S.F., L.A. wedding guests kvell over Israeli simcha — on the Net

When Adi Rosenfeld married Moti Lalou, a new concept in international weddings was born. It was nothing so mundane as family and friends coming from all over the world to Israel for the ceremony. That happens all the time.

What was new was that some guests traveled only a few miles from their Southern California and Bay Area homes to attend the wedding. They got the best seats in the house. Right under the chuppah with the bride and groom.

It's a mitzvah of modern technology — the virtual wedding. As Adi and Moti said their "I do's" in Netanya, the ceremony was simultaneously broadcast to Adept Consumer Testing's conference room in Beverly Hills and the McBean Theater at San Francisco's Exploratorium.

The California guests may not have been able to reach out and touch the newlyweds, but the emotions were as high and the joy as fresh as if they were in the same room.

And when the glass was broken, the San Francisco contingent jumped to their feet, sang "Siman Tov, U'mazel Tov" and began to dance. Champagne and toasts followed. When the band in Netanya played "Sunrise, Sunset," Ted Kahn in San Francisco pulled out his trumpet and accompanied them.

"This is a case where technology really served to allow emotional and social participation of close friends and family," said Kahn, who was instrumental in making the virtual wedding happen. "This is the really human side of the story…the technology supported our love, spirit and friendship."

Kahn and Sherman Rosenfeld, the bride's father, met at U.C. Berkeley in the late 1970s. Both were graduate students and activists in the Jewish community. When Kahn and his wife, Frona, got married, little Adi Rosenfeld was their flower girl.

In 1982, Sherman and Melodie Rosenfeld made aliyah. Adi was only 5 years old. Over the past 15 years, Sherman Rosenfeld's parents, Betty and David (Danny) Rosenfeld of Los Angeles, visited them often. But Betty Rosenfeld developed health problems, making travel difficult.

"My parents had reluctantly decided not to come to the wedding due to my mom's health problem," said Sherman Rosenfeld. "We in Rehovot were all very sad. We found it difficult to accept the news. It didn't seem fair, especially to Adi, who adores her grandmother."

Between Sherman, a science educator at the Weizmann Institute of Science who designs educational software, and his brother Keva, a movie director, you'd think they would have figured out a way to bring Betty Rosenfeld and her granddaughter's wedding together. But sometimes it takes a Jewish mother to tell Mohammed to move the mountain.

"During my mom's next phone call, with characteristic optimism, she added, `I've heard there's a way we might have a video conference,'" said Sherman Rosenfeld. "It was something I hadn't considered. I immediately started to check into the possibility. About the same time, and independent of developments with my parents, Ted Kahn suggested that we set up some Internet-based video conference to include our friends in the Bay Area."

Racing against time, Sherman Rosenfeld in Israel, Keva in Los Angeles and Kahn in San Francisco arranged a simultaneously interactive broadcast of Adi and Moti's wedding to two sites in California. The three-way transmission made the project even more complicated, requiring a special bridge connection.

"To me [it] was worth the cost and difficulties," said Kahn after the wedding. "We all wanted this to happen and were willing to risk all kinds of likely technical difficulties to try it, and we were lucky enough to succeed. It will certainly be much easier and become much more routine as higher band width and technology become faster and cheaper."

On the morning of Sept. 24, the excitement was palpable in the McBean Theater. The virtual wedding guests ate deli sandwiches, reminisced and looked at the Kahns' wedding album while waiting for the hookups to be completed.

Beverly Hills appeared on the large-screen television. Adi's grandparents and other family and friends were standing around a table in a conference room. Minutes later a banquet hall in Israel appeared. In Beverly Hills and San Francisco, people cheered and clapped.

As the real guests milled around waiting for the wedding to start — it was Israeli time, after all — the virtual guests pointed out familiar faces. Some of the Israelis wandered over and said hello to the San Francisco and Southern California contingents. It was reminiscent of early home movies as people stood in front of the camera smiling and waving

The movement was jerky, and the audio and visual transmission were not quite in sync. But none of that mattered. As the warmth of sharing a simcha was clearly transmitted, the miles separating the real from the virtual diminished.

And the best moment came after the ceremony when a glowing Adi Rosenfeld Lalou appeared on the screen and spoke to her California guests.

"I miss you," she said. "I love you. Hugs and kisses."