Julia’s endearing description of her relationship with Jonah—“so easy, so fun, and so full of laughter”—could just as aptly describe the beautifully lighthearted vibe of their rustic wedding, which took place under the shade of a hillside oak on the grounds of a rambling retreat nestled in the gold-spun, tree-dotted hills of Petaluma and incorporated both traditional and modified Jewish traditions. With its bright, cheerful colors and organic details, from succulent-filled redwood planters to a natural chuppah consisting of a canopy of oak branches, this lovely wedding feels refreshingly effortless and genuine in every way. “The area of Northern California where we were married has a very distinct beauty,” Julia said. “We felt like the setting was the biggest design asset, and we tried to pick colors and elements that complemented the natural beauty. Our color palette consisted of reds, oranges, yellows, browns, tans, and greens. I loved how my bridesmaids’ poppy-colored dresses stood out against the pale gold landscape.”
Despite all the breezily beautiful details, however, it is the authentic emotion, captured in unique and surprising ways by the remarkable husband-and-wife team behind Jerry Yoon Photography, that stands out the most to us as a reflection of the couple’s spirit. There is joy. There are tears. And there is love as sweet as it comes.
Q + A with Julia and Jonah
What’s your love story? How did you meet, fall in love, and get engaged?
We first heard about each other in 2007 through our mutual friend Ben, with whom Jonah had grown up in New Jersey. Jonah had just moved back to the East Coast for business school when I started working with Ben at a San Francisco arts non-profit. At the time, we were living 3,500 miles apart, and neither of us was single.
Ben planted the seeds with each of us, but it sounded absurd. About a year after Ben first floated the idea, my best friend Jenny ended up at a Pennsylvania wedding with Jonah. After an evening of watching his various antics, she confirmed Ben’s prognosis. She told Jonah, “Normally, I would never say something like this about a friend who’s in a relationship, but you absolutely MUST meet my friend Julia.” On the other side of the country, one of Ben and Jonah’s mutual friends made a similar observation: “Julia dances like it’s the last time she’ll ever dance…and yet somehow also like the first time she’s ever danced. Has she met Jonah?”
In 2009, Jonah was in his last semester of business school and, intent on moving to San Francisco after graduation, was out on the West Coast for a few days looking for jobs. Ben, still determined to fulfill an introduction two years in the making, brought Jonah to Rye Bar in San Francisco, where I was celebrating my birthday. At the time, both of us were quite enamored with the song “I’m on a Boat.” We flirted briefly, which consisted mostly of reciting the song’s lyrics to each other. We shared our first inside jokes, and in an odd way laid the foundation for what would become “our song.” Incidentally, Jonah was overruled when he suggested that this Lonely Island hit be our first dance song.
Six months later we were finally both single and living in the same city. We shared a few chance encounters that September: running into each other at a bar with friends, a night out for Ben’s birthday, and finally at a pickup soccer game that ended with our friends ditching us at a sandwich shop so we could get some alone time, followed by Jonah famously failing to ask for my phone number. To be fair, I had accidentally kicked a soccer ball in his face twice that day.
It all came together for us at a work event, where we shared our first kiss on a couch in front of a strong contingent of my coworkers. We always say that it’s a good thing we ended up getting married, otherwise one might see that as highly inappropriate.
We were insanely compatible from day one. Our relationship was so easy, so fun, and so full of laughter that it was pretty clear where we were heading. We moved in together after dating for a little more than a year, and within a month after that Jonah was plotting his proposal. Still being in the thick of my 20s, I didn’t plan on being engaged for at least another year or two, which made for quite a scene when Jonah proposed in front of Pelican Lake along the stunning Palo Marin coastal trail of Point Reyes National Seashore. In fact, the first sentence out of my mouth was, “Are you serious?” That was followed by the next 10, which were all, “I’m in total shock!” I did eventually say yes, although Jonah had to remind me that he was due an answer.
We spent the night at the Point Reyes Seashore Lodge in Olema and had oysters, wine, and cheese the next day at the Tomales Bay Oyster Company, a tiny little shack at the foot of Tomales Bay where you can buy sacks of the freshest oysters imaginable, then park yourself for the afternoon at picnic tables along the water’s edge. That company and those oysters have been favorites of ours ever since.
How did you choose your venue?
When we first started planning, we outlined three top priorities when it came to the venue: 1) All of our guests should have the opportunity to stay in the same place. 2) Our guests should be able to walk everywhere at our wedding, especially from the reception to their beds. 3) Our party needed to be able to run as late as we wanted, without a venue- or city-imposed curfew.
