My son, Eli, asked Danya Bocarsly to marry him about a year ago, on a beautiful fall day in Central Park. The picture of Eli, on his knee, proposing to Danya, immediately found a place in our home and in our hearts.
She accepted his proposal, and the planning began.
Planning a wedding is a special mixture of joy and stress. We wanted to give Eli and Danya the wedding of their dreams. As a young girl, Danya grew up dreaming about her perfect wedding. It would be in the neighbor’s backyard, close family friends in their tight community in Yonkers. Following her desire to get married outdoors, but knowing the growing guest list would be too large to fit in a backyard, Danya and Eli chose to be married in a beautiful outdoor venue at a synagogue in White Plains during the Memorial Day Weekend at the end of May 2020.
But they had no idea that all would change so dramatically in the next several months.
New York was being overwhelmed by the pandemic. It became clear there would be no large wedding celebration, and in fact, plans for any wedding were questionable. With great hope, invitations were sent out, but a card was inserted indicating that the celebration might not happen as planned. The two months before the wedding were a roller coaster of emotions, and navigating a personal celebration during a time of great illness brought a tremendous amount of uncertainty. Was a wedding possible? Was it even right? Danya, a nurse, working in New York City, was most concerned that any personal celebration be safe, responsible, and not put anyone at risk.
The pandemic might have changed the wedding plans, but it did not cancel the wedding.
As the weeks went by, New York State provided the opportunity to file for a marriage license online, and as the severity decreased, New York began to phase in “New York Reopens.” Still, the large celebration would not be possible, but a smaller outdoor wedding for only the immediate family would.
All of a sudden, the dream of Danya’s backyard wedding turned into a reality.
With the help of their community, Danya and her family began planning a simple ceremony and celebration for the immediate families in their neighbor’s backyard. While in-person attendance was limited to immediate family, hundreds of family and friends were able to “attend” the wedding virtually.
On May 24, 2020, the date they had originally chosen before the onset of the worldwide pandemic, Danya and Eli were married in her neighbor’s backyard, on a magnificent spring day, under sunny blue skies. While only their immediate families were present, the service was live-streamed to their greater family and guests. It was a beautiful day, different than we had originally planned, but it was more wonderful than we could ever have imagined.
The world has been shaken by this pandemic, but news of vaccine rollout means the end of this public health crisis is in sight. Looking toward a post-pandemic future, it is important that we learn from all that we have gone through. There are so many lessons that we will have to sort through in the coming months and years, but as we recently celebrated the six-month anniversary of Danya and Eli’s wedding, I learned that love cannot be deferred. Over the past months, there were many joys that continued to surround us. New babies were born, birthdays were celebrated, and even love sanctified. All these celebrations were distinctive this year, but no less special and perhaps even more so.
Enveloped in love, Eli and Danya were wed in a smaller celebration amplified online by the love of those who are part of their lives. In a most difficult time, we were able to celebrate, and in that celebration, to affirm love. Not even a pandemic was able to stop that. Brought to its most basic elements, this wedding was simply special. In its simplicity, we were able to focus so clearly on the love between Danya and Eli, and understand the true joy of their marriage.
It presented us with a deeper understanding of love and life and gave us memories, in a very unusual year, of a truly special day.
Joshua S. Finkelstein is the rabbi of the Montebello Jewish Center, an egalitarian Conservative synagogue in Suffern.