What happens when your perfect wedding plans get hijacked by a global pandemic? If you’re creative, you’ll transform your wedding from a traditional affair into an innovative Zoom event. That’s exactly what newlyweds Miriam Ani and Brandon Waloff did for their May 31 wedding in Fairfield, Calif.
These two former East Coast residents had planned a beautiful wedding at a scenic circa 1740 event venue in Honey Brook, Pa., close to where they both grew up and where their parents still live. But with COVID-19, the couple had to consider whether to delay their wedding or take a different route. Giving up their original plans was a difficult decision, but ultimately a necessary one, when shelter-in-place began in mid-March. “It felt right to both of us to say ‘Yes!’ anyway on our date–to our lives and our future together–irrespective of the how’s,” said Miriam. “Our families were truly supportive and gracious in making this adjustment–we really can’t thank them enough. We didn’t want to put our ceremony off indefinitely.”
Miriam, 37, was comfortable with Zoom’s capabilities, since she had already transitioned her teaching as a theater professor and voice/yoga teacher to this platform. A versatile actor and director, she knows how to adapt to changing situations.
Brandon, 41, a gig worker and former health coach with a background in holistic health, is also a quick adapter. He said, “We began to like the idea of a Zoom wedding, a wedding containing the bare essentials, and one with traditional Judaism we could incorporate.”
Undo Before “I Do”
The first thing Miriam and Brandon had to do was to “unplan” everything they had so carefully planned beginning back in September 2019. All the reservations had to be cancelled and all the details had to be reimagined for a virtual event…but there was no game plan to follow. “We felt like we were pioneers in Zoom wedding planning,” the couple said. It was important to them to bring in different elements of Judaism. That helped them create the very personalized structure for their wedding.
They re-envisioned Jewish wedding rituals for Zoom, with intensive planning and on-site help from two friends who did camera work and two other friends who hosted the Zoom events. Together they made lists and spreadsheets to schedule the traditional Jewish wedding elements such as the Groom’s Tisch (toast), Hachnasat Kallah (blessing of the bride), Bedeken (the groom veils the bride’s face), Tenaim and Ketubah ceremonies, and of course the wedding ceremony under the Chuppah, which included the Sheva Brachot (7 Blessings) and the breaking of the glass. These prayers and traditional Jewish ceremonies were “attended” by different people, culminating with everyone joining the Chuppah Zoom call.
Change Is Good
From the original plans, the wedding venue changed from a manor house to a lush backyard. The attendees changed from 100 invitees to about 250 guests worldwide via 138 devices signed in to Zoom (including guests in Israel, England, Switzerland and across the country) with 9 people “in person” including the bride and groom. The menu changed from a lavish catered dinner to a delicious nosh of bagels, cream cheese, lox and a custom-designed wedding cake, plus plenty of champagne. And the music? “We went from a full band back east, to DJing our wedding from a simple Spotify playlist!” said Miriam. One thing that didn’t change–the bride and groom wore their gown and suit as planned. The couple encouraged their guests to dress up, eat and drink, to really feel part of the party.
“We did a full on five-and-a-half-hour wedding on Zoom! We didn’t simply livestream a ceremony,” Miriam explained. “Instead we ultimately configured a virtual, interactive event that included almost every ceremonial aspect of a traditional wedding.”
An event that could have been a logistical nightmare, was actually as smooth as the buttercream icing on their multi-layer wedding cake (which was lovingly baked by a relative and decorated with wildflowers that matched the bride’s bouquet). “Just in case of technical difficulties, Brandon had designed an ‘UH-OH! Be right back!’ image but we never had to use it,” Miriam revealed.
We all know, it takes a village, and in this case, it was a village of friends, parents, relatives and a very flexible rabbi and her husband who acted as cantor, both of the Jewish Studio Project in Berkeley, Calif. who co-officiated remotely via Zoom. There was even a “flower doggie”–Sadie, the couple’s 14-year-old corgi mix who wore a boutonniere to match Brandon’s.
To Zoom, or Not to Zoom?
“Miriam is a talented actor and director, so she directed the event as if it was a play,” said Brandon. After more than 60 hours of intensive planning, starting in April, along with tech rehearsals and walk-throughs, the couple’s Zoom wedding was an award-winning production (complete with cinema-worthy “Thank You” rolling credits and music at the end). It was a loving and life-changing milestone for this couple who met at a Farmer’s Market in northern Calif. in 2013.
“We truly did not know how a Zoom wedding would feel,” Miriam said, “but Brandon and I were both surprised at what a joyous, radiant, and holy day it became! We felt so loved, held, and celebrated by everyone in our lives–and ultimately had more guests than would have been able to join our in-person wedding! My favorite aspect of planning a Zoom wedding was, as Brandon said, that it really necessitated we strip the wedding down to its essentials, and we really stepped up to fully creating what was most important to the two of us about the day, a project which brought us even closer together.”
If you may be considering a Zoom wedding, Miriam and Brandon welcome your questions at email@example.com.
Note: Brandon is the son of our publisher, Rich Waloff.
This article is presented in conjunction with SimplySimchas.com, a new online party planning marketplace from The Jewish Week and the New Jersey Jewish News. Although now it is difficult to plan in-person events due to the coronavirus, as activities gradually resume we are optimistic that parties will also resume. But we can still have virtual celebrations and parties for small groups! If you’d like to receive monthly SimplySimchas newsletters about planning celebrations, click here.