Katrina Clarke | October 4, 2016 | Toronto Star
Two hours before the wedding, plans hit a snag.
Einav Morgenstern and Tamar Yahel were set to tie the knot, legally, at city hall when they found out the two friends who were supposed to serve as witnesses were unexpectedly tied up.
No witnesses, no wedding.
The two brides had already had a 300-person ceremony in Israel — where they lived before moving to Toronto last year for Morgenstern’s graduate studies — but the state doesn’t recognize same-sex unions. A union in Canada, however, would be accepted by Israel, so they booked the city hall ceremony for Sept. 20 at 11 a.m. the week before, paying a non-refundable fee of $120.
With the clock ticking, Morgenstern turned to a group of strangers.
“If you happen to be around and free for 10-20 minutes we would be forever thankful if you come be our witness,” she wrote at 9:18 a.m. that Tuesday on the Bunz Trading Zone Facebook page, where people post items for trade, such as furniture, toys and stereos. “In return we’ll give you our blessing for love.”
Within minutes, the couple was inundated with a hundred likes and at least eight offers from strangers to attend.
Four people, including a photographer, ended up saving their big day.
“We thought this would be just something … like running errands, going to the bank,” said Morgenstern, who shares a toddler-aged daughter with Yahel, who is currently pregnant. “People we don’t know … dropping everything they were doing and coming, that was what made it so special.”
Witness No. 1, Ken Ferguson was one of the first people to respond.
“I love going to weddings,” said Ferguson, a 32-year-old actor. “I was like, ‘I don’t have anything else today. I’ll totally do that.’”
Ferguson, who is gay, was moved by the couple’s desire for a legal union and by their predicament of being an outsider in a new city.
“If I was in a different country and I didn’t know people, I would want that same kind of support,” he said.
When the do-gooder heard back from the couple, he threw on a suit, purchased two bouquets of flowers and cycled from Bloor St. and Lansdowne Ave. to city hall, arriving at 10:30 a.m. He beat the couple there.
Lilya Sultanova, the second witness, saw the post at 9:20 a.m. while drinking her morning coffee.
The couple’s plea resonated with her. Sultanova, 40, married her husband at the city hall wedding chambers last November. Like Morgenstern and Yahel, her family, who live in Russia, weren’t able to attend.
“It just sounded like a very important moment to witness,” said Sultanova, an administrator with an arts organization who lives in the west end.
She texted her boss and got approval to come in late, then hopped on the subway, arriving at city hall at 10:45 a.m.
No. 3, Saajid Motala, a photographer, saw the message at 9:30 a.m.
“I was feeling a little gloomy,” said the 31-year-old, who’d had a client cancel on him for a photo shoot the day before. “Then I rolled out of bed and I saw this beautiful post.”
Motala messaged Morgenstern and Yahel right away, offering to take their photos for free. When he heard back from them at 10:10 a.m., he jumped in an Uber and flew from his St. Clair Ave. and Dufferin St. home to city hall.
Monica Kelly was last to arrive.
“I was like, ‘No way, this is awesome!’” said the 44-year-old stay-at-home mom, who was making grape jelly when she saw the message at 9:45 a.m. “My husband thought I was crazy.”
Kelly messaged Morgenstern, left her Beach home at 10 a.m., hopped on a streetcar and arrived at city hall with minutes to spare before the ceremony started.
By the time everyone arrived, Morgenstern and Yahel were overwhelmed.
One of their real life friends, Nura Sadan, was also able to make it for the ceremony. She brought their ragtag wedding party to six, including the couple’s daughter.
The ceremony started just after 11 a.m., with the officiant leading the proceedings. The couple didn’t have vows prepared but instead, spoke from the heart on the spot. Morgenstern said hers in English and Yahel said hers in Hebrew.
“It just felt very family-like,” said Sultanova. “An ultimate feel good moment.”
After the ceremony, Sadan and Ferguson, the first to arrive, signed the official marriage licence — paperwork required for Israel to formally recognize them as a married couple. Everyone signed another document, which the couple will keep to remember the day.
Next, much hugging ensued and Motala snapped photos of the newlyweds.
“We were all saying how beautiful it was that we got to be a part of this,” recalled Kelly. “With all the bad things going on the world, it was nice to take part in something so fun and loving.”
By 11:40 a.m., it was all over. The group parted ways and made promises to meet up again, with Morgenstern and Yahel hoping to treat them to dinner or drinks as a thank you. Then the brides dropped their daughter off at daycare and headed off to work.
But the tone of day had changed. What the couple expected to be a lacklustre event had turned into something extraordinary.
“We didn’t think we would be touched by this ceremony,” said Morgenstern. “I think mainly what made it special for us … was the fact that we got the warmest welcome to Canada that we could have asked for.”
The witnesses in their own words
As told to Katrina Clarke
Ken Ferguson, 32, actor
Location when he saw the message: Bloor St. and Lansdowne Ave., at his friend’s place
I’m a pretty active member of the Bunz group and I’ve been on a bunch of crazy adventures, including cycling across town to deliver cookies. When I saw Einav’s post, I thought, ‘I don’t have anything to do today. Hell yes I want to be part of this.’ I threw on a suit and borrowed my friend’s tie. I was wondering if it was going to be awkward but everyone was so friendly. I lived in Japan for a couple of years and I know it can be hard living in a new city without your old friends.
Lilya Sultanova, 40, administrator with an arts organization
Location when she saw the message: Dupont St. and Ossington Ave., having her morning coffee at home
I was at home getting ready to go to work, checking Facebook when I saw the message. I thought it would be cool to go support people who don’t have a support system here. I messaged Einav and said I wanted to come. Then I took the subway down to city hall. It was really cool to be witnessing something that complete strangers invited you to.
Saajid Motala, 31, photographer
Location when he saw the message: St. Clair Ave. and Dufferin St., waking up in his bedroom
I was supposed to have a photo shoot that morning, but the night before, a client cancelled on me. I thought, “I’d love to help somehow,” so I offered to photograph them for free. I called an Uber and headed to city hall. This isn’t actually the shortest amount of time I’ve had to prepare for a shoot. Once before, I was shooting at city hall when someone grabbed me and asked me my rate. I shot their wedding photos on the spot.
Monica Kelly, 44, stay-at-home mom
Location when she saw the message: Queen St. and Kingston Rd., in her kitchen making jelly
I saw the posting on the Bunz Facebook page and I thought, “Omigosh — awesome!” My son is transgender and gay and I’m a huge LGBTQ+ advocate. I dropped what I was doing, messaged the couple and hopped on the streetcar. I love weddings and this was just a fun thing to do. It was beautiful. I’m now Facebook friends with most of the Bunz people who were there.