We love it when a couple merges their two backgrounds into a one-of-a-kind LA Jewish wedding – and that’s exactly what today’s duo did! Michelle, an executive search recruiter, and David, a public school teacher and screenwriter, set out to plan a wedding that celebrated both the pair’s shared Jewish faith and Michelle’s Vietnamese heritage.
Right before their chuppah – which was held at the couple’s synagogue – Michelle and David hosted a traditional Vietnamese tea ceremony. They donned áo dais (traditional Vietnamese gowns) and served tea to their elders and relatives.
We also love that Michelle rocked three different fabulous bridal looks throughout her day! First the áo dài, then a classic ballgown from Rita Vinieris for the chuppah, and finally a fusion look for the reception, pairing a clean, minimalist gown from Jill Stuart with a matching, white khăn đóng (Vietnamese headdress).
Read on for more about this wonderful wedding, plus exquisite documentary photography by Rebecca y las otras…
How we Met
Michelle, the bride: We met at a networking event in LA.
A Synagogue Wedding
We were married at our synagogue, Temple Akiba of Culver City. We originally planned our wedding for May 2021, but opted to postpone it in late 2020 given the uncertainty of the pandemic. During the postponement, I officially completed my conversion and we joined Temple Akiba. When we needed to find a new venue for our wedding, we knew that there would be no more perfect location than our synagogue home.
We held our reception at Playa Studios just down the street from Temple Akiba. Playa Studios is a music production studio by day and event space by night. With its high ceilings and elegant cocktail space complete with a built-in photo-wall, it was the perfect backdrop for the epic dance party we envisioned.
A Vietnamese-Jewish Wedding
Heidi Hou, founder of the Fête Collective, was our planner extraordinaire! My vision for the wedding changed so many times, I honestly lost count. She was both a cheerleader and voice of reason for us through the planning process. We ultimately ended up drawing inspiration from the colorful windows in the sanctuary of Temple Akiba to create a cohesive color-forward design that carried the theme through the invitation suite, florals, kippot and reception décor.
The one goal that never wavered on was our commitment to planning a truly fusion wedding that celebrated both my Vietnamese heritage and our shared Jewish faith.
Invitations / stationery
Our invitation suite was designed by my very talented sister, Relena Lai. The main invite was printed by Thomas Printer, and the rest of the suite was printed and hand cut by my sister and her friends. It was a true labor of love!
What ‘Smashing The Glass’ Did For Us
We are so glad that we put together a wedding program that explained the various Jewish traditions for guests. STG inspired that idea, and so many guests – both Jew-ish and non-Jewish were appreciative.
Hair + Make-up
It was important to me to find hair and make-up artists that were familiar with working with Asian features.
3 Wedding Dresses
I had 3 looks for the wedding: a traditional Vietnamese áo dài, a classic white ballgown, and an east-west modern, fusion look for the reception.
My áo dài (traditional Vietnamese gown) was designed by Thai Nguyen Atelier. Thai designed my engagement áo dài back in 2019 for our Vietnamese engagement ceremony, and I always knew that I wanted him to make my bridal one for the tea ceremony. I knew that I wanted the traditional red and gold color motif, but with a modern spin on it. Thai brought my vision to life with the red velvet áo dài of my dreams.
I wanted my reception look to be an east-west fusion look: pairing a clean, minimalist gown from Jill Stuart with a matching, white khăn đóng, Vietnamese headdress (also designed by Thai Nguyen Atelier!).
Accessories & Shoes
I actually dislocated my kneecap just a few months before the wedding and wore a knee brace for the entire wedding day. High heels were not in the cards for me, so instead I decided to have some fun and wear some custom Chaco sandals with our wedding date sewn on the straps!
The handsome groom
Thai Nguyen Atelier was not only my Fairy Gown Mother, but also – our Fairy Suit Mother! He designed and tailored a bespoke sky-bue suit in just 3 weeks after the original suit order fell through. For a sentimental touch, David wore his tallit and kippah from his Bar Mitzvah – the tallit contains a stitch from nearly every member of his extended family including his late maternal grandmother and the kippah was hand knit by his late paternal grandmother.
