Pnina’s father passed away when she was six. Her mother was emotionally unstable even when Pnina’s father was alive, but when as a widow, she simply was unable to function. A few months after the shiva, some of the neighbors became aware of the hardship and neglect that Pnina and her two older brothers were suffering. The home was filthy and the children were eating a daily fare of bread and margarine that they bought themselves from the neighborhood market. The mother was never seen leaving the apartment, but sometimes the neighbor’s were sure that they heard her crying. Something had to be done.
Mrs. Kagan looked into the situation and found that her neighbors had no family that could be called upon for support. Mrs. Kagan’s arranged for the brothers to be taken in by families in the neighborhood, and she invited Pnina to move into her home where she was raised as one of her own. With Mrs. Kagan’s warmth and with the attention of the older Kagan daughters, Pnina began to bloom. While the Kagans were not wealthy, they were able to care for Pnina’s basic needs. Clean clothing and well balanced meals became the norm and not the exception.
The years passed and Pnina proved herself to be a good student. She had an aptitude for music, and in high school she was already giving music lessons to young girls in the neighborhood. The years passed quickly. Occasionally Pnina would visit her mother in the establishment where she lived and was cared for. There were times that the pain of her broken family weighed heavily on her heart, but her high hopes for the future would uplift her spirits. Pnina prayed and hoped for the day when she would build her own home, a home that would be a paragon of warmth and stability.
When Pnina was introduced to Avraham she felt her hopes might soon become a reality. Avraham was raised by a single mother in a home void of religious values. When he was fifteen he started asking questions that his mother couldn’t answer. He formed a relationship with the neighborhood Rabbi who guided him, and eventually helped him establish himself in a Ba’al Teshuva Yeshiva. Now twenty-three years old, Avraham had become a counselor in the same Yeshiva and was teaching and guiding younger boys and helping them to reach their aspirations in learning. His dedication and responsibility were complimented by Pnina’s compassion and creativity.
It was clearly a shidduch made in heaven. Once Avraham and Pnina were engaged, they realized that the small sums that they had each saved over the years would be enough to either buy the things that they needed to establish a home, or to make a modest wedding. Unsure of what to do, Pnina approached Rebbetzin Hadassa Weisel, a neighbor and friend of Mrs. Kagan’s.
Rebetzin Weisel had established Yad Eliezer a few years earlier, and sent food boxes to families in the neighborhood who were lacking adequate nutrition. She was appalled that a couple should have to choose between buying the essentials needed for their home and having a modest wedding celebration. After a few minutes of thought, Rebbetzin Weisel made some phone calls, and the date was set for the wedding. As the big day approached, she prepared five kilos of rice and many trays of potatoes. One neighbor made the techina, another made a vegetable salad, and others participated in various ways. Cold cuts were served for the main course. The wedding took place in the hall of Avraham’s yeshiva, and was a lovely success. Soon news got around that families could turn to Hadassa Weisel and her Yad Eliezer volunteers who would help them make a wedding on a shoestring budget. The requests came pouring in, and they were not disappointed. Hadassa’s vision that every young couple should be able to have a modest wedding celebration, regardless of their financial situation, became a commitment to the disadvantaged of Yerushalayim – allowing young couples to make a wedding on any budget.
Twenty-five years have passed, and Pnina is already a grandmother. Yad Eliezer’s vision has stayed the same, but the weddings have changed dramatically. However, it didn’t happen overnight.
In the few years after Pnina and Avraham’s wedding, tons of potatoes, rice and techina had passed through the kitchens of The Yad Eliezer volunteers. While they were happy to help, they could no longer keep up with the requests; it was time to look for a more permanent solution.
Yad Eliezer rented an industrial kitchen in Meah Shearim, made agreements with some of the lower priced halls in the area, and began to provide discounted catering for families in need. They upgraded the menu; shnitzel and chicken were served instead of cold cuts, and the side dishes and salads were prepared in the small but professional kitchen.
It was definitely an improvement, but it was time to take Yad Eliezer’s weddings to the next step. Eleven years ago, thanks to the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Mendy Wolf who sponsored project, Yad Eliezer built the Armonot Wolf Wedding Hall in Givat Shaul, Jerusalem. Since then 4000 subsidized weddings have been hosted in the lovely halls, which are on par with any of the pricier wedding halls in the area. Any family that meets Yad Eliezer’s criteria regarding the amounts that can be spent on the band and photographer can host a wedding in Yad Eliezer’s hall, and pays only cost price for the hall. In addition, the catering is subsidized, a discounted rate of only 26.5â‚ª, about half of the price of other lower end caterers in the area.
These subsidies are made possible by Yad Eliezer’s Adopt-A-Wedding Project. Yad Eliezer decided to disprove the old saying, “You can’t dance at two weddings in one night.” They found a way that they could multiply the simcha. You can dance at two weddings in one night! Yad Eliezer provides sponsorship opportunities to donor families who are marrying off their children, by matching them with a financially disadvantaged bride and groom in Israel who will be married on the very same night. Couples in Israel were able to be wed without shouldering a heavy burden of debt, and the sponsor families added a spiritual dimension to their wedding. Donors choose between different levels of sponsorship: $1,000, $2,600 or $5,400, and can view Yad Eliezer’s wedding calendar and reserve their date through an interactive website. By sponsoring all or part of the wedding costs, donors know that they are building two batim ne’emanim B’Yisrael, one for their own dear children, and one for an ‘adopted’ couple that they have never met. Donors report that giving another family the opportunity to celebrate deepens their own celebration and gives them the sense that their children are starting off their lives on a truly solid foundation.
