.
Our recessional was an excerpt from Vega 4’s Life is Beautiful with truly epic timing! “Stand where you are/we let all these moments/pass us by.” Alex smashed the glass in the ensuing pause, and we exited to the chorus: “It’s amazing where I’m standing/there’s a lot that we can give. This is ours just for the moment/there’s a lot that we can give.”
Florist Mike Reed provided bouquets, corsages, boutonnieres, and florals to surround the massive stone fireplace in the reception hall.
Madeline and Meg’s bouquets were wrapped by antique navy silk ribbon and Madeline’s sported a diamond-studded horse brooch that belonged to her favorite aunt.
The ivy curtain that delineated the ceremony space was collected on Alex and Madeline’s farm and hand wired by the women of both families. Stacks of books (some of which belonged to Alex’s late father) topped by vases of pink garden roses and wildflowers from the farm formed the centerpieces.
Our fabulous photographer
Ben Keeling was the one vendor Madeline insisted on booking. His photography not only tells a story, it’s art that we will cherish for the rest of our lives together.
Ben’s philosophy and personality set everyone at ease and enabled him to capture so many moments we were shocked and thrilled to see later! He seemed to be everywhere and shooting everyone, even though no one recalled seeing him. Ben offers unparalleled value and he (and his work) are priceless.
A friend did record the ceremony (we had to capture Alex’s infamous water voyage!) and we have a lovely video to remember the day.
A personalised canine cake topper
Our cake came from Sweet LiLu’s in Versailles, Kentucky. Having attended several weddings and 50th anniversary parties, we realised the cake topper was very important to us, but the cake design wasn’t.
We decided on a partly naked cake and insisted on having one layer of carrot (both our favourite!), despite resistance from family and friends. In fact, the carrot layer was more popular than the raspberry lemon or the chocolate ganache!
Our topper was custom created in Istanbul, Turkey. It’s us under a tree with Madeline’s Border Collie, Zeke, and Alex’s Labrador, Snickers, looking on.
The contract with Natural Bridge stipulated that they must cater the wedding. Normally, one wouldn’t expect great food from a state park facility, but the hors d’oeuvres and meal were phenomenal and the staff were very attentive.
Programmes with a purpose
We sprinkled the tables with navy and pink Hershey’s kisses, but the real favour was our wedding program. Titled ‘The Book of Love’: 36 pages explaining the ceremony and why we chose to marry on Erev Sukkot at Natural Bridge. It also contained Sudoku, a personalised crossword, a ‘parts of the horse’ word search, a sheep connect-the-dots, I Spy, and newlywed MadLibs as entertainment! The programmes were such a hit, we received thank you cards from guests!
Our card box was made to look like a giant book. Madeline gold-leafed the artwork on the front (a copy of the artwork on our ketubah) and stenciled our name and wedding date on the “spine” like real call numbers in a library.
As a nod to the momentous (one might even say Olympic) occasion, we created ID badges for the wedding party! Each sported the person’s name and title, a photo of them with the bride or groom, and any restrictions they might have (for instance, no men in the bride’s tent).
We hoped guests would direct their questions to people designated by badges. It worked! Every crisis was handled without our intervention and we were free to relax and enjoy each other. Some people wore their badge the entire day, even in pictures!
A special video
From the moment we saw the reception hall set up for a meeting, we knew we would use both the three-metre-long mantle and the projection screen!
We created an entrance video to Peter Gabriel’s The Book of Love. At the end, the screen lifted to reveal us in front of the fireplace! Photos of us from infancy to adulthood lined the mantle and met in the centre under Madeline’s tree painting.
Advice to brides and grooms currently planning their wedding
Remember why you’re binding your lives together, and make that the focus of your day. Make your decisions as a couple whenever possible. Everyone wants to weigh in, but this is about the two of you!
Don’t be afraid to ruffle some feathers – but be willing to delegate. If Aunt Ethel is really concerned with the placement and decoration of the gift table, let her be in charge of that so you can enjoy something else! Your wedding day goes so fast that you will not remember every detail. You’ll feel so much more relaxed if you choose not to micromanage.
Madeline & Alex’s little white book
Photographer – Ben Keeling
Venue and catering – Natural Bridge State Park
Ketubah – Ink With Intent
Bride’s dress – ModBridal.com
Bride’s sandals – Barefoot Shop
Jewellery – Staples Jewelry and A Bella Gift
Cake – Sweet LiLu’s
Bells – Incahoots
Yarns – Ballyhoo Fiber Emporium