No one ever forgets their wedding day. It’s one of those moments that young girls dream about all their lives. For me, it was even more memorable, because I got married during Hurricane Irene.
February 14, 2011. My then boyfriend, Yacov Farkas, proposed to me at the top of Rockefeller Center. It was a wonderful night, beginning with him picking me up from work, taking me on a sunset helicopter ride around New York City, and then out to dinner at a wonderful restaurant and ending the night with a surprise party to celebrate our engagement. It was an absolutely perfect evening; one that will never be duplicated. Who would have ever thought that the engagement period would put so many trials and tribulations in our path?
After all the excitement subsided, we were finally able to take a step back and plan. Timing was crucial for us, since Yacov’s father and family were in aveilus, and thus could not celebrate any simchas until the very end of August. This wouldn’t be too difficult had it not been for him being a tax accountant, where the busy season starts up again in September. Luckily, we found the perfect date for both of these limitations. Sunday, August 28, 2011.
During the first month of our engagement, we spent weekends and evenings traveling around, searching for the perfect venue. Should we have an outdoor garden wedding? Indoor ballroom affair? We looked at wedding halls that were past their prime, with burn marks on the carpets and sales people looking to make a commission. Others were beyond our wildest dreams, but so were their prices. Finally, we found it. The perfect venue.
The hall entrance was up a beautiful winding staircase, with flowers lining the halls and entranceway. The well-lit ballroom had a wooden dance floor and ample room for guests and amenities. For us, the Excelsior in Manalapan, NJ was the perfect venue and in-house caterer for our wedding, and we were thrilled to be able to move on with our plans.
By June 17, the photographer, florist and band quickly followed suit, invitations printed, mine and my bridesmaids’ gowns altered, and our wedding preparations were really falling into place. That is, until I got a phone call from the hotel where we had blocked out rooms for out-of-town guests. The kind gentleman on the other line said, “We are so sorry to hear about the foreclosure of the Excelsior on July 9, and wanted to let you know that your date is still available here should you decide to move your affair to our location. Six other couples have already booked with us from the Excelsior.”
Tears instantly fell down my face at this news. Ten weeks before the wedding we no longer have a caterer or a facility to host us? The feeling of hopelessness and foreboding quickly set in and the pit of my stomach began to churn. What could we do?
Yacov quickly took charge, calling venue after venue, asking if our date was available and if we could come take a look at their facility. We then began the process again of looking at different places, some nicer than others. All other arrangements were put on hold until we knew where we would be tying the knot.
We finally settled on a new location, not too far from the first, where our vendors and guests would easily be accommodated. Our foreboding lifted and our excitement built as the weeks wore on. Invitations were sent out, responses were received, and it seemed like our biggest challenges were behind us.
I’s dotted and T’s crossed, vendors informed, fees renegotiated, and the chaos behind us, Yacov and I began our week of not seeing each other earlier than usual since he was returning home to Montreal for his Aufruf on August 18. It is a custom for the bride and groom not to see each other the week before the wedding, and while it proved difficult, we felt that it would make our wedding day that much more special. Yacov was originally going to remain in Manhattan for the Shabbos of August 26, but I convinced him to stay at my rabbi’s in Highland Park, NJ to lessen his traveling the day of the wedding. I returned home to Cherry Hill for my Shabbos Kallah to hurricane warnings, but I was not too concerned since the news tends to over-exaggerate storms and I personally love the rain.
Not having a television in my apartment in Washington Heights aided my naivety, as I was unaware that New York City had issued a mandatory evacuation of low-lying areas. When I returned home however, every TV in my house was locked on the news, and throughout Shabbos we waited with baited breath for the storm to lift.
August 27, Shabbos ended and the stream of phone calls began to pour in. Most were from guests asking if the wedding was still on. I hate to admit I hit the “ignore” button on my phone more than normal that Saturday night. The band, the caterer and photographer all wanted to know, is the wedding still on?
Tension continued to build before we reached a decision as my rabbi’s house lost electricity and Yacov spent the night before our wedding helping him and his wife remove furniture and objects of interest from the flooded basement. We decided to postpone our final decision until the next day, when we would be able to properly assess the impact of the storm and make a well-informed decision. We set our deadline for Sunday, 10:30 AM for a final decision and pushed back the start time from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM to give guests ample time to arrive and vendors ample time to set up.
The problem with postponing the wedding was that as I mentioned before, Yacov’s family is from Montreal, and many of them had flown in for the weekend, including his parents and siblings. To stay longer and take off more days from work was impossible and it was of course very important to have both families present.
August 28, 10:30 AM came and went and a decision still hadn’t been made. Our contact person at the facility was attempting to reach the wedding hall to see if the venue had electricity. That seemed to be the deciding factor; if we could get to the hall, we would get married. My bridesmaids hid upstairs, seemingly uncomfortable with the immense tension in the room. The phone rang and it was not good news.
“I have tried three different routes”, the contact said…and he couldn’t even get to the hall! What wasn’t blocked with flooding was cut off with fallen trees and branches. There was no way around it, the hall was unavailable. The house became flooded, not from the rain, but from tears. We had gone through so much already, why couldn’t this have been easy? It wasn’t anger I was feeling, but more sadness; I wanted to start the rest of my life that day, not have to postpone our wedding for a few months.
At this point, both my mother and rabbi stepped forward with suggestions. My rabbi suggested a venue in Highland Park, and my mother suggested our local shul in Cherry Hill. Both facilities we found out were more than happy to accommodate us. Joyfully, we had a decision to make, and it was decided. We were going to get married in Cherry Hill, NJ at Congregation Sons of Israel at 8:00 PM that evening, August 28.
As soon as the decision was made the day quickly flew by. My bridesmaids came out of hiding and started making phone calls to guests. Yacov did his part to get the word out as well. My family made phone calls to the vendors, telling them of the location change. All were on board, save the videographer, but with the community’s help, we replaced him in an instant. I was ushered into the beauty salon in Cherry Hill to mentally and physically prepare for the wedding, and my help was no longer needed.
People from the Cherry Hill community came in droves to help prepare for the wedding. My father-in-law and other community members began to vacuum and clean everything up post-Shabbos services to get it wedding-ready. The florist and caterer arrived to set up and beautify the hall.
The feeling you have when your wedding plans seem to be ripped to shreds (not once, but twice!) is something I hope no one else ever has to experience. However, with the help of an amazing community I had the most beautiful wedding I could have possibly imagined. I was able to marry the man of my dreams and it was all the more special because of the love, guidance, and support that I had from family, friends, and community.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.
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