Jewish City Chic Weddings / Jewish Garden Weddings

Sara & Ben | Gloriously Colourful and Creative Jewish Wedding, California, USA

PASADENA JEWISH WEDDING 62Sara is a true Smashing The Glass bride – she did it her way (to paraphrase old blue eyes). For Sara, this meant a traditional Jewish ceremony with some of her and Ben’s own egalitarian touches added in. It meant a beautiful home-made chuppah, created by her mother, that integrated small pieces of her and Ben’s past, and it meant listening to her instincts when she felt weird, alternate pressure to create something quirky and cool, and needed a middle ground. Ben was great at helping her to acknowledge when she needed to relax and let it go, and he did much of the work, making a lot of small details happen.

The end result is a wedding full of personality, astonishing detail straight from the heart, intimacy and gloriously magnificent colour. What could be be more perfect?
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The gorgeous couple first met in Israel whilst Sara was living there and Ben was visiting on holiday. She was taking classes in Jerusalem, and while Ben was in town he wanted to sit in on a class, since he had attended the same school a few years earlier. One morning in January, Sara walked into her usual class and Ben just happened to be sitting next to her regular seat. They struck up a conversation and ended up being chevruta (study partners), but spent most of their study time chatting and getting to know each other. By the end of that day’s class, they had exchanged emails and after Ben returned to the US they started getting to know each other first on email and Gchat, and then long hours over the phone. Several months later, when Sara arrived back in NYC, Ben was waiting for her at the airport with a bouquet of flowers. That was three and a half years ago…. I’ll now hand over to the lovely Sara to tell the story of her and Ben’s wedding day from June earlier this year.
PASADENA JEWISH WEDDING BVENUE + LOCATION
Sara, the Bride: We were married in Pasadena, California, which is a city in Los Angeles county. I’m from the Pasadena area, and although I moved to New York City seven years ago, I still feel very connected to Southern California. My family and many of my dear friends still live there.

Ben is from the Bronx, and likewise, feels very connected to his city, NYC.  Since we both live in NYC, and our lives are anchored there now, I really wanted a wedding that would change the centre of gravity a little. California is such a huge part of who I am, and therefore it felt like an authentic place to officially declare our love. In addition, I wanted my family to feel connected and involved. The fact that I live in NYC often means they can’t be involved in the details of my life, and I wanted to change that.
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I’m very lucky that Ben was so willing to go along with this—after all, it wasn’t only my decision! But he recognised how important this was to me. We compromised a little by having his family’s rabbi, who is based in NYC, fly to California to officiate the wedding.

We chose Castle Green, which used to be a hotel but is now part artists’ colony and part public housing for seniors. It’s beautiful and easy to fall in love with; but we also really liked that the money went back into the maintenance and repair of this historic landmark.
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A NEW YORK CITY / CALIFORNIA THEME OF SORTS
In broad strokes we set out to dedicate the wedding to both CA and NYC. We also met outside of these cities—we met in Jerusalem—and since we love to travel, we wanted that story to show. Our invitations brought it all together—they featured a quote from Shir haShirim (Song of Songs) that alluded to geography and movement (“Arise, my love, my fair one, and let us go away!”), and contained illustrations of us in Jerusalem, New York, and Pasadena.
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BRIGHT SUNNY COLOURS
As for colour, since we didn’t have bridesmaids or groomsmen, and since I didn’t want to be a demanding bride, there was no specific scheme. Instead we just encouraged people to dress for the bright, sunny California weather, and as for flowers, I picked a lot of bright reds, yellows, pinks, oranges and greens that would work well with the Castle Green interior.

A friend of mine from junior high, who now runs her own graphic design business, created the invitations for us. It was wonderful to work with her—she’s an amazing artist, but also it was a great opportunity to reconnect as friends. I valued that process.
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THE DRESS
My dress is by Dolly Couture, a boutique shop in LA and NYC that specialises in short, vintage-style dresses. I actually saw the dress first when I was looking at photos of a friends’ wedding on Facebook. It was so stunning, and so true to my style, that I wrote to her and said, “some day when I get married, I’m going to ask you where you got that dress, because I want to wear it too!” And I did!

