We love it when a couple makes their values the center of their Jewish wedding. Which is exactly what Anya, who works at an international development NGO, and Søren, a PhD student and research assistant working on DNA repair, did in their gorgeous Kew Gardens wedding.
The couple’s egalitarian values were front and center in their ‘shutafut’ (partnership) ceremony — an egalitarian alternative to the traditional ‘kiddushin’ marriage service under the auspices of Masorti. Their rabbi rabbi helped them create a ‘shtar shutafut’ (partnership contract), also known as a ‘brit ahuvim’ (lovers’ covenant), for their ketubah text, where they mapped out their commitments to each other and values they wanted to focus on in their marriage – how special is that?!
We also love that Anya and Søren opted to work with a whole bunch of our beloved Smashing The Glass Recommended Vendors to make their dreams a reality. The duo chose #STGvendor Claudine Hartzel as their photographer for the way she beautifully captures candid moments, and they could not have been more thrilled with the results.
#STGvendor Dvash provided outstanding catering, meeting special dietary requirements with aplomb, and Anya and Søren report that guests are still raving about their favorite canapes!
#STGvendor Happy Chuppah People provided the couple’s birch chuppah – a perfect fit for the setting – and, continuing the botanical theme, and Anya and Søren found their exquisite Tree of Life ketubah via #STGvendor Ketubah.com.
There’s so much more to say about this very special Jewish wedding, but we’ll let the newlyweds take it from here…
How we Met
A Kew Gardens Wedding
We got married at Kew Gardens, London’s royal botanical garden. We had planned a different wedding for summer 2021 at a country estate outside London but when we had to change our plans, Anya’s mum suggested we look at Kew. Anya grew up in London visiting the gardens and Anya and Søren had enjoyed a lovely time going together one afternoon after visiting Anya’s aunt, uncle and cousins nearby. When Søren told his mom the idea, she said that her mother, Søren’s grandmother (z”l), had loved visiting Kew Gardens on a trip to London from her home in New York. This felt like an extra seal of approval.
We didn’t have a wedding planner; the wedding planning committee was us and our families. The fantastic Trent Craig from Kew Events coordinated everything on the day, supported by the brilliant Emma Gallagher and her team from Storm Productions, and friends and family of ours who were responsible for various components of the ceremony and party.
Our colours were light pink, green, and white to reflect the spring flowers and greenery of the space. We picked specific hex codes to help communicate precise colours to the vendors. We did not, however, have a theme beyond the wedding and venue itself.
Invitations + stationery
We used Paperless Post for the invitations and Etsy for the Thank You notes. Søren worked with our benscher vendor (Haggadahs-R-Us, based in the States) on the benscher design and our kippah vendor, Skullcap, on the kippot. He designed the orders of service, seating chart, place cards, menus, and hand-drawn stickers for the benschers. These were printed by Plan-it Reprographics in Cambridge, UK, who were exceedingly kind in providing us proofs and putting up with multiple drafts of our documents ahead of final printing.
A Wed2B Dress
My dress was from Wed2B by a designer called Heidi Hudson. I am not a decisive shopper so my mum and sister and I decided to start wedding dress shopping early to take the pressure off. We started at Wed2B on Baker Street based on a personal recommendation and they were so friendly, helpful, and relaxed. I picked out a few dresses to try and then asked about one I loved on a mannequin — it turned out I was already holding it!
Another customer was trying it on in my size but luckily didn’t go for it. I loved it as soon as I had it on and so did my mum and sister. It was exactly what I was looking for: flutter sleeves, a decorative back, and the perfect shape. My sister picked out a beautiful veil for me with scalloped edges and little beads to catch the light. We left the dress in the shop for the beading to be tightened. That same week, the UK went into lockdown; Wed2B looked after my dress for months before we could retrieve it.
One thing that sealed my dress and veil for us was that despite having never worn anything like it before, it somehow still felt like it was my style. At the wedding, several people made the exact same comment.
