Farewell to size 6 writer seeks new home for gown

My wedding gown hangs on the rod in the corner of my closet. Although it's sealed in cellophane, the once winter-white dress has lost its luster. After multiple moves and 28 years in cramped quarters, its previously pristine layers of bright lace have turned dingy and dim.

I lovingly looked at that size 6 dress on each of my first few wedding anniversaries and relived a little of one of life's happiest moments. I reminisced about one of the greatest joys of Judaism — standing under the chuppah and saying, "I am my beloved's." But now that so many years have passed, seeing that gown makes me sigh — I can't believe I was ever that thin.

A recent trip to the mall, which included trying on bathing suits, was enough to convince me that my girlish figure is gone forever. As a public service, I will never again wear a bikini on the beach.

It's likely that some of today's scrawny brides will eventually face that same situation that strikes many of us in middle age. But if you or the brides-to-be in your life want to avoid a future confrontation in the closet with a wispy wedding gown, do a mitzvah and donate it to charity.

The practice of providing assistance to needy brides has its roots in the Torah. Traditionally, Jewish women in the bride's extended family and in the community have offered support for all aspects of wedding preparation, celebration and the establishment of a new Jewish home. But before the food for the festivities can be prepared and a place for the newlyweds to live can be located, finding a wedding dress for the bride is a top priority.

Beth Israel Congregation, an Orthodox shul in Miami Beach, is one of a growing group of organizations that recycles wedding gowns. Two years ago, three congregants, Helaine Kurlansky, Helene Berkowitz and Gita Galbut, started a gemach — a charitable assemblage that performs acts of kindness. In this case, the gemach they established is a dress-lending service that has already helped dozens of disadvantaged Jewish brides in South Florida.

From humble beginnings, this mitzvah project has blossomed to the point where its current collection is causing the facility to practically burst at the seams. Word of mouth advertising throughout area shuls and social service agencies has been so successful that the gemach must move the hundreds of donated outfits in its inventory to a larger location, evidence of the need to continue helping less financially fortunate families find a way to dress with dignity on their big day.

"We want to make sure that every kallah (bride) looks beautiful at her wedding," says Rabbi Neal Turk, Beth Israel's spiritual leader.

Besides providing a gown for the bride, Beth Israel stocks a large selection of modestly styled, formal attire for the other women and girls in the wedding party — everything from pretty pinks for flower girls to baby blues for bubbes. And there are bridal veils, headpieces, hats and other accessories to complement and complete the look. It's Fifth Avenue fashion that won't break the bank.

For more information about this marriage-minded mitzvah opportunity, you can call Beth Israel Congregation at (305) 538-1251. But if you can't contribute clothes, a cash contribution to help defray the cost of dry cleaning wedding wear would be greatly appreciated.

There are countless women's groups across this country and in Israel that are offering similar services to needy brides. Some seek publicity, and some do things quietly and on a smaller scale.

In Boro Park in Brooklyn, N.Y., Ten Yad has many fund-raising events and programs that benefit brides and newlyweds in the Orthodox community. One of its projects is gathering and maintaining a collection of wedding gowns, which are available for rent at reasonable rates. And all of those proceeds go to charity. To learn more about this organization, visit its Web site, www.tenyad.com, or call (718) 756-1482.

Yad Eliezer is a charity that has a variety of tzedakah programs for Israel's poor. One specifically benefiting brides (and grooms) is the Adopt a Wedding project. According to Sori Tropper, New York spokesperson for Yad Eliezer, "The amount for a sponsorship is $1,000 for a whole sponsorship and $500 for half, which means that two people (or couples) sponsor the same wedding."

While sponsoring a couple's modest but respectable wedding, which might include items like clothes, catering and carnations, might be beyond your budget, all contributions are warmly received. You can contact Yad Eliezer by phone at (718) 258-1580, and you can find out about their worthwhile endeavors by visiting the chesednet.org Web site and clicking on the Yad Eliezer link on the member organizations page.

Making Memories Breast Cancer Foundation is another charity that gives wedding gowns a second go-round. This 3-year-old Oregon organization collects new (from manufacturers and salons) and gently used (from brides and moviemakers) wedding dresses and sells them at their "Something old, something new" traveling bridal showcase. Proceeds go to granting the wishes of metastatic breast cancer patients — "making a difference" is what they call this part of their program.

And if you think this foundation sounds familiar, you probably watched the recent Miss America Pageant on television. Miss America 2002, Katie Harmon, hails from Oregon and is a former executive board member of Making Memories. She is its biggest cheerleader, and supporting terminal breast cancer patients was her platform issue during the competition.

For details on how to donate your gown, call (503) 252-3955. If you'd like to find out more about the wonderful work this foundation does, please visit its Web site at www.makingmemories.org

If someone you know is looking for a spectacular wedding gown at a good price (and which benefits a great cause), check the Making Memories events schedule on the Web site. And if you'd like to volunteer your time when the sales tour comes to town, information about that will be posted on the site, too.

My wedding gown has passed the point where it could be of any value to another bride. Now it's a faded reminder of my youth and an incentive to diet.

But if this article has persuaded you to pass your wedding gown on to an organization that can give it a new life, great, I've accomplished my mission. Even though parting with your highly prized possession might be tough, knowing that it can bring so much joy to another bride should make you feel good. And years from now, you can still get a glimpse of how skinny you were on your wedding day by flipping through your photo album.

But if you can't let the gown go and feel guilty about clinging to that stitched symbol of your simcha that is stored in a cluttered closet, a monetary contribution to one of the wedding gown charities will soothe your conscience.

Cash or clothes — giving either is a nice way of sharing your special day.