Casey Tuma and Greg Sokoler
February 11, 2017, in Louisville, Ky.; second reception March 12, 2017, in Marlton.
Just before a summer 2014 Shabbat ceremony at Jerusalem's Western Wall, Greg asked Casey if he could light the first candle.
Casey, a former Broadway musical theater actor who grew up in Marlton, cofounded the Israel Free Spirit Arts and Entertainment Taglit Birthright Trip. Greg, a Realtor and photographer from Louisville, Ky., was one of the participants she was shepherding through the city.
Traditionally, a woman lights the first candle, but Casey happily granted Greg's unusual request. Later, he told her he wanted to light the candle for his mom, Norine, who was battling breast cancer.
Casey, who is now 32, was touched by the gesture and Greg's openness. As the group walked the 90 minutes back to the hotel, the two learned about each other:
Casey lived in Hell's Kitchen. She moved to New York in 2007 for her acting career. After playing Regina in the national tour of Rock of Ages, Casey had enough of traveling and started an organizing business. Casey Tuma Transforms opened in 2013, the same year she cofounded the arts-and-entertainment trip -- one of many Birthrights that give young Jewish adults from around the world free trips to Israel.
Greg, now 29, had lived in New York for four years, working as general manager of a Best Buy Mobile in Flatbush. In 2013, he returned home to Louisville to work at the family business, Sokoler Medley Team at RE/MAX Properties East.
Once their paths crossed on another continent, “It was easy to talk to her. I didn't have to be filtered and it didn't feel weird.” Greg said. “Part of that was probably because she was a staff member, so I didn't think there was a chance of anything happening.”
On a tour of ancient aqueducts in the City of David, the darkness required everyone to rest his or her hand on the shoulder of the person in front to navigate. Casey got in line behind Greg.
“He has such a passion for everything he does and loves -- photography, music, self-transformation,” Casey said. “Plus, he lights up an entire room.”
Greg “admired Casey's ability to communicate and nurture relationships with other people.” He saw her caring for Birthright participants' individual needs, whether they were afraid of heights or exhausted from the sun.
At a Safed artist colony, Casey pointed out Greg to a friend and said, “I'm going to marry him.”
When the trip ended, all had a layover in Vienna. Greg, two friends, and his cousin were continuing their guys' adventure with three weeks in Europe. Casey was returning to New York. “It was there in the airport that we kissed for the first time,” Greg said.
They texted and talked daily. He changed his return to the States to include five days in New York. While there, Greg met Casey's parents, Kerry and Michele. “My parents were a little jealous that I had met her parents, so two weeks later, they bought Casey a ticket to Louisville.” She met Norine and Bob, plus his sister Ashley and niece Adalyn, who had just been born.
The couple agreed what they felt was worth pursuing, and Casey decided to spend a month in Louisville that winter. She never left.
Casey moved in with Greg and dog Romeo. Together, they adopted a second dog, Maya.
Greg's parents were so impressed by Casey they hired her. She's now also a Realtor with the Sokoler Medley Team. The couple continues to staff Birthright trips together.
How does forever sound?
On an April 2016 visit, Casey's mom brought a diamond worn by Casey's Gran and great-grandmother to the hospital to show Greg's mom.
That June, Greg suggested a trip to Red River Gorge in Natural Bridge State Park, where they rented a cabin for themselves and the dogs. Greg gave her a necklace and a bracelet to celebrate their dating anniversary -- and to make her think there was no way she'd get a promise and a ring that weekend, too.
“The morning of the day we left, I set my cameras on a table outside, set to record, and I asked her to come outside real quick,” he remembered.
She walked out, he knelt and presented the ring made from Casey's family diamond, and the dogs started barking. The audio caught only the woofs and Casey's shouted, “Babe!” reaction. But beneath the din, she said yes.
It was so them
Greg's mom died in April 2016. The couple dried roses from her memorial service on their dining room table. Their flower girls scattered the dried petals the whole way down the aisle. “When I circled Greg seven times, I could hear them crunching in the train of my dress,” Casey said. “It made me feel like she was there.”
Casey felt her late grandfathers' presence, too: Their tallises covered the chuppah.
Marcey, a close friend of Casey's family, was ordained to officiate the couple's February wedding. They tweaked the traditional Seven Blessings a bit, and each was read to the couple by a person or group of people: Her parents. His dad and his wife, Sandie, their aunts and uncles, and close friends.
Greg promised Casey he would always be there for her, for anything she ever needed.
Casey promised Greg he would always come first, and they would always be a united front. She said they were creating their own tree of life, and the daughter she was carrying would be its first leaf.
They had kept their vows secret until they took them, yet Greg's wedding gift to Casey was a tree of life bracelet.
The couple tried for a blend of Israel and Kentucky at their reception for 115. An Israeli shade of blue was the main color. The foods included shrimp and grits and baklava. It took three handles of bourbon to keep the slushy machine running all night long.
A second reception for 100 was held at LaScala's Fire in Marlton, featuring all the Italian food Casey can't get in Kentucky.
Although the couple haven't been together long, they have been through a lot, Greg said. Casey helped him through the loss of his mom, and, more recently, his dad's quadruple-bypass surgery. They learned they were having a baby. They just finished building a house. “When Casey's parents were bringing her under the chuppah, and I was standing there with her, it was the moment we finally made it,” Greg said. “The previous chapter had been short, but a lot happened in it. And we were starting the next chapter together.”
Everyone flooded the dance floor for a contemporary version of "Hava Nagila." “People lifted us up in chairs, and it was so cool to look around at everyone,” Casey said. “I thought, 'This is our village of love that we have created to support us.' I'll never forget that moment.”
A bargain: Casey already knew the dress she wanted when she walked into Bridal Garden in Marlton. What surprised her was the trunk show it was were having. She saved about $800.
The splurge: Because the groom's art is photography, the couple needed a wedding photographer with special style. Alicia Fierro was one of the first vendors they hired.
They took a short, partially work-related trip to Vegas after the wedding and plan to take a family trip to Israel next summer with their daughter.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Officiant: Marcey Propp, family friend, Cherry Hill.
Louisville venue: The Pointe in Butchertown, Louisville, Ky.
Food: Mastersons Catering, Louisville, Ky.
Music: Sasha Chack, friend of the couple's, Louisville, Ky.
Louisville photography: Alicia Fierro, Aesthetiica Photography, Chicago.
Marlton Photography: Brittany Lee Photography, Riverton, N.J.
Flowers in Louisville: Jamie Fairman, State & Arrow, Louisville, Ky.
Flowers in Marlton: Produce Junction, arrangements put together by the bride and her mom.
Dress: Willowby by Waters, Bridal Garden, Marlton.