―Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera
When they met, about a year and a half ago, the universe was acting as normally as it ever does. They flirted, they smiled, they hemmed and they hawed, they walked and they talked, and then it all clicked, just like every movie anyone had ever seen.
That’s not to say that there were never any problems; she liked huge parties, he worked late. He watched football games, she liked sitcoms and Monty Python. She was born in Israel, and he was a new immigrant. She liked shwarma and hamburgers, and, well, so did he. At least that.
But it clicked, and they were happy.
Within a short time, they made the decision, that, yes, this was it.
“But first”, she said, “I have to meet your family.”
A trip abroad was quickly arranged, and for six semi-rainy lovely days, the happy couple strolled the streets and parks and homes of Manchester, meeting with friends and family, eating mushy peas, and even taking in a football game.
They returned home on March 2, 2020 – election day in Israel, the third in 18 months.
They managed to get home in time to vote. (wasn’t THAT a waste of time.)
That weekend, she came to Beer Sheva to see her own family.
“The family in England”, she said, “is super nice. Yes, we’re going to get engaged, after the hoopla of Purim.
Unfortunately, by Purim, the universe was beginning to misbehave. There were more than 50 cases of Coronavirus in Israel, and the festivities were somewhat muted. She was able, however, to attend a few parties, drink a few drinks, see a few friends, and altogether enjoy the holiday.
On the Friday after Purim, on March 13, they went off to buy an engagement ring – all the way to the Diamond District in Ramat Gan. They found what they were looking for, but the proper salespeople were not available and they were told to come back in a week to try it on and make any adjustments necessary.
Five days later, on March 18, she (like hundreds of others across the country) was put into quarantine after attending a Purim party with an infected person.
Two days after that, on March 20, Israel entered its first lockdown. Schools, synagogues, most businesses, gyms, restaurants, cultural centers, national parks and forests, the airport, and more were shuttered. All shops (except essential services) were closed. The population was kept within 100 meters of their homes with instructions not to visit family or friends.
There was to be no more shopping for anything for quite a while.
The lockdown lifted only after Israel’s Independence Day, and by the first week of May, things began to get back to normal (which was to prove to be our downfall, but that is getting ahead of the story).
They took the first opportunity, and went with a friend to Ramat Gan, to pick up the ring, two months after choosing it.
A week later, on May 14, with the help of a couple of friends to set the scene, the question was officially popped, and she officially accepted. While nobody else was surprised at the question, she was. Ah! Romance.
Now that lockdown was over, and the pandemic contained – or so it was believed – things began to move quickly. Many couples who had delayed their weddings because of restrictions began to re-plan, and wedding halls and venues began to quickly fill up.
The first part of June was spent looking for a place for the wedding They saw five different venues in four days. Some were out in the desert, some were too small. Some they didn’t know what they looked like because the only time they could see them was at night, in the dark. They were all very expensive. Corona expensive.
Finally, a hall in a National Park, right outside of Jerusalem, was agreed upon. They decided to set the date for after the High Holidays, in the autumn. That way, the situation, vis-à-vis coronavirus, would definitely be under control, visitors from abroad would be able to enter the country without problems, and the weather would have cooled off from its summer heat, but it would still be too early for rain. Hopefully.
A contract was signed, and the date was set: October 21, for 250 people.
Shortly after, a photographer was lined up, a band was found, and she began dress fittings with a wedding dress designer she had located. They even arranged to have a wedding planner in case of last-minute changes, ‘because you never know, what with corona and all’. All was going according to plan.
Except for all the things that weren’t.
From July 9 until August 2, there were almost no Jewish weddings throughout Israel because of the ‘three weeks’ between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av. During this period, the numbers of Covid-19 cases began to rise, slowly at first. When weddings recommenced, in early August, they were supposed to be held in ‘capsules’ (what other countries would call ‘bubbles’.) One was allowed to invite up to 300 people to a wedding (or any gathering), but the participants were required to be kept apart in capsules of twenty for eating and dancing. They were not to mix at all.
Hundreds of weddings and other events took place during the month of August in this way, and the number of coronavirus cases skyrocketed from a few hundred a day to a few thousand a day. More than 500 people died in the two summer months from Coronavirus, more than in the first four months of the pandemic.
Apparently, the capsules were not working.
Some restrictions began to be enforced.
By this time, it was obvious that a wedding of 250 people was not happening, and neither was a wedding of 100 people. There would be almost no guests from abroad, as Israel had never re-opened its borders, and there were few flights going in or out.
A guest list of 50 people was finalized.
