Jewish outdoor camping wedding in the woods

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 | Photography by Lyn Leland

Offbeat partner: Dejah & Nathan

Date and location of wedding: Family Member's back yard just outside Baltimore, Maryland — 09/29/2019

Our camping wedding at a glance: We are both very outdoorsy (he is a rock climbing instructor, I worked at REI, and we love to camp, hike, rock climb, you name it!) and had been looking for an outdoors venue for months with no avail. We met with my husband's mother's cousin who ended up offering her property for us to get married on! She had chickens and a little dog in addition to a beautiful wooded area. We actually met working at a summer camp down the road so the place was all the more special to us.

We wanted to honor and connect to the outdoors as much as possible. We limited electric lighting and used mostly crystal, silver, and lace (family heirlooms) decorations to try and highlight the natural beauty of the property. We also pulled the furniture out of the house and set up little living rooms all over the property. We wanted everything to feel low key and relaxed.

I made a playlist and after the free-form reception died down all of our friends stayed and we hung out in the hot tub and camped out around a bonfire. I was barefoot for the entire ceremony and reception (so was my mother and many of our friends! Husband could not be since he had to smash a glass). We really crowd sourced preparation and it paid off in a big way.

Tell us about the ceremony:
We had a fairly traditional Jewish ceremony. Our wedding was on a Saturday night so we started everything off by doing a havdallah ceremony. Havdallah is honoring the end of shabbat (the sabbath day/day of rest) and welcoming in the new week.

I played ukulele while a friend of mine who I led services with in college played guitar and my husband passed around the ritual items. It was a great way to take control of the ceremony and put the religious practice in to our hands.

We moved then into a ketubah (marriage contract) signing. We spent the largest part of our budget on getting a large, hand painted, water color ketubah and our witnesses (who were required to be non-family by Jewish law) were a friend who helped introduce us and one of my oldest friends from high school. We had one male identifying and one female identifying friend sign which goes against the tradition of only men signing the wedding contract.

We also chose to do a bedeken. This is a traditional veiling ceremony that is often seen as covering the woman and being oppressive. I really wanted to reclaim this tradition and honor the beauty of it. My mother was working in the bush in South Africa at the time of my wedding and had hand sewn beads into mosquito netting that was gifted by her village for my veil. I made a point to express that this veil was not to hide myself, but to let the spiritual beauty of our two souls connecting not be distracted by the physical beauty and ornamentation of the wedding day attire.

From there we moved into the ceremony itself. Traditionally in Judaism the parents walk the child down the aisle. My parents are divorced which goes against some Jewish tradition and in order not to hurt any feelings, we walked down the aisle on our own after our family. This choice was also to reflect that we were coming to this marriage as individuals and out of our own power.

Our chuppah was my tallit which was very important to me. Women typically don't have a tallit in more religious Judaism and being a community and religious leader has always been very important to me. My tallit is also covered in birds and plants native to Israel so having that be our roof of our symbolic future home was another way for us to integrate our love of the natural world. I also was barefoot the entire time, to be able to better connect to the Earth and to feel more truly myself. We had each of our siblings hold a corner (we used birch poles) as the chuppah is a symbol for your married home and I wanted to emphasize how important it is to have our family to help hold us up.

We also had a large tree near our ceremony location that I wrapped in string lights and hung every wedding photo from our family that I could get my hands on. Many family members that had passed or could not be in attendance were able to be honored and integrated in this way. I called it our “family tree”.

We did our wine blessings out of a Miriam's cup that I received as a gift for my Bat-Mitzvah. A Miriam's cup is a tradition that has started to be worked into Passover seders in more progressive families to honor the contributions of Miriam to the Exodus narrative and how important she was as a prophetess and a symbol of women's power. At the end, we had our rabbi wrap the two of us in my husband's late grandfather's all white special occasion tallit for some additional symbolism. The glass that we smashed as hand blown and we later used the shards to create Shabbat candlesticks so that we could have a piece of our wedding with us in our daily observance.

There is then a traditional period of alone time (yichud) between the couple.

We made sure to recreate a photo that my husband's grandparents took going into their yichud as an honor to the love that came before us. The original photo has been much treasured by the family and it was wonderful to see the family's reactions once we had our final photos from the photographer.

Tell us about the reception:
We started our wedding with a cocktail hour and appetizers. My mother in law made burekas and we had fruit, cheese, crackers and other nosh set up on a glass table while everyone mingled and we took advantage of the golden hour light to take family photos! We couldn't start until after sunset to accommodate some more religious family members, but it was lovely to have the light go down and be with our family without me hiding away for a first look.

Our guest book was a polaroid camera with stickers and gel pens and our friends and family took it very seriously! We have doodles and pictures with stuck on monocles, bow ties, etc. It was also a lovely way to get some photos that our photographer couldn't capture.

After the ceremony we cleared the chairs away to light a big bonfire with a smores set up and had a dessert buffet with cupcakes, Otterbein cookies (you can tell this was in Baltimore!) and more. I had made a playlist and we had set up small “living rooms” from the furniture in the house all around the forest. We also had some maybe from out of state maybe illegal fireworks. After our family dissipated, our friends stuck around for time in the hot tub and camping out.

What was the most important lesson you learned from your wedding?
Things will go wrong! I was one of those obsessive brides who planned down to the very last detail. I had every list and every spreadsheet and multiple copies, but things were still missed. We didn't realize that my husband wasn't wearing his boutonniere until after the ceremony! D'oh! But it was all okay! The little details that didn't happen don't ruin the event. There will be photos that you forget to capture, items that are forgotten and don't make it to the site, and last minute complications. But in the end as long as you got married it was still a success!

Don't be afraid to DIY but also ask for help. For decorations I nearly bought Trader Joe's out of flowers two days before and enlisted our family and friends to help.

My husband was building the bonfire a few hours before guests showed up and we have pictures of friends and family helping to set up decor. In the end, those are actually my favorite memories. We rallied our community and they really showed up for us.

I made sure to integrate so many small family touches into our wedding day. I couldn't possibly mention them all in this blog post, but they truly made me feel like we were surrounded by love and for the family who noticed it made them feel recognized and appreciated!

Low budget can still be beautiful! We managed to do an extended family shabbat dinner, a wedding, and a morning after brunch on 6k and that included rings, makeup, and everything! You can do it!

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Comments on Jewish outdoor camping wedding in the woods

  1. Fabulous! By now I’m sobbing!! Wonderful recreation and lifelong memento! Dejah, you’re a powerhouse of “getting stuff done” and positivity! How great that you’re in our family and that you and Nate found each other! Hooray!

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