First down the long aisle of the synagogue came the children two by two, the girls in long dresses and clutching their little bouquets.
Martin Juniver, 4, the only boy, made soft "kyew, kyew" sounds as he maneuvered his single rose, transformed into a deadly starship, through a galaxy of space invaders.
Then as the cantor warmed to the ancient wedding melody, came the parents: 14 brides and 14 bridegrooms, splendidly arrayed, all but one Russian-Jewish immigrants to this country, to stand before the sacred torah at Adas Israel Synagogue and realize a longtime dream.
As proper Jews, at last they would be married under the chupper (marriage canopy), with a rabbi yet.
Fourteen couples ringed the podium in a rainbow of wedding finery. Three rabbis in their most glittering robes and prayer shawls led the couples through their vows. A splendid cantor and the Fabrengen Fiddlers made joyous music throughout. Even the president of the United States sent "good wishes and congratulations." Nobody minded the faintly political overtones of the president's greeting, read by special adviser Jacob Stein, that focused rather heavily on the administration's "continuing concern" for freedom of religion and culture in the Soviet Union.
Thirteen of the 14 couples who recited their vows under the lace-and-white gladiola marriage canopy Wednesday night had been married in civil ceremonies in the Soviet Union. One couple marrying for the first time opted to be part of the mass ceremony because of their ties with the Russian community.
This spring, when Gabrielle Smulowitz began working with the Russian Club at the Jewish Community Center in Rockville as part of her social work studies at Catholic University, she discovered that one of the things the new immigrants yearned for was a traditional Jewish wedding.
"We have always wanted a religious wedding," said Sabrina Lozovsky, who, with her husband David, got her wish Wednesday night.
Their first wedding was neither very romantic nor very traditional, the couple recalled. "It was a very typical [Soviet] wedding," Sabrina Lozovsky said. "We and a few of our friends went to the municipal office in Moscow and filed an application," she said. Several months later they were notified to report for their marriage ceremony.
"A lady in a dark suit with a big red ribbon came forward and told us to be good to each other, to start and maintain a good Soviet family and, through it, to help build the socialist state."
They didn't even seal their marriage with the traditional kiss, she said. "In front of a lady in a dark suit and a red ribbon," she said, "you don't feel like embracing."
Neither Sabrina Lozovsky, who works as promotion manager for an encyclopedia publisher here, nor her husband, a physician at the National Institute of Mental Health, had ever seen a Jewish wedding in the Soviet Union. "You can't do it in the traditional [religious] way, not the Jews nor the [Russian] Orthodox either. You would be putting yourself in great jeopardy" to attempt a religious wedding in Russia, said David Lozovsky. "From the time we were born in the Soviet Union, all traditions did not exist."
All the traditions were observed at Wednesday night's mass wedding. One by one the couples were called under the chuppa, in front of the sacred torah, as Jews for thousands of years have come to be married. Rabbi Morris Gordon of Har Shalom Congregation in Potomac, Rabbi Samuel Volkman of Ner Tamid Congregation in Woodbridge took turns leading the couples through their vows.
According to the tradition, each bridegroom placed a gold ring on the forefinger of his bride. Then the rabbi led him, word by word, through the ancient Hebrew pledge: "With this ring I do consecrate thee unto me as my wife in accordance with the laws of Moses and the faith of Israel."
Then the husband handed his wife the ketutubah, the marriage contract. By her acceptance, by tradition, she signifies her pledge to him.
There were more prayers and blessings -- "May He who blessed our patriarchs, Arbraham and Sarah, Jacob and Rachel, bless these brides and these grooms" -- and Rabbi Gordon intoned: "My colleagues and I, before this torah as witness, declare that you, according to the laws of the District of Columbia and the traditions of Moses and Israel . . . that each of you are husband and wife."
The Washington-area Jewish community made sure that the wedding for the "resettlers," as the elegantly printed program for the evening referred to them, would be gala. One merchant provided the tuxedos for the men; another gowns for the brides. An exclusive beauty salon did the coiffures for the women.
The Washington Board of Rabbis gave its sponsorship, the 14 ketubahs, or illuminated marriage contracts and 14 silver kiddush cups and 14 candlesticks for the families to use in welcoming each sabbath. Florists, printers and liquor wholesalers also came forward with offerings, and Leo M. Bernstein, president of the Washington Bank, paid for the reception as well as a one-night honeymoon in a hotel for each couple.
The mass wedding was a family affair in more ways than one. The wedding party included two sets of mother and daughter brides, and two brothers and their parents.
The 13 twice-married couples have a total of 12 children school age or under among them. Friends were encouraged to forgo the usual coffee pot and toaster wedding gifts and contribute instead to a scholarship fund set up for the youngsters.
Boris Shakhtam, president of the Russian Club, which includes about 270 new immigrant, said the idea of a religious wedding has become so popular that he now has seven more couples "on the waiting list" for the next mass Jewish wedding.
"After being deprived of so many things in your life, something like this is a real symbol of freedom," said Sabrina Lozovsky.