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It was a traditional Jewish wedding. Sort of.
The Manhattan couple held hands under a chuppah, created from the bride’s father’s bar mitzvah tallit, a fringed prayer shawl. The bride wore a white-lace dress; the groom a dark suit and yarmulke.
The couple recited their vows in Hebrew, repeating the ancient words spoken by the rabbi as they promised to love and honor each other as husband and wife “in keeping with the tradition of Moses and Israel.”
But given the exigencies of the coronavirus pandemic, the rabbi appeared on a large flatscreen TV, presiding over the home ceremony via a Zoom connection. And the 60 or so guests who joined remotely appeared in little boxes on an Apple desktop.
“Say it again?” the bride, Julie Samuels, said mid-vows to the onscreen rabbi when the web connection became glitchy. “You cut out.”
For Samuels and her groom, Ben Schlang, who met three years ago via an online Jewish dating app called JSwipe, the digital nuptials proved a bittersweet but somehow fitting reflection of their love in the Age of Coronavirus.
“Technology has totally been a running theme in our relationship,” quipped Samuels, 29.
Cuomo Plays Cupid
Samuels and Schlang’s April 18 wedding happened the same day Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he would sign an executive order allowing the state to issue marriage licenses remotely as his PAUSE remained in effect.
Before the order, partners had to apply for marriage licenses in person. That became impossible as of March 20, when the city clerk’s office closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Now, licenses can legally be granted online and clerks have been authorized to conduct ceremonies via video conferencing, top Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa said.
“There’s now no excuse when the question comes up for marriage,” Cuomo said during the briefing. “No excuse. You can do it by Zoom. It’s yes or no.”
For Samuels and Schlang — and other city couples with reasons ranging from insurance coverage to taxes to “why not?” — the answer was “yes.” In fact, they already had their license, picked up before the clerk’s office shuttered on March 20.
On Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced “Project Cupid,” a joint effort between the Office of the City Clerk and the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) to bring the marriage licensing process online.
The revamped website is expected to go live in the first week of May, officials said.
It will allow couples to virtually attend an appointment with the City Clerk’s office, upload required documents for getting a marriage license, and later upload the signed license once the ceremony is complete.
The project does not provide for online officiating services, though Cuomo’s executive order permits municipal clerks to perform marriage ceremonies.
“We look forward to bringing some happiness to New Yorkers during these difficult times,” said City Clerk Michael McSweeney in a statement.
‘Love Is Not Canceled’
Kristen Maxwell Cooper, editor in chief of the wedding planning website The Knot, said couples had already been “incredibly creative” in salvaging their wedding plans amid the pandemic, even before Cuomo’s order.
The Knot surveyed nearly 3,000 couples in the U.S. and Europe with weddings scheduled between April and July and discovered the vast majority — more than 90% — did not expect to scrap marriage plans.
“Most couples have been rescheduling their celebrations to later this year or into 2021, with only 4% actually canceling their weddings altogether,” Maxwell Cooper told THE CITY.
While original plans might have to be scratched, Maxwell Cooper insisted, “love is not canceled.”
“It’s okay for couples to feel disappointed or upset, and it’s important they acknowledge these feelings and understand that they are valid,” she added.
“But even in this confusing, stressful and emotional time, couples and their vendors can absolutely work together to find a solution to celebrate love — perhaps in a different way right now and exactly as they planned at a later date, but one that will still be special.”
‘Our Only Option’
Tara Simms, 28, and Mark Valenski, 29, are swapping New England nuptials for a Queens webcam wedding.
“Our families are all over the country and not comfortable flying, so this is really our only option right now,” said Simms, who works in “customer experience” for a Union Square tech company. “Our main priority is making sure all of our loved ones are safe and out of harm’s way.”
The couple, who met at Purchase College, SUNY, and now live in Astoria, had planned to marry before 120 or so guests on Aug. 15 at the Killington Mountain Peak Lodge in Vermont. They’ve postponed the reception until Aug. 14, 2021.
“At first it was like I was mourning something, even though at the end of the day it’s really just a party,” Simms said. “We are both relieved now. We also didn’t want our guests to have to potentially make a decision between their health and celebrating us.”
Getting married wasn’t something they decided on a whim. After college, they moved to South Carolina for a while, then returned to the city early last year. Valenski finally proposed last summer at the Jersey Shore after five years of dating.
They are currently working with Simply Eloped, an online company that charges a flat fee for a Zoom link and an officiant.
While they are currently staying at Valenski’s parents’ Killington home to minimize the risk of contagion, they will return to their Astoria apartment on May 15 to comply with the executive order requirements that the wedding occur in New York State.
“My fiance really wants to get legally married this year,” Simms said of Valenski, who works at an artisanal knife company in Greenpoint. “We want to file our taxes jointly this year. It’s not the end of the world if we don’t, but it would be a benefit.”
Their Zoom nuptials will likely include only their immediate families. Simms will not wear her wedding dress, but will opt for “my nicest flannel and a pair of black leggings.” Her husband-to-be wants to wear an Islanders jersey.
“We might get our dog a bow tie,” she added.
‘We Do Re-Do’
Samuels and Schlang, who met in May, 2017, and got engaged on New Year’s Eve, 2018, had planned a black-tie evening reception at the Liberty Warehouse in Red Hook.
They booked a block of guest rooms at the Conrad Hotel in Tribeca, arranged bus transportation to and from the reception, and created a guest itinerary featuring outings to the High Line and Chelsea Market. They came up with a cute hashtag, #theSchlangGang, and created a page on The Knot.
But by early March, as the coronavirus threat intensified and they temporarily decamped to the suburban home of Samuels’ parents, the couple realized they had to postpone the festivities.
“Please save the new date of September 6th, 2020, to celebrate with us at our ‘we do re-do’!” they announced on their wedding page. They negotiated with all their vendors, paying second deposits to keep the dates.
But even their new Labor Day weekend date proved too soon, with scientific models predicting the virus would still pose a threat into the fall.
“We just decided, ‘Let’s do it’,” Samuels said of taking the plunge on April 18.
The rabbi agreed to perform the sacred rite remotely. Schlang’s parents in Florida were on board, as were Samuels’ folks, who would be the only in-person guests besides a masked photographer.
They contacted extended family and close friends and sent detailed instructions on how to dial in to Zoom. They opted for two separate Zoom links: one for the rabbi, the other for the guests. Instead of a rehearsal dinner, they held a Friday tech rehearsal with Samuels’ dad standing in for the rabbi to troubleshoot and work out the logistics.
A few family members sent last-minute flowers and donned tuxes and cocktail dresses for the digital ceremony.
Rabbi Melissa Buyer-Witman began by noting their union was “so important that you defy the norms of the day to gather, albeit virtually, to let the world know that no virus, no pandemic, no stay-at-home order could stop you from becoming man and wife today.”
The rabbi conceded the marriage ceremony would “not be the wedding day of your passionate planning and dreaming,” but added, “it will be legal and most importantly, it will be a sweet memory of a love more powerful than fear.”
They haven’t given up plans for a reception. The new date under consideration is in October of 2021.
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