Here comes the kallah

The bride sat on a pink satin throne — queen for a day — receiving family and friends. Then, as the sun bent to the west, a solemn klezmer trio accompanied the groom toward his betrothed. With tears streaming down his cheeks, the groom attached an opaque veil to her face. They would not look upon each other again until an hour later, when they were man and wife.

Before the bedekin (“veiling”), Andrea Crawford and David Rubinstein had not seen each other for a week, in accordance with Jewish custom. Tradition was indeed the order of the day at this, the first-ever Chabad wedding in Sonoma County.

More than 170 guests crowded into Santa Rosa’s Friedman Event Center on Sunday, Sept. 3 to witness the union. It was a moment 28 years in the making, ever since Crawford and Rubinstein first met as teens at Berkeley High School. The couple has been together ever since, but they never married. In recent years, however, both had been drawn ever nearer to Jewish religious observance.

The bedekin followed Rubinstein’s tish, a Chassidic celebratory meal led by a community rebbe, in this case Mendel Wolvovsky, rabbi at the Chabad Jewish Center of Sonoma County. A string of toasts, made merrier with shots of Skyy Vodka, praised the groom and blessed the union. “You guys will bless us all back,” toasted one friend. “The whiskey will help,” quipped another.

Both in their 40s, Crawford and Rubinstein followed a circuitous route back to observance. She came from a Reform background, though few members of her family today consider themselves observant Jews (some cousins are practicing Catholics).

Though Rubinstein noted he loved Crawford from the first moment he saw her, he quickly added, “We grew up in Berkeley. No one was married. It just wasn’t what people did.”

She went on to become a doctor, and enjoyed a successful practice in Los Angeles before relocating to Santa Rosa. He is the newly appointed director of Hillel for Sonoma State University and Santa Rosa Junior College, but neither he nor his bride had grown up observant of Shabbat. It wasn’t until the couple met Wolvovsky and his wife, Altie, that the two began to delve deeper in Jewish ritual.

All the guests rose as the veiled bride and her family entered the courtyard, walked under the chuppah and circled the groom seven times. Because an Orthodox wedding was new for so many, Wolvovsky carefully explained every step, from the reading of the ketubah (in the original Aramaic) to the purpose of the ring as an exchange of something of measurable monetary value.

“You two are role models to many,” he said to the couple, “true representatives of chesed [loving-kindness].”

With the breaking of the glass and shouts of mazel tov, Mr. and Mrs. Rubinstein retired to a room for their yichud, a moment to be alone together for the first time as a married couple.

Though not Chabad Lubavitchers themselves, the couple has been attending Shabbat services and meals at the Wolvovsky home for several years. “We have been on a path to return to Judaism for at least the last five years,” said Andrea. “It’s been slow, one mitzvah at a time. You try one, it speaks to you, then you try the next one.”

Today, they keep a kosher home. She wears long skirts; he dons tefillin every day.

“It’s added depth to each moment,” said longtime friend Sheila Katz-Feiwell of Santa Rosa. “I’ve been with them as they went through the process. They take [Judaism] seriously, but they do it with such fun.”

Following the yichud, the couple entered the dining hall to great acclaim. The Jubilee Klezmer Ensemble performed as guests danced, men and women separated by a mechitzah made of ficus trees. Several small children joined the adults on the dance floor. One little girl said to another, “Someday you’ll be on a throne, too!”

“A wedding is always a special simcha [joyous occasion],” said Wolvovsky. “But this? I’m humbled.”

Brother of the bride Bruce Crawford said of his family, “We didn’t grow up with Judaism. We always had a liberal view of spiritual practice: Whatever helps you maintain peace of mind and a soft heart. [Andrea and David’s] faith touches me so much. The message of spiritual unity I heard today is like coming home.”

Surrounded by love and support, the couple partied late into the night. But there won’t be a honeymoon just yet. With the school year beginning, Rubinstein has more than enough to do running Hillel on two campuses. He said he and his bride will try to take a cruise, perhaps during the winter break.

But that was all the business of tomorrow. For this one evening, it was time to celebrate the moment. “At a time like this, Kleenex wins,” said one happy, teary-eyed friend.

Said the new husband near the end of the evening: “It already feels different.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a J. staff writer. He retired as news editor in 2020. Dan can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.