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Utah's first traditional Hasidic wedding a story of love, tradition and symbolism (+video)

SALT LAKE CITY — In the courtyard of a modern downtown hotel, Rabbi Mendy Cohen of Montreal and Salt Lake's Chaya Zippel "became one" in a ceremony unchanged for centuries.

The nuptials, held at the Grand America Hotel Monday evening, was the first Chabad Lubavitch Jewish wedding in the state of Utah.

The ceremony was conducted under a traditional open wedding canopy called a chuppah. The couple, who entered the tent separately, were joined as one under a single roof.

"As Mendy and Chaya walk up to the chuppah (wedding canopy), it is as separate individuals. But in a few moments, the word separate will disappear from their vocabulary forever and all of their experiences. The chuppah transforms them into one, one entity, one being," said Rabbi Avremi Zippel, the bride's brother.

For the most part, men and women sit and dance separately during an Orthodox Jewish wedding. During the outdoor marriage ceremony, men and women observed the nuptials together but they were seated on opposite sides of the courtyard.

Receptions prior to the wedding were also held in separate rooms in the hotel's conference area.

Chaya Zippel, her mother, the mother of the groom and grandmothers sat on a throne-like chair, where guests approached to offer their blessings and well wishes. At times, Chaya Zippel paused to read from the Torah.

In a room down the hall, Rabbi Cohen shared a Hasidic teaching called a Maamar and joined friends, family and male wedding guests in song.

About an hour after the start of the receptions, a procession led by the groom entered the bride's reception room for badeken, or a veiling ceremony.

The veil, placed on the bride by the groom, covered her entire face. According to "Becoming One, A Guide to the Chassidic Wedding," the custom originated with the Jewish matriarch Rebecca, who covered her face when meeting her groom, Issac, for the first time.

"The veil emphasizes the groom's recognition that his bride's beauty is not only external and hence temporary, but also an inner beauty that she will never lose. The custom also emphasizes the innate modesty that is the hallmark of the Jewish woman," the guide says.

As Rabbi Cohen placed the veil on his bride, she received blessing from the couple's parents and grandparents, after which the groom's entourage left the room to prepare for the wedding ceremony.

In keeping with tradition, Chaya Zippel wore the veil for the duration of the wedding ceremony.

Seven blessings

The ceremony began with the groom's father, Rabbi Avraham Cohen and the bride's father, Rabbi Benny Zippel, of Chabad Lubavitch of Utah, escorting Rabbi Mendy Cohen to the chuppah, where he awaited the arrival of his bride. Rabbi Benny Zippel also officiated the wedding.

The bride was escorted by her mother, Sharrone Zippel, and the groom's mother, Rosa Cohen, followed by two of the couple's grandmothers, all carrying lit candles symbolizing a fervent wish the couple's life together is filled with light and joy, the guide said.

Chaya Zippel, accompanied by her escorts, walked around her groom seven times. Rabbi Avremi Zippel explained that the number seven signifies the seven days of creation "a passage beyond the physical into the spiritual."

Once Rabbi Mendy Cohen formally took Chaya Zippel as a wife, which includes him presenting her a simple gold wedding ring, the couple received seven blessings.

The ceremony ended with Rabbi Mendy Cohen stomping on a wine glass wrapped in a cloth napkin, to which was met with shouts of "Mazal tov!" by those in attendance.

The shattering of the glass serves as a reminder that even at the height of personal joy, "we must remember the destruction of Jerusalem," “A Guide to a Chassidic Wedding” says.

Once the ceremony concluded, the bride and groom hugged and kissed family members under the canopy but not one another.

They greeted guests until departing into a private room, where they spent the first few minutes of married life alone.

This, too, has symbolic meaning as a lesson for marriage. "The couple should never allow the hustle and bustle to completely engulf them, but should always find the time to focus exclusively on each other," according to the guide.

The pair did not see one another for the week preceding the wedding, a tradition intended to increase their love and yearning for one another. They also broke the fast observed on their wedding day.

Then, after posing for wedding photographs, the couple entered the partitioned banquet room where they were greeted with music, singing and dancing and cheers.

More traditions

Each sat at banquet table at the head of the room, the bride with her mother, mother-in law and grandmothers, and the groom at the head table on the other side of the partition with his father and his new father-in-law.

The partition consisted of stacked banquet tables wrapped in skirts at a height that blocked each group's direct view of the other.

After the wedding meal, there was more dancing, again with men dancing solely with men and women with other women, often dancing in circles around the bride and groom and at times, lifting tables on which the groom and bride danced atop. The groom was lifted in a chair by male guests, as others danced around him.

As Utah's first Hasidic wedding, the preparations presented unique challenges to the food and beverage team at Grand America Hotel.

Grand America closed its banquet kitchen for 72 hours to prepare for the wedding, which required a deep cleaning of the kitchen, which included firing blow torches over preparation surfaces, serving the meal on brand new china, purchasing new cooking utensils and "kosherizing" the dishwasher where silverware and glassware used for the receptions and banquet were properly cleaned before their use, said Executive Chef Fernando Soberanis.

With the guidance of a rabbi from Los Angeles, the team sourced food from a kosher supplier and were taught to read product labels of their existing stock that could be used for preparation of the food.

Then, the rabbi helped the team with proper kosher cooking techniques.

"We have a great team that works with us. They're very open to challenges like that. This event for us was graduation with a culinary master's degree, it was so challenging. But it was very rewarding," Soberanis said.

Regis Perret, Grand America's director of food and beverage, said the team also was able to source kosher wine for the festivities upon learning there were a number of options from California wineries.

The bride's father, Rabbi Benny Zippel, remarked on the extensive preparations by the hotel staff, both expressing gratitude for the care that went into kosher food preparation and their great respect for their culture and traditions. During dinner, he called the team up to the stage for a round of applause.

Chaya Zippel's wedding dress also required special attention. The gown was purchased and altered in Utah, Sharrone Zippel said.

"They’re very good at making it modest, I guess, because they’re used to the Mormon culture. So when we bought it, it was totally open lace and lace sleeves so they totally had to line everything and build up neckline. We told them her neck had to be covered up to her collarbone, her elbows covered. They were a pleasure to work with and they totally respected it," she said.

"All the relatives here, they can’t believe the gown was made in Utah. They’re like ‘Wow. Other places can’t even do that.’ "

While the day's events carefully followed their tradition, religious tenants and culture, for Sharrone Zippel, the day was also about her daughter and her groom joining as one and starting their life together.

"It’s very emotional watching her go, but I know she’s getting an amazing husband. I’m not worried. He’s just a sweetheart. He’s going to take good care of her," Sharrone Zippel said.

"It’s the biggest comfort for a mother. She knows she is giving her daughter over to wonderful hands. We have our friends and family that have come to celebrate with us. It’s beautiful, thank God."

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com

Rabbi Mendy Cohen of Montreal, Canada and Chaya Zippel who was born and raised in Salt Lake City, are wed in a traditional Hasidic Jewish ceremony at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City, September 12, 2016. Filmed and produced by: Hans Koepsel