Arielle Belfer and Jacob Wischnia
August 12, 2018, in Philadelphia
In April 2017, Jacob received an unusual text from his brother-in-law Aaron: Would he consider a date with a smart and pretty Jewish woman who lived in New York?
Jacob hesitated. New York was pretty far, for one thing. Jacob, who grew up in Elkins Park, lived in Philadelphia. "Trust this," Aaron wrote, attaching Arielle's Facebook photo. Then he told Jacob a story.
That month, on the last day of Aaron's rotation at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, he did rounds with attending physician Bob. The men hit it off. As they worked and talked about their families, Bob told Aaron about his daughter, who held a degree in psychology and modern Jewish studies from Barnard College and the Jewish Theological Seminary, was about to finish her graduate degree from Bank Street College of Education in childhood special and general education, is lovely, and was single. Did Aaron know anyone for her?
By then, Aaron had realized his instant affinity for Bob stemmed from a sense of humor and kind personality that reminded him of his father-in-law, Eric. And so Bob's question made Aaron think of Eric's son, Jacob, who had graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in political science, is director of business development for CenTrak, and was also single.
The doctors devised a plan. "Hopefully, the next time I see you, it will be at a simcha," Aaron said, using a Hebrew word for celebration.
Home in Cherry Hill for Passover, Arielle walked in on whispers between her mom, Gail, and brother, Joshua. The matchmakers had figured out that Joshua knew of Jacob from their shared alma maters, Akiba Hebrew Academy — now called Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy — and Penn. Gail wanted her son's opinion before even mentioning Jacob to her daughter. Joshua approved, and they told Arielle all they knew about Jacob.
Several years her brother's junior, Arielle had also graduated from Akiba. She raced to get her yearbook. She did not recognize Jacob, but he was obviously intelligent, shared her Jewish faith, and was pretty cute, too.
Jacob called Arielle on a Friday afternoon, when both were making Shabbat dinner with friends. "It was a really easy conversation," Jacob remembers. "I could have talked for two hours longer." Arielle found him so sweet and funny.
Little more than a week later, he picked her up at her Upper West Side apartment and they headed to Pelham Bay Park to hike. "He brought water bottles for us, and he always walked through the muddy areas first to find a path for me," Arielle said. "It was clear he was just so thoughtful, and such a good guy."
Things were pretty clear for Jacob, too. "I think after our first date, I knew we were going to get married," he said. "Our families are so similar. We had such a great conversation. And I love how she carries out her Jewish values. She cares for her family, and she wanted to have a family."
Neither wanted to part, so they had dinner, too, stretching the date to about six hours. The next day, Jacob texted a screen shot of his GPS coordinates — he was on his way back to New York. They got a drink and talked for hours, then he drove back to Philly.
Four dates in, Jacob met her parents. That summer, she met his, Janet and Eric, plus a host of other family at his grandfather's birthday party.
In February 2018, Jacob and Arielle both caught a bug and spent part of Super Bowl weekend on the couch at her parents' Cherry Hill home. "There's no one I'd rather be sitting on a couch sick with," Jacob thought. He turned to his girlfriend as he drove her back to New York. "I know you want a summer wedding," he said. "Is it OK if we go for this summer?"
She was all for it.
March brought the Philadelphia Flower Show, and the couple had tickets. Arielle noticed Jacob was acting a little strange and thought something big was about to happen. "Around every turn, I was looking for a photographer," she remembered.
"I'm really sorry. I just couldn't get everything together in time," Jacob said. "This new place just opened up, do you want to grab a drink?"
The SkyGarten hostess said they were so, so busy — but there was a little room where she could seat them. That door opened, and Arielle saw many flowers and candles — arranged by Jacob's friend Brianna Slivjak, a florist. "He had created our own personal flower show," she said.
Jacob told her all the reasons he loves her then knelt. Arielle said yes and realized there was a photographer: Jacob's brother-in-law, Aaron. That night at the engagement celebration, Aaron and the other matchmaker, Arielle's dad, saw each other for the second time.
Jacob, who is now 29, and Arielle, who is 26 and teaches special education at the Shefa School in New York, married at the Hilton on City Avenue.
Following Orthodox custom, they did not see each other for the week leading up to the wedding. Their only communication was indirect, through Arielle's mother.
Jacob welcomed about 100 of their male family members and friends, who witnessed the signing of the ketubah, then danced, sang at the top of their lungs, and banged on the hotel walls as they escorted the groom to Arielle, who sat waiting with the couple's mothers, her grandmother, Jacob's sisters, and the bridesmaids. Jacob placed her veil over her face, and the ceremony began.
The groom and bride were each escorted by their parents as the couple's favorite Jewish singer, Mordechai Shapiro, sang. During the ceremony, special prayers were said for Israeli soldiers and the State of Israel.
The men who had danced Jacob to Arielle gathered once more and danced the couple to a private room for a few moments of just-married reflection — and so they could eat a sampling of the chicken and waffles, sliders, and other appetizers their 290 guests had enjoyed.
There was so much food that night. And so much dancing, to traditional and modern Hebrew songs, pop and Motown favorites. First, the men and women danced separately. Then, everyone came together to hoist the couple on chairs for the hora. And then everyone danced some more. "It's like running a marathon," said Jacob.
Jacob will never forget the bedeken, when his male friends and family sang at the top of their lungs and brought him to Arielle. "When I saw her, I was just so, so happy," he said. "It was the culmination of our relationship so far, and the start of the next chapter."
"I felt surrounded by all this love, and overwhelmed by all of the love for us," Arielle said. Their fathers said a blessing, and the groomsmen began to dance and the bridesmaids began to dance, and everyone headed toward the ceremony. "For me to see this, that this was happening, it was so powerful," she said.
A bargain: Arielle's uncle, who owns a clothing business, Z Bros. Wholesale Apparel, provided buckets of flip-flops for dancing at a great price.
The splurge: Hiring Mordechai Shapiro to sing.
The couple, who now live in New York, spent the seven days after their wedding celebrating with loved ones. This winter, they will spend two weeks in Madrid, Barcelona, and another Spanish city or two.
Officiant: Rabbi Ephraim Epstein, Congregation Sons of Israel, Cherry Hill.
Music: Nafshenu Orchestra, New York.
Singer: Mordechai Shapiro.
Photography and Videography: Andre Reichmann, Monroe, N.Y.
Flowers: Penncora Productions Inc., Phoenixville.
Dress: Reem Acra.
Hair: Victoria Gervasi and Dana Hawkins Thomas, Cherry Hill.
Makeup: Julia Willenbring.