I was standing in the women’s section of the Western Wall as snow was falling over Jerusalem. I had just accepted my boyfriend Danny’s proposal. I prayed to Hashem and placed a note in the Wall describing all my wishes for our marriage. I was elated.
Then panic set in.
We had to start planning the wedding, which was to be in six months. I had no idea how to go about this. I wasn’t the type of girl who dreamed about her wedding day; this was all new to me. On top of that, I wasn’t Jewish yet, and I was planning a traditional Jewish wedding. What if I messed up some crucial part of my wedding and, God forbid, our union wouldn’t be valid? At that point, I’d been observant for four years throughout my conversion, and I was set to convert right before my wedding. But I still needed guidance. After all, I hadn’t really learned about putting together a Jewish wedding in my classes on Judaism!
When Danny and I arrived back in the States, I started reading up on wedding planning and talking to lots of Orthodox Jewish friends. Our friends warned us how stressful wedding planning can be. I imagined that there were going to be a lot of headaches throughout the whole process.
Thankfully, the Jewish community is there for you when there’s a simchah. Over the years, I’d participated in meal trains for women in the community who had given birth and arranged sheva berachot meals for newlyweds. In shul, to celebrate birthdays, my rebbetzin would arrange a festive kiddush replete with colorful decorations and delicious homemade cookies, pareve red velvet cakes and elaborate fruit platters.
Now, when it was Danny and my turn to celebrate, everyone stepped up to lend a hand too.
Danny’s mom flew in early to help with the wedding, and we went shopping for flowers and centerpieces. I couldn’t believe how much the local arts and crafts shop was charging for glass bowls. My future mother-in-law suggested we check out the local gemachs to see what they had available.
There are a dizzying array of gemachs scattered throughout the frum community of Los Angeles—many of which are absolutely essential in the Jewish bridal world. There are gemachs for wedding centerpieces, silk flowers, dresses for the bride as well as for the mother of the bride, chuppahs, bridal jewelry, bridal chairs and wedding “shtick” (masks and costumes to help liven up the dance floor). I was amazed at the number of women who devote so much of their time and energy into running gemachs.
These women store the goods in their garages, basements or spare rooms. The gown gemach I visited had an impressive assortment of elegant gowns for the mother of the bride as well as high-end yet modest satin bridal gowns. Another gemach had a wonderful selection of beautifully arranged centerpieces—including the pricey glass jar centerpieces I’d seen in the store. These selfless women who run the gemachs either purchase their merchandise on their own or get donations. And they don’t ask for anything in return; they simply want to lend a hand to a fellow Jew.
Leading up to my wedding, people in the community wanted to help too. One member of my shul offered to bartend the whole wedding as a gift to us. Many people offered to host a sheva berachot meal. A friend said she’d love to make us a pareve coconut cake for the wedding.
A woman I had only met once told me she designed ketubot, and that she’d give us a discount on one of her stunning originals. A friend of a friend was an opera singer, and he graciously offered to sing under our chuppah. Our rabbi spent a significant amount of time with us, giving us a detailed rundown of a Jewish wedding as well as a few lessons on the meaning behind the various customs.
My rebbetzin gave me a lesson on the religious significance behind the mitzvah of hair covering, since I hadn’t learned about that particular mitzvah in conversion classes. She gifted me some attractive scarves as well, so I didn’t have to worry about running out and purchasing a few.
The day of our wedding, friends from out of town schlepped all the drinks, the bridal chair and the chuppah from the gemachs to the hall. One of our friends brought fluffy hydrangeas for the bridesmaids and me, and another played guitar throughout the tisch.
Our wedding day felt like a true team effort; we received tremendous support from friends and family, and from the entire Los Angeles Jewish community (or so it seemed). When I stood under our chuppah and looked around at everyone, my heart was so full. I was grateful that when we needed people the most, they were there for us.
I knew I couldn’t have planned the wedding without all the help and generosity. I was taken aback by how much everyone wanted to give, even people who barely knew us.
The whole experience encapsulated what Judaism is all about: spreading love and kindness to others. Our simchah brought that out in our friends, in our family and in the community. Going forward, I hope to be able to help make others’ semachot just as wonderful.
Kylie Ora Lobell is a Los Angeles- based freelance writer.