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26 Soviet Couples Exchange Vows; Thousands Attend Hasidic Wedding

June 15, 1987

NEW YORK (AP) _ Grand weddings on both sides of the Hudson River celebrated Jewish heritage as 26 Soviet immigrant couples took their vows simultaneously before 26 rabbis and thousands of guests watched an arranged Hasidic marriage.

The events Sunday were linked by a common religion - and by a caterer who helicoptered across the river from Teaneck, N.J., to Manhattan to keep an eye on things.

At the Hasidic spectacle in New York City, the wedding of a bride and groom who had met just twice before, four tons of food was served.

In New Jersey, the ceremony was a renewal of vows taken in civil ceremonies in the Soviet Union for 24 couples who had been denied a religious wedding in their homeland. This time they had the traditional canopy, with the husbands smashing drinking glasses underfoot and guests shouting a congratulatory ″mazel tov 3/8″ Two other couples married for the first time.

″In Russia, we got no choice. Here we are free. We can choose. We choose to be Jews,″ said Sofia Stepansky, who had married her husband, Yakov, in 1953. They emigrated nine years ago.

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, N.J. ″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.″

The ceremony was held in a hotel parking lot. It was organized by Jersey City-based Bris Avrohom, an organization that helps Soviet Jewish immigrants adjust to life in the United States.

Sunday night at New York’s Jacob Javits Convention Center, between 5,000 and 10,000 Jews gathered for the wedding of Frima Rabinowitz, 19, and Rabbi Yosef Horowitz, 20.

The bride is the daughter of Moshe L. Rabinowitz, the grand rabbi of the Munkacs Hasidic sect, a Jewish movement that began 200 years ago in Hungary but was nearly wiped out in the Holocaust.

The arranged wedding wasn’t quite on the scale of a couple of Munkacs marriages in 1984 - one in the New York Coliseum, the other in Nassau Coliseum on Long Island - but it still kept David Scharf Caterers Inc. busy.

Scharf’s sit-down dinner to 570 at a hotel in Teaneck was a mere warmup for what awaited him in New York.

Ovens at the convention center were scrubbed and blowtorched by a dozen rabbis to keep everything kosher. Guests ate cold cuts, stuffed peppers, chicken, chopped liver and meatballs - and that was before the ceremony. Afterward came a sit-down dinner for 4,000, and after that, dancing and celebrating till dawn.

The couple, fourth cousins, had met at their formal introduction with families present, and again at an engagement party of 1,000.

Arranged marriages are no longer common, said guest Esther Rubin of Brooklyn, but ″those are the ones that stick.″

The wedding was a throwback to the wedding of the bride’s grandparents in Munkacs, Hungary, in 1933, when 100,000 people reportedly gathered to watch a veritable royal procession, with carriages drawn by white horses.

″These are survivors, children of survivors, and grandchildren of survivors,′ said guest Jack Weiss. ″At least half of this celebration is that the Munkacs survived.″

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