For their 25th wedding anniversary, Eli and Anthony Pugliese had always dreamed of a Jewish wedding ceremony in Jerusalem. There was only one problem: getting friends and family there was way too pricey.
So Eli turned to a different family — her followers on social media site Twitter. And now, on Feb. 17, the couple, along with their son, Evan, will celebrate a quarter-century together with 40 guests — most of whom they’ve never met.
A group of American and Israeli Jews who band together on Twitter under the name Twitpacha (Eli’s creation, a combination of Twitter and mishpacha, or family), who know each other almost exclusively through interactions online, came to the Puglieses’ aid to help plan their, as it came to be known, Twedding — from booking the venue to finding a dress to the reception music.
“This is a total Internet endeavor,” said Eli, who also blogs for the Chronicle. “I’ve really been working the web on this.”
The genesis of the Jeannette couple’s Twedding started about two years ago. Eli, a contracts manager, and Anthony, a teen-parent advocate, were married after dating in college, in a simple, civil ceremony. As Anthony was Catholic, there was no Jewish wedding option; the issue of conversion was long tabled. But when Anthony underwent a heart transplant in March 2009 after years with congenital heart defects, he finally felt ready to convert — he became a Jew in April 2010.
With the Twedding, Anthony said, “We’re making it official.”
While Anthony is still a relative novice on Facebook and Twitter, Eli is a master at navigating the social media landscape.
Twitter is a social network site on which people connect and send messages, or Tweets, of only 140 characters, Eli boasts almost 1,100 followers, or people who read her “Tweets.” To date, she’s Tweeted over 30,000 times, often mentioning her Twitpacha — a network of, she said, about 500 Jews worldwide.
But Eli said she didn’t expect her second wedding to grow into such a large affair. Initially, the couple courted Rabbi Danny Schiff, formerly the community scholar at the Agency for Jewish Learning in Pittsburgh, to conduct their small ceremony, because he stood by the family during Anthony’s transplant and recovery. Schiff agreed — but only if the Puglieses created a full, vibrant Jewish wedding, complete with a ketuba, chupa, witnesses and a celebratory dinner.
“I suddenly thought ‘Oh, my God.’ We’d thought this could be just a symbolic renewal,” said Eli. “But when Rabbi Schiff said ‘I can’t wait to see you as a kallah, I realized I can’t just wear my Pens shirt and a pair of sweats. I had to find a wedding dress.”
So Eli got to work, Tweeting her followers for help to set up a wedding in just three months. And her Twitpacha came through.
Rafi Goldmeier, an Australian planning to make aliya this month, will be a witness at the Twedding. After connecting with the Chronicle through Twitter, of course, Goldmeier said the event, “does show that even the Jewish community has globalized, in the sense of being a global village. Now, we are able to make a wedding on the other side of the world, in the Jewish homeland, in Jerusalem, with friends around.”
Eli and Anthony will meet Goldmeier for the first time on Feb. 17, at the Twedding, to be held at the Anna Ticho House in Jerusalem.
Chaviva Galatz, another Twitpacha member, won’t make the Twedding — but she’ll be following the live Tweets written as the ceremony happens. A blogger and social media consultant, Galatz said, “Social media has created what I call a new community of Judaism. It allows cross-denominational involvement in all types of simchas.”
To Anthony, using social media simply means he’ll have a wedding full of guests.
“I tell my friends, anyone with a passport and plane tickets is more than welcome to come,” he said with a laugh. “[They say] ‘If you’re going to take out people you don’t know in Israel, you’ve got to take your friends to dinner when you come back.”
Through Anthony’s heart transplant, Eli used Twitter as a support system, one that so clearly has materialized behind her Twedding.
“So many people use Twitter because they’re so far apart,” she said. “In places where there’s just a little Jewish community, we can use Twitter to have a Jewish family. Somebody might Tweet ‘I need a Shabbat recipe! Quick!’ and people will respond.”
With just over two weeks, the Puglieses are excited to meet members of the Twitpacha.
“They want this to be nice for us,” said Eli. “The dress is here. The shoes are on their way. The ketuba is here. We just have to get ourselves to the airport.”
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)