JDC Love Stories

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, here are three stories of love from all over the Jewish world. It warms our hearts to have played a role in helping so many loving couples come together, and we hope you find these stories as moving as we have!

My Big Jewish Cuban Wedding

Though some young Jews share their bar or bat mitzvahs, it’s rare to share a wedding — but that’s exactly what 16 couples did last month at the historic Patronato synagogue in Havana, Cuba.

Just 30 years ago, when religious life was prohibited on the island, this act would have been impossible. Today, it’s the latest celebration for a flourishing Jewish community that’s experienced a profound and improbable revival.

With Castro’s rise to power in January 1959, Cuban Jewish life retreated into the shadows. When Cuba’s religions restrictions began to loosen in 1991, however, the Jewish community reached out to JDC for help. Today, we continue to partner with the community to aid its most vulnerable members and rebuild Jewish life with activities and programs like the wedding ceremony.

The big wedding day was filled with emotion and excitement. The couples were already married under civil law, but finally they could have a wedding according to Jewish tradition. One set of newlyweds had already been married for 50 years, and another was there with their newborn son.

The rabbi, visiting from Argentina, took the couples through the service: Each couple exchanged rings and the guests cheered and hugged as each groom broke the glass.

The celebration continued with a joyous reception. “As we all floated in our euphoria to the social hall, we began the singing, dancing, and toasting, white lace and tulle spinning,” said Ruth Oratz, an amateur photographer and NYU Langone oncologist who attended the weddings as part of a JDC mission to Cuba. “The children of the community were enraptured, dreaming of their future wedding day. One bride sat off to the side, quietly breastfeeding her newborn in perfect bliss.”

Lior & Lotem: Independent, Together

Last year, we introduced to you to Lior and Lotem, who fell in love and, through JDC’s Israel Unlimited program for Israelis with disabilities, were able to fulfil their dream of living independently. If you haven’t watched their heartwarming video, you can find it here:

We’re happy to report that they’ve become even more independent since then: They no longer require special support to live on their own. Lior and Lotem both describe their housing situation as “amazing;” they love their newfound — and hard-earned — freedom and privacy. And they have even more exciting news to share: They recently got married. (Mazel tov!)

Inspired by their experience, the newlyweds are currently working on starting their own initiative. They hope to create weekend social gatherings so they can help other young Israelis with disabilities have fun and expand their circle of friends. It’s a great example of how the transformative power of love and support can radiate outward from one couple to an entire community, and we wish Lior and Lotem the best of luck with their new venture.

Maya & Valeriy: Still Dancing

It was a whirlwind romance at Halom JCC in Kiev. Maya was 68; Valeriy was 72. They met in a dance class and were married only a few months later.

Halom, the JDC-funded community center is a hub for Jewish people of all ages to participate in cultural activities like dancing, concerts, and city tours, as well as spend time with others. Maya says she “never would have dreamed of getting married” before she began visiting Halom — both she and Valeriy were previously married to spouses who passed away. But after that first dance lesson, they soon found themselves excitedly awaiting the next opportunity to spend time together.

Today, almost two years later, their love is stronger than ever. They look at each other as though still on their honeymoon, and they do everything together, even housework; it never feels like a chore. The two lovebirds never quarrel because in Maya’s words, they “have no reason to.”

Their marriage is founded both on big commitments, like always respecting one another and their families, and small displays of affection, like hugging and kissing each other every day or the flowers that Valeriy is always giving to Maya.

Valeriy’s marriage advice? “It is not just about what you take, but giving something good to your spouse. Love is not commerce.” He added: “I will never hurt my Maya.”