Bedecking The Bri
The Bridal Canopy makes it possible
to borrow the dream wedding gown.
ESTHER ALLWEISS TSCHIRHART
Special to the Jewish News
nstead of spending hundreds of dollars on her
dress, Randi Barken of Ann Arbor, a self-
described "bride on a budget," will walk down
the aisle this summer in a fashionable gown
from the Bridal Canopy, Leah Tolwin's charitable
lending closet in Southfield.
"You want the bride to look her loveliest, but a wed-
ding gown is a great expense for one evening," said
Chaya Leah Rothstein of Oak Park, another satisfied
She and daughter Channa Gittel visited the Bridal
Canopy to peruse its new or nearly new dresses as well
as other wedding finery before the young woman mar-
ried Yosef Leib Rakow on Feb. 5:
Parents of 11, Rothstein and her husband,
Benjamin, have five more prospective weddings to
"It's a great favor she does for the community,"
Rothstein says of Tolwin's endeavor.
The Bridal Canopy is a gemach — an acronym for
gemilut chasidim (dispensing of kindness) — a fund
that lends money, services or products to Jews in need.
A gemach makes no charge other than what's needed
to cover expenses.
Thousands of gemachim exist in religious Jewish
communities throughout the world, said Tolwin,
whose husband Rabbi Alon Tolwin directs the Jewish
outreach group Aish HaTorah in Birmingham. In Oak
Park, for example, the 5-year-old Zichron Foundation
collects donations so needy families can make a wed-
ding. Other local gemachim offer such items as mater-
nity and children's clothing and semi-custom sheitlach
(wigs) for married women.
Tolwin's choice of gemach, offering wedding cloth-
ing and more, evolved when she sought to donate "the
perfect bubbie dress, suitable for a grandmother of the
bride" from her late grandmother's belongings.
"I knew several cities that have bridal gemachim, but
there was no group here," Tolwin said, happily realiz-
ing she could fill that need.
"A wedding is the bride's day, when she is bedecked
like a princess," she said. "Today, this dressing has
become prohibitive without the support of our com-
Now with the Bridal Canopy, a nonprofit program
registered through Aish HaTorah, she assists all
Jews, including the non-affiliated, with clothing
and education about weddings.
Tolwin spent her own money on dress racks
and five new gowns to open the gemach last
September. She currently has a selection of 95
dresses in sizes 0-22, about 60 percent of them
Among her benefactors, "Roma Sposa in
Birmingham donated four beautiful dresses —
$20,000 worth of dresses," Tolwin said, and 10
more came from the New York corporate offices
of David's Bridal, locally in Madison Heights.
The lending closet is resplendent with other
choices, too, such as mother-of-the-bride gowns
from a Tennessee manufacturer, bridal bags from
a company in New York and veils and acces-
sories valued at $5,000 donated by the Wedding
Shop in Royal Oak.
"Between September and December, $92,000
worth of goods were given to me," Tolwin said.
"I have far surpassed that in the first few months
Among the businesses offering discounts for her Leah Tolwin models a wedding dress at the Roma Sposa bridal shop in
customers are LuLu's Lingerie in Bloomfield Hills, Birmingham. The shop has donated several gowns toTolwin's nonprofit
Bridal Canopy program.
Tapper's Diamonds and Fine Jewelry in West
Bloomfield and Birmingham's Stewart Fabrics and
Some customers borrow Made in Heaven, a Jewish
Peggendott Originals (dress alterations). Tolwin even
wedding guide by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan.
found "women in the community who do facials and
Barken of Ann Arbor will marry Scott Sonenshein
in July in her hometown of San Diego. She was
The Bridal Canopy requires a nominal donation to
impressed by the "incredible variety of offerings" when
borrow a garment and a professional cleaning after the she looked for a wedding gown at the gemach in
wedding. Euro Cleaners in Southfield will clean a
gown for Tolwin's customers at half price — $75.
"They're high-quality, beautiful dresses, and almost -
The shop is located in Tolwin's home and she sees
every one is made out of silk," she said. "Everything I
clients by appointment only.
would have seen in a bridal shop I saw through Leah.
"We have given 13 gowns out; tonight should be
You pick a dress and it's given in the same garment
No. 14," Tolwin said recently. "Everyone who has
bag that a bridal shop would give you."
come has taken something, maybe shoes or a slip."
Tolwin "has the bride's best interest in mind,"
Rothstein said. When they changed their minds about
a dress they'd taken home, Tolwin worked with the
A Jewish Experience
Rothsteins until the right gown was located.
Visiting the Bridal Canopy is a Jewish experience.
As a lending closet borrower, Barken said Tolwin
Rothstein, who heard about the gemach through her
"didn't make me feel like she was doing me a favor."
colleague at Beth Jacob School for Girls in Oak Park,
Rather, "she made me feel the incredible experience of
says, "Leah made a l'chaim [a toast with wine] and
wished Channa Gittel all her best for her future mar-
To donate or borrow a wedding gown, call the
Tolwin also presents flowers to the bride-to-be and
Bridal Canopy, (248) 424-9244.
touches upon a Torah-related passage. "Then, they go
look," usually trying on between three to 15 gowns.