Chabad of Grass Valley rabbi celebrates first Orthodox Jewish wedding in Nevada County
June 12, 2018
Every couple wants their wedding to be meaningful. That's a given.
Choosing the venue and the location, using your mother's wedding dress or veil, and selecting a ceremony and an officiant — those are all decisions that help brides and grooms create a truly meaningful wedding day.
Mark and Karen Gold took that process more than one step further, choosing to celebrate their union in a traditional Orthodox Jewish ceremony.
Mark grew up attending an Orthodox synagogue, but both Mark and Karen currently describe themselves as practicing conservative Judaism. They don't keep kosher, for example, although they do celebrate shabbat (the sabbath).
On June 2, the Golds married in the backyard of their Grass Valley home, in a ceremony presided over by Rabbi Nochum Yusewitz, the leader of Chabad of Grass Valley.
"It's the first time that we're aware of, that a traditional wedding that follows the law down to a T" has been performed in Nevada County, Rabbi Nochum said, calling the traditional ceremony "the recipe for making this magical thing happen, the union of two souls."
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According to Chyena, the choice the Golds made to wed according to Jewish tradition was a "huge source of inspiration" to many in the local Jewish community.
For the Golds, even though the process became more complex and time-consuming than they had anticipated, it was well worth it.
"For me, if we were going to do this, I wanted to do it right," Mark said.
After the Golds moved to Nevada County from the Bay Area last fall, they became acquainted with Rabbi Nochum and Chyena Yusevitz, who had also recently arrived in the area from Brooklyn.
The two couples began talking about doing the wedding in the Orthodox tradition.
"We didn't want it to be a run of the mill Jewish wedding," Mark said. "We wanted it to be really special."
Joining two souls
Complicating the preparations for the wedding was the fact that both Mark and Karen had been married before. And even though both had obtained a "get," or Jewish divorce, Rabbi Nochum felt they needed to obtain a new get at a higher standard.
That meant a scramble to obtain birth, death and marriage records going back three generations. The documents were vetted by a rabbi in Australia considered the authority in such matters. Mark and Karen — and their ex-spouses — then were interviewed by a panel of rabbis, the beit din or rabbinical court.
For one, the Golds said, they wanted to make sure there would be no question about the legitimacy of their marriage.
And, Karen said, the process helped them spiritually separate from their past and be prepared for their marriage together.
"It gave a sense of closure — it elevated our marriage," Mark said.
Rabbi Nochum and Chyena did their best to help the couple negotiate the sometimes stringent requirements.
"Sometimes they wondered if it was too much," Chyena said. "We simply told them, we really love you, we want to offer this to you."
"They kept reminding us, if you think this is too much, that's OK," Mark said.
Every aspect of the wedding ceremony had very specific meanings that emphasized the spiritual connections being made.
First, Mark accepted the ketubah, or marriage contract, witnessed by two rabbis.
"It's the earliest document protecting women's rights," Mark explained. "I'm agreeing to do certain things, to take care of her."
After he accepted the marriage contract, Mark covered Karen's face with the veil, symbolizing that he is marrying her for what's inside, not what's outside.
While veiled, Karen received blessings from the wedding guests. The guests then took a coin and placed it in a tzedakah box, a receptacle for collecting money designated for charity.
As Mark waited for her, Karen was escorted to the chuppah, or canopy beneath which the ceremony is performed. She then circled him seven times — what Karen said was "a very, very traditional practice that creates a spiritual protection around the new husband and their home."
In another nod to an old tradition, they were wrapped in Mark's prayer shawl to receive seven blessings. According to Chyena, kabbalistically seven signifies completion, like the seven days of creation.
One tradition familiar even to Gentiles was followed —the ritual breaking of the wine glass at the end of the ceremony.
"That symbolizes that even in joyous times, we remember Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple," Chyena said. "Then the party begins."
But the symbolism did not end there.
After the ceremony, the newlyweds were escorted to a private room and left alone for a few minutes.
"It's their own time, to remind them they are each other's priority," Chyena explained. "They break their fast to symbolize the start of their new life."
Reflecting back, Karen said, deciding on an Orthodox ceremony was a way to honor their heritage and their family.
"Mark's aunt is Orthodox (her late husband was actually Mark's rabbi) … You could see the joy in her face" during the ceremony, Karen said.
"It (honored) our traditions, and our commitment to each other."
Reporter Liz Kellar can be contacted at 530-477-4236 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.