JTA — There’ve been plenty of Jewish weddings at Camp Szarvas in rural Hungary over the years — Spanish, Moroccan, Chasidic. Rabbi Tamas Vero participated in a few of them. But they were all mock ceremonies, part of the camp’s educational programs.
Barbi Paszternak-Szendy and Andras Paszternak’s June wedding marked the first time a real-life wedding was held at the camp, run by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Vero, rabbi of the Leo Frankel Street Synagogue in Budapest, officiated.
The couple first met at the camp, which draws campers from 25 countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Paszternak, a native of Slovakia and post-doctoral fellow at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, spent his first summer at Szarvas as a 10-year-old; Paszternak-Szendy, a youth-program coordinator at Balint Jewish Community Center in Budapest, started coming when she was 14. In 2001, he came aboard as a counselor; she, who now leads the Hungarian unit during the summer, was his supervisor. Although he initially “feared” her, the two gradually became close friends.
Romantic love struck last summer — their 10th anniversary working together as unit heads — and the couple became engaged in January.
“Many of us knew that Barbi and Paszternak must become a family one day — much earlier than they did,” says Vero, who also is a former camper and counselor. “They formed a big, loving family for many hundred kids year by year. It was so obvious that they should form their own one, too.”
When camp director Alexander “Sasha” Friedman heard the couple was planning to marry, he told them, half-jokingly, that he could offer them a date — June 16 — “and make them the best wedding ever.”
Many other couples who had met at the camp have floated the idea of having a wedding at Szarvas. This pair, however, was the first to follow through.
Last summer, Paszternak actually helped hold the huppah at one of the mock, educational ceremonies. But he says he had no idea that in less than a year, his own wedding would be held at Szarvas. Once he was engaged, it “was my dream” to have the wedding at camp, although his wife initially thought it was a joke.
She soon came around. “We love the camp,” she says. “It is part of our life.”
The ceremony was held outdoors, in the area known as Mifkad Square. The food at the reception was based on the traditional Friday night Szarvas dinner.
Staffers, some of them also former campers, were excited to help prepare for the wedding. “From the lifeguard until the technician,” Friedman says, “all of us felt a little bit as if it would be our wedding, and we have to make it a ‘wow’ event.”
“We couldn’t find a better place for the wedding,” the recent bride says.