Subfreezing temperatures last week didn't stop Tomsk, Russia's first Jewish wedding in a century from taking place in an outdoor ceremony witnessed by some 400 community members.

As the mercury plunged to 18 degrees below zero, news outlets came out to record the union of Yavgani and Bela Stradovtv. Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Levi Kamenitzky, the city's chief rabbi, performed the ceremony under a traditional Jewish wedding canopy called a chupah.

The groom, a 33-year-old businessman in the Siberian city, met his bride, a local bookkeeper, last year while attending Jewish classes as part of the STARS program funded by philanthropist and billionaire diamond magnate Lev Leviev. Stradovtv started attending programs at the Tomsk synagogue after he met Kamenitzky three years ago.


At the time, the businessman was dating a non-Jewish woman. After talking to him about the consequences of intermarriage, the rabbi was able to get a promise from Stradovtv, whose father is not Jewish, that he would "marry a Jewish woman."

The rabbi and his wife, Chana Kamenitzky, also oversee a Jewish kindergarten, a Sunday school and a new community center with Internet café.

Before the wedding, the Stradovtvs became regulars at community events and would frequently eat Shabbat meals at the Kamenitzky home. Chana Kamenitzky taught the bride about the Jewish laws governing family and ritual purity.

Bride Bela Stradovtv says Psalms during a bridal reception prior to Tomsk, Russia’s first Jewish wedding in a century.
Bride Bela Stradovtv says Psalms during a bridal reception prior to Tomsk, Russia’s first Jewish wedding in a century.
"Before the wedding, we knew that we were taking upon ourselves a huge responsibility," said the groom. "It was very meaningful and important for us" that we do everything according to Jewish law.

"We were a little worried how our relatives and friends would react," he added, "but the wedding was very beautiful, and everything turned out even better than we hoped. We really had a feeling of satisfaction."

The bride walked down a red carpet dusted with a recent snowfall in a white fur coat, while the groom wore a turtleneck underneath his kittel, a white garment traditionally worn by Jewish men at their weddings.

Despite the cold, both the newlyweds and guests celebrated well into the night, said Kamenitzky.

"The dancing lasted until the early morning hours," he said. "It was all so exciting and beautiful."