By mid-September, cases had spiked to almost 10,000 a day. On Friday, September 11, the government of Israel proclaimed a second lockdown; it would begin on September 18 – erev Rosh HaShana – and last until after Sukkot—at the earliest. October 11 was the target date to re-open.
The couple moved into action. With one week to get all the tasks done before the shutdown, he went out on September 16, more than a month before wedding, and bought what he needed; shirts, a tie, a kittel, shoes, socks, a waistcoat (hey, he’s still British), and a spare ring, ‘just in case’ (his parents had the intended one, a family heirloom, back in England).
She spent the time packing up and moving boxes into the new apartment the couple had rented. She would not be allowed to move freely once lockdown came into effect, so her family came from Beer Sheva to help her move the heavier things.
It would be the last time they would see her before the wedding.
The second lockdown was to prove harsher than the first. Again, schools and synagogues were shuttered, shops closed up, restaurants could only provide delivery service, and most business were not operating. Movement would be limited to one kilometer from home. Gatherings of any kind were allowed for up to 20 people outside and 10 people inside. There were to be no exceptions.
Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot – the most important days of the Jewish calendar – were spent in Lockdown. Families were kept apart, prayer services were shortened and muted and limited to 20 participants, even in outside minyanim. There were no tourists visiting. The economy was taking a terrible beating. Movement was restricted, and there were only a few acceptable reasons to travel: shopping for essential goods that were not available within 1 km, medical treatments, assisting parents or other elderly or handicapped people, and attending a demonstration (which is apparently a god-given right in a democratic state). Roadblocks were set up by the police to stop people from traveling between cities.
Citizens across the country, tired, frustrated, scared, and angry, looked for ways to break the government decrees. Some simply ignored them and carried on as if there were no pandemic, holding enormous prayer services, mass meals, and huge noisy demonstrations. Others simply broke the law, getting sick and infecting others along the way. These people included members of the Knesset, government ministers, the Chief of Staff, and the head of the Israel Security Agency. By this time, there were over 2000 dead from Coronavirus in the State of Israel.
Our couple knew that breaking the law wasn’t an option.
Somewhere during this lockdown, it became apparent that traveling to a wedding was NOT on the list of reasons to travel; not for the parents, or the rabbi, or for the bride and groom. In practice, holding a wedding in the Land of Israel was illegal.
On October 1, two days after Yom Kippur, and halfway through the lockdown, the government announced that it was extending it for an additional four days, until the evening of October 14. In the meantime, it would be intensified; raising fines for not wearing a mask, putting up more roadblocks to stop travel, and sealing the airport to prevent Israelis from leaving (and coming back to) the country.
Airlines began cancelling their few flights.
With three weeks to go, it became more and more uncertain whether the original date for the wedding, October 21, could be met. Travel both within and to the country was prohibited. Gatherings of more than 20 people were illegal. Everything was sealed shut.
Sukkot passed quietly, and along with it, the date of the flight his parents were supposed to be on. With all the uncertainty, they had decided not to risk being stranded in the HolyLand and unable to leave.
On Sunday, October 11, the government made two announcements: a) They would be meeting on Tuesday, the 13th, to discuss exit strategies from the lockdown so as not to make the same mistakes they had made the first time, and b) the lockdown would be extended for another week, until Sunday, October 18.
At this point, everything was put on hold.
Until that moment, there had been hopes for a 50-person wedding. But, a week before the event, even that was acknowledged as not happening.
Suddenly, the first ray of hope shone through. On October 14, the day after the government met to decide on strategy, it was announced that traveling more than 1 km for a wedding was permitted.
His parents were immediately instructed to make arrangements, asap, to find a flight and get to Israel. However, as all non-citizens of Israel needed approval to enter the country, and as their original approval had lapsed along with their original flight, there were concerns that it would take more than a week to get the necessary paperwork done. The wedding was scheduled to be in exactly one week.
Plans began to be made for a postponement. Vendors were notified, emails were sent out, phone calls were made. The new provisional date was October 28, seven days late.
The second ray of hope shone. By the evening of that October 14, approval to enter the country had been received (an hour after the request had been made, with the help of friends and a member of Knesset), travel insurance had been procured, and flights for Monday, October 19 had been booked.
The wedding on October 21 was back on.
The final 20-person guest list was begun. There were to be no work colleagues, no high-school friends, no cousins, no aunts or uncles, no nieces or nephews. Her two sisters-in-law were put on the ‘we’ll see what we can do’ list. And then, the wedding planner, who had been advising and helping all along, made a suggestion.
