In first person

About ‘In first person …’

Every wedding is unique, but some are exceptional. Sometimes it’s because the couple added wonderful, personal touches to the ceremony and reception. Other times, it’s because of the things that didn’t quite go according to plan. And sometimes, it’s because some very funny things happened.

We asked our readers to share their stories about their weddings, and we received some wonderful tales, like that of Sarah and Albie Wallach, who made and broke several wedding dates because some unforeseen events — war and illness — got in the way. Others, like Harold Caplan and Cheryl Ziperstein, found a way to bring something from their courtship days — they met on a JCC volleyball court — into their wedding.

We thank all who shared something about their special day.

—vicki larson, copy editor

In first person …
Independence Day surprise
joseph b. and kate michelson
half moon bay

Kate and I had been going together for almost 10 years. Each time we wanted to get married, something ungainly got in the way. Finally, desperate, we said, “Let’s just do it!”

Our requirements were simple. We’d both been married before. We wanted to avoid the hoopla, pretense and presents.

We wanted to get married in our back yard, have classical music, a barbecue, but most of all, surprise our guests. The Fourth of July was a perfect choice for a barbecue and dish up our betrothal.

Wow!, everyone accepted our invitation. Friends and relatives showed up from all over: San Diego, Albuquerque, Texas, even New Hampshire!

My best friend of 25 years obtained permission from the Internet to be our officiant.

Kate and I, my brother, my best friend — now Rabbi Bob — my two sons, my nephew, his wife and Kate’s daughter stood under the chuppah, which was a tablecloth made by Kate’s grandmother, capped by my grandfather’s tallit, as we exchanged vows, representing four generations as witness to our ceremony. When the guests assembled, I stood on a patio chair as the string quartet played and announced that, momentarily, Kate and I would exchange vows.

A friend announced, “How cool — get married, beer in hand, everyone in jeans!” The string quartet inquired, “How should we dress? We usually wear tuxedos.” Our response: “We don’t care, but we’ll be in jeans.”

Two weeks after the wedding, Kate and I had an engraved brick installed in Laurel Park in San Carlos, two blocks down from my office: “Kate and Joe Michelson, July 4, 2003. Finally!”

In first person …
A honeymoon to remember
joseph and therese weber

My future bride, Tessie, and I met during WWII in 1944 while living in the Shanghai ghetto under Japanese military occupation. She was a member of the Russian ballet and I worked in a basement bicycle repair shop underneath the window of her father’s medical office. She looked down and there I was; moustache and black wavy hair — all white now — and I , too, liked what I saw.

We soon became engaged and were married in a synagogue in February 1947. No sooner had we settled into a cramped attic room when our U.S. transit visa arrived and we were on our way to Bolivia, where we waited for five years before we were allowed to enter the United States permanently since my Austria quota was so small.

We were, of course, completely impoverished, but what a honeymoon lay ahead, financed by the generosity of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. Our first airplane flight — from San Francisco to Miami — took the Lockheed Constellation prop plane 20 hours. Flying over the Rockies, it fell into an air pocket, causing us to lose our just-consumed lunch. More flight followed in even smaller planes, landing in Cuba, Columbia, Ecuador and Peru before finally settling down on the Altiplano near La Paz.

That was 56 years ago, surely a honeymoon to remember.

In first person …
Ever-changing wedding date
sarah and albie wallach

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” It’s true, and our lives have proved this.

Albie and I met in Brooklyn, N.Y., on July 4, 1938 — and the fireworks went off.

We were married Oct. 28, 1942. During those four years, we each returned to school.

In 1940, Albie was in Arizona and I was visiting his parents in Brooklyn. We were about to have dinner when the phone rang. It was Albie, and while we chatted, his parents opened a ring box, presenting me with a diamond ring. We were officially engaged.

We made the decision to be married in the spring of 1941, but due to the Armed Forces draft, decided Albie would “get his year over with” and we would be married after that.

The draft was extended to 18 months; consequently a new wedding date.

On Dec. 7, 1941, the United States entered WWII. Our personal plans, along with our country’s, were shattered. That was the third of our wedding dates that had gone awry.

Albie entered Officer’s Candidate School in 1942. We set a new wedding date: the day of his graduation.

After discovering Albie’s history of asthma, the Army terminated his classes and send him back to the Fort Belvoir training center. Another wedding date gone. Then the Army decided they’d made a mistake, and Albie was reinstated in the engineering school. We set a new date.

On June 8, 1942, I fractured a vertebra. Albie traveled to see me. Despite heavy sedation, I looked up at him and said, “The whites of your eyes look yellow.” Albie had contacted jaundice from a yellow fever shot, and was hospitalized for 3½ months. That wedding date would also not materialize.

