Elegant Jewish Garden-Themed Wedding in San Diego, California

Lara and Brandon

Photographed by: Paul Barnett PhotographerLocation: San Diego, California, United States

It seemed that everyone who orbited around the lives of Lara Woolf and Brandon Grusd was just waiting for the couple’s worlds to happily collide. Both members of a tightly knit Jewish community of South African descent now living in California, Lara and Brandon should have easily met years earlier. After opportunities during childhood summer camps, youth groups and countless close calls as adults, the pair finally connected at a fundraising event teeming with 2000 people. They discovered their striking similarities, right down to their births in the same hospital in South Africa. In the couple’s own words, this first meeting was “Bashert”, the Hebrew word for “meant to be”, and their strong chemistry quickly took over where their compatibility left off.

Deciding where to get married was fairly straightforward based on the specific requirements they had for a venue. Because Lara’s family lived in San Diego, they chose to keep it close to home but needed a setting that could accommodate a 400 person Glatt Kosher wedding. They had heard wonderful things about the Torrey Pines Hilton, and once Brandon learned they could marry overlooking the golf course, their choice was clear.  So, as a beautiful reminder of their families’ journey from South Africa to pursue the American dream, July 4th became their future anniversary date.

Lara envisioned a magical Midsummer Night’s Dream theme for their wedding, but she and Brandon both wanted their celebration to be grounded in the meaningful cultural traditions that, after all, had been integral in bringing them together. Planning their wedding was a chance to be both creative and sentimental, to take risks with elements such as color but remain loyal to the rituals and beliefs that she and Brandon wanted to incorporate into their own life together as husband and wife.

Purples, pinks and chartreuse green became the mythical palette of water, light and lush greenery that created their dreamscape. Lara and Brandon were married underneath a luxuriant Chuppah symbolizing the home they would build together in marriage. Purple and pink silk dupioni draped the four poles of the Chuppah’s solid spiritual foundation, and a wild and free flowing garden of woven flowers and greenery formed a roof of togetherness and growth. In the middle of the Chuppah hung the traditional prayer shawl, the Talis, which Lara bought for Brandon to symbolize the home and family she wished to create with him. 

Before the ceremony beneath the Chuppah began, a more private ceremony, the Bedeken, was held. In keeping with tradition, the Rabbi and both fathers escorted Brandon into the room, welcomed by singing and dancing family and friends. He approached Lara, who was sitting at the dais with their mothers, and placed her veil over her face to prepare her for the next ceremony.

Once the guests were seated for the Chuppah, a special surprise was revealed. Lara’s cousin, a Rabbi and Canter living in Israel, prescribed the moving tone for the day by singing a traditional wedding song set to a South African melody. His magnificent voice exposing what many guests had not heard since before immigrating to the United States created a powerful and emotional preamble to Lara’s entrance.

Once inside the reception, guests converged on the dance floor to participate in the spirited Jewish wedding dance, the Hora. Men and women danced in separate whirling circles and were having such a wonderful time that when the music broke so that everyone could be seated for their first course, the guests continued dancing and singing without any accompaniment. After minutes of chanting for the band to play, Lara’s father had to ask them to strike up again for the crowd. It was a clear indication to the couple that their family and friends wanted nothing more than to passionately celebrate their happiness. “It was spectacular”, remembers Lara.

Three different centerpieces were designed to allow variety and balance throughout the enormous ballroom. One arrangement was a three foot tall glass cylinder filled with water and topped with roses, peonies, hydrangea and orchids, resting on another base of flowers centered on chartreuse chiffon table cloths. The pin spot lighting above the centerpiece illuminated the water to refract its surroundings, creating a dream-like state from table to table. 

During the cocktail hour, Lara and Brandon paid a small tribute to their wedding date with a table covered in celebratory red, white and blue. There, guests were treated to gourmet beef or portabella mushroom burgers pierced with tiny American flags along with individual metal coils brimming with crispy French fries. Among the other stations of sushi and Mediterranean fare, the independence table was a stand out hit.

During their cake cutting, Lara and Brandon emphasized to their guests how grateful they were to have fallen in love with someone that grew up celebrating the same family traditions. Sharing their classical South African fruitcake marked their first step into post-wedding life together and to include their guests, Lara and Brandon grabbed handfuls of small, individually wrapped pieces of fruitcake and tossed them into the audience. Everyone went wild over this nostalgic wish of sweet dreams from Lara and Brandon who were grateful for the effusive love and support their guests had lent to their lives thus far. Such sentiments were mutually felt by everyone who had witnessed their spectacular nuptials, a celebration that transported some back to their beloved roots and reminded others of their own fortunate present. For Lara and Brandon, it was a glimpse into their future, one replete with enduring traditions and unexpected adventures, all made richer by the presence and love of family.

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