The small celebration that took place Thursday afternoon on a small patch of grass at Brookline's Griggs Park was not what you'd consider a typical wedding ceremony.
But then, these aren't typical times, and this isn't a typical story.
They met later in life — Elisheva Dan, a psychoanalyst, and Mara Weitzman, a fourth-grade teacher at the Charles River School in Dover. Last October, under the stars at a farm in Lincoln, they agreed to spend the rest of their lives together.
Soon after, they got to the business of wedding planning.
They set a date of Aug. 30. They booked a venue, sent out save-the-dates, made plans to interview a caterer.
Then, over Valentine’s Day weekend last month, Mara woke one morning with a cough.
At the urgent care center later that day, the doctor who saw her thought it could be pneumonia and ordered a chest X-ray.
When he came back a few minutes later, Mara could tell by his face that it was bad.
The X-ray, he said, had turned up a mass in her lung.
The coming days brought a stay at Mount Auburn Hospital and an array of biopsies, until, finally, an initial diagnosis came back: lung cancer. Mara would most likely need to begin chemotherapy, soon.
Though a second prognosis would reveal a less aggressive form of cancer than originally feared, the idea of waiting until August gave them pause. So, too, did the idea of tackling whatever was coming without the connection of marriage.
And so, three weeks ago, they called Claudia Kreiman, senior rabbi of Temple Beth Zion in Brookline, who had agreed to officiate their wedding in August.
Could she possibly do the wedding sooner? As in, much sooner?
The rabbi, like the rest of the world, would soon be dealing with a wave of upheaval herself. The coronavirus’s quickening spread was wreaking havoc on nearly every facet of life, and places of worship were no exception. Temple Beth Zion would soon be forced to shut its doors, a place of togetherness and community reduced to online worship.
It was also becoming increasingly clear that there was safety to consider; marriage ceremonies, she knew, included a number of components — shared cups, dancing — that would be impossible to carry out in the midst of a pandemic. Even if something could be pulled together in a few days’ time, would it be safe?
Still, she felt a sense of duty to the couple.
“Holding onto love and hope is what will make it through this terrible, terrible reality,” said the rabbi.
She made some calls. A member of the congregation offered to provide the chuppah, or wedding canopy, which had last been used nearly two decades before. Another member offered to serve as a witness. With the help of her assistant, the rabbi went online and found a printable design for the ketubah, a traditional wedding contract.
Last Monday, the rabbi called back.
How about Thursday afternoon? she asked the couple. Four o’clock. Griggs Park in Brookline.
On Thursday morning, the brides-to-be awoke at 7. Eli drove Mara to Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where she underwent surgery to implant a small tube that, beginning next week, will deliver her treatment.
Mara napped in the afternoon. Eli met virtually with a handful of patients. Then they got dressed and headed off to get married.
At Griggs Park, where the jungle gym had been blocked off with yellow caution tape and a paper sign near the entrance reminded visitors to practice social distancing, a small group gathered in a corner, beneath a pair of weeping willows.
The scene represented a sign of the times.
The dozen or so guests took care to stand 6 feet apart. The son of one of the brides wore blue latex gloves. On the small plastic fold-up table where the couple would sign their marriage license sat a large bottle of Purell hand sanitizer.
The few residents who’d ventured from their homes to the small park to walk dogs or feel the sun looked on curiously. At one point, a black pug waddled over from a nearby path to sniff the shoe of a wedding guest, until its owner, realizing what was happening, quickly called it back.
But under the canopy, the two brides stood together as the rabbi read through the seven blessings.
At the ceremony’s conclusion, a glass wrapped in a hot-pink gift bag was set at the brides’ feet.
The Jewish tradition, the rabbi explained, was a reminder that even on a day of celebration, it was important to recognize the world’s brokenness — that, as we move forward, we all must do our part to help heal it.
“I cannot remember another time," the rabbi said, "when that is so true.”
Then, in unison, the brides’ heels came down, and the park filled suddenly with singing.
Dugan Arnett can be reached at email@example.com.