The average wedding in America today costs more than $26,000, according to the website Add in the expenses that come with a Jewish wedding — kosher food, a custom modest wedding white cocktail dresses, a chuppah and a ketubah — and the price gets even higher.

Gemachs supply brides and grooms with items such as centerpieces. Michal Poratti  has created 80 that are still in use. Photo courtesy of Michal PorattiThat’s why for many soon-to-be grooms and brides, money worries begin before a marriage even gets started. But there are places where Jewish couples can turn for help: gemachs.

The term gemach comes from the Hebrew words gemilut chasadim, meaning “acts of loving kindness.” In practical terms, it’s a place where a Jewish person can go to receive (or borrow) items he or she needs for little or no cost.

There are gemachs for baby clothing and diapers, wigs, furniture and dishes in Los Angeles. For brides and grooms, a number of gemachs in town exist that supply wedding dresses, prayer books, chuppahs, bridal chairs, tablecloths, centerpieces and party favors.

Global Kindness, located on Pico Boulevard, provides wedding dresses, clothing for the bridal party, wigs and home goods to people in need for a nominal fee. Members of the community donate used items to the store.

“Couples are starting a life together and it’s so hard for some parents to throw a wedding for their children,” said Rachel Shapiro, a divorce mediation specialist and a volunteer for Global Kindness. “In a society where there is an abundance of things, people are willing to pass the wealth to a bride in need so that her wedding day is a special one. She gets to walk down the aisle in a $10,000 dress and she remembers it as the happiest day.”

Kayla Goldwag, a personal trainer who got married 17 years ago, spotted the dress of her dreams on a friend of a friend. It was from a local gemach, and Goldwag was delighted to be able to wear it on her own wedding day after the woman brought it back to the gemach when she was done with it.

“Some of my friends in seminary tried to warn me of getting a dress from a gemach, saying [it] might be old, dirty, stained or torn,” she said. “I wasn’t deterred. It was a perfect Cinderella dress that would have cost thousands just to wear for four hours.”

When she put on the dress, Goldwag said, she felt a connection to the brides who wore it before her.

“Each kallah [bride] who made slight changes to the white prom dresses uk made it perfect, too,” she said. “[They added] a filled-in bust, a longer sleeve [and] a higher neck. I feel special knowing it was part of the beginning of so many other happy couples’ lives together, too.”

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