I realize the title is not too exciting, especially because I’ve described other Israeli weddings we have attended. However, this was the first one we attended where neither the couple nor the parents were Messianic Jews. We had heard of the typical Israeli wedding, but honestly were not prepared for it. We were surprisingly invited by the parents of the bride, whom we had met when we arrived in Merchavia to first look at the development under construction. The mother of the bride was the salesperson for the development, and the father oversaw the construction of our home. We had hoped to befriend them further, but we haven’t seen either one for almost two years.
The wedding was held at the large event center in Afula. I often drive by from work in the evenings, and typically the place is rocking, the parking lot packed. From the street you can see bright, flashy lights from inside. When we entered the event hall on the evening of the wedding, it looked like a Las Vegas show. Lights were flashing everywhere. The stage opposite the chupah (wedding canopy) looked like it was set up for a rock concert, replete with smoke machines and massive speakers strewn throughout the hall. A video camera was mounted on a boom that kept swirling around; it looked like something used for a pro football game. And then there was the sound. Oy! Techno music blared with a bass beat that shook my bones and overwhelmed my ears. I knew it was going to be a long evening.
As we entered, we greeted the parents, and then headed to the food bar. Israeli weddings normally include several parts, the first of which is called the kabbalat panim – essentially hors d’oeuvres before the wedding. It was quite an array, and I figured it would be enough for dinner, which is later served in multiple courses. Since the actual wedding wasn’t scheduled until 8:30, I assumed we’d make a quick exit after the ceremony – too late for us oldies. We looked around and knew no one. One of our neighbors are the parents’ in-laws through another daughter, so we assumed they’d be there. Fortunately, they arrived and graciously sat with us – their English is quite good. The place was filling up with several hundred people.
Finally, around 9pm the wedding festivities started. I was already counting the minutes; we usually go to bed at 9:30. The sound volume increased. My head was now throbbing. People gathered around the chupah and formed a line for the wedding party to enter. An incredible singer (very well known throughout the country) started singing very dramatically “Bo-i, bo-I, kalah” (Come, come, Bride), somehow belting out the song over the already booming sound, all the while the bass beat was drumming on. An invisible door sprung open fifteen feet above and behind the massive stage, and out came the bride, descending stairs we hadn’t noticed before. As she passed by, a group of men blasted their shofars – honestly, I could barely hear them due to the rest of the sound explosion.
There were a lot of elements typical to Jewish weddings that were missing from the ceremony. But because the ultra-Orthodox have a monopoly on weddings in Israel, only one of their officiants are permitted to conduct a wedding. To me this is so odd. Here was a clearly secular couple being married by a rabbi of the strictest of Jewish sects. As he conducted various liturgical elements, almost all the wedding guests were either talking or eating, with hardly any focus on the ceremony. In fact, I was one of the few people in the hall to wear a kippah (head covering) and also not talking. Of course, I didn’t have anyone to talk to anyway. The couple themselves acted as if they had arrived on an alien planet and were just being nice to remain safe. Finally, the groom broke the traditional wine glass, signaling the end of the wedding. The couple were immediately surrounded by well-wishers, and then were whisked to the dance floor. Somehow, the sound volume increased, and the dancing began. The shofar blowers were now all pounding portable djembe-type drums in time to the music (because of course the music needed MORE bottom). Stacy wandered over to watch, and was ultimately politely pushed out of the way by the videographer operating his twenty-foot boom camera. I was reeling from the flashing lights and booming sound.
As soon as she got back to the table, we exited stage left, profusely thanking our neighbors for sitting with us. I don’t want to sound ungracious because the fact that the parents invited us was quite touching, especially in light of the fact that no one else from the neighborhood apparently came.
I left the wedding thinking how disturbing the monopolistic control of the ultra-Orthodox is here in Israel. If the couple had real options, they may have chosen a religious figure more suitable to them, and thus more meaningful to them and their friends and family. It’s very possible that where a couple is more religious that the ceremony would be taken more seriously. When you consider this is the most important event in one’s life, it needs to be meaningful. As Adam said when he saw Eve in the Garden of Eden, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”