Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Highlight of Israel trip: The Wedding
A Jewish wedding in Jerusalem is exactly like a Jewish wedding anywhere, except more of the participants are speaking Hebrew.
After a dream-like ten days' trip halfway across the world, most of it spent with 200 of our closest friends on a mind-expanding tour, the evening that turns out to be the highlight of it all was the few hours when my nephew, the little 3-lb. preemie I recall in his baby carrier-- 20 years old now--became the head of his own household. Most 20-year-olds are barely able to make it to 10 am college classes; this guy has been an entrepreneur, and currently serves in the Israeli army in an intelligence unit. He's well-spoken and energetic and difficult to dissuade.
The wedding venue just outside Jerusalem was a park-like acre. Its central lawn held comfy wicker couch conversation groupings flanked by no less than ten food "stations," each serving up a different delicacy for the 550 guests--falafel fried before our eyes, with fresh pita patted and grilled; egg rolls and stir-fry cooked up crisp and fresh; Italian pastas with a sauce of choice assembled for you, Moroccan spicy meat fingers and grape leaves and eggplant dips. Open bars--several--concocted anything you could desire (I got Tequila Sunrise, and they had real grenadine). A five-piece band played traditional Jewish tunes as the golden sun of Jerusalem slanted in the sky and sparkled off the pool.
The guests mixed among the couch-groups, laughing, eating, connecting. We caught up with friends we hadn't seen in person for a decade. Family from around the world convened in a chorus of "mazel tov!" (the universal greeting among all Jewish wedding guests, as the marriage is a source of joy to all in the community--we do not wish "mazel tov" just to the couple).
Soon, the bride came to her throne to receive the women guests, with her mother, the groom's mom and the grandmothers seated on either side. Meanwhile, the men gathered inside for the "tish," at which the wedding contractwais signed, words of Torah exchanged, and many "L'Chaim's" toasted. We outside could hear their singing grow louder as a dancing throng surrounding the groom came to veil the bride.
Of course, throughout, I was snapping photos. I took a video of the b'decking. I frame the world through a view-finder.
The actual wedding canopy was a grand white structure, with a white satin path. Along the path were white-draped pedestals holding huge glass cylinders of peach-colored gladiolas. There were white-sheathed chairs for the family; the rest of the guests stood behind. The ceremony was the same one that has bound couples for thousands of years--The bride circling her groom, the seven blessings, the reading of the ketuba, the crushing of the glass. The order of the events seemed a bit different than I was used to, but moved along, without interruption by a sermon, and soon the couple were engulfed in the embraces of their friends, and the entire group clapping and singing.
While the couple were alone in yichud, the serious eating began. Inside a huge pavilion with opened glass doors and about a hundred square tables dressed with black tablecloths, and tied bunches of white lilies slanting in square vases with smooth beige river rocks. Just as the appetizers were arrayed in stations encircling the open area outdoors, the pavilion was ringed with similar stations of salads and fish dishes.
The hatan v'kallah entered amid rising shrieks and parted to dance in separate-gender areas, first with jumping and circle dancing and then lifted up on huge flat planks, and finally seated to be entertained by prepared wild performances and schtick that involved Hawaiian shirts, streamers,and animal costumes. Fellow soldiers danced with three-foot-long machine guns slung down their backs, and a huge fan was set up next to the dance floor to cool the perspiring dancers in the 80-degree night.
The food stations re-vamped to serve the main courses, all sorts of meats with side dishes, but I didn't approach them, still stuffed from the hors d'oerves and salads. The fathers of the couple gave speeches; friends sang parodies in their honor; the groom spoke. The groom's siblings performed a rock number, complete with maracas and electric guitars. The dancing resumed.
Finally, food stations opened outside serving desserts. Pancakes sizzled on grills, beautifully decorated pastries and cakes were laid out in artistic patterns. More wild dancing; more jumping and clapping circles. Finally, exhausted, the guests returned to their seats for the final post-gorging grace and seven blessings.
I guess you could say it was a rather typical Jewish wedding. Maybe a bit more lavish food; maybe a bit more sophistication in the decor; maybe a more luxurious setting. But the core of the evening was reassuringly familiar. At least I captured it all on my camera card to relive it again.