I didn’t want to go to a lot of stores or try on a lot of dresses. To me, that sounded more painful than fun. And I certainly didn’t want to spend a lot of money. So I went to Dolly Couture and tried on several dresses, and determined that this was the only store I’d go to. I ended up picking the dress my friend wore, because it was just so perfect for me. And when everyone saw me wearing it, they agreed—“that dress is so Sara!”
PASADENA JEWISH WEDDING DRESS
THE VEIL
As for the veil, I went to a wonderful, tiny store in the East Village of NYC. I described what I wanted to the owner and she custom-made it for me—and it wasn’t very expensive. Again, I loved working through the creative process with someone, as opposed to ordering something mass-produced.

SHOES
Oy, shoes. Shoes and I are not best friends. I normally wear orthotics, and I suck at walking in heels. But I bought some nice heels at DSW, a big chain (this was not one of my local, custom orders) – too bad they kept sinking into the grass during the ceremony. I changed into flats for dancing.
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FAMILY JEWELLERY
My jewellery was from my mum and grandmother. My engagement ring was actually a ring that I inherited when my grandmother passed away, as is my wedding ring. Initially, I thought I’d get some funky jewellery off of Etsy, but in the end I went with a few pearls from my mum. I wish my grandmother could have seen me – she passed away several years ago – she would have been so happy to see her jewellery on me that day.
WEDDING MAKE UP
HAIR & MAKE-UP
My hair and make-up artist was Kelly Zhang. She has a beauty store in Pasadena and I found her via Yelp. I fell in love with all the makeup and hair photos on her website – she was friendly and fun.
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THE BADEKEN
My favourite part of the ceremony was definitely the badeken. Ben didn’t just veil me, I also helped him into his kittel. But before we did any of that, our rabbi led us in a guided ritual, in front of our guests, where we looked into each other’s eyes and envisioned our future together, all the good times and bad ones. It was an incredible moment, and we cried so much. Many guests afterwards told me they’d never seen a badeken like that, and many said they thought it was the most moving part of the day.
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A QUILT DESIGN FOR THE CHUPPAH
My mum loves to quilt, so she made a wonderful chuppah for us! And now she is turning it into a quilt for our bed. She even integrated some small pieces of our past, like my uniform from high school, and a bed sheet that Ben loved. It was a lot of fun to pick out the fabrics with her, and to see the process unfold. And it was an incredible labour of love. I can’t wait until the quilt is done so that we can see it every day.
QUILT CHUPPAH
THE CEREMONY
I come from a mixed family, and many of the people in attendance weren’t Jewish. Ben comes from a very Jewish, NYC-based world; only a couple of his family’s guests weren’t Jewish. So in many ways this was a bicultural wedding. We both tried very hard to be sensitive to that. We wanted his family, and everyone coming from NYC, to have a positive impression of the Jewish world outside of NYC. But we also wanted the non-Jews in the audience to feel comfortable, to witness how beautiful the Jewish ritual is.

The rabbi was fantastic, and explained every part of the ceremony to the audience. We also included programs that gave very brief explanations of each component of the ceremony. And there are some elements (dancing the hora, lifting the chairs) that don’t need any explanation, they’re just so much fun for everyone involved.
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OUR WAY –  A TRADITIONALLY JEWISH YET EGALITARIAN SERVICE
We put a lot of thought into the kind of Jewish wedding we wanted. Ben is more observant than I am, but we both value tradition. So to start with, we didn’t want to exclude any parts of the Jewish ritual—we wanted a badeken, we wanted yichud, we wanted a (relatively) kosher ketubah. Within that, though, we embraced egalitarianism. We chose a ketubah text (by Rabbi Gordon Tucker) that is halachic but also acknowledges partnership. We circled each other, but first I circled Ben three times, he circled me three times, and then we circled each other. At the badeken, he veiled me, and I helped him put on the kittel. During the ring ceremony, he didn’t just say “at mekudeshet li” (you are consecrated to me) – I also said “atah mekudesh li” back to him, and gave him a ring as well.

