THREE FACTS: (1) Jenna + Mat have known each other all their lives – they met when they were both one-year-old at a baby class! (2) Their relationship began at the University of Arizona in March 2012 (3) Mat proposed at Jenna’s parents house in December 2018
Judaism is a huge part of our identity – both for my fiancé, Mat, and for me. We not only grew up at the same synagogue, where we were bar and bat mitzvahed, but also attended Jewish summer camps (and worked as counselors), were members of our Jewish youth group USY, went to the Jewish day school or the synagogue’s Hebrew school, and so much more (I taught b’nai mitzvah class for 5 years!).
Growing up for me, I always remembered going to Shabbat dinner at my Bubbie and Grandpa’s house – I even learned how to bake challah from my Grandpa, who would bake two fresh loaves every other week. We always celebrated all the Jewish holidays as well, with the entire family getting together to eat good food and celebrate. For Mat, going to Hebrew school 3 times a week at the synagogue kept him connected in his daily life to Judaism – it is where he learned about our history, culture, religion, and it taught him the importance of his Jewish identity.
In college, I began going to our Chabad on Campus for Shabbat, holidays, and just to hang out. At the beginning of my sophomore year, I was helping introduce Chabad to new students walking by their tent on the mall, the central stretch of grass on our campus. Mat was a freshman, and happened to walk by while I was there – I enticed him to come by later than night for their Welcome Back BBQ (who can resist kosher food…and a cute Jewish girl?). A large portion of our good friends from college is from our time at Chabad – we still get together with these friends, from weddings to Shabbat dinners to New Year’s Eve ice cream bars.
Now that we live in NYC, we are members of a synagogue, I sing in the synagogue choir and read Torah and Haftarah, we have lead our own Passover seders, have Shabbat dinners, and I still bake a lot of challah (check me out on Instagram @thesabrabaker)!
When it comes down to planning our Jewish wedding, one thing is for certain – we will make sure it represents us and our Jewish identities. All aspects, from the aufruf, rehearsal dinner, ceremony, and reception, we have made sure are reflection of us as a Jewish couple.
Our aufruf, which is the custom of the bride and groom being called for an aliyah to bless the Torah, will take place at our synagogue back in Tucson, Congregation Anshei Israel. We plan to hold our aufruf a week before our wedding, as we have decided to read Torah as well as having the honor of an aliyah ourselves. We also want to honor our parents – to do this, we have planned for them to share the aliyah for the reading we will each do.
Mat’s mom is a Cohen, the tribe from which customarily someone is honored with the 1st aliyah, so he will take that 1st reading. My parents are Levites, the tribe from which customarily someone is honored with the 2nd aliyah, so I will take the 2nd reading. I am actually quite excited to be able to teach my fiancé his Torah reading!
As our wedding is taking place on a Sunday, our wedding rehearsal and welcome/rehearsal dinner would customarily take place on Saturday. However, our officiating rabbi is Orthodox and Havdalah in June in Tucson, AZ is late; plus, this would require us to hold everything after dark. Mat came up with a brilliant idea: have a Shabbat rehearsal dinner!
Shabbat has always been meaningful to us, so what better way to share a part of our Jewish life together than inviting our out-of-town guests and family to a big Shabbat dinner? And the best part is that it will be poolside! I 100% plan to bring my swimsuit to thrown on…after I get to wear my cute dress. Honestly, nothing sounds better on a warm early summer day than Shabbat by the pool!
While we plan to have a traditional Jewish ceremony (ketubah, chuppah, etc), we still found many ways to customize our ceremony to reflect us.
Starting with our ketubah, we found the most gorgeous print that reminds us of growing up in Tucson, Arizona surrounded by mountains on all four sides. We also plan to have a small and intimate ketubah signing and badeken, just for close family and bridal party. We also specially chose the music for walking down the aisle.
My summer camp, Camp Ramah in Ojai, California, has recorded quite a few CDs over the years (I am on one of them!). Their first CD happened to have some of my sister’s close friends singing on it and two perfect wedding songs: Dodi Li and Boi V’Shalom. Dodi Li will play as the last song before we will start the ceremony (I love this song and the soloist is one of my sister’s best friends, so I had to fit it in somewhere!).
