November 16, 2018

A wedding in Venice

We were touring the Jewish Ghetto of Venice, Italy, which is commemorating its 500th year, when I struck up a conversation with a lovely couple, Lana Atlasov and David Mednick, from the San Francisco area.

They had heard me testing the synagogue’s acoustics in my loudest cantorial voice, and they asked me if I ever officiate weddings. 

“All the time!” I responded. 

David and Lana told me they were struggling to figure out their wedding plans. They’d met three years ago and were eager to start this new chapter. It would be a second marriage for both.

They loved the idea of getting married in Venice, but their emails to the rabbi there received no response, so they had settled on a wedding upon their return to San Francisco. But two days into their Italy trip, they found out their rabbi at home had mistakenly scheduled their wedding ceremony for Tisha b’Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, a day in which a wedding celebration would be unthinkable. So many plans had already been made.

“All I’ve ever wanted was a Jewish wedding!” Lana said with such longing in her voice. Years ago, Lana had escaped the Soviet Union. This was to be the first Jewish wedding in her family since before World War I.

“Then let’s just do this!” David said. 

“Great!” I said.

My parents got into the conversation to help with details, and we made quick plans for a wedding at 9 that evening in Piazza San Marco.

My sister Annette came over, not having heard this conversation.  She has a degree in fine arts. Could she create the ketubah? At first, Annette didn’t understand. “Do they want to commission me?” No, we made it clear, this wedding is happening tonight. She giddily agreed.

We talked through details such as rings, which they ended up buying later in the afternoon on the island of Murano, where they were staying: two white glass rings that fit them perfectly. They found a wine glass to break in the ghetto. As for wine and cups, we had a bottle of Champagne that had come with our room. I bought a kippah for David to wear. I already had the big tallit for the chuppah since I was in Venice to officiate a bat mitzvah service.

Annette told the story to one of the artists on the Grand Canal and asked to buy a piece of heavy art paper for the ketubah. He referred her to the master, who ended up loving the story so much he gave her the paper as a gift.

At 9 p.m., we gathered in the lobby of our hotel. We went over all of the details together. It is amazing how connected we all felt despite having met only that day. My mom and dad had picked up some red roses for Lana to hold during the wedding. I found out later that my dad had bought out the street vendor of all of his roses for the day. We were all dressed up and ready to go — we signed the ketubah in the lobby. My parents, married for 46 years, served as witnesses. Then we headed to Piazza San Marco. Lana told us she wanted to be by the famous clock tower in the middle of the life of the city. We settled on a spot. The ceremony began. 

We held up the chuppah, rings were exchanged, and they said a few vows to each other, although not many words were spoken, as they were so overcome with emotion. Then I sang the Sheva Brachot, the seven wedding blessings, as loud as I could amid the hustle and bustle of Venice’s busiest square. In my concluding words to them, I reminded them that of all the billions of people in the world, and all the billions of people who have ever existed, and all of the billions who ever will, they have found each other, and that is truly lucky. Lana began to cry. Then David stepped on the glass, and we shouted, “Mazel tov!” They kissed. 

Passersby snapped photos. One couple walking by also yelled, “Mazel tov!”  

We heard music playing in the square. Annette suggested to David and Lana that they should have their first dance. David approached the bandleader and requested a tango — they’d first met each other in tango class. They began to dance like we have never seen from ordinary folk. All of the patrons from nearby restaurants came over to watch them. We announced that they were newlyweds. They danced the most romantic and sensual dances of all time. And not just to one song — the band continued and played another tango for them. Tourists video recorded them. They were such a beautiful couple. It was like a movie — that classic Venetian story of romance and kismet, and one that is truly bashert — meant to be.

Todd Shotz is a Jewish educator and film producer. He is the founder and executive director of Hebrew Helpers and often officiates weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs.

In honor of Tu b’Av, the love holiday, this column is the first in our new series, Meant2Be, stories of love and relationships. Do you have a story about dating, marriage, singlehood or any important relationship in your life? Email us at