April 10, 2003
Jewish and military traditions combine for a unique wedding celebration
When the newly married Michelle Kaufman and David Vizurraga began the traditional cutting of the cake at their wedding reception, particular care was taken to avoid injury. For the groom, a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, the utensil of choice was his 3-foot long saber.
With his hand placed over hers on the saber, Vizurraga and Kaufman cut their first piece of cake together and lifted it into the air for all to see. This was one of the time-honored rituals that accompany military brides and grooms as they embark into marriage.
At their evening wedding in June, nine swordsmen, all close friends of Vizurraga's from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., stood at attention in full "dress blues" as the wedding party, including Kaufman's parents Richard Kaufman and Wendy Lowry, and Vizurraga's parents, Manuel and Deborah, walked down the aisle toward the chuppah.
"The leader would call out the instruction and the swordsmen knew what position they were to be in," Kaufman said. "I thought it was really cool."
As in a traditional Jewish wedding, Vizurraga, with a kippah on his head, smashed a glass with his foot at the close of the wedding ceremony. As they turned to walk down the aisle as husband and wife, the swordsmen again called out instructions, creating a "saber arch" with their swords. As Kaufman and Vizurraga approached the end of the aisle, two sabers blocked their path. This signaled Vizurraga's next move before proceeding down the aisle.
"I had to kiss Michelle. Then the swordsman behind us gave a little swat to Michelle's backside, signifying her welcome into the military family," Vizurraga said.
Rabbi Harvey Winokur of Temple Kehillat Chaim in Roswell, Ga. officiated at the wedding.
"I didn't do a thing differently," said Winokur, adding that he performed a traditional Jewish wedding with military accoutrements.
Vizurraga said each officer receives special training in saber handling and the procedures for presenting arms, but admits that a sword or two has flown through the air during practice.
"It's more comical than scary," he said.
A military wedding may only be held if the bride or groom is an active or retired member of one of the military branches -- being a child of military personnel does not count. And the bride must stand to the right of the groom (instead of to the left, as traditionally done in nonmilitary weddings) to avoid the sharp blade of the military saber or cutlass.
While it was not an issue at Kaufman and Vizurraga's wedding, special seating considerations must also be given, with high-ranking officials seated in positions of honor at both the ceremony and reception.
Despite intense summer heat, the outdoor ceremony was everything Kaufman had dreamed of. By coincidence, jets from nearby Dobbins Air Force base were flying overhead during the ceremony.
"David and I were high school sweethearts," she said, so she knew a military wedding was in her future.
The two graduated from Dunwoody High School, about 20 miles from downtown Atlanta, in 1998, where Vizurraga had been a member of the ROTC since sophomore year. Continuing the military tradition set by his grandfather, a retired Air Force colonel, Vizurraga headed off to the Air Force Academy.
After their engagement last Thanksgiving, the wedding and honeymoon to St. Lucia were planned to coincide with Vizurraga's 60-day post-graduation leave. After he completes training at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala., Vizurraga will serve as an acquisitions officer at Hanscom Air Force Base in Boston.
While most of his friends are heading to flight training school to become Air Force pilots, Vizurraga is hoping to attend graduate school and earn a degree in biomedical engineering.
"I'd like to go back to the academy as an instructor and become a research scientist," he said. Â