For some people, these choices are subversive and untraditional. For others, they’re boring and not particularly progressive. There’s just so many streams of Judaism and perspectives on what is the “right” way to do things. We recognised that we couldn’t make everyone happy, but we could make ourselves happy, and that’s why we made the choices we made.
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MUSIC FOR THE CEREMONY
I walked down to “In My Life” by the Beatles. That song has incredible resonance for me, and it fit the overall theme of the wedding. I have traveled a lot, and lived in many cities, in the US and abroad. There were good times, and painful times. It was those travels that led me to Ben, I think. So the lyrics speak volumes to me.

Ben chose “Northern Sky” by Nick Drake. Nick Drake is one of his favourite singers, and it’s a song that he’s loved for a long time. Furthermore, we went to Iceland about six months before the wedding, for my birthday. We were hoping to see the Northern Lights but it was too cloudy when we were there! But still, it was a wonderful trip, and now “Northern Sky” has a new meaning for us both.
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PRETTY, BRIGHT, COLOURFUL FLOWERS
Initially, I wanted my mum to do the flowers, as she loves to garden. But she rightfully pointed out that she had enough to do already, and that it would be best to hand this over to a florist. Our florist, Flowers by Leah, did an absolutely incredible job of putting together my blurry vision—colours! bright! pretty!—into a stunning display.

She did a wonderful job of decorating the chuppah and creating a beautiful design of coloured petals down the aisle. Aside from flowers, the venue was so gorgeous that we didn’t have to do much decorating. I was grateful for that, because even figuring out where the flowers should go was a lot of work!
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I’VE NEVER WANTED BRIDESMAIDS….
It’s an honour to be one, but it’s so expensive, and I didn’t want to ask my friends to put down that kind of money. (My friends threw me two bachelorettes though, one in NYC and one in CA, which was so sweet, and I loved them.) Furthermore, I think picking bridesmaids can be very political. I have a group of very dear friends in California, who of course I would ask to be my bridesmaids. But I have friends in NYC that I’m very close to. I felt like either I need to have 10+ bridesmaids, or none at all. Ben has a more close and tight-knit group of friends, and would have been happy to have groomsmen, so I’m grateful that he was willing to be flexible. Instead, we were able to honour our closest friends in other ways. We asked some of our friends to read the sheva brachot, and others to give speeches at the dinner. That way, they could play a role without having to spend lots of money on matching dresses. It worked out really well.
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THE HANDSOME GROOM
I think black suits are boring, and I told Ben, please don’t wear one. Obviously that was his choice to make, not mine, but luckily he agreed. We went to Macy’s one day and he found a great suit. He picked out a shirt that was pinkish-salmon, to match all the colours that would be in the flowers. And his tie was kind of funky—green and pink. I loved it. I think a black suit with a white shirt is so boring, and it’s a shame that men don’t get more opportunities to show their personality in formalwear. Ben was really happy with his look, and he looked great!
PASADENA JEWISH WEDDING GROOM
OUR INCREDIBLE PHOTOGRAPHER
Our photographer, Cherry of ByCherry Photography, was just amazing. Not just because she took incredible photos, but because she was so enthusiastic about the entire wedding. From the first time we met her, she was so excited to hear about our plans, and her excitement was infectious! And she returned the photos to us really quickly, which was great. I’ve heard of people waiting months and months to get their photos – we had ours within a couple weeks.
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DESSERT BAR + A SPECIAL CAKE TOPPER
Ben and I love dessert, so we decided to have a dessert bar, and just a small cake. I wanted to pick something with connections to my family and my past, so we bought a small cake from the Chinese bakery I grew up going to. It was red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting and we bought a little Etsy cake topper for it. The cake topper was a wooden replica of the two of us, with Ben opening his suit to reveal a Yankees jersey underneath.
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FAVOURS
We incorporated baseball into this one. Ben loves the Yankees, and I come from a Dodgers family, so our favours were M&Ms with the Yankees and Dodgers logos on them. We didn’t anticipate how much time it would take to box them all up, or that we’d run out of M&Ms. The favours ended up being pretty stressful for those reasons! So for those guests who had a lot of jelly beans in your boxes, now you know why!
WEDDING FAVOURS
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DOING THINGS OUR WAY
Because I buy a lot of independent products and shop at a lot of local businesses, I initially gravitated towards Pinterest and rustic-chic wedding blogs for inspiration. But that created a totally different kind of pressure. Sure, I didn’t want a Bridal Industrial Complex wedding. But I also didn’t have the time to DIY—to make everything for the wedding—nor am I crafty enough to do so. We aren’t hip enough to hold our wedding in a barn and drink out of mason jars. I felt a weird, alternate pressure to be totally offbeat and funky, and I needed a middle ground.