Hair + Make-up
Anya’s hair was done by Lou from Love Hair by Lou and makeup by Pamela from PANDA. Both were personal recommendations and they were both outstanding. I (Anya) got ready at my aunt and uncle’s house and Pamela and Lou fitted in my mum, sister and aunt as well as Søren’s mom, sister and sister-in-law. They made us feel beautiful and understood exactly how to create each person’s vision. They were also really calming and supportive and lent the whole process such a lovely atmosphere.
Accessories & Shoes
Anya’s shoes were from Dune. They were actually the second pair of Dune shoes we bought as the first had jewels on them and the tailor who altered the dress said they might catch the netting of the skirt and shred it. We therefore made a tactical switch on her advice to shoes without embellishments. Anya and her mum and sister all got matching white trainers from Primark to change into for dancing.
For accessories, Anya wore stud earrings (a gift from Søren) and a gold hair vine bought at the last minute off Amazon, as well as the veil from Wed2B. The dress was embellished and had a boat neckline so simpler jewellery seemed the best way to let it shine.
The handsome groom
Søren knew early on he wanted to wear a charcoal three-piece suit and we found the perfect one at Savoy Taylors Guild, owned by Moss Brothers, in Cambridge. The assistant was helpful in explaining different cuts and materials to help with making the decision. Søren bought a pink tie to fit the wedding colours and wore silver cufflinks which were a gift from Anya.
We didn’t have any adult bridesmaids, but Anya’s cousins have three young daughters between them who were our flower girls. The girls and their families flew over from Israel and because of the pandemic it was the first time meeting two of the girls in person. It was wonderful to finally hang out with them. They all wore ivory dresses and Søren’s mom bought them silver necklaces which also had a tree of life motif.
Anya and Søren’s sisters walked down the aisle together. Anya’s brother, who originally was going to walk with their grandmother, carried the youngest flower girl since she had only recently turned one.
An Egalitarian Ceremony
Our wedding ceremony (held in the Nash Conservatory at Kew) was a ‘shutafut’ (partnership) — an egalitarian alternative to the traditional ‘kiddushin’ marriage service under the auspices of Masorti. Our rabbi, Rabbi Roni Tabick, taught us about this option and helped us create our ‘shtar shutafut’ (partnership contract), also known as a ‘brit ahuvim’ (lovers’ covenant), for our Ketubah, where we drew on Jewish texts to map out our commitments to each other and values we wanted to focus on in our marriage.
Our ceremony was hybrid, with guests joining remotely from five different continents. We have been fortunate to have lived in several different cities and countries and therefore we have loved ones in far-flung places. In the pandemic context, it was a priority for us to enable people to participate virtually. We used Lovecast to stream the wedding with the technical support of Storm, our production company, and it worked extremely well. Lovecast’s technology meant we could watch our whole ceremony on video the next day and catch up with the live comments, as well.
We started with an aisle bedeken, and after Søren veiled Anya, Anya presented Søren with a new tallit, a gift from her parents. We walked the seven circles as three each and then one together. We each brought a Kiddush cup that had been in our family for generations, using the chuppah to unite our histories into a new Jewish family. After the rabbi’s highly personalised address and the sheva brachot, we wrapped ourselves together in the tallit to receive the Priestly Blessing from Anya’s parents, and then we both smashed the glass!
We made sure to explain all the stages of our ceremony in our printed order of service as our guests included Jews of many different denominations and traditions alongside non-Jewish guests. Rabbi Roni also did an excellent job of guiding the guests through the chuppah ceremony.
Our friends and family were integral to the chuppah. Anya’s parents and Søren’s mother and her partner stood with us under the chuppah; our siblings walked in the procession (Anya’s grandmother, who was scheduled to walk in the procession, was unfortunately unable to fly in from Israel for health reasons); Anya’s cousins were flower girls, Søren’s sister performed on the viola; and friends and family acted as civil and Jewish witnesses, chuppah stage manager, Sheva Brachot readers in Hebrew and English, and Yichud guards.