“Have the chupa part of the wedding late in the afternoon, before sundown, with your family”, she advised. “Then, after dinner and a bit of dancing and sheva brachot, your families can leave. Invite another 20 people to come and take their place. That way, though there will never be more than 20 people at once, you will be able to have 40 people with you that evening.” Two guest lists were drawn up.
They also decided to LiveStream the wedding. That way all the people who couldn’t be invited could at least watch it in real time.
The vendors were all notified, emails were sent out, and phone calls were made. It might actually happen.
A few months previously, Israel had divided the world into Green and Red countries. The borders were closed to all non-citizens from any country with a few exceptions (such as attending a child’s wedding), and Israelis coming in from abroad were required to self-quarantine for 14 days if returning from a Red country (where the incidence of coronavirus was high), but were not required to if returning from a Green country (where it was low).
England was a Green country.
Be that as it may, on Thursday, October 15, the Facebook group ‘Brits in Israel’ had large capital letter announcements that FROM NOW ON, TRAVELERS FROM THE UK WOULD NEED TO ENTER A TWO-WEEK QUARANTINE.
They had one of two options: a) postpone the wedding for two weeks while the British family was in quarantine or b) forget it and let them miss the wedding altogether. Neither, however, were real options. Nobody was prepared to allow his parents not to attend the wedding and there was no point in postponing the wedding because the family, for various reasons, would not be able to go into quarantine.
This was a bit of a pickle.
A great deal of fancy language was heard.
However, by the afternoon of that day, the third ray of hope shone bright. It was ascertained, through the good offices of Israel’s ambassador to England, that while, yes, the UK had become a red country, the quarantine laws would not take effect for another week. The parents would be able to just squeak into the country.
Finally, path cleared, on Thursday evening, the young couple began to make plans for the Shabbat before the wedding; traditionally the groom has an aliya to the Torah, and the bride spends her last weekend of freedom with her friends.
That weekend was spent apart – he, quietly, with family friends, and she, much less quietly, with her roommate and others on the rooftop of her apartment.
On Sunday, October 18, three days before Wedding Day, they, along with their superstar wedding planner, swung into action. They toured various wedding venues including an Airbnb place in Mamilla, a Villa in Ramot that wasn’t actually available, a winery in the middle of nowhere overlooking a highway (the chupa being in the middle of the vineyard), and the rooftop of the Jerusalem View Hotel in the center of the city. Having both an amazing view, and available parking, the rooftop of the Jerusalem View Hotel was booked.
The 1000-meter limitation had officially expired that morning, as the first stage of lifting the lockdown came into effect, so that afternoon, she traveled from Jerusalem to Hod HaSharon (about an hour’s drive) for an experimental make-up session. On the way back, on the bus, she researched what kind of chupa and flowers and decorations she wanted on that rooftop. Late that evening, they discussed catering the meal with the hotel management. But it was too expensive, and they decided to look elsewhere for food.
On October 19, with two days to go, she picked up her dress (which had been finished a few weeks previously) and the customized zmirot books, finalized the flower arrangements and her own bouquet, and ordered food from a local restaurant, which agreed to deliver on the day at the required time. He ordered drinks for the party and went to work. That evening, she went to the Mikva, hopped over to the new apartment to find the things she would need for the next two days, and went home. He went to see his parents, who had, finally and successfully, arrived from England. By now, it was Monday, October 20, at 2:30 AM.
On October 20, the day before the wedding, she got her nails done, picked up the ketuba, went with the wedding planner to finalize details at the hotel, and then went back to the new apartment to pick up key rings (gifts for the guests), lighted bottles, zmirot books, and the drinks needed for the wedding, and load everything into the car.
And with that final task done, all preparations for the wedding were finished. All details were finalized, all the T’s crossed, and the I’s dotted.
Except for the problem with the ketuba. It had the wrong date on it because it had been decided to have the wedding before sunset instead of after. A few phone calls between the Rabbi and Tzohar fixed that.
And then it rained. Blessed rain fell for an hour on the city, including on the rooftop of the Jerusalem View Hotel.
That evening, they had nothing to do.
She watched an old movie on her phone because her computer was in the new apartment, and he watched Manchester United play against PSG in the Champions League, because why not.
On Wednesday, the third day of the Month of MarCheshvan (October 21), at about 5 PM, overlooking the Holy City of Jerusalem, in the presence of four parents, six siblings and two sisters-in-law, one rabbi, two witnesses and two of her oldest friends, two musicians, and two photographers, and watched on Live Stream by several hundred people around the world, they got married.
It was worth it.