Since we had a lot of people coming from across the country, we also wanted to make sure that we got significant face time with all of our guests. We knew that a one-day wedding with a ceremony and reception would not give us that quality time with our loved ones. Jonah had been to a few camp weddings, and he was quite taken with the idea of having everyone stay in the same place for the entire weekend.
Stunning beauty and amazing food were definitely a must, but given that we were looking exclusively in the Bay Area, we knew that wouldn’t be too hard to find. We looked at a few camps and called around to some other retreat centers and conference centers, but none of them could really meet our top three requirements. One location seemed perfect, but since it was in a state park, it wouldn’t allow alcohol. Over the phone, they referred us to EarthRise, which hadn’t even been on our radar.
EarthRise, a non-profit organization, owns 200 acres at the top of one of the classic rolling and golden NorCal hills that make driving 101 North an immensely pleasurable experience. Despite being only a mile off of the highway and five miles south of downtown Petaluma, the venue couldn’t feel more removed from the world. Turning off of the highway, you’ll pass dozens of grazing sheep and cows, then turn up a steep, windy road to the top of the hill. The buildings are modern yet rustic.
When we originally visited EarthRise, they told us that they were building a hot tub at the edge of one of the hills next to the chalets. It was finished just before the wedding, and it wasn’t so much a hot tub as it was a hot pool, surrounded by an expansive deck and fireplace that made for quite a late-night gathering spot.
Despite having previously hosted only a few weddings, the staff at EarthRise did such an amazing job. They were fun to work with and were amenable to thinking outside of the box. During the weekend, the staff went above and beyond to make sure that everything ran smoothly.
What was the wedding planning process like for you? Did you have a wedding planner or a day-of coordinator?
We had a day-of coordinator, Shannon Berry, who was amazing. She made things really easy. After all the time we spent planning the wedding, it was great to hand everything off that day. Shannon made herself very available for phone and e-mail consultations in the months leading up to the wedding.
Can you tell us a little bit about the details of your wedding and your sources of inspiration?
The area of Northern California where we were married has a very distinct beauty. Our site was nestled among the golden, rolling hills indicative of the region. We decided to get married under an oak tree on top of a large hill, beyond which a sharp slope gave way to expansive views of a stunning valley.
We felt like the setting was the biggest design asset, and we tried to pick colors and elements that complemented the natural beauty. Our color palette consisted of reds, oranges, yellows, browns, tans, and greens. I loved how the bridesmaids’ poppy-colored dresses stood out against the pale gold landscape. Oak trees dotted the hills, and we incorporated an oak tree image into our invitations and programs.
The EarthRise Retreat Center had only done one or two weddings before, despite regularly housing and feeding groups of 120+. As such, we were responsible for a lot of the details. For ceremony seating, we brought in hay bales and covered them with white linens. The ceremony took place under a large oak tree on a hill at the EarthRise Retreat Center. The oak tree functioned as a natural chuppah. The aisles were flanked by shepherd hooks that held flower arrangements in Mason jars.
A friend of ours who has a farm in Mendocino brought down hundreds of succulents to supplement what we had originally intended to be a smallish order from Chestnut & Vine (Svenja Brotz in Berkeley). A group of our friends took to designing and arranging the succulents as centerpieces. We also ordered some redwood planter boxes for the larger succulents. When the flowers arrived, we saw that Svenja had decided to give us above and beyond what we’d ordered, so we had more flowers than we knew what to do with. Decorating the outdoor reception area and ceremony site with a flower bounty that was nearly an embarrassment of riches made for a fun activity for our guests. The striking red and yellow hues of the flowers were complemented by the light purples and greens of the succulents.
Our wedding had a rustic feel to it, but with a slight retreat/summer camp vibe. Almost all of our guests stayed at the 200-acre venue the entire weekend, sharing chalets (which we described as “upscale dorms”) and eating meals together from Friday through Sunday. By the time the wedding rolled around on Saturday afternoon, we had really built quite a comfortable little community.
We printed out door signs for all of the chalets, giving them a little college-dorm nostalgia. We made maps, schedules, and campus rules and regulations (given the high fire risk, we wanted to clearly designate smoking areas), which we distributed to all the rooms along with a little welcome gift. We created a 300-plus photo slideshow that was loaded onto a flat-screen TV in the entryway to the main building and played continuously throughout the weekend.
What kinds of flowers made up your bouquet, your bridesmaids’ bouquets, and the men’s boutonnieres?
