It would have been a perfect Sunday wedding – a beautiful day, sunny skies, mild temperature.
And some things, indeed, went just as planned – the rabbi, the flowers, the chuppah.
So what was missing?
In the age of Covid-19, where gatherings in Teaneck cannot exceed 50 people (that was then; now, as of this writing, it’s 10), Rebecca Pollack and Michael Blank had to re-plan their nuptials to include a video camera. And they had 24 hours to do it..
Originally scheduled for Temple Emanuel in Closter, the streamed wedding took place in Rebecca’s parents’ Teaneck backyard.
The couple, who live in London and were headed back there on Monday evening, had some funny – and not so funny – stories to tell after the event.
“It was never an option to postpone,” said Rebecca, who grew up in Teaneck and went to Yavneh and then Frisch. With friends and relatives coming from overseas, it would have been impossible for them all to reschedule, she said. In the end, of some 250 invited guests, only 14 actually were at the wedding, “plus a few hundred on Zoom.” That is — they watched on streaming video.
The bride, a Ph.D. candidate in art history at the CUNY graduate center, met her new husband while working on her dissertation in London. Michael is a doctor who is training in the area of infectious diseases – which is “ironic,” he said.
The couple had been “going back and forth” since Thursday, unsure what to do about their upcoming wedding. “All week, people were canceling,” Rebecca said. And then on Thursday, their rabbi, Nathaniel Helfgot, the religious leader of Teaneck’s Netivot Shalom, called to confirm that in accordance with New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s declaration, he could not officiate at a wedding of more than 50 people.
The couple’s final decision was made after Shabbat, when the bride found out that her makeup artist would not come. So sudden was the change in plans that the groom’s parents already had boarded a plane from London, anticipating the full celebration. “We canceled the band and the videographer,” Rebecca said, calling the videographer “a real mensch” for his understanding.
“We already had the chuppah and the flowers,” she continued. “The caterer brought over a few trays so we had something to eat.” Three of Michael’s friends already were there from London, and Rebecca had a close friend there, who had stayed with her over Shabbat.
“We were together Thursday morning when the rabbi called,” Rebecca said.
“We talked about it after Shabbat,” Michael added. “Neither of us wanted anyone to be harmed. That was our first priority. It was safest just to have parents and siblings and those who could Zoom.”
Rebecca’s friend, also named Rebecca, suggested the streaming and set it up for the couple. Some of those who streamed the proceedings clearly were not used to working with the system. “One funny thing is that lots of people had not muted their microphone,” Rebecca said. “So someone in the UK could hear someone from a different country. We received screen shots of the chat room, since we wanted to see what the chat was about. Most of it was people saying it was a beautiful wedding.
“There was a concentrated sense of joy and love,” she continued. Still, “We would have liked a normal wedding. My grandparents couldn’t come,” she said, adding wistfully that she would have liked to emulate their wedding, vividly alive in old photo albums. At least the couple had her grandparents’ wedding bands to use in the ceremony. They even got in some dancing after the ceremony, making use of the flower girl’s petals.
Feedback from the streaming was “only positive, outpourings of joy,” the couple said. “Some of those watching dressed up in their wedding outfits or made a l’chaim. They sent us selfies.”
Rebecca acknowledged that other couples planning weddings in the near future will face similar problems, but, she said, “It’s different for those who have more time to adapt.” And while the wedding “was stripped down” of its extras, it made her realize that what she wanted “was to be with those you love.”
She and Michael both understand why all this was necessary. “It’s difficult to know for sure what will happen, but in hindsight, when we look back at how the epidemic turns out, no one will say measures were too light,” Michael said. “We won’t look back and say, ‘if only we hadn’t done that.’” At any rate, “we’ll have decades together,” they both said. “Even when crazy things happen in the world and people are self-isolated, what overcomes everything is love.”
While her parents, Mark and Ilene Pollack, certainly will lose money in the end, Rebecca said, she knows that “all of the vendors will struggle right now. Who knows how long it will go on?”
Rebecca and Mark both were eager to acknowledge vendors who “showed up and saved the day, including Dalsimer, Spitz, and Peck Floral Designers, who provided the chuppah and a house full of flowers. And Northern Valley Affairs worked with us to make sure we had a beautiful cake and food to eat after the chuppah. And, hey, we at least got to eat and have l’chaims with our family, even though it was our own wedding! The videographer was supposed to be Amir Goldstein of Creative Image Productions, who we were devastated we couldn’t use.”
One vendor who did show up in person was so moved by the ceremony that he reached out to offer his comments. Photographer Frank Ammaccapane, the owner and director of Natural Expressions, said that “this was more than just a wedding in Teaneck. They always say a bride brings good luck to people. But it was really special to see how much joy this bride and groom brought on this wedding day. Everyone in the park” – some photos were taken at Overpeck County Park – “stopped to say mazel tov. All races, every ethnicity. It was wonderful to see that. It made me feel great.”
Mr. Ammaccapane found that to be particularly true after he came back from a mass on Saturday night and thought about how the church was being shut down; he was watching the news and he heard the word Teaneck. “I called my other photographer and told him not to come,” he said. “I told my assistant to stay home.” But because he knew how special the day was to the couple, he felt he had to go, especially since “the woman was going through hell.
“I have a friend whose parents survived the concentration camps,” he added. “He said that weddings were especially important to Jews, who try to celebrate, no matter what.”
Brenda Sutcliffe – a cousin of Rebecca’s dad, Mark, and a longtime member of the Jewish Standard staff – was among those watching the wedding from afar.
“My husband streamed it so we could watch,” Brenda said. “It was a little complicated, but he worked it out. I felt like I was sharing their simcha with them. I’ve known Rebecca her whole life. I was glad to have the livestream option given the circumstances. It was a breezy blue-sky day.”
“Rebecca looked beautiful,” she added. “I particularly enjoyed watching Michael look at her so adoringly. So in love.”