February 25, 2020

Weekend Chuppah in the Midst of a Fire

Photo courtesy by Gin & July; Instagram:@_ginandjuly

As the Woolsey fire ravaged Malibu on Nov. 9, Lindsey Cooper and Laura Berman’s plans for their wedding, set to take place on the evening of Nov. 10 at Point Dume Beach near their Malibu home, literally went up in smoke.

Making last-minute adjustments, Cooper, 28, and Berman, 31, went ahead with their wedding and exchanged vows on the beach in Santa Monica on the evening of Nov. 10, instead.

“In the midst of the fires that burned, there was something poetic about being with two people whose love burned so brightly as the sun was setting,” Rabbi Paul Kipnes, Congregation Or Ami, who married the couple, told the Journal.

Cooper and Berman’s love story has been a roller-coaster ride, so the Santa Monica Pier Amusement Park was a fitting background for their nuptials. They shared their first kiss welcoming 2014 on New Year’s Eve, started texting nine months later (Los Angeles-native Berman moved to New York for grad school) and didn’t officially become a couple until the spring of 2015. Cooper, who grew up in Toronto, was living in Los Angeles and for months, the couple was unable to sync their schedules.

They spent a year in a long-distance relationship before Berman moved back to Los Angeles. In May, Berman proposed, surrounded by their families, in Palm Springs. They quickly began planning their perfect wedding for six months later.

But on the morning of Nov. 9, they were forced to evacuate their Malibu home, 24 hours before their nuptials. They quickly called their families and their wedding planner, and then headed to Berman’s family’s home in Encino.

“In the midst of the fires that burned, there was something poetic about being with two people whose love burned so brightly as the sun was setting.” — Rabbi Paul Kipnes

It took Cooper, who drove with her sister, five hours to get there. Berman, who said she took short cuts, still couldn’t make the drive in under three hours. In addition, cell service was spotty, so there was almost no communication. Yet, there was so much to do. Wedding guests who were flying in from around the country and Canada, needed an alternative place to stay. And the couple needed a new ceremony location.

As Berman and Cooper were stuck in gridlocked traffic with others escaping the fires, their families came together, re-planned their rehearsal dinner, found places for guests to stay and figured out where to host their wedding.

“They planned a better wedding for us than we planned in six months,” Berman said.

“My stepsister, who had a baby five weeks ago, coordinated a new rehearsal dinner,” Cooper added. “It was the first time our siblings, parents and grandparents were going to be able to be together, and that was one of the most important things for us.”

By the time Cooper arrived at Berman’s family’s home after her long drive, Berman was in the swimming pool. “I took my shoes off and jumped in the pool,” Cooper said, “and I gave her the biggest hug and kiss and I was crying. And everything was pretty much figured out.”

“That’s the story of our relationship,” Berman added. “We had so many people in our corner; our families and friends are constantly showing up for us.”

“It’s that, and it’s God,” Cooper added.

“It was the most perfect wedding I could have imagined,” Berman said. “I was so happy and present, I had the best time of my life. And I think if I had had it in Malibu, and it had gone the way we [planned], I would never have had as much fun or as beautiful an experience. Everything fell apart and came together in the way it was supposed to.”

In the mad scramble to pull off the wedding, the couple forgot their wedding rings. But during the ceremony, a friend slipped off her own rings and ran them up to the couple.

Kipnes said despite all the rearranging, it was a joyous event. “I wish you could have seen the look on the faces of these two wonderful young people,” he said. “It didn’t matter where they were, because they had each other.”

The feeling was mutual. Cooper and Berman posted under one of their wedding pictures: “We are the luckiest to have an incredible family and rabbi that made our wedding even more beautiful than we could have planned!”