Traditions | The Jewish Wedding

The wedding of Susie Fishbein's daughter, at Northern Valley Affairs (JoVon Photography)

Three symbols form the core of a Jewish wedding. The first is the chuppah, a wedding canopy, symbolizing the couple’s new home and recalling the tent of Abraham, who was known for his open welcome. The ketubah is the marriage contract signed on the wedding day. The ring is a symbol of eternity.

Wedding Venue: Northern Valley Affairs
180 Piermont Road, Closter, NJ 07624; 201.750.0333,
(All photos: JoVon Photography)

“Creating a wedding for the daughter of Susie Fishbein, the renowned kosher chef and author of the acclaimed ‘Kosher by Design’ cookbook series, was a thrill and an honor,” says Les Friedman, the owner of Northern Valley Affairs. “It was very exciting for me, for Marty Maged, our general manager, and for our entire team.”

Menu Insights for Every Wedding

“I tried to make sure that our menu items were seasonal,” says Susie. “Everything will be amazing at your tasting. It’s fresh and made minutes before you arrive. But no venue can make everything for your wedding minutes before, and some dishes hold better than others.

“Your venue knows what they do best. Night after night, they see which stations have the longest lines and which ones have leftovers. So ask what they do well. People also are very visual. How appealing something looks often influences how good it will taste. There needs to be a visual wow component. Northern Valley really delivered on that, especially with the appetizers, which included a trio plate of items that were inspired by one of my recipes!”

Traditions & Customization

They wanted to make their wedding personal. “My daughter Katie and Amit were getting married on Lag B’omer, a holiday which is celebrated in Israel with bonfires and barbecues. My son-in-law is also from Texas, so a barbecue theme fit.

“It is not easy to infuse your personality into a traditional Jewish wedding, but Les and Marty at Northern Valley Affairs were constantly finding ways to make things unique to Katie and Amit. They had fire pits, a Texas BBQ station, and signature drinks with fun names to match each station. It felt personal and it reflected the couple’s fingerprints.”

“Producing a custom theme for their cocktail hour was fun,” says Les. “The Texas barbecue was a big hit. Bourbon-glazed tenderloin steaks were being prepared on our 10-foot long grill and they were served with caramelized red onions and sautéed portobello mushrooms.  The station was paired with a selection of top shelf bourbon whiskeys and was named, ‘It’s Bigger and Better in Texas.’

“We also created a large station of Texas chili, smoked Texas style brisket, chicken and waffles, and pulled barbecue beef sliders. The station was paired with Texas Shiner Bock beer, and was named ‘Deep in the Heart of Texas.’ ”

The bride and groom also had signature drinks. Their Marry Me Mule was a popular version of a Moscow Mule cocktail and their Gold-Fish Tini was a marriage of both last names, Goldstein and Fishbein. “We put a floating Swedish fish candy in that one,” says Les.

“Amit’s last name is Goldstein,” says Susie, “and ours is Fishbein. So they came up with the hashtag #Goldfish, and had goldfish everywhere they could! Wherever they could be cute without being tacky, they were!”

The wedding of Susie Fishbein's daughter, at Northern Valley Affairs (JoVon Photography)Excitement builds in anticipation of the bedeken

The Marriage Covenant

The ketubah is the Jewish wedding contract, signed on the wedding day by the bride and groom, the rabbi, and two witnesses. The text depends upon a couple’s degree of observance: orthodox, conservative, or reform. Ketubahs come in many shapes, colors, and sizes and a creative couple can design their own and have a calligrapher write the traditional contract on it afterwards. After the wedding, the ketubah is often proudly displayed in the home.

“Kate and Amit’s wedding was a modern orthodox affair,” says Les. “It included a beautiful bedeken ceremony during the cocktail hour, just before the ceremony, which took place in Temple Emanu-El’s magnificent antique stained glass domed sanctuary.”