For the actual processions, the groomsmen, bridesmaids, ring bearer, and groom will walk down to a slightly cut version of ‘Boi V’Shalom’ (in order to shorten it for time). I will then be walking down to a string instrumental version of a favorite Jewish song of mine – ‘Erev Shel Shoshanim’ (if anyone can find me sheet music for the choral harmony I know, please help), which will continue playing when I do the Seven Circles. I introduced our officiating rabbi in my last post, but he is very meaningful in our lives, especially mine.
I grew up with Rabbi Billy Lewkowicz – one of his sons attended school with me, from the Jewish preschool at my synagogue through 8th grade at the Jewish day school, and Rabbi Billy was the Judaic Studies Director at the Jewish day school and taught classes at Hebrew High. I love that someone so instrumental in shaping my Jewish identity will be a part of our special day!
During the Sheva Brachot portion of the ceremony, Mat and I plan to drape ourselves in his father’s tallit. Not only is this a way to honor his father, who passed a number of years ago, but it also incorporates that both of us will be draped in the tallit, as we both wear one in synagogue. Egalitarianism is extremely important to me in my Judaism, as I actively participate in things that formerly women were not allowed, such as reading Torah and leading services.
Directly following the Sheva Brachot, we will have a recording of my Grandpa, Cantor Charles Julian, chanting his Y’varech’cha, the Priestly Benediction. The recording is so special because not only is it the prayer my Grandpa would chant for every lifecycle event for all of us, but it is the recording of him officiating my parents’ wedding! I was always very close with my Grandpa, and I am grateful we have found a way to honor his memory and include him in our wedding.
Lastly, after Mat smashes the glass, we will walk back down to a more modern part of our Jewish lives as for our recessional. We will play a Matisyahu song, ‘I Believe in Love’, to get the energy up for the fun reception to follow!
Following our ceremony will be a cocktail hour, but then it’s time for the reception! While the reception isn’t as customized to our Jewish lives, we still have managed to put our stamp on it. Right after our grand entrance, we will jump straight into the hora – what is a Jewish event without it? I cannot wait to see my Great Aunt Leah give Rabbi Billy a run for his money dancing (they need to re-duel it out after their last time at my bat mitzvah)!
The hora is such an integral part of a Jewish wedding and I couldn’t imagine our wedding without it – it was a key factor in why we decided to postpone our wedding. I am already so pumped for being lifted in the chair (I may have called dibs though on a few certain strong guys…) and to have some energizing Israeli dancing with my new husband!
For dinner, while we do plan to offer meat entrees and our venue isn’t necessarily kosher (Mat and I only keep kosher-style as we call it), we will not be serving pork or shellfish (treif), nor will we have any dairy in the sides for the meat entrees. We also will offer sealed kosher meals for any guests who request one. Lastly, if you had to ask me how I would describe the vibe I envision for the dancing portion of the evening, I would say, “Like our bar/bat miztvahs.”
My former DJ fiancé who used to DJ many a bar and bat Mitzvah, as well as Jewish weddings, has ensured we will have exactly that. And I can guarantee my dancing has not gotten any better than 13-year-old me in 2005…but I will make sure I am out on that dance floor all night long!
Click here to read all Jenna’s planning posts to date.
Jenna & Mat’s Wedding Vendors booked so far:
Photography – Shelley Welander of She.We Studios
Videography – Tad of TS Cinema
Wedding venue – The Lodge at Ventana Canyon
Cake: Ambrosia Cakes
Hair: Sharon Walton (family friend & hairdresser)
Makeup: Amanda Nolan (freelance)
DJ: Fantastic Five Entertainment
Rabbi: Rabbi Billy Lewkowicz
Invitations: purchased, but not yet completed from Minted
Dress: Grace Loves Lace
Suits: The Black Tux
Florist: SavOn Flowers (not yet booked officially)
Ketubah: Susie Lubell on Etsy (shop name: SusieLubell)
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