Svenja Brotz of Chestnut & Vine put together beautiful and unique bouquets, floral arrangements, and boutonnieres. Svenja did my sister’s wedding, and I trusted her completely. She used flowers that were in season and could be obtained locally. She included a veritable garden of flowers and plants in the bouquets and floral arrangements. I loved that she incorporated non-floral elements such as fennel, blackberries, and fiddlehead ferns. The day after the wedding, I plucked a ripe blackberry from my bouquet and ate it! The arrangements and bouquets included grasses, ferns, fiddlehead ferns, poppy seeds, scabiosa pods, poppies, ranunculi, fennel, dahlias, garden roses, blackberries, rose hips, lemon geranium, clover, lotus pods, fountain grass, and lady’s mantle.
Did you include any religious, cultural, or family traditions in your ceremony?
Just prior to the ceremony, I gathered with all the men at the wedding around a long table in a room adjacent to the ceremony site for a tish. Traditionally, the purpose of this Jewish custom is for the groom to prove his Jewish meddle to his future father-in-law by giving a sermon on that week’s Torah portion, while the other men around the table try to interrupt him by singing songs and poking fun at him. Over the years this custom has evolved into more of a roast of sorts.
I lined the table with 18-year-old scotch from end to end, sat square in the middle of the table directly across from both of our fathers, and then proceeded to do my best at getting through some prepared remarks on that week’s Torah portion. Meanwhile, my friends and family ruthlessly recounted the most embarrassing stories they could come up with, seemingly intent on convincing my future father-in-law to withhold his approval of our pending marriage. There were many, many embarrassing stories, from my friends, my family, and even a good contingent of Julia’s friends and family. While the tradition calls for only the men to participate, I invited the female guests, who were standing at the outskirts of the room, to take part as onlookers. Several ladies did join in and share stories. Although the male/female segregation traditions have long been removed from Reform Judaism, seeing all the ladies dressed to the nines and gathered together in the entryway with none of us men as a blemish in the frame was a truly stunning vision.
My father-in-law, Barry, threw me through quite a loop at the end. I was concluding by saying, “Although this is really just a formality, I would like to turn to Barry to officially get his blessing before we proceed with the wedding.” Barry looked at me and said, “You know, I’ve heard some pretty damning stories the last hour, so I’m not sure I should be making this decision alone.” He then called all the men together from Julia’s family for a little conference, after which I apparently gained the approval to proceed by the narrowest of margins.
Although Jonah’s parents originally objected, we decided not to erect a conventional chuppah and used the arching canopy of the oak tree above us as a natural chuppah instead. Jonah insisted to his mother that it was okay to consider the canopy a chuppah and that he had checked with our rabbi, who confirmed it.
Other Jewish customs that we did perform included breaking a glass at the end of the ceremony, using a kiddush cup that was a family heirloom from my father’s side for the blessing over the wine, and instead of having Jonah circle me 7 times (the Jewish custom), we each circled each other 3.5 times.
Jonah walked down the aisle accompanied by both of his parents to “First Day of My Life” by Bright Eyes. Jonah’s paternal grandfather, Arnold Eidus, who was not able to make the flight, was a world-renowned violinist for many decades. I walked down the aisle to his recording of “Ave Maria.” We exited to “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.
After the ceremony, the two of us proceeded to our room alone for the custom of yichud, which, despite it’s outdated origins, has evolved into a time for the newly married couple to be alone with each other as husband and wife and reflect on what’s just transpired. Considering all the commotion and non-stop activity of the weekend, sitting with each other in the room for ten minutes was very important to both of us, and it was a moment that neither of us will forget.
After that, we gathered on a small porch under a live oak for the signing of the ketubah (the Jewish marriage contract, which is really more a piece of art than a formal document). Jonah actually has two close friends who are rabbis, so his friend Kevin led this intimate ceremony surrounded by just our families and our wedding party.
Can you share some details about your cocktail hour and reception?
The highlight of the cocktail hour was the white sangria that EarthRise made for us using locally grown seasonal fruit. The reception was held in what is normally the EarthRise dining hall, but we had moved all the tables out onto the back patio for dinner and used the dining hall for both the cocktail hour and the dancing that followed dinner.
The patio, where we had dinner, was surrounded by beautiful plants, as well as a canopy on one side that was covered with vines and flowers and flanked by a small lily pad–covered pond. We wanted the feel of a casual but elegant garden party. The patio was furnished with rustic wooden round tables, which we supplemented with a few extra rounds covered in burlap tablecloths.
Because the dining area was tucked into the side of the hill, with so many plants already surrounding it, our decorations and centerpieces needed only to complement the gorgeous setting. Our centerpieces were a combination of the purple and green succulents that our friend brought down from his farm in Mendocino and the bright red and yellow flowers that Svenja had arranged in Mason jars. Svenja tangled vines in the water that filled the Mason jars, which gave the arrangements a modern and structural feel. The larger succulents sat in redwood planters, with the smaller succulents lining the outsides and peppering the tabletops. Small wooden chalkboard table numbers, which we found on Etsy, rounded out the décor.