“The bedeken has always been my favorite moment at any wedding,” says Susie. “It’s just spectacular. The bride is sitting on a beautiful throne by her bridesmaids, family, mother, and mother-in-law while the groom is in another room signing the documents. Then the groom’s father, father-in-law, and several of his friends dance the groom out to where the bride is amid much music. The looks on the kid’s faces is just awe inspiring.”

The bedeken, immediately after the ketubah signing, is inspired by the biblical story of Jacob. Instead of marrying his beloved Rachel, Jacob was tricked into marrying Leah, who was hidden under a veil. So tradition holds that the groom must see the bride without her veil before the wedding, and then put the veil back on her himself.

“When the groom takes the veil off her face,” explains Susie, “the parents can bless each child. It was the first time placing my hands on my future son-in-law, holding his head to my shoulder, watching his father do the same for Katie. Everyone is clapping and giving them all the wishes a parent would want for their child. That was a focal point for me.

“The bedeken ceremony is amazing. It’s their first public glance at each other, it’s the this-is-really-happening moment. All your friends are seeing you for the first time, you’re welcoming them, and as the bride, you’re offering your blessings to them. For the couple, it’s almost as reverent as the high holy day of Yom Kippur. Katie even cut short her photo shoots because she wanted to have a moment with each of her bridesmaids. She was a very together bride.”

The wedding of Susie Fishbein's daughter, at Northern Valley Affairs (JoVon Photography)

Under The Wedding Chuppah

The traditional wedding ceremony takes place under a chuppah open to the sky or a skylight to symbolize God’s blessing to Abraham that his seed would be as numerous as the stars. To symbolize that their love provides all the riches they need, the bride and groom do not wear jewelry during the ceremony and have only plain gold bands.

The bride walks down the aisle and in the ultra traditonal ceremonies, she circles her groom seven times, representing eternity, righteousness, justice, kindness, mercy, faith and knowledge of God. Seven also represents completion, as in the seven days of creation in the book of Genesis.

The chuppah represents their home together and also recalls the tent of Abraham, who was known for his open welcome and his generosity in greeting guests. In some traditional ceremonies, the couple will have key family members carry and hold the chuppah for the ceremony. The groom will then be led to the chuppah by his father and father-in-law, followed by his bride with her mother and mother-in-law.

Today, many couples choose the more modern tradition of having the groom led to the chuppah by both his parents while the bride is walked down the aisle by both her parents. The parents stand under the chuppah with the couple during the ceremony.

“Kate and Amit’s ceremony was very traditional with a gorgeous chuppah made by the same florist we used for my own wedding,” says Susie. “When we saw Northern Valley’s  list of vendors and that Chris Stefans was still available, I knew we had to get him. My father had so much fun planning my wedding with him and he was just a joy to deal with, both 28 years ago and now.

“He created the most gorgeous gold acrylic chuppah with cascading white orchids. During the ceremony, the bride and groom faced out so you could see their expressions. They were just gleeful, so excited and happy, laughing and giggly, and just adorable.”

The wedding of Susie Fishbein's daughter, at Northern Valley Affairs (JoVon Photography)

Blessings and Breaking The Glass

The traditional wedding ceremony includes two blessings. Kiddushin indicates that just as the Sabbath is celebrated over wine, so too is the union of bride and groom. The second, Nisuin, expresses thankfulness for this moment. Bride and groom sip wine from a single goblet, usually a family heirloom. To conclude the ceremony, honored guests are called up to recite one of the Seven Blessings. These acknowledge God as the creator of earth and assert that bride and groom are now each complete in their existence together.

“At a certain point the rabbi wrapped Kate and Amit in a tallis, a prayer shawl, to signify their unity,” says Susie. “That was another very meaningful moment. It’s done the minute before you are pronounced husband and wife, to remember the struggles of Jerusalem. This was particularly poignant for this wedding, since Amit’s father was born in Israel the year it was established.

“The breaking of the glass is always a fun, exciting last second of the ceremony.” The groom stomps the glass under his shoe with a sharp crack, as a remembrance of the destruction of the holy temple in Jerusalem and the tragic deaths that occurred, as the center of Jewish social and religious life for centuries was destroyed.

