Meet Me In The Middle
College sweethearts hailing from opposite coasts say “I Do” in tropical Puerto Rico.
Karina Benabe, 26, Program Coordinator, World Pediatric Project
Jeff Packer, 26, Process Engineer, Covidien
Karina Benabe and Jeff Packer were both raised in sunny beach towns that just happen to be on opposite sides of the country—Karina was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Jeff in Laguna Niguel, CA. At 18, the two crossed the country to study at Wash U in landlocked St. Louis. When they met through a mutual friend in their dorm during sophomore year, they quickly became best friends. A month and a half into the school year, they started dating—and they’ve been together ever since.
Fast forward to a seemingly random Sunday afternoon of errands in June 2011. Jeff took a left turn in the opposite direction of their apartment, and it didn’t take Karina long to figure out that he was up to something. That ordinary afternoon turned into something much more special, as Jeff took Karina on a tour around St. Louis, selecting places that were in some way meaningful to their relationship. They visited the Saint Louis Galleria, where they had their first date, and Forest Park, where they shared a special picnic in the beginning of their relationship. When Karina opened her eyes at their final destination, the two were on top of the parking structure where their sophomore dorm, House 10, used to stand. Jeff got down on one knee and proposed in the most special way possible for Karina—in her native Spanish. She later found out that he had asked for her father’s blessing almost six months earlier during the couple’s trip to Puerto Rico for the holidays.
Having lived in Puerto Rico for most of her life, Karina knew it was important to have the wedding in her hometown, a sentiment her family was careful to remind her of once her relationship with Jeff turned serious. The ceremony and reception were held outdoors overlooking the water at the Palmas del Mar Yacht Club & Marina in Humacao, Puerto Rico. The tropical celebration was made complete with traditional Puerto Rican cuisine, including sangria, fried rice with white beans and Longaniza sausage and a four-tier ponqué (vanilla cake soaked in brandy). |
Sands of Time
In lieu of the traditional Catholic unity candle lighting ceremony, the couple opted for a unique ritual using sand, which proved a much more practical plan, given the windy Puerto Rican weather. Jeff and Karina each held a small vase full of colored sand and took turns filling up a larger vase. As the two colors mixed together, they became united and impossible to separate.
Keeping the Faith
The couple met in the middle in terms of more than just geography. Because Jeff is Jewish and Karina is Catholic, they were eager to integrate both of their faiths into the ceremony, so they decided to have a rabbi and a priest officiate. Elements of both religions were incorporated, including vows given under a chuppah and a reading of The Lord’s Prayer. Karina’s Puerto Rican guests particularly loved the Jewish Horah dance during the reception, in which the bride and groom were raised on chairs above the dancing crowd.
The Ultimate Question
The couple wasn’t sure what to think when Jeff’s dad, Joel, broached the “religion question” in a surprise speech during the reception. He then proceeded to bring out two baby outfits—one for the Pittsburgh Steelers and one for the Cleveland Browns—representing the bride and groom’s different “faiths.” Much to the amusement of the newlyweds and their guests, he carefully handled the jersey of Karina’s cherished Steelers with a latex glove.
All in the Family
Above all, the bride and groom wanted their wedding to reflect their strong family ties. Both Jeff and Karina’s brothers opened the procession by walking each set of their grandparents down the aisle. The wedding party was a family affair, too, consisting only of siblings of the couple.
Twice as Nice
After the couple returned from their honeymoon in the Bahamas, they attended a second reception in California, hosted at Jeff’s family home. Family and friends who weren’t able to make it to the ceremony in Puerto Rico enjoyed a buffet-style dinner complete with a second wedding cake, and gathered to watch a video of the couple’s oceanside vows.
Photo credit: Tuty Feliciano