There are weddings and there are weddings. The guests at a wedding that took place a few short weeks ago will forever remember the occasion for many reasons.
Ulpanat Chalutza is a girls’ high school located in the settlement of Naveh, a religious moshav in south-central Israel established in 2008 by residents who were evacuated from Bnei Atzmon in Gush Katif. The tenth-grade class was looking to do a significant act of chesed as an end-of-the-year project and decided to help make a wedding for a needy couple. They contacted the Kupat HaIr (a tz’dakah fund) and were referred to a Rav Ochayan, who told them about two geirei tzedek (converts), Yitzchak and Yael, who were engaged but lacked the funds needed to make a wedding.
The girls took this mission upon themselves with a full heart and worked together to arrange the most beautiful wedding possible for the couple. Their successful fundraising campaign brought in approximately 20,000 shekel. At first, they assumed the wedding would take place on the grounds of the Ulpana, but then they were told that Yitzchak and Yael had something else in mind. The couple wished to get married in Eretz HaAvot, at M’aras HaMachpeilah in Chevron. This was going to be a more logistically challenging affair, but the girls were determined to give the couple the wedding of their dreams.
After designing a beautiful invitation, the girls moved on to organizing the wedding itself. They found a photographer and a DJ and planned for table design, lighting, floral arrangements, and dessert. They set up a snack bar at the entrance and put together a beautiful chupah and kisei kallah where the kallah would sit and greet her guests. The family of the kallah ordered catering with some help from men learning in kollel, and the kallah’s brother arranged for a magnet photographer. The girls brought bentchers and a beautiful card with the special t’filah for the kallah to say. They planned everything down to the last detail. Absolutely nothing was forgotten.
The kallah had studied at Ohr Chayah, a midrashah (post-high school seminary). The girls from Ohr Chayah also participated in the simchah by providing a dowry and arranging a bus to the wedding. On the day of the wedding, the midrashah sent a photographer to Yael’s home to photograph her as she got ready for the wedding. The girls came to be m’samei’ach the kallah with fruit, dessert, and lots of singing.
On the morning of the wedding, the girls from Chalutza came bright and early to set up. They transformed the open area into a beautiful event hall. And a beautiful wedding it was. The food was delicious, but the girls from Chalutza would not eat the catered meal, which they knew was costly. Instead, they ordered pizza for themselves.
The couple and the girls from Chalutza had looked for drummers to play at the wedding but couldn’t find any. The family viewed it as nothing less than miraculous when a few American boys carrying instruments “happened” to come to daven at M’aras HaMachpeilah on the day of the wedding. The boys were thrilled to provide music for the chupah and even requested permission to do so. The girls danced heartily with the kallah, and buses of yeshivah boys pulled up from Yerushalayim and other places to dance with the chasan. Even the chayalim who were guarding the area came to dance.
At some point during the wedding, the chasan went with a minyan of men into the m’arah itself and gave brachos to everyone who donated to his cause. He bentched everyone individually by name. The wedding continued past the hour that was originally agreed upon and nobody said a word. Everyone was caught up in the simchah.
The whole process was done in coordination with Rav Ochayan and the chasan and kallah. Everyone shared the goal of making the wedding as beautiful as possible. The girls also provided the couple with sheets, towels, and basic housewares. As if all they had already done wasn’t enough, the girls made a beautiful sheva brachos for Yitzchak and Yael at the Ulpana on the Tuesday after the wedding.
After the wedding, I was in touch with Rav Ochayan, who shared with me some of the background of the couple. Yitzchak was raised as a Christian in Bolivia. From an early age, he struggled with what he was taught. Even as he studied to become a priest, Christianity seemed illogical to him. At some point, he came across some Jewish books, which exposed him to a religion that made more sense to him.
He was inspired by the stories he read about the sacrifices that Jews had made for Yiddishkeit throughout the ages, particularly during the Holocaust. He became thirsty for Judaism and pursued rabbis to help further his knowledge. Rav Kupchik, the Chabad rabbi in Bolivia, and Rabbi Tolwin of Aish HaTorah in Detroit were heavily involved in his journey of growth. After many twists and turns, Yitzchak traveled to Chile to convert. He then returned to Bolivia and eventually ended up in Israel. It took some time for him to figure out where he belonged in Israel. At the time that he was searching for his place, he happened to meet Rav Ochayan in a shul in Bnei Brak. Rav Ochayan helped him find a yeshivah that met his needs and he flourished.
Yael is originally from Peru and converted along with her family when she was seven years old. She and Yitzchak decided that they wanted to build a Jewish home together and, baruch Hashem, they’re off to a great start. We expect to hear great things from them.
Yitzchak and Yael’s wedding is one that no one will ever forget. We wish Yitzchak and Yael many years of happiness together as they build their bayis ne’eman b’Yisrael.
Anyone who would like to participate in this simchah is welcome to contact me.