Ceremony and Chuppah
As part of our pursuit to incorporate both our cultures, we decided to host a traditional Vietnamese tea ceremony directly before the Jewish ceremony. Temple Akiba was gracious enough to let us use the social hall across the hall from the Sanctuary, where we donned áo dais as we served tea to our elders and relatives. In Vietnamese culture, the tea ceremony IS the wedding ceremony, so honoring this tradition meant so much to my family and we were happy to share the tradition with all our guests.
The Jewish ceremony was beautifully officiated by our Rabbi, Zach Shapiro. For the blessing of the fruit of the vine, David used the Kiddish Cup belonging to his great-grandfather Pinchas (for whom he bears his middle name), something he had been anticipating since childhood.
While it is more traditional for the ketubah to be signed prior to the ceremony, we decided to incorporate it into ours as a way to honor our dear family friends, Peggy and Arye Ephrath, who traveled from Virginia to offer their love and support. Since Arye is a Holocaust survivor, it made this affirmation of life and the continuation of Judaism especially powerful.
It was very important to us to incorporate our loved ones into the ceremony. We designated our four siblings as our chuppah holders and asked our immediate family to deliver the seven blessings. Unfortunately, my sister contracted COVID days before the wedding and was unable to make it, but we were so grateful that she and David’s grandfather were able to join via Zoom to deliver their blessings.
Our blush-pink chuppah was created from the lace skirt of a Romona Keveza sample gown that I purchased in my travels. Since my sister was not able to be there physically, our close mutual friend filled in to hold the fourth corner for us. David and I wrote our own vows to each other. I was nervous that David would outshine me as a verbose writer, and while his were longer, I’m pleased to report the consensus is that mine were funnier.
Finally, the emotion of wearing our wedding bands for the first time beneath the chuppah was unexpectedly overwhelming, and of course David smashed the glass with great satisfaction!
Our ketubah was designed by Elena Berlo of OnceUponAPaper. David and I wrote the custom text ourselves to reflect our values as a couple. Arye Ephrath not only signed our ketubah, but also handled the Hebrew translation!
Our Music Choice
We had a live harpist, Pink Mozart Entertainment, perform at the ceremony alongside a friend who lent us her beautiful vocals. She did a beautiful rendition of ‘Moon River’ for my processional, and ‘Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral (An Irish Lullaby)’ for David’s mother-son dance- the same song used to sing for him in his childhood.
We used Mendelssohn’s ‘Wedding March’ as our recessional- a classic wedding melody that sounded wonderful on harp.
We found the extremely friendly and talented DJ Tetris Kelly through VOX DJs, who handled the music for our reception. He did a great accommodating our requests to find the most energetic version of ‘Hava Negila’ for our horah. Our gentile guests really got into it and my dad almost fell out of the chair! He also played a great version of ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ when we had a surprise dessert of beignets served to celebrate David’s New Orleans heritage.
The decision for our first dance song was one of the hardest. For a long time, David was insistent on ‘Michelle’ by the Beatles, but aside from sharing my name, I never found it to be that meaningful to us. Then, just a week before the wedding, I heard an acoustic cover of ‘The Days’ by Avicii that moved me so much that we made the last-minute decision to make a change, and I am so glad we did. To this day, that song still brings tears to our eyes with its lyrics that perfectly encapsulate our thoughts and feelings during that singularly special weekend:
‘These are the days we’ve been waiting for / On days like these, who could ask for more? / Keep them coming, ’cause we’re not done yet / These are the days we won’t regret / And these are the days we won’t forget’
Anthony of The Boy Who Cried Flowers and his team did the most amazing job on our florals. Our planner, Heidi, put together a gorgeous mood board for inspiration, but the flowers were above and beyond anything I could have anticipated. Our original florist that we had booked in 2019 for the original 2021 wedding ended up relocating out of the area just two months before the wedding, but I truly think everything happens for a reason because our new florist’s style was spot on for the whimsical, modern, color-forward look I envisioned.
Photographer and videographer
We knew we wanted a documentary-style photographer that could capture the authentic emotions of the day for us to look back on and recall not just the details, but the joy. After our first meeting, we knew Rebecca was the photographer for us. She has a unique ability to capture the little and big moments and everything in between. The vibrancy of her photos speak for themselves.
