NEW YORK – A wedding in a rustic setting is a charming change of pace for most Americans, but for the children of immigrants, it is a touching but powerful reminder of their roots – and the achievements and dreams of their beloved parents. Set in a clearing with a spectacular view of the mighty Hudson River, a beautiful ceremony that combined the millennia-old traditions of the people of Greece and Israel joined Tina Vournas and Neil Machani, the children of Chris and Kiki (Angelike) Vournas and Eli and Flora Machani on September 12. Attorney Irene Zoupaniotis, Vournas’ childhood friend and Maid of Honor addressed toasted the couple, as did Machani’s brother Adam, who was the best man. Koumbara Katerina Stavropoulos, who is Vournas’ cousin but said “we are like sisters” also offered emotional reminiscences and a toast. The guests were delighted by the venue, the Mount Gulian Historic Site in New York State’s Hudson Valley, which played a role in the birth of the United States. George Washington is believed to have spent time at the farm whose buildings have been lovingly restored. The guests enjoyed delicious food and there was plenty of dancing to Greek, Jewish, and American songs performed live by Yanni Staikos and Angeliki Dimitriadou, and provided by the DJs of GK Events NYC. The couple brought tears to the eyes of guests when they danced with their parents. Vournas and her father chose the song “I Got Sunshine on a Cloudy Day.” Chris and Kiki Vournas thanked all the guests. The former, who is past president of the Pan Arcadian Federation and the Pan Arcadian World Congress, said of Neil “It did not take us long to realize how special he was and I am thrilled to have him as a son-in-law.” Vournas also expressed special gratitude to those who traveled from Greece and Israel.
Machani’s family lived for centuries as part of the Jewish community of Iran. Eli Machani told TNH that this father, anticipating the turmoil that was to come, took his family out in 1965. Machani shared that “from the beginning I knew we were not losing a son but gaining a daughter,” and said of both his sons and their spouses “I am now the proud father of two sons and daughters.” The ceremony was tastefully officiated by Jeddah Vailakis, who explained traditions such as the Greek stefana – the wreaths that bride and groom are “crowned” with. She said the couple was crowned “because you are creating a new kingdom in your home, and the stefana represent your being joined in mind, body and spirit.” The Jewish practice of crushing of the common wine glass prompted joyous applause. Zoupaniotis told TNH she and Tina immediately became inseparable friends when they met in Kindergarten at the school of St. Demetrios in Jamaica, where the former’s mother and aunt taught. The consensus among friends is that Tina was the more adventurous of the pair, who were known as the Bobbsey twins. “She was very into being Greek – we were both involved in Greek dancing but she kept it up,” Zoupaniotis said. Vournas is a pharmacist in Astoria and Machani works in finance at J.P. Morgan – Chase. The bride’s name, which appears as Tina on her birth certificate, is derived from the names of her grandmothers, Constantina and Stamatina.TNH learned how Machani and Vournas met: Zoupaniotis said that a mutual friend, Joanna, who went to high school with her and Vournas, also went to junior high with Machani. “She thought they would like each other and introduced them during our senior year in high school.” Their first date was at and Arby’s. Asked about the couple’s honeymoon plans, Zoupaniotis said “they are not doing it right after the wedding because I’m getting married in November. Another friend of Vournas – Nicole Neroulias – chimed in “all her friends are getting married this year.” Neroulias, who like Zoupaniotis is part Cypriot, met Vournas through the latter. “Tina was so bubbly and positive we became friends right off the bat…she was a breath of fresh air and so sweet…Neil is amazing and they are soul mates and it is beautiful to watch them together.”