Red strings under the chuppah is a JewBu thing

Standing beneath the chuppah, the couple was blessed with the priestly benediction four times in four languages.

Will Rubenstein’s father offered the prayer in Hebrew, his mother in English, the bride’s mother in French, her father in Cambodian.

“Having parents say something at the ceremony is very important and I always include it when possible,” said Rabbi Moshe Waldoks, who officiated as Rubenstein married Rachel Sam on Aug. 11 in Boston. Waldoks suggested the blessing be given in the four languages.

Family and friends tie red strings around the wrists of Rachel Sam and Will Rubenstein in a Cambodian jong dai ceremony. photo/courtesy rachel sam and will rubenstein

The French and Cambodian were a nod to Sam’s having grown up in France and Cambodia. Another hint of her background came in the dozens of red strings she and her groom wore on their wrists, strings tied in a traditional Cambodian Buddhist wedding celebration held the previous day.

Rubenstein and Sam began dating as students at Yale — he graduated in 2008, she a year later. The couple became engaged in April 2012 and by the following May, Sam, 25, had completed her conversion to Judaism.

Sam, who says she was drawn to the social action aspects of Judaism, now considers herself a “JewBu.”

“My Buddhism is very much a spiritual thing,” she said, explaining that she doesn’t see it as being in conflict with her Judaism.

“We were both in agreement that we wanted to raise our children in a Jewish household,” so conversion “seemed like an important first step,” she said, noting that the household will be multicultural as well — “a unique mixture of French, Cambodian, Jewish and Buddhist.”

The evening before the Jewish ceremony in Boston, the couple held a Cambodian Buddhist wedding celebration, complete with traditional Cambodian wedding garb: for Sam, a long skirt and a large scarf-like, gold-threaded fabric tied as a top; for Rubenstein, harem-type black pants and a white satin Nehru-style jacket, with a gold-trimmed collar.

The celebration in-cluded a jong dai ceremony in which the couple is seated while family and friends individually bring them prayers and good wishes and then tie a string around each of their wrists as the bride and groom rest their hands on a pillow.  

The couple wore the strings for three days. Sam’s family typically uses white strings; she and her husband chose red. “We just thought they were more festive,” she said.

The jong dai ceremony was “something that was new to me, but I knew it’s not just me getting married and we had Rachel’s whole family coming over and wanted to be sure that we were inclusive of their traditions as well,” said Rubenstein, 27, a student at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

“When you convert to Judaism, that’s a big change, but you don’t completely change who you are as a person,” Rubenstein said. “It was great to be able to include everyone and have a part of where she came from as well.”