Our search for the perfect videographer took an incredible amount of time. We watched so many highlight videos. But, there’s something about STYRO’s editing style and music selection stood out from the rest.
Food and Cake
In my family, the food can really make or break a wedding. Vietnamese tradition dictates a very specific multi-course meal featuring a few key dishes, such as shrimp, lobster, whole-fish, and filet mignot. Suffice to say, our reception was definitely not Kosher! After dozens of tastings from Burbank to Orange County, we landed on the refined cuisine of Panda Inn Catering. Our catering manager, Adam Yu, truly went above and beyond to make sure that not only was the food exquisite, but the service was second to none.
Growing up, I attended so many Vietnamese weddings where the gorgeous floral centerpieces would end up on the ground because of the sheer number of dishes, so instead of traditional florals, we opted to do an edible cake centerpiece. Domi Bakery made a mix of colorful cakes and when we did our cake cutting of our gorgeous 4-tier cake from Lark Cake Shop we invited the couple that had been together the longest at each table to cut the centerpiece cake alongside us.
Heidi inspired us to order a grazing table for the cocktail hour and all our guests told us how stunning it appeared! Apparently, guests were hesitant to eat from it since it was too beautiful, but once one of my uncles dove in for the first bite, it was demolished in minutes and not a scrap remained by the time we wrapped up the welcome photos.
I also decided that having my favorite drink, boba tea, at the wedding was a definite MUST! We had a mini boba tea mocktail hour after the tea ceremony.
I would be remiss not to acknowledge our bilingual MC, Khanh Duong, who did a masterful job facilitating our tea ceremony and reception in both English and Vietnamese.
Our ring-bearer wore the cutest outfit: a “secret service”-esq suit complete with ear-piece and a briefcase marked “Ring Security!” This had the added benefit of removing the stress of him losing the ring while toddling down the aisle.
Since our siblings comprised our bridal party and I was never a fan of the bouquet toss, I wanted to find a way to honor my closest “gal pals” and my new mother-in-law came to the rescue with a solution! She taught me about an old New Orleans tradition where the bride’s female friends circle the wedding cake and yank out “cake pulls,” small little charms on tassels baked into the bottom layer, each one with a unique meaning/fortune.
David had a lot of fun designing a custom drink menu for the wedding, featuring over 20 drinks named after wedding guests that were packed with inside jokes. Our bartenders really did not appreciate it, though!
Looking back, what really made our wedding special was having our whole extended family and community coming together to celebrate the start of our new lives together. They were the ones who brought the energy, love, and made all those YEARS of planning worth it. We will never take for granted how blessed we were to have the wedding of our dreams, and so, so thankful to our tremendous vendor team.
Advice to other couples planning their wedding
Prioritize what is important to you. Skip the traditions that don’t resonate with you; I promise you, no one will miss them! Focus and try to be as present as possible, because once it is over, all you will want to do is relive it in your mind.
Oh, and make sure to eat your own wedding meal!
MICHELLE & DAVID’S LITTLE WHITE BOOK
Photography – Rebecca y las otras
Videography – STYRO
Wedding planner – Fête Collective
Venue – Playa Studios
Ceremony Venue – Temple Akiba
Bride’s dress – Thai Nguyen Atelier, Rita Vinieris,
Bride’s shoes – Chaco
Bride’s accessories – Carol Hannah
Groom’s attire – Thai Nguyen Atelier
Hair – Tee Hair
Makeup – Makeup by Julian
Flowers – The Boy Who Cried Flowers
DJ – DJ Tetris Kelly through VOX DJs
Harpist – Pink Mozart Entertainment
Catering – Panda Inn Catering
Cake – Lark Cake Shop, Domi Bakery
Grazing Table – Shareable Boards
Ketubah – OnceUponAPaper
Stationery Design – Relena Lai
Invitation printing – Thomas Printer
MC – Khanh Duong
Smash The Glass Pouch – Smashing The Glass Etsy Shop or join Smashing The Glass’s Brides Club and get one for free!
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