It’s nearly impossible to capture in words the spirit of a wedding celebration, even if you were there. This one was joyful. Silly. Unconventional. Exuberant. Inspiring. Jewish. And fun. Mostly fun.
There was dancing, of course. And raising the chuppah. Breaking the glass. A ring prayer. But there was also tent camping. Costumes. Eating in a mess hall. A Warriors playoff game. A parachute. An alpaca.
“Camp Besheret” (Hebrew for soul mate or destiny) was a wedding and a summer camp in one jubilant celebration, joining two kindred souls who share a joie de vivre — Tamar Sberlo, 33 (my niece), and Jeffrey Sabin-Matsumoto, 30 (now my nephew). Their surprise-filled commitment ceremony on May 26 in San Gregorio was at the center of a weekend party that perfectly captured their playful relationship and optimistic spirit.
The guests, who came from as far away as Israel, Kenya and New Zealand, knew not to expect a typical wedding. Sleeping options included tents or bunk beds. Meals were eaten at picnic tables. A rack with costume accessories was available for anyone to borrow from at any time. People were encouraged to wear whatever they felt comfortable in all weekend, “from black ties to clown ties,” and to come prepared “to get silly and go with the flow.”
Costumes have always been a part of Tamar and Jeff’s relationship. “A costume allows you to be goofy, and inspires others to be goofy, and loosens up the mood,” Tamar explained about this shared passion. “Also, everything boring becomes fun when you’re wearing a costume!”
They both grew up in San Francisco, and their circles overlapped for many years, but they didn’t meet until 2011 when a mutual friend, AnnieRose Fink, introduced them at an Oakland street fair. On date No. 1, they went back to the churro cart where they had met and ended up on the curb talking for three hours.
At some point, they discovered that, incredibly, they had dressed up as the same Muppet for Halloween the previous year — clearly a harbinger of what was to come — so on date No. 3, they went out for dinner and reprised their Swedish Chef costumes.
By date No. 5, it was love. It was also goodbye. Jeff left for Colombia for six months, a trip he’d planned before they met. They started writing emails, and their relationship deepened. Tamar knew she couldn’t wait months to see him again. On spring break from her then-job as a high school science teacher, she took a leap of faith, bought a ticket to Colombia, and told Jeff she was coming to see him.
Look for me in a blue dress, she told him.
Once she got off the plane in Bogota, she changed into a full-body yellow chicken suit. Making her way through the airport with her giant rubber feet slapping against the airport floor, guitar in hand, unable to see out her beak, she was guided by a bemused Colombian security guard who called out an accented “JEFFrey! JEFFrey!” with others in the crowd joining in. Once they got Jeff’s attention, Tamar started playing her guitar and singing a love song she’d written in Spanish (which she doesn’t speak). Jeff, in turn, had shown up in a chef’s hat holding a cheesecake. People cheered. Epic.
Over the next several years, travel, play and adventure became the foundation of their relationship. “We see the world in a similar way,” Tamar said. “We see it as our playground a little bit, and we saw that quality in each other.”
When they decided to marry, it was sure to be another epic undertaking. “It was important to us that the event be unapologetically us,” said Tamar, a peer resources teacher at a public middle school and a longtime camp director. Jeff was working at the time for a digital content agency.
They planned every aspect of the weekend together. But when the talk turned to Jewish traditions, the conversations got talmudic. “We had to think about how to make Jewish traditions that are 2,000 years old relevant to us,” Tamar said. They went through each one, digging deep to see what resonated. “Once we found the history or symbolism we thought was important, we started the process of reinventing it.”
They also consulted with their parents. Tamar’s in particular had strong feelings on the subject, so she asked them to think about which traditions they felt were significant and why. “We went online and did research,” said her mom (and my sister), Dee-Dee Sberlo. “It made us examine what was important to us and why it was important. We consulted with a rabbi and a friend who is a Judaic scholar — we did our homework.”
What they learned surprised them.
“We found out that a Jewish wedding consists of two things: the first part of the ring prayer, ‘harei at mekodeshet li,’ ‘with this ring you are consecrated unto me,’ and two witnesses. That’s it,” said Tamar’s dad (and my brother-in-law), Yoel Sberlo.
One tradition everyone agreed they wanted was the chuppah. But they couldn’t agree on what kind. “We liked the symbolism,” Tamar said, “but we didn’t want any separation between us and our community. We wanted to be under something and have the entire community be with us.” The answer? A giant rainbow parachute that everyone would help raise.
The kickoff to the ceremony had more surprises. The opening music was Pachelbel’s Canon in D, and Jeff appeared in a suit and tie — a ruse. Seconds later, “Get Ready” by 2 Unlimited started blasting through the speakers, as he shed his outer layer to a Fila tracksuit underneath and danced alongside his mother, Gail Sabin, and brother, Matt, to “Gonna Make You Sweat” by C+C Music Factory and then “Take It to Da House” by Trick Daddy.
Everyone followed Jeff to wait for his besheret. Tamar’s friends opened by performing with rainbow umbrellas to Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love.” Then Tamar, wearing a brilliant rainbow dress, came in dancing with her family to “Danza Kuduro.” When she and Jeff reached each other, a free-spirited dance party broke out. And that was all before the ceremony.
Ceremony highlights included heartfelt officiating by AnnieRose, a milk-and-cookie ritual, a visit from an alpaca (Jeff’s surprise to Tamar), and the reading of the ketubah they wrote themselves — “Balance what your brain thinks with what your heart feels. Favor the heart. … Give back, and pour love into the world.”
When the parachute was brought out, everyone stepped in to grab an edge and help lift it above the couple for the final ring prayer and glass-stomping. If they could put a moment in a bottle, that might be one they choose as they start a year of travel.
“I want to remember feeling so full of love,” Tamar said, “that there wasn’t really a line between family and friends and us. The community became our family.”