Mass Soviet Jewish Remarriage Ceremony Slated for June 22 Will Include 20 Couples, 20 Chuppahs

Hirsch Tzvi and Shaina Freydenson were supposed to have been married in a traditional Jewish wedding ceremony in their native Riga, Latvia, in August 1941. Instead they had to settle for a quick civil ceremony in Irkutsk, Siberia, where they had fled as invading Germans occupied their homeland.

Arkady Banar, of Kishinev, Moldavia, and his bride, Emilia, of Odessa, in Russia, also postponed their Jewish wedding because of the war and were likewise married in Siberia, in Orsk, in 1944, in a non-religious ceremony.

On Sunday, June 22, in Teaneck, New Jersey, 20 Soviet Jewish couples will be remarried in a traditional Jewish ceremony, the largest mass remarriage of Soviet Jewish couples ever to be held in America. On that day, under 20 chuppahs, 20 grooms will turn to their brides simultaneously and recite “Harei at mikudeshet li” — “Behold, thou art consecrated to me” — before 600 invited guests.

BACKGROUND FOR UNUSUAL CEREMONY

The idea for the unusual ceremony was initiated by a New Jersey organization, Bris Avrohom, a Lubavitch affiliate that has been instrumental the last seven years in providing an extensive range of services for Soviet Jewish immigrant families, from the location of housing to adult education classes in English and Jewish studies. Bris Avrohom is headquartered in Jersey City, with activity centers also in the Bergen County, N.J., cities of Teaneck, Passaic and Elizabeth.

Two people were chiefly responsible for this joyous event: Rabbi Mordechai Kanelsky, executive director of Bris Avrohom, a Lubavitcher rabbi who is himself a native of Moscow, and Mrs. Shirley Gralla, chairperson of Friends of Bris Avrohom, the sponsoring and organizing group that put the wheels in motion for the wedding. Astonishingly, the two of them had the same idea, they said, at the same time and were trying for some weeks to contact each other.

Both Kanelsky and Gralla pegged the wedding festivities to the upcoming Liberty Weekend celebrating the centennial of the Statue of Liberty. “We hope our good news will be a small appetizer for that most happy occasion, because of the great affection our people share for the symbol of liberty,” they concurred. They are therefore calling the event a “Celebration of Religious Freedom.”

‘A CELEBRATION OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM’

The sponsoring committee for the wedding includes high government figures in New Jersey, several of whom are expected to attend the ceremony. Among them are U.S. Senators Bill Bradley and Frank Lautenberg, both New Jersey Democrats, and Gov. Tom Kean, a Republican, who have agreed to be honorary chairmen. Also active in organizing the wedding is Teaneck Mayor Bernard Brooks.

But, stressed spokesperson Susan Black, “This is not a political event at all. It is truly a celebration of religious freedom. The fact that we’ll have dignitaries there shows support for the wonderful freedoms that we have in America. Hopefully,” said Black, “this will become an annual event.”

The couples range in age from 19 to 80, some of whom have been in the country several years, some recent arrivals, including a young transcontinental couple of which the bride has been living in Los Angeles and the groom in Brooklyn. They, and three other couples, will be wed for the first time in the religious ceremony. The majority, 16 couples, will be remarried before their children and grandchildren.

“These people were denied having this religious wedding, the religious freedom in Russia,” said Kanelsky. “Even if they wanted to have such a chuppah, they could not.”

The Freydensons and Banars, present at a press conference, said “We’re not doing this for ourselves. We’re doing this for our children.” Kanelsky added that they were learning English, for example, to both help their children and to be independent of them.

The wedding will be held at the Loew’s Glenpointe Hotel in Teaneck, a gesture of support from Loew’s for the event.

The selection of the date, June 22, is significant, particularly to Mr. Freydenson. “I remember June 22 very well.” That was the date the war began in Russia, he recalled. Thus a negative, sad date in the Russian’s collective memory will be transformed on that day into a positive and joyous occasion.

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