Albie returned to school, and on Oct. 28 he received his commission as a second lieutenant. We were finally married in the chapel at Fort Belvoir, he wearing his brand-new lieutenant bars and I clad in my third wedding outfit.

And here we are 64 years later, still holding hands under the table. Ain’t love grand?

In first person …
The net result: marriage
harold caplan and cheryl ziperstein

In 1978, I moved to San Francisco to go to graduate school in recreation therapy at SFSU. I knew no one in town and was looking for ways to meet people. I had always had good luck making friends by playing volleyball at various community centers so I began to explore options. I was also interested in possibly meeting some Jewish men since I had decided to try dating Jews again after a long hiatus.

I was thrilled to find out that the SFJCC had open volleyball games. However, the membership was a bit steep for a starving student. I offered to volunteer in the after-school daycare program and was offered a free membership in return.

Only two months after moving to San Francisco, I began playing volleyball and met some folks, including a hyper and great volleyball player named Harold Caplan. After volleyball we went to Miz Brown’s for a snack and it began a relationship that has lasted more than 20 years.

Playing volleyball together was great fun. Nate Levine, the current director of the SFJCC, started — among other things — a great volleyball clinic in the JCC recreation department, and Harold and I learned a lot from him. When Harold and I decided to get married on March 25, 1983, it seemed only fitting that we include volleyball somehow in the ceremony.

I contacted the recreation department at the JCC to see if it had any old volleyball nets to donate as we planned to use it as our chuppah. Luckily the department had an older badminton/volleyball net, which a talented florist managed to convert into a beautiful chuppah with baby’s breath and other flowers.

Although I have switched to swimming for exercise, Harold still plays volleyball regularly at a Berkeley community center. Our son, Seth, at 15, is a decent volleyball player. Who knows; maybe he’ll continue the tradition and meet his future mate on the volleyball court.

In first person …
Unique and surprising blessings
laurel phyllis rest and bill kennedy kedem
san francisco

On March 3, 2002, Laurel Phyllis Rest, a corporate attorney and a former public defender, and I were married at The Delancey Street Foundation’s Town Hall in San Francisco.

Our wedding was uniquely blessed by the presence of my son, Lt. (now Capt.) Ariel Shlomo Kedem and daughter, Pvt. Rina Abigail Kedem. Both soldiers were performing active duty in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF ) at the height of the current intifada yet they were granted leave to attend the wedding more than 8,000 miles from their bases.

We were deeply grateful to the IDF, not only for providing precious leave to Ariel and Rina, but also for instructing them regarding ethical codes of conduct required during tragic conflicts. To this day, the younger Kedems proudly describe their training regarding the humane aspects of their defense training.

In fact, our attachment to Israel is so strong, our wedding colors were blue and white, including our flowers — blue and white irises, because irises are indigenous to Israel.

As if that surprise were not enough, another wedding blessing came from Mimi H. Silbert, founder and president of The Delancey Street Foundation. From her Delancey Street residence, Silbert heard the Red Hot Chachkas’ klezmer music emanating from the wedding festivities. She came out and greeted us and our family. Silbert recounted her love for Israel, her considerable experience on kibbutzim in Israel and her affinity for spirited and soulful klezmer music.

In first person …
A bit of Israel here
nicole and oren sasson-miller
san francisco

While visiting the Kotel with my family, two good-looking guys came up to my sister and me and said, “Shabbat Shalom.” It only took me one date to realize that this was the man I was meant to marry. Now I love being able to joke that we met because Oren hit on me at the Wall.

Ten months later, we were engaged. Oren, the oldest of nine siblings from an ultra-Orthodox family, and I, born and raised in Marin County at Reform Congregation Rodef Sholom, wanted to get married in Israel because that was where we were living at the time, where we met, where all his family and many of our friends lived, and of course, the emotional attachment we both felt to Jerusalem.

We planned our wedding for June 20, 2002, even though we were moving to California in August 2001 so Oren could begin school. We left for America with contracts from the florist, caterer, photographer and band.

But the intifada got worse, and there were suicide bombings almost every week, with lifecycle events specifically being targeted. We were under a lot of pressure to either postpone the wedding indefinitely or to move it to California.

Finally, after the Passover massacre in Netanya, Oren turned to me one morning and said, “I want our wedding day to be the happiest day of my life. I don’t want to focus on anything but you that day.” There was nothing I could say but OK. So we broke all our contracts and scrambled to plan a wedding in the Bay Area.

Miraculously, everything fell into place. All of Oren’s immediate family was able to make the trip from Israel. We were lucky enough to find availability on Aug. 4, 2002, at the St. Francis Hotel and the day turned out to be everything we had dreamed of. We were even able to bring some of Jerusalem’s special flavor to the reception.

Now, as I look back on the day, it’s hard to imagine it happening any other way.