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Transforming A Wedding Simcha Into a Living Mitzvah
By Meira Maierovitz Drazin

Women at a weddingWhen Elaine and Bob Ingis saw their daughter’s wedding plans getting out of hand, they decided to do something that would ground the nuptials in what they felt was its essence--celebrating the continuity of family and Jewish heritage.

Through Jewish National Fund’s Simcha Program, where tree certificates can be used as invitations, place cards, thank you notes or party favors for any kind of simcha, the Ingises arranged to plant a garden of trees in Israel in honor of the newlyweds and to present them with a beautiful plaque at the wedding.

Little did they know that Bob would die of a cerebral hemorrhage just two months before the wedding and Elaine would make the presentation herself in Bob’s memory.

Turning toward her daughter and new son-in-law, Elaine Ingis of Tenafly, NJ began her presentation: "When you started to make your wedding plans and everything started to swirl around us, Dad and I tried to think of a way to re-center our attentions and to focus on the real significance of this special day. Dad and I wanted to honor your marriage with a gesture that signifies a kind of continuity, a permanence that would always remind you both of the strong connection to your history..."

"Dad and I hoped to impart the real purpose and joy of your union--the link from your past, your present--and now, because of your marriage--OUR future. I always knew that Barbara, Charlie, Dad and I were a part of this continuity but I had no idea that this would serve to honor your dad as well--the link never weakens but grows stronger with each generation. May the love and respect you hold for each other grow tall and strong and may our families and friends remain as vibrant as our everlasting Garden."

Elaine and the room full of guests at the New York Botanical Gardens fought back tears of sadness and joy as she presented her daughter Meryl and son-in-law Andy Sommer with a Garden Certificate for 125 trees planted in the new JNF Ingis-Sommer garden in Israel.

The impulse the Ingises followed--to add something personally meaningful to them, something that would move their child’s wedding away from what can end up being an all-encompassing focus on gifts, dates and who is sitting where, and more toward making the occasion a true simcha--is echoed across the country as more and more couples and their families come to JNF’s Simcha Program as a way of adding more simcha to their event.

Stacie's Party Favor"You’re spending so much money on so many frivolous things, why not spend some of it on Israel?" says Stacie Bresler of San Diego, CA, who used JNF tree certificates as party favors at her wedding. A 30-something social worker who also has worked as a Jewish communal professional, she says that volunteerism and philanthropy always play a significant role in her life so it was very important to her that they be included in her wedding celebration.

Stacie knew that she wanted to leave her guests with something that would not lose significance when the party was over and remembered JNF’s Simcha Program. She decided to plant trees in honor of her guests and use the tree certificates as the perfect party favor that would not be thrown away.

"When you look at a map of the Middle East and see that Israel stands out because it is green, it hits you that we must be doing something right," Stacie says. She also mentioned that the rabbi of the pre-marriage course at her synagogue encouraged all the couples in her class to include some kind of tzedakah or mitzvah project in their wedding celebration.

"People are really receptive to the idea that by adding something meaningful like tzedakah to their life cycle event, they are elevating their personal occasion into something much larger, and thus enhancing the significance of their simcha," says Rabbi Alfredo Borodowski of the Jewish Community Center of Harrison, NY. "Every life cycle event is a great opportunity to foster the idea of tzedakah because people are in a unique moment of awareness of being blessed, and they want to transform their joy into leaving a positive mark on the world."

"No gifts please, instead help us plant trees in Israel in our names," read a card included in the invitations to Arlene Morgan and Herb Singer’s wedding--and their guests obliged, planting 700 trees in their honor.

"This was not a first marriage for me or Herb and we didn’t feel like we really needed anything for our home," says Arlene Morgan Singer of Glenview, IL. "I’ve always felt that it was important to plant trees, especially in honor of a simcha or in memory of someone’s passing--to have something living planted in someone’s name. It’s very exciting for us to know that the money people would have spent on gifts went to something really special--a living tribute in honor of our marriage!"

Arlene reported that some guests planted one tree, several planted 100 trees, and a few even planted 200 trees. JNF sent a certificate to Herb and Arlene along with a personalized message from each guest who purchased trees in their honor and after the final tally, presented Herb and Arlene with a plaque in honor of their new garden of trees in Israel.

Rejoice Certificate"Herb and I have each been to Israel several times but never together," says Arlene. "We can’t wait until we retire when we will hopefully go to Israel and see all our beautiful trees."

In addition to the existing selection of artistic tree certificates that JNF offers as part of the Simcha Program, the new Rejoice Certificate is now available from an image donated by Burton Morris (www.burtonmorris.com), the successful pop artist who recently created the signage and posters for the 76th Annual Academy Awards®. To find out more about JNF’s Simcha Program, visit support.jnf.org/simcha, call 1-800-700-1312 ext. 136 or email simcha@jnf.org.

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