What was on the menu?
All of the food was local and seasonal, and it managed to wow even the most discerning Bay Area foodies. The kitchen also used the leftover challah from Friday night Shabbat to ad-lib a bread pudding for Saturday morning brunch that is still, to this day, the most talked-about dish from the entire weekend.
What was your first dance song?
Jonah’s mother, Lauren, is a jazz singer, so she sang our first dance song. She sang “Fly Me to the Moon” by Frank Sinatra, and we later found out that the recording included Jonah’s grandfather on violin. We chose that song because we wanted something that Jonah’s mother could sing and something that matched the dance style we chose, the foxtrot. It was a coincidence that Jonah’s grandfather happened to be on the recording, but it certainly made it that much more special.
What were your favorite moments of the day?
This is a tough question because so many of our favorite moments were too personal to adequately explain, but here are a few: 1) We had a very spirited hora dance, with most of the immediate family lifted. Everyone was terrified. 2) During dinner we had four speeches, all of which were absolutely hilarious. Jonah’s brother, Sam, delivered his utterly outrageous speech from the top of the wall behind the patio fountain. 3)
There was an epic dance off, including breakdancing, a one-handed cartwheel, and my friend doing the worm in a dress. My friends burst onto the dance floor in 80s outfits when the DJ played “Like a Prayer,” one of my favorite songs. Leg warmers and neon are essential to a wedding dance party! 4) Jonah’s father told perhaps the most damning story of all at the tish.
Can you describe your wedding day look for us?
I wanted a simple, elegant dress. I thought that I would look out of place in a frilly or poufy dress at an outdoor wedding. My wedding gown was from Saja. When I visited the Saja store in New York City, I was immediately struck by how light and airy the dresses were. My dress was a silk chiffon sheath/slightly A-line dress with spaghetti straps and a V-line neck and back. Both the neckline and backline were lined with a thin piece of sheer fabric. I loved that delicate and feminine touch. I had a champagne-colored sash, which helped to accentuate my waist and added a bit of color to the dress. My dress was so comfortable! It was light and flowy and billowed in the wind beautifully.
I wore strappy gold flats from J. Crew, a necklace with a blue-green stone given to me by Jonah for my birthday, and my grandmother’s pearl bracelet. Both my sister and my cousin have the same bracelet and wore it at their weddings. I also borrowed my sister’s pearl earrings.
Were there any disasters or calamities leading up to the wedding or on the day of the wedding itself that you can laugh about now?
Everything went quite smoothly. The only hiccup was that we forgot to bring our vows to the ceremony. We had a brief moment of panic, but our rabbi, Jonah’s best friend Eli, put his arms around us and told us that those vows were just for the two of us anyway, which was remarkably calming and one of our favorite moments of the day.
On Sunday, after we’d packed everything up, we took one last hike with a few friends who had stayed to help up to the very top of the property, where there is a small labyrinth made up of stones. From there, you can see for 50 miles in every direction. We walked through the labyrinth to the center, where Jonah pulled out the vows we’d forgotten the day before. In front of just a handful of witnesses, we read them to each other. And Jonah got teary-eyed.
What kind of advice would you offer to future brides?
After you get engaged, take one month to just be engaged before planning the wedding. It can be surprisingly stressful, especially in the beginning, and you will appreciate taking some time to bask in the engagement before diving in. We were given that advice and failed to heed it, which we later regretted.
Our other piece of advice is to just enjoy the day. Something will most likely go wrong, but don’t let it detract from what will be one of the most amazing days of your life!
Photography: Jerry Yoon Photography / Ceremony and reception venue: EarthRise Retreat Center / Day-of coordinator : Shannon Berry Wedding Consulting / Flowers: Chestnut & Vine / Catering: EarthRise Retreat Center / Cupcakes: Teeny Cake / Officiant: Rabbi Eli Freedman (groom’s best friend) / Music: DJ Babbidge / Bride’s gown: Saja, purchased from Bella Bridesmaid / Bride’s shoes: J. Crew / Bride’s necklace: Mabel Chong / Bride’s earrings: Pearls borrowed from her sister / Bride’s bracelet: Pearl bracelet from her mother / Bridesmaid dresses: J. Crew / Hair: Stacey Khuu of Shylocks of 5th Ave. / Makeup: Julianne Chai of Pretty by Julianne / Groom’s and groomsmen’s attire: J. Crew / Invitations: Paper Source / Programs: Homemade (paper and Annie Clark oak tree stamp from Paper Source)