Monday, February 17, 2003

Since there are a lot of weddings in the air, I thought I might tell you about this Jewish wedding I went to yesterday. The bride was an ex student of Sde Boker, Carly. She's originally from Australia, but came here to study, eventually made aliyah (according to the laws of the state of Israel, anybody who is proven to be jewish can apply for Israeli citizenship, this process of immigration is called aliyah). She met the groom, Haim somewhere here. HAIM is descendent of Russian Jews and is quite orthodox, while Carly is not so much. However in the interests of sanity they decided to have a orthodox wedding. OF course like any other religions there are thousands of small sects in Judaism, and the orthodox are generally the kind who enforce the Sabbath laws and the kosher laws etc. so this promised to be a strange experience, especially since Haim's parents don’t speak a word of English and Carly’s don’t speak Hebrew.
The first problem was getting there. The wedding was in Petah Tikva which is very close to TEl Aviv, and im living in the south in the middle of the desert :) And since there is no bus service after 11, we (Clara, Francisco - Colombians, Henri- Swiss, Miraj- Ex- soviet republic, cant remember which, Antonio- Chile and me- India) rented a car from Be'er Sheva and Henri drove us to the wedding hall. Since it was an orthodox wedding Carly had warned us (males) to get Kippas and the women to wear modest clothing etc, or else we wouldn’t be let inside, so we bought some kippas at the Be'er Sheva bus station. They look something like this Mine had a spider web (with a spider) design :)
Anyway we all looked properly Jewish and headed to the hall. The wedding was in the 3rd or fourth floor of the building, so trooped up the stairs. There was a lobby with food, and then the hall, which looked more like a restaurant than anything else. So we did the traditional wishing the parents etc, went and met Carly who was sitting on a throne like thingy decked out in full bridal gear, very similar to Christian Bridal Gear, I think. She looked totally different, wouldn’t have recognized her if I didn’t know better. Anyway Each of us was given a little card with a table number on it, so we were allotted a table close to the exit :). The food by the way was not fair to vegetarians, but I’m holding my peace. The ceremony started at around 9 pm. I thought it was pretty strange to hold a wedding at night, but then I realized that the Jewish day starts at sundown, so I guess it was pretty auspicious. First the groom was walked by his Father in law and somebody else (holding candles) to where Carly was sitting. The ceremony included HAIM placing a veil over Carly's head, symbolizing some biblical story where somebody (Jacob?) was cheated of the wife he wanted (Rachel) because of the veil, so now the groom puts the veil on his bride to make sure the same doesn’t happen again :). I know all this symbolic stuff because of Zoe, the fiancée of Elli, who's in my department. They are getting married soon, and thus Zoe was very knowledgeable about all the traditions etc. She was kind enough to provide running commentary. Zoe, by the way is an indophile, part of that category of people who are strongly attracted to India and Indian things. In fact she was wearing a skirt that looked like it had been massacred out of a zari sari. Anyway after this, Haim was led away and then Carly had to recite some prayers, which nobody heard. And then a whole procession of people led her to the roof where the actual ceremony was supposed to happen. On the roof, there was a pandal, which they call “Hupah” and the two took up positions under the thing. The first thing that Carly had to do was to go around Haim seven times. No fire. Apparently they went through both the engagement and the wedding itself in this ceremony. So rings were duly exchanged. Then came the reading of the marriage contract. So the contract, which is written in Aramaic was read out by one of the Rabbis (=priests), and then given to the bride for safekeeping. After that, seven different rabbis blessed the couple, but it can be anybody who knows the couple. Finally it ended when the cup of wine that all of them were holding (in order to bless) was drunk by the two and then the cup was smashed by Haim, symbolizing a little bit of unhappiness in midst of their happiness, i.e. because of Jerusalem. The whole thing took no more than 20 mins. Then the entire contingent proceeded downstairs and that’s when things began to get seriously weird. First they set up a screen to separate the women from the men and proceeded to start dancing. The music was provided by this live band who were uniformly dressed in traditional orthodox clothes but they were good -though repetitive, singing religious songs which sounded all the world like folk- gypsy music from some east European country. The rule here is that orthodox men are not allowed to look at the women, and hence the separation. The dancing itself consisted of men holding hands and going round in circles, doing quaint folk steps along the way. Haim got into lot of stress dancing with everyone who wished Haim well, and I could see he was exhausted and a bit unfocussed at the end, while Carly had a comparatively easier time, because the women were dancing slower and with more emphasis on moves rather than speed. There were some really bizarre dances, but it’s too vivid to describe. Lets just say it involved; a spinning chair with Haim on it, spun in a very innovative way by 8 orthodox jews; a burning hat dance; a real clown and a guy who did a balancing act with a bottle of wine on his head. Very disturbing to see men of God in this way, but I guess if you spend most of the time in serious study of God and his works, these weddings are your only outlet for fun and who blames them if they do get a bit over the top. These guys also continuously peppered the meal with loud singing and blessings hidden safely behind this makeshift screen. Later on when it was time for Carly to receive their blessings, they allowed her to peep through the screen and continued their blessings all the while. Finally people were leaving and it was getting pretty late, around 1 a.m., I think, so we decided to go as well. We said a last goodbye to Carly etc and headed to Rehovot (where Antonio lives) and recuperated in a pub, but that’s another story J.
Whew , my fingers are tired!