This was the day of “Happily Ever After.” The wedding hall included people from diverse walks of life, and I was overwhelmed by feelings of joy and gratitude. I have attended many gorgeous Jewish weddings and experienced the nuclear power of new, pure beginnings. Yet this celebration was particularly meaningful because I had witnessed this beautiful bride carve out her own unique path and consciously choose a life of Torah.

Karina’s mom, Lana, and I became friends in middle school after our families’ immigration from the former Soviet Union to Philadelphia. As time went by, we both married and hoped to start our own families. Needless to say, we were overjoyed when 19 years ago Lana welcomed her first child, a lovely baby girl.

Together with my family, we celebrated Karina’s milestones. We watched her learn to crawl, talk, walk, discover her Jewish roots, deliver a speech at her bat mitzvah, connect to Chabad, graduate elementary school, observe her first Shabbat and commit, as a teenager, to building a life of Torah values and traditions.

Karina at her bat mitzvah.
Karina at her bat mitzvah.

This dedicated young woman traveled almost two hours each way in order to attend a Jewish high school, waking up at 5 every morning. Karina refused to eat non-kosher food at her friends’ birthday parties and shrugged off comments about her modest clothes. As she became older, she chose her Jewish name, Chaya Daniella, and became a regional CTeen leader and a Chabad Hebrew-school teacher.

Allen had his own incredible story. In 1991, his family immigrated from Kiev, Ukraine, to Philadelphia. In 2005, when Allen’s paternal grandfather passed away, the family discovered Chabad of Newtown, Pa.

Rabbi Mendel Lezell, youth director of Lubavitch of Bucks County, recalls: “When Allen initially came to us, it was Shabbat afternoon, and we were eating the third meal, shalosh seudos. Allen came with his dad to say Kaddish for his grandfather. I spoke to them about the upcoming summer camp, and Allen agreed to join and had an exciting time, really connecting to his counselors. I then told Allen about our Hebrew school, and on the first day he came with his camp shirt on; he was so excited. He started coming to synagogue to see his counselors and got involved with CTeen. In time, Allen joined many Shabbatons and eventually went to Israel to learn Torah.

Allen at his bar mitzvah, with Rabbi Weinstein.
Allen at his bar mitzvah, with Rabbi Weinstein.

“It’s beautiful to witness such an inspiring journey. Karina also first got involved as a camper, then a counselor and eventually joined a Jewish high school.”

Allen attended the same Chabad Hebrew School, CTeen Program and Gan Izzy Camp as Karina. Being that Allen was almost six years older, they did not have any interaction. After graduating from college, Allen felt a strong desire to continue to learn about Judaism and enrolled in Mayanot Yeshiva in Israel for a four-week session of intense learning.

Allen shared his memories, “Karina and I were led on parallel paths for years at the Newtown Chabad House without acknowledging each other’s existence. Several years ago, when I was 16 years old, I decided to avoid driving on Yom Kippur and asked a member of the Chabad community if I could stay at his house for the holiday. There was another man who was also staying at the house in order to observe Yom Kippur. We were housed as roommates in the same guestroom, and spent an evening talking and learning Jewish texts.

“Eight years later, this man, along with my own father, escorted me towards my beautiful bride and became my father-in-law. To me, it is not a coincidence that my father-in-law and I met each other on the holiest day of the year.”

Rabbi Weinstein, rabbi of The Shul at Newtown, and his wife, Rosie, guided Karina and Allen, independently. Rabbi Weinstein said “Karina is the realization of the words of the prophet that the children will bring their parents back to their heritage. As a young teenager, she chose to make her relationship with G‑d primary, and eventually, her entire family followed.”

Karina and Allen visit the Ohel before their wedding.
Karina and Allen visit the Ohel before their wedding.

Their wedding was a celebration of an extraordinary beginning by two people who both made life-altering decisions that eventually brought them to this moment of blessing and holiness.

Karina reflected, “Like many little girls, I dreamed about my wedding, yet the energy of that unforgettable day was beyond my wildest imagination. The most meaningful part of the wedding was during Kabbalat Panim when I sat between my mother and mother-in-law, along with my grandmothers and sister-in-law, and watched Allen approach me, escorted by our fathers.

“We followed the custom of not seeing or speaking to each other for seven days prior to the wedding. When we finally saw each other, that moment held so much emotion; we could not hold back tears of joy, and we both began to cry.”

Waiting for the groom at kabbalat panim.
Waiting for the groom at kabbalat panim.

The newlyweds expressed their hopes for their life together. Karina begins, “I started my initial journey alone, right around the time of my bat mitzvah when I began to explore G‑d, and my connection to my Higher Power. I was inspired by the lives of other religious Jewish women and realized that this is what I wanted my future to look like. Today, I feel so blessed to have a chance to raise children who will be committed to following mitzvot.”

Not surprisingly, Allen had similar thoughts. “I know that meeting Karina was a miracle and an answer to my prayers. At the end of October of 2020, I went to the Ohel in Queens, N.Y., the resting place of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and prayed to meet my soulmate. I was praying for a very special ‘someone’ whose soul would also be yearning to build a Jewish home. Our first date was on Nov. 2, just a few days later. We were engaged on Feb. 6 in Rabbi Weinstein’s home, and married on Aug. 29 of the same year by the same Chabad rabbis who helped us reach this milestone. We are truly blessed to have found each other.”

Some real-life stories are even more beautiful than fairy tales because they hold a spark of intrinsic truth within them. As the Kotzker Rebbe pointed out, “G‑d is everywhere. He is only waiting for us to invite Him in.”

May the beautiful newlyweds who made a conscious effort to create a home for G‑d be blessed with many opportunities to do so.