Emigres share their wedding with other Soviet Jews

January 14, 1991|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Religion Editor of The Sun

As if it weren't enough to be getting married in a new city and a new country, in an unfamiliar religious ceremony in two unfamiliar languages -- English and Hebrew -- before 500 new acquaintances in a vast, modern temple, Larisa Pokras and David Kolker had an added responsibility.

They stood nervously under the huppah -- the festive white canopy symbolizing the Jewish home they will make together -- as an example to 25 other Russian couples who had never seen a Jewish wedding.

Rabbi Murray Saltzman, who pronounced the Kolkers husband and wife Saturday evening at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation on Park Heights Avenue, explained how the ceremony came about.

In Leningrad in June, a recently married couple told him they wished their wedding could have been a Jewish one. "Until then, I didn't know there is no such thing as a Jewish wedding in Russia," the rabbi said.

He told the young Leningrad newlyweds, "I'm willing to do it right here and now." And to their delight, they were joined in matrimony all over again.

Rabbi Saltzman returned home with his disturbing discovery: "I now realized that all those Russians in our congregation had not been married Jewishly." A single ceremony for them such as he performed in Leningrad was considered, but "they didn't like the idea of a mass wedding," he said.

His congregation began planning a wedding and reception for Miss Pokras and Mr. Kolker, who met in Baltimore after emigrating from the Soviet Union with their parents about a year ago.

As the plans took shape, the wedding became a symbol of the merging of two separated cultures, of a reawakened faith for thousands of Russian Jews who have resettled in the United States, Rabbi Saltzman said. It was to be an educational as well as a religious experience.

It also became the solution for the couples who had been married in a secular Russian ceremony. "We'll identify with David and Larisa," one of them told the rabbi.

After the procession of the bride and groom, their parents and attendants into the synagogue Saturday evening, Rabbi Saltzman addressed Miss Pokras on behalf of the congregation, Baltimoreans and Russian emigres alike.

"You stand in the beauty of your love," he said. "Beauty is not only external, but inside."

He quoted Mr. Kolker telling his bride, "You are beautiful and you are wise."

Cantor Samuel D. Berman sang, prayers and blessings were recited, and the bride and groom drank wine from a cup given to them by the congregation. They exchanged rings, and Rabbi Saltzman said, "I declare your marriage to be valid and Jewishly binding."

A loud pop startled the wedding guests: the sound of a crystal goblet smashed under Mr. Kolker's foot. Depending on which member of the congregation did the explaining, it was a sign of good luck, the end of virginity, the impermanence of the things of this life, mourning over the destruction of the ancient temple in Jerusalem -- or all four.

The congregation filed into the reception with the customary comments: "Wasn't that a nice wedding? She looked gorgeous."

"I feel like getting married again."

Said congregation member Ruth Hurwitz, "It's wonderful. I am so overwhelmed about this renewal of Russian Jewry."

For more than an hour, there was spirited dancing to the traditional Jewish music of the Kol Chayim band and sampling from long tables of Russian and American food.

Before the wedding cake was cut, Rabbi Jonathan Katz raised his glass of champagne and said to the well-wishers, "Some of you don't have champagne in your glasses, but I'm sure you HTC have champagne in your hearts. And your hearts are bubbling over, as mine is.

"Thank you, Larisa and David, for having us."

In halting English the Kolkers admitted to being a little dazed by the festivities. They were glad to learn that nervousness is expected on such occasions. Both are studying English four evenings a week at Catonsville Community College.

The bride, who grew up in Kiev, is employed by London Fog as a seamstress. The groom works for Marley Jewelers.

Before the newlyweds joined their families and close friends for a private dinner in an adjoining room, Rabbi Katz gave some advice in the only Russian word he had learned. He then translated: "Relax!"

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