On the one year anniversary of her wedding, as she and her husband prepare for a long awaited Ireland honeymoon, Ketuv artist Aliza Lelah shares all of the lovely handmade, personal details of her Colorado wedding.
The Chuppah: My mom made the chuppah. It’s made out of her great grandmother’s table cloth, with pictures of my family ancestry printed on fabric and sewn on, their names and dates of their marriage embroidered underneath. My older brother got married in 2009 and used this chuppah, and then their photo was added to it. Justin and I used it in 2010, and now our photo will be sewn on, in anticipation of my younger siblings’ weddings. The chuppah was hung over Aspen trees that me, Justin, and two of our friends cut down here in Colorado.
The Ketubah: Our ketubah was something completely different than any ketubah I have ever made. The text was silk-screened onto an old piece of wood. The wood has clearly withstood the test of time, and is a symbol of our future. The image of Robin Hood and Maid Marion are painted on, and that image represents a special memory for me and Justin, dating all the way back to when we met in 2003.
The Centerpieces: The centerpieces were made by sculptor and friend Andrea Moon, and were inspired by Yoko Ono’s Wish Tree installations. The ceramic tree trunks were on every table, with wire as the branches. At each place setting was a note about Yoko Ono’s installations, a pen and a white tag, asking people to make a wish for us. After they wrote their wish, they hung it on the centerpiece. The place seem to sparkle after people began adding their wishes!
The Place Cards: The place cards were hanging on a few ceramic trees when the guests walked in. We had a small, intimate wedding of 60 people. Each place setting had an old photo on one side of either Justin or me with that person, and on the other side, there was a recent photo of Justin and me with them. There were no names– only photos.
What I Wore: Almost everything I wore came from our grandmothers. I wore Justin’s grandmother’s dress. I changed it only a little, by shortening the sleeves and removing the fabric that went up to the neck. My engagement ring was my maternal grandmother’s: a lovely opal. I wore my paternal grandmother’s pearls, and the earrings I wore were her mother’s. The earrings had even more significance, as they are the only thing my grandmother managed to save of her mother’s before she died in Iraq, just before they were kicked out for being Jewish. All three grandmothers were at the wedding, and it was so special.
Justin’s grandmother in her wedding dress
Me in the slightly modified dress
The Bouquet: I made my bouquet out of vintage buttons.
Breaking the Glass: Both Justin and I broke the glass. Justin is half-Jewish, and we sort of cherry picked the traditions that were important to us and who we are.
The Giveaways: These took literally all of last year to make. Justin and I compiled a list of lyrics by different artists that were meaningful to us. I hand and machine stitched those words onto fabric, stretched them, and built stained-wood frames. During cocktail hour, they were displayed in shelves I made, with a note on the highboy tables asking everyone to remember which frame spoke to them, and to take that one home at the end of the night. That way, each household got to take a piece of the wedding home with them. It’s been so magical this year, learning who took what and seeing them in the homes of our family and friends.
Happily: We got married outside at a venue in boulder called Chautauqua, at the base of the Flatiron mountains. Our reception was called the Community House. We were not allowed to take anything off the walls at the Community House because of its protected historic status, except for in one spot: above the fireplace. Justin and I decided on the one thing I would make to go there– the word “happily.”
The idea of the chuppah bed sprung from furniture designer Henry Levine’s own wedding in 2004. In an effort to personalize his chuppah, Levine, a Parson’s School of Design MFA graduate, fashioned its four posts from scrap wood from the floor of his studio.
The Levines under the chuppah, made from scrap wood from Henry’s studio.
The poles sat stored away in the couple’s new home in Texas for nearly four years, until Henry decided he wanted to incorporate them into a piece of furniture– aptly, the couple’s marital bed.
We love this idea not only because of its modern aesthetic, but also because of its inherent symbolic value– taking the chuppah, the symbolic “home” that the couple creates on their wedding day, to one of the couple’s most sacred spaces within their home. It also jives with one of Ketuv’s focal points: turning modern takes on traditional objects into heirlooms, thereby keeping traditions alive.