I think that’s what we got: a middle ground. I really made an effort to support local business, to avoid mass-produced products, and to not be extravagant. Those are things I dislike in weddings. At the same time, there were moments when we had to prioritise our sanity over everything else, and buy from chain stores, or just say: “I know this is traditional, I know it’s not cool or funky, but I’m OK with that.” Ben was great at helping me to acknowledge when I needed to relax and let it go. And he did a lot of the work, making a lot of small details happen. It would have been hard without that.

We got a lot of positive feedback from guests about how different and unique (and fun) our wedding was. So I feel like we succeeded.
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SOME WONDERFUL ADVICE TO OTHER BRIDES
People gave me a lot of advice ahead of the wedding. I got kind of tired of it; it was very redundant. The biggest one was: “Don’t worry about the details, because on the day of the wedding, you won’t care.” Well, that’s true, but I feel like I heard it from so many different people that it lost its meaning. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but I feel like unless you have really unique advice to give, just skip it altogether. The bride is already inundated.

So here’s my unique advice: buy The Conscious Bride by Sheryl Paul. A friend gave it to me ahead of the wedding and it was exactly what I needed. Instead of talking about the planning process, it discusses the emotional process. You’re going through so many transitions in the engagement phase – becoming a wife, letting go of your single self, changing your relationship to your friends and family. That needs to be explored and discussed, but so often the expectation is that the bride will channel all that energy into the planning process. (Sorry to be so heteronormative, by the way; I’m speaking from my own experience, but I know there are many others.) This book helps to explore what’s really going on, behind the planning. It made me feel a lot better going into the wedding.
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SARA + BEN’S LITTLE WHITE BOOK
Venue – Castle Green
Photography – ByCherry Photography,
Bride’s Dress – Dolly Couture
Bride’s Veil – Bridal Veil Falls
Florals –  Flowers by Leah
Hair + Make Up – Kelly Zhang
Invitations and stationery – Fresh Baked Paper Goods
Rabbi – Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky of Ansche Chesed in Manhattan
Ketubah Design – Melanie Dankowicz
Ketubah Text – Gordon Tucker

Wow, wow, wow – what a wonderful wedding! So many glorious details! I loved the use of the brightly coloured flowers against the simple white backdrops. And that ombre floral aisle? I’ve never seen anything like that before – it’s phenomenal. I also hearted the custom-illustrated invitations with drawings of Sara and Ben in Jerusalem, New York, and Pasadena – the backdrop cities to their love story. And I just adored the quilted chuppah full of details of their past – and Sara’s exquisite bridal style…perfection! Hope you loved it as much as I did – let me know in the comments section below!


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