By Emily Hays
What do you wear to a wedding during a pandemic?
Blaize Levitan and Kristina Powell and their guests wore matching face masks – pink and red, custom made – in a Covid-conscious Valentine’s Day ceremony held Sunday, Feb. 14 at Book Trader Cafe in New Haven.
The wedding was a first for the popular cafe and bookstore at Chapel and York streets.
Book Trader was one of the couple’s favorite haunts during the four years when Levitan and Powell began a long-distance relationship. They would read and eat at the cafe while waiting for the trains that would take them back to their respective homes in New York and Hartford.
“We love a cozy book shop or coffee shop. It was our departing spot. It was always emotional,” Levitan said.
All 15 of those attending Sunday’s wedding wore the Valentine’s Day-themed face masks. All got tested for Covid-19 in the days before the wedding.
Since Levitan works in-person at the Greenwich Town Hall, he got tested twice. And all the grandparents were able to get their first shot of the Covid-19 vaccine.
The rest of the wedding guests attended via videoconference. As an extra layer, those present filmed and live-streamed the ceremony as well.
Powell and Levitan decided to follow the traditions of a Jewish wedding. Powell grew up Catholic, but the couple has found a joint spiritual home at a progressive synagogue, Temple Beth Tikvah in Madison.
The couple started the ceremony by signing their ketubah. The marriage contract promised that the couple would build their relationship on friendship and compassion and celebrate joy as they overcome hardship.
Then each circled the other three times under the lace-draped cccchuppah, followed by one circle where both moved at the same time. Cantor Jennifer Boyle explained that the structure was open on four sides to symbolize that their home would be open to their friends and family, and that their relationship would sometimes be buffeted by outside forces. The circling symbolized strengthening and protecting that relationship.
The couple shared “wine” (red grape juice) to symbolize joy.
Each put a simple band on the other’s forefinger. Boyle asked each whether they accepted the marriage and each dramatically hesitated … before saying yes and slipping the band onto their ring finger.
Boyle spoke about what the two had signed onto in their ketubah. She said they already were prepared to do many of the things in their contract. They had already overcome hardship by surviving four years of long-distance. They were able to celebrate joy even in the midst of the pandemic and were good at creating their own joy through trips with one another.
Boyle then sang the sheva barachot – the seven blessings. Her voice filled the glass-walled room of the cafe during each of the seven wedding blessings. She translated the Hebrew into English after each blessing.
At last, it was time for the couple to kiss and break a glass to conclude the ceremony.
Boyle showed the in-person and virtual audience the “glass” – a lightbulb painted with hearts. Once Boyle placed the lightbulb within a cloth on the ground, Levitan stamped on it. As soon as the audience heard the crunch, Boyle started singing the congratulations. The audience clapped along to the chorus of “mazel tov”s. When the song was done, they filled the room with their own whoops and applause.
It was Boyle’s first time officiating at a chuppah. The 26-year-old was asked to fill in for the Temple Beth Tikvah rabbi, who was away from work this month
Levitan and Powell first met while pursuing public administration master’s degrees at the University of Connecticut. They first became friends when they were the only two to show up early to the orientation for the program. Soon they learned that Powell’s mother taught at the school Levitan had attended and had been his sister’s sixth-grade teacher.
“He was cute and friendly. He was younger than me, so I wasn’t thinking of him as a prospect,” Powell remembered.
They became study partners and eventually went on a date that Powell expected to be a fluke. During their dinner at the Texas Roadhouse in Manchester, they talked about going to a brewery sometime. Levitan followed up immediately and made plans with Powell to visit the Samuel Adams Brewery in Boston.
The initiative and confidence wooed Powell, and their relationship began.
It’s been seven years since then. Levitan is now 28 and Powell, 32. They live together in a house they own in Guilford. Powell has been able to work remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic. Levitan goes to work in-person as the assistant director of parks and recreation in Greenwich.
They decided a month ago to get married. The momentum kept building until all the plans were in place for their pandemic-era, Valentine’s Day chuppah.
“A lot of negative stuff has been happening, and we felt it was important to celebrate something happy. You realize how fragile everything is. We wanted all of our grandparents to be there,” Levitan said.
The Covid-19 safety restrictions necessitated a small wedding, which worked perfectly for Powell, who is uncomfortable being the center of attention. The couple plans to throw a large party to celebrate with all their friends and family when the pandemic has passed.
Book Trader owner David Duda reflected on his own first experience hosting a wedding. The cafe stayed closed at the beginning of the pandemic. While Book Trader is now open, Duda still has not set up indoor seating. When Levitan reached out to him about hosting the wedding, Duda decided to make an exception to the indoor seating rule. The fact that the party agreed to all get tested for Covid-19 and keep their numbers at a maximum of 15 helped settle the decision.
“We have been slow. It was nice of them to think of this. I think part of it was to help out a business affected by the pandemic. Plus, everybody likes a wedding on Valentine’s Day,” Duda said.
The cafe is currently open for customers to buy books, coffee and pastries to go.
The ceremony brought Levitan’s grandmother, Muriel Keiper, to tears, even though her hearing aid cut out for most of it. Levitan is the grandson who lives closest to her.
In the month before the ceremony, Levitan found a place with a Covid-19 vaccine opening earlier than Keiper had scheduled for herself, so she would have more protection at the wedding.
“He’s very good to us,” Keiper said.
For Nancy Powell, mother of the bride, and Jae-p Champlin, mother of the groom, the wedding timing was perfect. Both said that their new in-law has fit into their families for a long time. Both liked the small size of the ceremony–it was cost-efficient and more intimate.
“She’s so good for him, and he’s so good for her,” Champlin said. “Even when they have kids, they’ll know what’s important. They know that life is short.”
This article is reprinted with permission from The New Haven Independent (www.newhavenindependent.org). It has been edited slightly for space considerations.
Photos by Emily Hays
Main Photo: Kristina Powell and Blaize Levitan under the chuppah at Book Trader.