Grace Van’t Hof and Aaron Jonah Lewis wanted to be legally married while they wait for their big blowout, so they got a license and planned a small signing ceremony at their home, to be attended only by parents and siblings.
Grace Van’t Hof and Aaron Jonah Lewis wanted a big, but casual wedding, ideally in an outdoor camp-like setting where all their friends and family members could celebrate with lots of old-time music and dance. Both American-roots musicians, they wanted participants to be able to jam away on their banjos, fiddles, guitars and mandolins.
Van’t Hof, 35, and Lewis, 39, caught each other’s eyes at the Knoxville Stomp in 2016. They frequently appeared on the same music festival bills, she with Bill and the Belles and he with Roochie Toochie or the Corn Potato String Band, but they didn’t actually meet until the 2019 Brooklyn Folk Festival. Van’t Hof was sitting in with a pick-up country band and Lewis was playing with the Lovestruck Balladeers. They played some tunes together, realized they both lived in Michigan, and have been together since.
Van’t Hof moved from Holland, in West Michigan, where she grew up, to Lewis’ home in Southwest Detroit. She works as a freelance graphic recorder — taking notes on meetings and workshops using pictures instead of words — as well as a musician. Lewis, who graduated from Hillel Day School and Interlochen Arts Academy, is a full-time performer and private music teacher.
Van’t Hof is the one who proposed, by taking out an ad in the November 2020 issue of Banjo Newsletter. The ad, which she drew herself, shows her small banjo talking to Lewis’ larger instrument and saying, “Dear Precious and Singular Aaron Jonah Lewis, I love you as much as I love banjo. Will you marry me?”
For their ideal wedding to accommodate friends and family from out of town — which describes many of their would-be guests — they wanted a nice-weather three-day weekend. To hold it at a camp, they would have to plan it for a Memorial Day or Labor Day weekend when camp would not be in session.
Choosing a Weekend
This year was out because of COVID. Next year was also out because both sets of parents — Bobbie (me) and Joe Lewis of Detroit and Ellen and Dave Van’t Hof of Holland — will be celebrating their 50th anniversaries, and the young couple didn’t want to compete. And Labor Day weekend 2022 will be Lewis’ niece’s bat mitzvah. So they scheduled the big blowout for Memorial Day 2023 at Habonim-Dror Camp Tavor in Three Rivers, Mich., where Lewis spent many happy summers.
But they wanted to be legally married in the meantime, so they got a license and planned a small signing ceremony at their home, to be attended only by parents and siblings.
Their rabbi, Arianna Silverman of Detroit’s Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, convinced them to do some of the Jewish ceremony now as well, including the signing of the ketubah (marriage contract) and the exchange of rings. Van’t Hof is wearing a simple gold diamond engagement ring and wedding band that belonged to her maternal grandmother, Myra Zwiep, who died a few months ago. One of Ms. Zwiep’s scarves was used as an impromptu chuppah.
Rabbi Silverman explained that earlier in Jewish history the two parts of the wedding ceremony — kiddushin, or engagement, which includes the reading and signing of the ketubah and the exchange of rings, and nisuin, or sanctification, which includes the Sheva Brachot (Seven Blessings), drinking wine and the breaking of a glass — were often separated, sometimes by many years.
Lewis and Van’t Hof scheduled the event for Friday, June 11, which is the First of Tammuz on the Jewish calendar, a propitious date for nuptials. They will complete the Jewish rites in 2023.
Because the ketubah needed to be signed by two unrelated witnesses, their guest list grew with the addition of friends and their significant others. In all, 16 people were present, along with Lefty Frizzell, the couple’s dog.
The short ceremony was followed by a celebratory vegan lunch.