This followed through to the party where two of our friends were the emcees (one of whom doubled as Søren’s shomer), Anya’s aunt and uncle led the bensching, and our friends said the Sheva Brachot after bensching.
For our Ketubah, we found Ketubah.com via the recommended vendors on Smashing the Glass. Søren’s mom, who gifted us the Ketubah, suggested a Tree of Life motif, which chimed well with our botanical garden setting. We combed through designs and all loved the ‘Four Seasons with Trees.’
Our Music Choice
We both come from musical families — Anya’s late grandmother was a trained classical pianist and music teacher — so the music was important to us. For the chuppah, we hired Isobelle Austin, a professionally trained cellist, to perform classical music. We selected a range of pieces together with our parents, with Anya’s dad requesting Elgar’s ‘Salut d’Amour’ for the moment when Anya and her parents entered the Nash Conservatory.
Søren’s sister performed Debbie Friedman’s ‘L’chi Lach’ on her viola at Søren’s Bar Mitzvah as his portion was Lech Lecha. She flew her viola over from Connecticut to reprise this piece in duet with Isobelle during the circling under the chuppah. After the chuppah, our guests all sang ‘Siman Tov u’Mazel Tov’ as we signed the legal documents and processed out. We had more cello music at our drinks reception which was on the nearby Joseph Banks Lawn, adjacent to a scenic pond.
For the party, we hired The Messengers, a band led by a friend of ours. They played Jewish simcha music, helping guests to learn the moves, and later a range of pop music from the 40s onwards. In both styles, they lent familiar works a new twist based on their own arrangements, including blending the genres like adding Klezmer to pop music. We didn’t have an official first or last dance, but The Messengers ended the night on ‘Hey Jude’ which everyone sang along with. We were delighted with all of the musical performances.
Our florist was Flowers by Miri. She completely understood our vision — white, pink and green with everything light and delicate to complement the stone and glass buildings. We had foliage trailing down the aisle and little glass jars attached to the seats which caught the light. We chose a birch chuppah and wanted flowers that enhanced it while still allowing the birch to show through which Miri accomplished perfectly. We had seen samples beforehand but the flowers exceeded our high expectations.
Anya’s favourite flowers are tulips but our wedding was slightly later than tulip season. The week of the wedding, Miri called to tell us she had managed to source some late tulips which featured in the bridal bouquet, chuppah decorations, and table centres.
We chose Claudine Hartzel as our photographer based on personal recommendations and the beautiful pictures we had seen from other people’s weddings. We loved that Claudine captured people’s candid expressions, was happy to include funny pictures in the final collection, and that her editing was so tasteful. We were delighted with how the photos came out and Claudine was indeed a joy to work with! We didn’t have a videographer for the party, but as noted, the ceremony was livestreamed and recorded.
Our caterer, Dvash, provided outstanding food and drink for our wedding. We had a lot of requirements — Anya and her family are vegetarian and she is also gluten intolerant — but they put together a wonderful menu that met all of our needs. We decided to forego a first course and instead have abundant canapes and bowl food at the drinks reception.
A longer reception meant our guests could enjoy the beautiful surroundings and that there were plenty of refreshments for those not staying for dinner. Weeks later, guests are still telling us about their favourite canapes. The signature passionfruit martini, a special request from Anya’s dad, has been recalled with ecstasy.
The reception food included a mixture of fish, vegetarian, and vegan options. The mains and desserts were all vegetarian and gluten free. We went for a butternut squash main served with artichokes, olives, tomatoes, and quinoa, and, with a nod to the Americans, a chocolate fudge brownie and pistachio ice cream for dessert. There were also macarons on the table for after dinner drinks. It was all delicious!
Our ceremony blended tradition and innovation and we tried to make sure that our values and characters were integrated throughout the day. This included writing our Shtar Shutafut/Brit Ahuvim, working up translations to the Sheva Brachot based on reviewing various translations, and inviting family and friends to take on roles as well as working closely with our rabbi to shape the ceremony.
