I will never forget the day I attended my first Orthodox Jewish wedding. My husband and I had the honor of being invited to the wedding of Daniel, a younger brother of the rebbetzin of our community. This was 20 years ago, yet I still remember the moment we walked into the beautiful hall in Brooklyn, N.Y. I was struck by the sea of black hats and black suits.

While all the men looked the same, the women were dressed inFeeling lost, I followed the crowd colorful, elegant gowns. Feeling lost, I followed the crowd into a magnificent room where the bride was seated in a throne-like chair alongside her mother, sisters and female family members of the groom’s family. Hors d’oeuvres and refreshments were stationed in the middle of the room.

Guests stood in line to approach the bride to congratulate her. I couldn’t hear exactly what people were saying, but I assumed they were wishing her mazal tov.

Then I heard a friendly voice and a woman introduced herself as Lynn Garfinkel. She was a guest too and noticed that I seemed lost in this unfamiliar environment. Lynn explained that the bride has a power to give blessings on her wedding day and encouraged me to join the line. I felt too intimidated to do as she suggested, so I stood to the side watching these meaningful interactions. It was so special to think that on her wedding day, the bride was not focused on herself but used the opportunity to bless her guests.

I asked my new chaperone of the whereabouts of the groom. She explained that there were two separate pre-chuppah receptions, one for the bride and another for the groom, because they refrained from seeing each other for a full week prior to their wedding. This separation increased anticipation before the big day.

Just as I was about to inquire about when the bride and the groom would be reunited, I heard beautiful singing in the distance. Lynn was excited to explain that the veiling ceremony, called the badeken, was about to take place.

I looked behind me and saw a procession of men heading towards the bride. They were singing and dancing around the groom, who approached the bride and reached out to cover her face with a veil. I was mesmerized by this mysterious ceremony.

Born in the former Soviet Union under Communist regime, I was not familiar with any of these customs. I knew little about my Jewish traditions, yet somehow it felt comfortable to my soul. Here I was, in my early 20s, a young mother unsure about my identity and unfamiliar with my Jewish heritage. That day, I felt particularly lost among the sea of black hats and beautiful wigs.

I stood in awe of the people who knew exactly what was happening. Everyone seemed at ease, familiar with each step of the ceremony. I remember thinking about my own family and about my son’s upbringing. Unlike my husband and me, our son was not going to live in Soviet society, brainwashed by an atheist culture. But if we were not to educate our children in the Jewish value system, then how would they ever feel comfortable amongst people who were familiar with Judaism and lived it every day?

While watching the ceremony, one thing became absolutely clear: I wanted my children to belong and to feel connected to their heritage. As the groom covered his bride’s face, I felt incredible clarity about my own path in life. Somehow, this ceremony uncovered a 70-year transmission gap that linked me to my Jewish identity.

Unexpectedly, as I stood in the corner of the room, I began to cry. Lynn was by my side, exhibiting kindness and empathy as I found myself repeatedly overwhelmed by emotion throughout the night. As I watched Esti, the beautiful and pure bride, stand under the chuppah with her groom, my soul felt awakened and cleansed by my tears.

Later, I learned that the custom of covering the bride’s face with a veil originates from our matriarch Rebecca, who covered her face when she first met her groom, Isaac. The custom was repeated when Leah’s face was covered at her wedding to Jacob. Many reasons are given for this custom, but one is that the groom is not solely interested in the bride’s external beauty, but in her inner integrity.

I have heard brides describe how the veil covering their face under the chuppah helped them feel completely in the moment—all distraction removed with the privacy to focus on their future life with their groom.

I, too, wanted to uncover my inner essence that was hiddenI, too, wanted to uncover my inner essence beneath the surface. I instinctively knew that underneath the Soviet mentality and my own “personal Egypt” was an opportunity to experience freedom and liberation. That day, as I watched the groom break the glass, I made a commitment to find my way back to my people and my G‑d.

When I heard everyone cheer mazal tov, the words were familiar. I clapped along with the other guests. One clap at a time, one word at a time, one step at a time.

Many changes and big adjustments have happened during the last two decades in my life. My children received a Jewish education. My husband and I committed to building a Jewish kosher home. Every week, we welcome Shabbat into our lives and discuss Torah wisdom at our table.

While we are now much more familiar with our Jewish heritage, we still remain influenced by our Soviet upbringing; it is part of who we are. This is my journey, but I am no longer confused.

My favorite part of the Orthodox wedding is still the veiling ceremony. When I watch the groom cover his bride’s face, I remind myself that the real growth and real beauty is hidden from the eye. We all have our unique light hidden within. All we have to do is uncover it.