Saying ‘I Do’ when the world keeps issuing ‘Don’t’s

April 2, 2020 by Eliana Rudee
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Despite the expanding limitations on events and gatherings in the context of the rising global coronavirus pandemic, Jewish couples in Israel are finding innovative ways to continue with their wedding plans.

Shira and Ronen Raz had originally planned a “big Jewish Israeli wedding” with 250 guests in Israel’s north on March 19, but as their wedding date approached, Israel began limiting the number of people allowed at gatherings and ordering quarantine for people coming from abroad. Credit: Courtesy.

Jewish Israeli couples Shira and Ronen Raz, and Miriam and Mickey Polevoy planned their weddings for March and April, respectively, both wedding on March 19 in the presence of close family and friends, a rabbi and photographer, and both postponing their larger receptions with guests.

Shira and Ronen had originally planned a “big Jewish Israeli wedding” with 250 guests in Israel’s north on March 19, but as their wedding date was just two weeks away, Israel began to limit the number of people allowed at gatherings and began ordering quarantine for people coming from abroad. Shira’s immediate family, coming from the United States, made it to Israel just hours before they would have needed to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival.

“It was really stressful,” Shira told JNS. “During the process, we were living one day at a time.”

She said that every time Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced new restrictions, “I held my breath. It was horrible.”

“It was really, really stressful, and it was a strange process leading up to the wedding because every time a new restriction was put in place, we thought by the time our date came around, we’d all have to be quarantined and couldn’t get married,” Ronen similarly told JNS.

“I calmed down once we postponed the reception because I couldn’t not have a date—something to look forward to,” said Shira.

Adena Mark Kapon, event planner and founder of A to Z Events Israel, has been working with her clients who still want to get married within regulations, as well as wedding vendors who are struggling to survive. Working with clients over the past several weeks, she told JNS, has indeed been “more emotions than logistics.”

“It’s changing constantly, and it is not the same today as it was a week ago,” she said.

‘Jews have risked their lives to have weddings’

Shira’s stress was also partly eased by social-media support groups for brides during the outbreak of the coronavirus, she said, where brides-to-be discussed possible refunds if venues cancelled or postponed; posted photos of their weddings; and supported each other emotionally throughout the changing world around them. In an Israeli WhatsApp group, Israeli venues and companies also showed their support, offering their venues and free gifts for couples negatively affected by the new restrictions.

In Jerusalem, Mayor Moshe Leon opened a room in City Hall for couples that needed a venue, free of charge, with food provided for the 10 or fewer people present at the ceremonies. “We did two weddings there last week,” Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hasson-Nahoum told JNS. “We were looking for ways to make people’s lives easier and have a lot of space in City Hall, with our committees meeting much less,” she said, which resulted in “this lovely initiative from the mayor.”

Leon, who sang one of the traditional Jewish blessings at one of the wedding ceremonies, told JNS of the “great privilege” it was to offer the blessing to the bride and groom. “We are in a hard time, but we will pass it together,” he said, wishing luck to the newlyweds.

With Shira and Ronen’s immediate families present, and as older family members and guests coming from abroad began to cancel, they decided to have a smaller ceremony in a synagogue that could hold up to 20 people, and postpone their celebration at their planned venue to August so they could “still celebrate with family and friends like both of us dreamed of doing.”

“We had been engaged for a year and four months before the wedding, so we were ready to get married,” Ronen told JNS, who had also heard from his rabbi that Jews are not supposed to wait to get married if they are able to keep their wedding date.

While those in the wedding industry are asking couples to postpone their weddings for economic purposes, explained Kapon, many are indeed going forward with them in accordance with the Jewish tradition. “In Jewish history, Jews have risked their lives to continue having Jewish weddings, circumcisions, women going to the mikvah, as these are important traditions and commandments that make us who we are and keep us going as a nation, even under threat of life, such as pogroms and concentration camps,” she said.

In 2015, recalled Kapon, a bride (Sarah Techiya Litman) who lost her father in a terrorist attack got up from sitting shiva to get married in Jerusalem, inviting the public to her wedding.

“While I agree with social-distance guidelines that we should take seriously, people are forgetting the significance to the wedding date, even under such challenging circumstances. The same way that your husband or besheret is chosen before you’re born, they say that about the wedding date as well, so it is important to keep [it]. That’s what we do,” related Kapon.

Shira similarly pointed out that “there were Jewish and Israeli brides who got married in grocery stores and on rooftops in order to keep their wedding date.”

In the end, Shira said, “it wasn’t my dream idea, but it worked out perfectly. I believe everything happens for a reason, and the atmosphere was really relaxed and intimate. Our vows were pretty long, and we felt comfortable enough to say them in front of everyone, the rabbi danced and sung, and it was really fun and a good vibe that fit us [as a couple].

“If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t have changed a thing,” she added.

Ronen agreed: “It feels it worked out perfectly and for the best, and we are both super happy.”

‘A race against the clock’

Miriam and Mickey Polevoy celebrating a significantly smaller wedding in Jerusalem due to restrictions from the coronavirus pandemic. Credit: Avigail Tresgallo Photography.

On the same night of March 19, about 80 miles southeast of Shira and Ronen, Miriam and Mickey Polevoy made the “day of” decision to get married at midnight at a family friends’ Jerusalem apartment with about 10 people present. With Miriam’s mother in town from Australia for their expected April 16 wedding, who needed to return before any borders were closed and as flights were being cancelled, Miriam and Mickey scrapped their original plan of getting married in front of 350 guests in central Israel—a wedding that they planned as “a combination of an Israeli and chutznik [foreign-born] wedding—classy, but down to earth and not formal.”

“At 9 p.m. [on March 19], Prime Minister Netanyahu got on the screen and declared that new regulation was to come into effect once it was signed, and that Israel’s mobility would be severely hindered,” Mickey told JNS. “We didn’t know whether this regulation would prohibit our chuppah. With everything that we planned put into question already twice, we just decided that we weren’t going to wait just to hear that our chuppah is prohibited, so we decided that right there, in the middle of the night, we were getting married.”

His brother came to his wedding in work clothes, and his dad wore an older suit of Mickey’s.

Eliana Rudee

“Planning a new chuppah in two hours at midnight can only be done in Israel. Only Israelis are flexible and daring enough to pull that off,” he maintained.

Apart from the “sad moment” when Miriam realized that she would have to exclude people from the ceremony because of the regulations, “there was no question in my mind that this was a race against the clock. There’s a concept to run to do mitzvot, and I really experienced that,” she told JNS.

Miriam, who was a part of the same WhatsApp group as Shira, noted that “it seems quite common [in Israel] for brides to do a quick ceremony and push off the party. There is something Jewish or Israeli about it, both in terms of the importance of bringing light during this difficult time, as well as superstition around postponing weddings.”

“With 10 people, we got married right then and there,” told Mickey. “I got into my tuxedo and Miriam into her wedding dress. I could not have planned a more beautiful, better or happier wedding in an eternity. My beautiful bride, Miriam, was all that mattered. She shined brighter than the sun in her wedding dress walking up to our predetermined chuppah at midnight, as she was obviously always meant to do.”

“We were joined by our closest family and friends for an intimate and joyful chuppah in Baka,” said Miriam.

After the wedding, Mickey related that he felt “very relieved of months of pressure.”

“Planning a wedding during the corona pandemic isn’t easy at all,” he said. “Every time you plan, something gets cancelled or changed. But the moment we got married, all that disappeared. It didn’t matter anymore,” continued Mickey. “I couldn’t have dreamt, hoped or prayed for a more beautiful, better or happier wedding in my wildest dreams.”

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