The speeches were all by family: Anya’s dad welcomed everyone and then Søren’s mom, Anya’s brother and sister, and Søren’s sister gave speeches, followed by each of us. We also took on the tradition of the bride and groom handing round the challah so that we had a chance to say hello to every guest. Søren’s friends from university, one of whom is now a rabbi, made Hamotzi. It was fun to catch up with each table — and who doesn’t love to be brought some challah?
In many ways our wedding also felt like a reunion from those we had been separated from through the pandemic. It was amazing to see friends and family who had travelled from across the world to be with us and those who had tuned in for the ceremony. As an international couple, we are always navigating geographical distances and to have so many loved ones in one place to celebrate with us was really incredible.
The decor was generally all covered by the florist and the Orangery at Kew didn’t need much embellishment beyond the tasteful lighting provided by Storm. As mentioned above, among the usual printed materials (menus, place cards, benschers), Søren had worked up a sticker of a man (modelled on Anya’s dad) lying back in a hammock with a packet of Rich Teas.
It was a puzzle and a pun — written within the picture was ‘Biscuit Hammock Zone,’ a play on the Hebrew ‘Birkat Hamazon.’ Guests spent the evening figuring it out until he revealed the pun in his speech. The sticker was designed to fit inside the benscher cover for those who wanted to bring the pun home with them.
We’re planning to visit family in different places this year — perhaps a few long weekends — but we’re saving for a big trip to Japan for our ‘real’ honeymoon.
Advice to other couples planning their wedding
The guest list was one of the trickiest parts of wedding planning, especially as we downsized our wedding after our initial plans had to be cancelled. We found the smoothest approach was to agree proportional divisions of the total among different stakeholders wherein everyone had total say over their own allocation of guests. We found this a helpful way to make sure everyone could invite the people they most wanted to. Then, when guests responded that they were unable to come, their spaces were filled from the lists of the person or people who had invited them, maintaining the same ratios.
We were warned that it’s common to feel overwhelmed on your wedding day so we were pleasantly surprised to feel present and joyful when the moment came. Trust your vendors — everyone we used was a dream and put so much effort into making the day a success for us. And trust your guests — they are there because they care and will bring so much love and support into the room. When something inevitably goes awry (Anya’s taxi to the wedding never showed up!), those around you will step up to help get everything back on track.
ANYA & SOREN’S LITTLE WHITE BOOK
Photography – Claudine Hartzel offers 10% discount to all members of Smashing The Glass’s Brides Club
Ketubah – Ketubah.com offers 10% discount to all members of Smashing The Glass’s Brides Club
Chuppah – The Happy Chuppah People offers 10% discount to all members of Smashing The Glass’s Brides Club
Catering – Dvash
Venue – Kew Gardens
Bride’s dress – Heidi Hudson found at Wed2B
Bride’s shoes – Dune
Groom’s attire – Savoy Taylors Guild
Hair + Makeup – Love Hair by Lou, PANDA
Flowers – Flowers by Miri
Band – The Messengers
Cellist – Isobelle Austin
Stationery/Invitation – Paperless Post, Etsy
Printing – Plan-it Reprographics
Rabbi – Rabbi Roni Tabick
Kippot – Skullcap
Streaming – Lovecast
Benscher – Haggadahs-R-Us
Production – Storm Productions
Smash The Glass Pouch – Smashing The Glass Etsy Shop or join Smashing The Glass’s Brides Club and get one for free!
If you’re a Jewish or Jew-ish bride-to-be, you’ll want to join Smashing The Glass’ Brides Club. Guided by the world’s number 1 Jewish wedding expert, Karen Cinnamon, Brides Club is the private community for Jewish and Jew-ish brides that removes wedstress and indecision and gives you what you need to plan with confidence during these uncertain times. Join our Brides Club here.