Today, some brides and grooms break glasses together, to symbolize equality in their marriage. “Now you also can keep the broken glass and make it into a mezuzah for your home. These little touches can create lasting memories.”

The wedding of Susie Fishbein's daughter, at Northern Valley Affairs (JoVon Photography)

Joyous Rituals

In the reception hall after the ceremony, theThe wedding of Susie Fishbein's daughter, at Northern Valley Affairs (JoVon Photography) bride and groom enter the ballroom and lead the guests into the dance, where they, as well as their parents, are lifted onto chairs by guests who then dance around them in a circle. The bride and groom attempt to hold onto each end of a napkin and as they bounce around on the chairs, as “HavaNagila” plays in the background.

“The hora is an amazing burst of joy and energy and its first set is almost 40 minutes.”

Another tradition is the mizinke, a dance for the parents who have seen their last daughter or son marry, where guests dance around the mother and father. After the hora and the mizinke, as guests sit for the first course, comes the motzi, a blessing of the challah, often done by grandparents.

“Groups of people plan in advance a fun way to entertain the bride and groom during the reception,” says Susie. “We made up shirts of gold with the symbol of gold from the periodic table, because Katie and Amit are very science-minded. The website they met on was called Saw You at Sinai, so one of the pieces my daughter made up was a big poster of Mount Sinai with a picture of the matchmaker pasted on the mountain.The wedding of Susie Fishbein's daughter, at Northern Valley Affairs (JoVon Photography)

“Because he’s from Texas and Amit goes to the rodeo, his sister got bull riding costumes. Her high school friends from volleyball also brought all their gear. It was a fun way to personalize the wedding for the bride and groom and remind them how they know you and why you love them.”Remembering Loved Ones

“There are lots of ways to note people who have passed in your life,” says Susie. “I lost my dad and Katie was close with him, you can’t help but carry them with you. To include them, we had a generations photo table with my wedding photos and those of my parents and my in-laws.

“As a way to remember, under the chuppah you drink from two different kiddush cups. In my family we have a gorgeous kiddish cup that is a bride and groom standing under chuppah. My father adored it and at every wedding of every grandchild of theirs it is used. We give it back to my mom at the end to save for the next kid’s wedding. You try to infuse your family into the traditional things.”“The celebration that followed,” says Les, “was full of fun, lots of dancing, as well as an elegant gourmet dinner that we had the pleasure of designing with Mrs. Fishbein.”

A Special Setting

Susie chose Northern Valley Affairs for very personal reasons. “I have four children,” she tells us. “The first three are daughters, and about 15 years ago my husband and I were invited to a wedding at Northern Valley. We went to the ceremony, looked at the sanctuary’s gorgeous dome, and felt it was an otherworldly place.

“My husband said, ‘We’re going to make at least three weddings here.’ The sanctuary feels so special and holy, but Les and Marty also have the ability to make a fun party with outdoor and indoor spaces and their personalities.“It’s in fashion to take a raw space and make it your own,” adds Susie, “but I wanted this to feel like a religious ceremony. You feel God in that space. I loved that we could have both such a religious ceremony and also such a fun celebration.

“Les and Marty were a ton of fun. They made us feel like we were the most exciting wedding they were ever going to do. That’s their personalities. They love what they do. They are not on auto pilot by any means. They kept trying to bring it back to me, to my family, to my kids, to my cookbooks. They have enthusiasm, but are still very businesslike. I had total faith and knew they weren’t just throwing out ideas. They could deliver everything they were getting excited about.”

A Pleasure & An Honor

“Being the third generation of caterers in my family and owner of Northern Valley Affairs,” says Les, “along with our general manager, Martin Maged, who has been in the industry for over 30 years, we enjoyed having the pleasure and honor to work with  Mrs. Fishbein, such a respected individual in the gourmet kosher food industry.”

Northern Valley Affairs, 180 Piermont Road, Closter, NJ 07624