Elie Schochet and Abby Siegel built a renewed faith and an unbreakable bond through Orthodox Judaism. Hand in hand, they welcome life's challenges.


September 04, 1998|By Judith Forman | Judith Forman,SUN STAFF

Like a queen waiting for her king, Abby Siegel of Kensington sat on a white wicker throne between her mother and future mother-in-law, clutching their hands and straining her neck to catch a glimpse of her groom.

Elie Schochet of Silver Spring was being danced to his bride by a horde of men, cheering, jumping and stamping their feet. He had just watched two witnesses sign the tenaim, the engagement agreement, and the ketubah, the marriage contract, in a nearby hall, made sweet with bottles of rum and chunks of cake. Now, blasts of horns filled the atrium of Potomac's Congregation Beth Shalom synagogue to announce

the arrival of the groom.

Abby and Elie hadn't seen each other in a week, keeping with Orthodox Jewish tradition. It was Aug. 16, time for them to come face to face, to become husband and wife. She started to cry when he came into sight. The atrium went quiet.

Elie placed the veil over Abby's face, then leaned softly into her. He kissed her cheek and whispered last-minute thoughts into her ear. His father did the same, offering her a blessing. It was the bedekin, the veiling ceremony, where Elie "checked" his bride to avoid making the same mistake as the biblical patriarch Jacob, who married the wrong woman.

In an instant, the quiet of the 200 guests became a joyous uproar as Elie was lifted up and carried off on the men's shoulders to await the processional. In a circle of ebullient relatives and college friends, Abby was spun away to the bridal room for her final few moments as a single woman.

She is 22 and he is 23. They are marrying at a young age, going against today's later-in-life marriage trend. It's the fairy-tale ending of a college romance that spanned 3 1/2 years, the happily-ever-after of a love between two people who, at 16, had each watched their own parents' love dissolve into divorce.

Still, young as they are, they are filled with faith and hope, not fear. For this they credit a religious transformation, a spirituality that gives their marriage strength.

Next fall, the couple will move to East Lansing, Mich., where Elie will start medical school at Michigan State and Abby will look for a job in social work. But before that, they will spend a year in Israel, studying Jewish Bible, law, traditions and ethics at yeshivot, places of learning.

"It's going to be a time of personal growth but also a yearlong honeymoon to learn how to live together before the trials and tribulations of medical school," Elie says. "A year to really build a foundation."

"I know that he is the one for me," Abby says. "He is the one God intended for me. He is my b'sheret, my destined."

The first time Elie Schochet met Abby Siegel, he and five other men from a Brandeis University fraternity got on one knee and proposed to her as a joke. He never imagined that three years and two months later, he would be on the same knee, asking the same Abby to be his bride.

But in the blur of what was the first week of college, Abby doesn't remember the joke proposal. Elie and friends were outside her freshman dorm offering women a ride to an off-campus get-together. It was September 1994. When Abby proclaimed she was ready to party, the boys proclaimed their "love" for her.

She does remember meeting Elie the next January in a friend's dorm room. They discovered they were both from Maryland and walked back to her dorm together.

"I finally found someone from my hometown and I wanted to build on this connection," Abby said. "We hung out in my room and ate bagels that I probably stole from the cafeteria. Then we started bumping into each other."

Their first date was to a Boston Celtics basketball game in February. Their anniversary stands as March 3, the night they stayed up talking until morning.

"By April, we knew for sure we were together long term," Elie says. "It did happen very fast. I said I was serious first and we fight over that all the time. But all that means is that I was smarter first."

As their romance developed, so did Abby's questions about Elie's religion. Elie was raised Modern Orthodox, and he was educated primarily at Hebrew day schools. Abby was raised in a Reform Jewish household, went to Hebrew School in the afternoons after public school and spent 11 summers at Reform summer camp.

When Abby first got to college, she thought about becoming a Reform rabbi. Still, she didn't observe Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, and the laws of kashrut, the Jewish dietary laws. She went to religious services at camp every summer but rarely attended during the year.

"I felt strongly about the culture and tradition, about what it meant to be a Jewish person, although I wasn't keeping Shabbat or keeping kosher," Abby says.

Toward the end of freshman year, Abby came to admire Elie's Orthodox lifestyle. It appealed to her desire for strong rituals and sense of community. She began to read about Orthodox practices -- first, the how-tos, then the whys.

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