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My departure date for Peru was no arbitrary day picked out by closing my eyes and seeing where my finger landed on the calendar. It was planned very specifically around a special event — the wedding of my dear friends Justine and Ben.

Long time readers will remember Justine as my partner in crime from my very first trip to Thailand back in 2009. From the moment she knocked on my hostel door in Bangkok to our tearful goodbye a month later, our friendship was cemented through the kind of mad adventures one can only have on a tiny island in the Gulf of Thailand. On our first day in Koh Tao, Justine taught me how to use a manual flush toilet, and the next afternoon I repayed her kindness by bucking her off our rented ATV in search of pristine beaches. We fell into the best kind of routine — frantic mornings at the animal clinic we volunteered at were followed by lazy afternoons on the beach, followed by wild nights drinking alcohol out of plastic pails. Since that summer our time together has been sporadic and there have often been continents between us. But distance doesn’t stop the kind of friendship that comes from finding a person who was cut from the same cloth, someone who gets you — someone who is a soul sister, if you will.

I was honored when she asked me to be her bridesmaid.

Justine was born and raised in South Africa, and Ben is from Arizona. Today, they live in New Jersey after a recent move from Brooklyn. After realizing that the majority of their guests would be traveling regardless of location, they settled on a in the pleasant town of Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. Funny enough, this would be my second wedding in the Quaker State.

Following Jewish tradition, the wedding took place on a Sunday, however festivities kicked off with an intimate Shabbat dinner on Friday night. On Saturday, the majority of guests arrived for a tear-and-laughter-filled rehearsal dinner, where Justine gifted the bridesmaids some fantastic kimonos to get ready in.

I was so grateful to have arrived early to get to know the rest of the bridal party better. Both Jus and Bens’ families welcomed me so warmly I was overwhelmed, and it became very clear exactly how this special couple came to be who they are today.

Rehearsal Dinner

Rehearsal Dinner

We woke up on the morning of the wedding to spectacular blue skies. As we pulled up to the farm the limo filled with screams and I could see Justine beaming as all her amazing hard work started to pay off. During the planning process there had been some mumbled questions about why the wedding was being held in more or less the middle of nowhere — but I can’t imagine anyone was still curious once they arrived to this view.

Friedman Farms Wedding

Friedman Farms Wedding

The girls were immediately whisked upstairs to start the beautifying process. I loved having Leanne, a fellow bridesmaid, do my makeup, but starting acting like an impatient toddler when I was in the hair chair. What can I say, I barely run a comb through my locks most days!

Tensions were a little high as we were running behind schedule, but typically this is my favorite part of the weddings I’ve been involved in. I just love time with the girls.

Justine wisely brought a change of shoes with her — a sparkly pair of killer stilettos for photos followed by a cute pair of cowgirl boots for the rest. Because I was actually in this wedding I didn’t play photographer as much as I usually love to, but I did steal a few moments during the getting ready process to run around and shutterbug.

Friedman Farms Wedding Ceremony

Friedman Farms Wedding Ceremony

The first event on the schedule was something completely new for me — a Jewish badeken. This veiling ceremony would turn out to be one of the most emotion and joy-filled moments of the day, as the women gathered in the barn’s loft to give blessings and well wishes to the bride. Meanwhile, the groom and male guests were gathering beneath us, singing in Hebrew. In a whirlwind of music and clapping and smiles, the two groups joined and the rabbi gave a blessing to the couple as they laid eyes on each other for the first time that day.

It was such an intense and beautiful and chaotic and loudly joyous ceremony, such a departure from a traditionally formal, somber wedding. I truly felt swept away by the love in that room.

Friedman Farms Wedding Ceremony

Friedman Farms Wedding Ceremony

Friedman Farms Wedding Ceremony

After the badeken, it was time for the ceremony. Sadly, we had run quite behind schedule that day and so there was no time for any portraits of the bridal party all together. Thank god for the iPhone!

This being my first Jewish wedding, I was again fascinated by the different traditions. I loved that both the bride and groom were escorted down the aisle by their parents, and that both families stood with the bridal parties alongside the huppah. Should I ever get married someday, I might just adopt some of these traditions.

With all ceremonies completed and the couple finally officially hitched, it was time to party. And party we did. I’ve been a guest at a fair number of weddings and worked at several more (I used to work for a wedding designer back in my New York days), and yet this one really topped the charts.

Every detail, from the fantastic band to the delicious food to the stunning decor — much of it handmade by Justine — was pure perfection.