Since 2003, Armonot Wolf has been hosting two weddings a night. Other halls in Yerushalayim that use Yad Eliezer’s discounted catering to lower costs for couples in need bring the yearly tally of weddings to over 620! Yet it isn’t enough. There is sufficient demand to easily double the number of Yad Eliezer weddings, but with only two halls in existence, supply simply could not meet demand.
Yad Eliezer celebrated the Chanukat HaBayit of their new state-of-the-art ‘Armonot Friedman’ wedding halls in Bnei Brak. The Complex was dedicated in honor of Rabbi and Mrs. Jacob Friedman by their children Rabbi David and Judy Friedman, and Rabbi Aaron Dov and Devora Friedman. One of the wedding halls was dedicated by Mr. and Mrs. Jackie Stern from Brazil, and the other hall by Mr. and Mrs. Mendy Wolf from Lawrence NY. On October 19th, right after Succos, while many donors were in Israel for the holiday, the afternoon open house was attended by many of Yad Eliezer’s staff and supporters. In attendance were Reb Chaim Kanivsky, Reb Aryeh Finkel, Rav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi and many other Rabbis and Roshei Yeshivos as well as whose generosity transformed the dream into a reality. The Gedolei Yisrael shared divrei Torah and blessings, and placed mezuzahs on the beautiful doorways. It was a truly momentous occasion. Over 500 guests were astonished that such beautiful halls had been built to serve low income families.
The impossible has become a reality as Yad Eliezer is now hosting weddings for the lowest prices- in the most beautiful halls in Bnei Brak. Many donors were attracted to the project, which took their one time donation and turned it into a daily celebration for countless couples. Without a single advertisement anywhere in Israel, word of the halls travelled fast enough that within weeks of opening, the hall is booked for two weddings a night every night until erev Pesach!
If you take a peek inside the splendid halls, you will see why. Vaulted ceilings boast artful modern chandeliers. Stylish place settings are set upon high quality table linens, enhanced by elegant floral arrangements in tall crystal vases. Jerusalem stone, marble and wood paneling combine for a pleasant atmosphere. As opposed to many of the halls in Bnei Brak where the chuppa is held next to the street and the sound system must compete with the traffic to hold the attention of the guests, Yad Eliezer’s new halls boast a private chuppa roof, above the halls and easily accessed by a broad staircase and elevators, creating a private oasis for each couple’s celebration. The chuppa itself is constructed from decorative translucent fiberglass, a fitting setting for the ceremonies which take place. Attention to the smallest detail is seen in the bathrooms and handwashing facilities. High quality features insure that the beauty will last for many years to come. For the night of the wedding, the Chosson and Kallah are true royalty; all financial struggles are forgotten, and the deep joy of building a bayis ne’eman takes center stage. No matter what financial struggles may be ahead of the young couple, they will always treasure their wedding album. The pictures and memories will testify that they essentially are royalty, even if their current circumstances are challenging. The unique beauty of this project is that by lifting up a couple on the night of their wedding, they internalize their true worth as Bnei Melachim- and that is a gift that lasts for a lifetime.
Meet the Eisenbach family. Both parents are teachers and their two salaries barely meet the basic needs of their family. Having seen many of her friends’ weddings in various halls in Jerusalem, Chanie, the kallah, hoped that she would be married in Armonot Wolf. Mr. and Mrs. Eisenbach were pleased with Chanie’s choice, but dismayed when they found out that the dates that they wanted were not available. They were asked if they would consider moving the wedding to Bnei Brak, to Yad Eliezer’s new halls, but they preferred to host the wedding close to home. The available halls in Jerusalem were not within their budget. Mrs. Eisenbach called the new Armonot Friedman in Bnei Brak and was very pleased with the prices. Chanie and her parents visited Bnei Brak to see the halls. As soon as Chanie walked in the door, her eyes lit up. A vast and stunning vision met her eyes. She turned to her parents and told them excitedly that in her wildest dreams she had never imagined that she would be married in such a magnificent location! Chanie fell in love with the hall, and her parents fell in love with the price.
Meanwhile in Monsey Rina Schiffman sat counting the money in the special box on her top shelf. In a few hours she would be celebrating her engagement to Ya’akov Klein. As she counted the bills she recalled how two years earlier when she was in seminary in Israel she had heard about Yad Eliezer’s Adopt-a-Wedding program - how $1000 could ease the burden and uplift a celebration. She had decided at the time that she would save the ma’aser of the money that she made from babysitting and odd jobs, so that when she got engaged she would be able to sponsor a wedding for a poor bride in Israel. Eight hundred, nine hundred, nine hundred and eighty seven,... Can you imagine Rina’s pure delight when she realized that on the day of her engagement there was exactly $1000 in her box!?