The Chuppah Bed
Levine now offers the chuppah bed to other couples. He creates the poles first from reclaimed and salvaged high-quality wood and sends them to the couple to be used in their ceremony (the couple must provide the fabric for the canopy itself, whether it be a talis or otherwise, according to their vision). After the ceremony, the couple will send the poles back to Henry in Austin, Texas and he will build the four-post bed from the poles.
The chuppah poles come free with the purchase of the chuppah bed ($6200.00 for a King and $5900.00 for a Queen), or can be purchased alone for $1200 (for a set of four poles). He’s also available to design custom poles and beds that are priced accordingly.
Levine believes that the chuppah bed can have relevance for couples of many different faiths, and we agree. A canopy creates a private space for the couple on their wedding, the sacred space where they are joined. Making the marital bed reminiscent, or perhaps a re-creation of this space is, simply, a beautiful thought.
You can learn more about the chuppah bed, and see more of Henry’s work at his website: www.henrylevine.com.
In the Jewish tradition, both the bride and groom will go separately to the mikvah (a ritual bath that looks kind of like a mini-swimming pool) before their wedding day in order to “purify” themselves before their new union.
Ryan Selzer focused in on this tradition before her sister Casey’s wedding, with intentions of re-imagining what a modern mikvah ceremony could look like. Ryan focused on the literal meaning of the word “mikvah”– a collection. Generally, it referred to the collection of water, but Ryan also brought meaning to her ceremony in thinking about the mikvah as an opportunity to create a collection of women– in essence, a community. It became important to Ryan that rather than the mikvah being a solitary experience, that this be an experience shared between a group of women– witnesses and supporters of Casey’s new partnership as well as her ever-evolving independence.
“The mikvah is a ritual of living waters that creates the time and space to acknowledge and embrace a new stage of life. In its eternal flow, water is a symbol of birth and renewal, but also of mystery, depth, and reflection. This was especially true in our contemporary ceremony. It was nice to think of the word ‘collection’ as we each looked around the circle. Each one of us had traveled from a different place to sit in this circle, literally and metaphorically. Each one of us has our own story, but it is Casey’s role in each of our stories that created our particular collection of women.”
Walking along the river where the women would dip their feet to fulfill the mikvah ritual
The space prepared for the ritual
Ryan also found that the word “mikvah” shares the root letters with the Hebrew word for “hope.” She felt that this was a particularly important feeling when celebrating a new union, and decided that each woman should be able to offer “blessings” to Casey in whatever form they saw fit (poems, stories, songs, life lessons, etc).
Below is the final form the ritual took:
Ryan’s Mikvah Ritual, In Honor of Casey
Greeting: Each of the women introduced themselves, and shared where they traveled from to be present, how they know Casey and for how long.
Opening thoughts: One of the women read a poem to bring them all into the space of the ritual.
Chuppah Ceremony: The women held the cloth that was to be used as the chuppah at Casey’s wedding over Casey’s head. They each had a chance to offer a blessing, and Casey sat in the middle of the circle and faced each woman individually as she was imparting the blessing.
Casey receiving blessings under the chuppah
Mikvah: The women dipped their feet in the river along with Casey, in order to “immerse her in love and support, cleanse her of inhibitions, and infuse her with the life and fertility of the river.”
Kiddush/Feast: After exiting the water, the women made a kiddush (over mimosas!), in honor of Casey.
Traditionally, when the bride approaches the groom at the chuppah, she will circle him seven times. There are many explanations for this, having to do with the significance of the number seven– the seven times a man wraps tefilin around his arm (binding him to his wife as he does to G-d); the seven times it says “when a man takes a wife” in the Torah; the seven days of creation (as the bride and groom are creating a “new world” together, reenacting the creative process).
However, the tradition may also evoke a view of marriage that makes some couples a bit squeamish– one where the husband is the center of the home. Meredith and Josh, married in Miami, Florida, performed a more egalitarian “seven circles” within their wedding ceremony. Meredith explains:
“For the seven circles, I circled my husband Josh three times, and he circled me three times. Then, we did one simultaneous circle of one another — symbolizing the equality that needs to exist between a man and a woman in marriage. We were married on the beach and one of the best moments of our wedding was the way my veil became wrapped around Josh suring the seven circles.”
The happy couple
Meredith is the woman behind Miami-based floral design company Kitanim (Hebrew for “seedlings”). Lots of floral inspiration to be found in their wedding galleries!