There was one more Jewish tradition left for me to geek out over — the horrah! Again, I marveled at the love and energy pulsing through the room. As toasting and impromptu serenades and crazy dancing ensued, the night went by in a blur of happy. Never have I attended a wedding that felt so truly like the joining of two families, each overjoyed at the prospect. Every time I looked at Ben or Justine’s parents I saw people beaming with pride and elation.

It was hard to look away.

I feel I’ve done nothing but gush and spew superlatives in this post, but truly — that’s how this day felt. This wedding was love and euphoria and celebration — out loud. I loved every minute of learning about Jewish and South African traditions, and it made me hopeful I’ll be lucky enough to attend weddings in many more cultures.

We live in a strange world where marriage seems like more of a gamble than a guarantee. I was skeptical that any man could be deserving of this friend of mine — who could match a heart so big, and a spirit so free? But from the moment I met Ben, I was at ease. I could not have dreamed a better partner for her, and I was moved to tears by their vows to each other.

It is a rare joy to be at a wedding of two people so right for each other — and it is an honor to be a part of it.

Justine and Ben, I wish you a lifetime of adventure!

See all of my photos from the wedding .

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23 Comments...
  • memographer
    October 30 2013

    Stunning wedding photography, Meihoukai. Love the venue! Seems like it has countless picture opportunities.

    I am sorry you’ve lost your partner in crime. I’ve lost mine too… Same reasons 🙂 Traveling solo is not that bad, but, a companion doubles fun and joy of the travel.

    Congratulations and best wishes to Justine and Ben!

    • Meihoukai
      November 1 2013

      I’ve been lucky to have many different travel buddies throughout my world wanderings, but Justine was definitely one of the first and most significant! I’m sure we have trips ahead of us as well 🙂 And thank you for the photography compliment!

  • Jamie
    October 30 2013

    Did they have the bridal party in variations of pink blue and cream? What a rad idea.
    Jamie recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 1 2013

      Yup, it was a great system. The bride picked out the dress colors and brand and we were able to pick a style that suited us. I loved it!

  • Kathryn
    October 30 2013

    Ok, I’m crying, are you happy? Much love to Justine and Ben and the newly joined families.

    • Meihoukai
      November 1 2013

      Yes, in fact I am happy! It’s a gift to inspire tears 🙂

  • Sky
    October 30 2013

    Such a beautiful ceremony! Weddings always make me so happy for the couple.

    Also, on a side note – funny that the wedding was in WB – that’s the closest city to where I live.
    Sky recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 1 2013

      Wow! That is quite the coincidence… seemed like a cute town 🙂

  • Rika | Cubicle Throwdown
    October 30 2013

    What a gorgeous venue!! Great photos as well, you can see the love and joy in them. Best wishes to your friends!
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..

  • Dad
    October 30 2013

    Wow, did they hire you to be the official wedding photog? What a great photo essay.

    • Meihoukai
      November 1 2013

      Thanks! Actually I didn’t get to take as many photos as I was itching too due to my bridesmaid duties! I would love to fit “wedding photographer” into my life career journey at some point…

  • Sameer
    October 31 2013

    I wish every success and righteousness to the newlyweds, and thank you for the beautiful pictures and memories that will never be forgotten.I believe that love is a great thing culminates Association of holy matrimony.I repeat the INVITATION to visit YOUR second country of the Sultanate of Oman .

  • Hannah
    November 1 2013

    What a beautiful wedding! And you did an incredible job on the photos Meihoukai, they are all stunning. If I ever get married, please let me hire you to take mine!
    Hannah recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 1 2013

      I’d be way too terrified to be the main photographer, but I’d second shoot with my friend Heather (a true wedding photographer who’s work you’ve seen all over this blog before!) 🙂

      • Hannah
        November 2 2013

        That’s a deal x
        Hannah recently posted..

  • Briony
    November 4 2013

    Aaaah Meihoukai, this is me just getting round to reading this.

    What a gorgeous wedding and congrats to your friends. 🙂

    Xx

    • Meihoukai
      November 7 2013

      Thanks Briony! She was a super crafty bride, just as I’m sure you will be!

  • Beth
    November 12 2013

    Congrats to them! The wedding looked absolutely beautiful. I’d hire you to be my wedding photog any day!
    Beth recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 13 2013

      Thanks Beth, that’s an honor 🙂

  • Camels & Chocolate
    November 14 2013

    It’s my not-so-secret dream to attend a Jewish wedding. Alas, I’m from the South and there was all of one Jew in my hometown of 20,000 people…and she was only half at that, so her wedding wasn’t even traditional Jewish!
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 15 2013

      Next one I get invited to, you’re my date 😉