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26 Soviet-Jewish Couples Exchange Wedding Vows

June 14, 1987

TEANECK, N.J. (AP) _ Cries of ″mazel tov″ filled the air Sunday as 24 Jewish couples who missed traditional religious ceremonies in the Soviet Union exchanged vows in a mass wedding.

The Hebrew exclamations of ″good luck″ came as 26 bridegrooms smashed 26 glasses under their feet, part of the Jewish wedding ritual 24 of the couples never experienced when married in Soviet civil ceremonies, some as long ago as 35 years.

The other two couples were married for the first time during Sunday’s ceremony, held in a hotel parking lot.

The brides wore shoulder-length matching veils, hand-made by a New York City seamstress who also emigrated from the Soviet Union. They carried matching bouquets of sweetheart roses.

The ceremony was followed by dinner in the hotel ballroom for the participants and about 570 guests. The reception featured dancing to the music of a Hasidic band.

″I am nervous and excited, like a young bride again, but this time it is better,″ said Sofia Stepansky of Passaic, who married Yakov Stepansky in a civil ceremony in the Soviet city of Livov 34 years ago.

They came to the United States in 1978.

″We have again the traditions what were lost a long time before,″ Yakov Stepansky said. ″In Russia, we got no choice. Here we are free. We can choose. We choose to be Jews.″

The Stepanskys’ daughter, Inna, stood beside them during the ceremony, renewing the vows she and her husband, Leonid Bondar, recited in a civic building in Livov 14 years ago. Bondar’s parents, married for 35 years, also renewed their vows.

″We could not have a Jewish ceremony then,″ said Inna Bondar, of Clifton. ″We didn’t have a synagogue. We were not allowed to have our religion. We were not allowed to know who we are. Now I have freedom. I feel I am a new person.″

Symon Bondar, Leonid’s father, who came to Passaic 10 years ago, said in halting English, ″Today, I am happiest man in all world.″

Sunday’s ceremony, performed by 26 rabbis, was organized by the Jersey City-based Bris Avrohom, an affiliate of the New York City-based Lubavitcher Hasidic movement.

Bris Avrohom, which sponsored a similar mass wedding last year for 20 couples, helps new Soviet Jewish immigrants adjust to life in the United States. Among the services it offers are instruction in English and Judaism and vocational training.

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