On the eve of her wedding, 20-year-old Naava Applebaum and her father, Dr. David Applebaum, the director of emergency medicine at Jerusalem's Shaare Zedek Medical Center, sat at Jerusalem's Café Hillel. The two were celebrating her upcoming nuptials with a father-daughter talk. But Naava Applebaum never made it to her chuppah. That night, Sept. 9, 2003, she and her father's lives were taken by a terrorist's bomb.
At the time of her tragic death, Naava Applebaum was a member of Shaare Zedek's Sherut Leumi program. She offered comfort and nonmedical care to oncology patients. She enrolled in the corps of women hospital workers to fulfill her one-year Israeli National service requirement; Applebaum stayed for a second year out of dedication and passion for her patients.
Now, the Shaare Zedek Women's Division is honoring her life with The Naava Chuppah and Circle of Life pin. The wedding canopy, designed in Naava Applebaum's honor by Judaica artist Fred Spinowitz, is available for use with a $5,000 donation. Spinowitz's daughter, Daphna Brainson, designed the gold and blue topaz Circle of Life pin, a gift of appreciation to all donations of $3,600 or more. All proceeds go to the Naava Applebaum Circle of Life Endowment Fund, which benefits the Naava Applebaum Sherut Leumi National Service Program.
"Naava was an extraordinary woman looking to lend herself to pediatric oncology," said Jennifer Askowitz, co-chair of the Naava Applebaum Fund. "The Israeli government does not financially support Sherut Leumi. It's befitting to create an endowment in Naava's name that supports the service program she was so dedicated to. It's a tribute to her untimely death to do it through the use of a wedding chuppah."
The chuppah, a lush velvet canopy covered with exquisite hand-painted and embroidered detail, is itself a symbolic celebration of Naava Applebaum's life. Two trees stand against a flowered background, their branches intertwined like a couple waiting to be wed. The trees stand in a body of water, in which are painted four phrases from Song of Songs, King Solomon's love poem that is often read at weddings. Each chosen phrase contains the word naava, which is Hebrew for "beautiful" or "pleasant." The Hebrew names of every bride and groom married under The Naava Chuppah will be embroidered into the twin trees after their wedding ceremony.
"It's a remarkable concept, that numerous Jewish couples, along with Naava and her fiance, will be connected though this chuppah without ever meeting," said Spinowitz, who also creates artistic Sheva Bracha cards and Ketubot. "These couples feel using this chuppah is an important thing to do, that's special. That unites them in a very real way."
Shoshana and Moshe Lutwak are one of those couples. They were wed under The Naava Chuppah in Parsippany, N.J., on Oct. 31. Shoshana Lutwak's mother-in-law saw the chuppah displayed at a Sotheby's luncheon and brought it to her attention.
"The chuppah was beautiful, with the trees and the flowers. I liked that it was handmade and I loved the idea of giving something to charity on our wedding day," said Shoshana Lutwak, who remembers hearing about the Applebaum tragedy when it occurred.
The $3,000 tax-deductible donation for the chuppah's use seemed sensible to Lutwak.
"When you realize how much it costs to have a florist design a chuppah, it just made sense to give that money to the fund," the newlywed said.
The Lutwaks, like Naava Applebaum, are Orthodox, but the Women's Division hopes the chuppah unifies Jews of all religious levels. "Reform, Conservative or Orthodox, it doesn't matter. It's our vision that this chuppah will be used by everyone and will build a bridge between a variety of Jewish couples," said Askowitz, adding that the chuppah can be shipped anywhere in the world.
The project also built a bridge between two father-daughter sets.
"It's a wonderful feeling, to work with my daughter, Daphna," Spinowitz said. "We're meeting in a whole different way. It's an emotional experience for us, knowing that Naava and her father spent their last hours together. And it's wonderful to know that through our art, Naava and her fiancé will be celebrated at so many weddings, and that each of those wedding ceremonies will be enriched with Naava's values and life force."
To obtain rental information on the Naava Chuppah, and to learn more about the Naava Applebaum Circle of Life Endowment Fund, please contact Stephen Schechter at (212) 999-5585; or Lee Weinbach at Shaare Zedek at (212) 764-8053.