The simcha must go on

'You can either bemoan the negativity of your situation, or you can be grateful for what you’re able to do'.

Carli Koonin and Justin Balbir with Rabbi Daniel Rabin.
Carli Koonin and Justin Balbir with Rabbi Daniel Rabin.

WHEN Sydney’s Carli Koonin, 31, and Melbourne’s Justin Balbir, 29, got engaged in 2019, they didn’t want a long engagement – but then, they also didn’t know a pandemic was around the corner. Forced to cancel their big day two weeks prior to their April wedding last year, they were met by the same disheartening fate with the imminent Victorian lockdown on Friday, this time, just two days before their nuptials.

“Postponing again just wasn’t an option because of the mental anxiety of it all,” said Carli.

And so the wedding was moved forward to late Friday afternoon.

There was one issue though – the groom was at work, and non-contactable. But with no time to spare, the re-planning began.

“Then it was basically chaos from that point onwards – but good chaos!” told South Caulfield Hebrew Congregation’s Rabbi Daniel Rabin.

With the ceremony to now be held at the shule, the rabbi fled from the funeral he had just finished officiating to his office to prepare the ketubah, as volunteers rushed to construct the chuppah. Meanwhile, Carli’s hair and make-up artists catered to the changed plans, the florist adorned the chuppah with flowers; the band and photographer were locked in; a group message was sent to friends and family advising of the new arrangements.

And finally, just two-and a-half hours before the wedding, contact was made with the groom who had just finished work. By that point, his mother had managed to organise dinner and dancing at a Russian restaurant to follow the ceremony.

“Everyone just dropped what they were doing and came,” shared Carli in bemusement of the 100 attendees.

“I really didn’t expect it! It was a beautiful night. Everyone was in a really happy mood because the wedding was actually happening.”

Just married, Michelle Shmerling and Daniel Hornung.

It was not a dissimilar story for Melbourne’s Michelle Shmerling and Sydney’s Daniel Hornung, who had been set to wed at Sandringham Yacht Club also on Sunday, after postponing their chuppah from November last year.

Following a 10am tip-off on Friday that lockdown was very likely, Michelle called her mother Leah in tears.

Leah recalled, “I immediately knew that the wedding would go ahead! Their love deserved it. Nothing was going to stop Michelle and Daniel’s special day from taking place.”

In an unlikely miracle the venue was not booked out for Friday evening, and so they tentatively rescheduled and all of the suppliers were put on standby until lockdown was confirmed. While Leah and Michelle were getting manicures and struggling to find a hairdresser at short notice, customers at the nail salon each called their own hairdressers searching for availability – with success.

With lockdown confirmed by 1pm, so was the chuppah for 4pm. And by the time of the ceremony, around 90 friends and family joined – some dressed formally, some in work attire, and others in jeans.

“It just became this lovely, chilled simcha … I’m just filled with gratitude. Everyone moved mountains for us,” said Michelle.

But it wasn’t just weddings that were affected – bar mitzvahs also took a change in course.

Woody Weissman at his bar mitzvah rehearsal.

With Woody Weissman’s bar mitzvah postponed indefinitely from March last year, the date was reset for last Shabbat. He would be the third generation of his family to perform the rite of passage at St Kilda Shule – even reading the same parasha as his father.

The Weissman family were excited. They had waited two-and-a-half years since Woody first began learning the portion – and it had been 37 years since the last bar mitzvah in the family.

So with another delay not an option, Rabbi Yaakov Glasman was determined to give the family the simcha they had long awaited.

“As the light streamed through the stained glass windows, we were able to have the ceremony, joined by our 150 guests. You could hear a pin drop. Woody sang flawlessly, and the rabbi gave a really moving sermon,” recalled Woody’s mother, Natalie King.

Bar mitzvah boy Jonah Stowe-Lindner.

Meanwhile, Kehilat Nitzan’s Rabbi Yonatan Sadoff ensured bar mitzvah boy Jonah Stowe-Lindner would not miss out, and at three hours’ notice, pivoted to ensure the leyning would take place between Kabbalat Shabbat and Ma’ariv.

“The rabbi was sensational as a coordinator, a can-do organiser and the ruach creator,” told Jonah’s father and Bialik College principal, Jeremy Stowe-Lindner.

“Jonah read from all three sifrei Torah and haftarah, and it was amazing.

“You can either bemoan the negativity of your situation, or you can be grateful for what you’re able to do.”

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