Header Photo Credit

*The stunning photo in the header of my blog is all thanks to Ron Shoshani. Visit his facebook page for more of his amazing photographs of Tel Aviv!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Two Weddings and a Culture Shock

The Israeli Wedding
(well a certain kind of Israeli...)

If there is one thing that I love about Israeli culture, it is the way the secular (and tasteful secular) throw a wedding. They really know how to get married.

Let me be clear here. The kind of Israeli weddings I'm about to describe are weddings of a very specific demographic. These are typically university educated, secular Israelis who are of an Ashkenasi background. The couple is usually liberal minded, or at least liberal-ish, and so are their friends and family. These couples represent a rather large percentage of Tel Aviv, which is really why I love the city so very much.

So, what makes these weddings so spectacular?
Well, it isn't the flowers or the centerpieces.

In general, there is far less ceremony and far more, well, 'getting to the point'. From what I've gathered, the point of a wedding for this specific demographic isn't to ramble on about true love and to express your intimate connection to the world; it isn't a day for the bride to play princess; nor is it a day to celebrate God. Rather, it is a day to celebrate friends, family, and new beginnings. It is a celebration- a party with the people who you can afford to invite. Typically these people are your close friends and family who simply want to help you celebrate like you've never celebrated before.

The Engagement
The anti-ceremony begins with the engagement. The engagement is announced casually and usually only a few months before the wedding. It's very rare for couples to be engaged for longer than 6 months. One year is probably the maximum. Two years is unheard of.

The Invitation
No one makes elaborate "Save the date" posters or videos or reminders. People talk to their friends, figure out how many people they can afford to bring, how many people want to come, and then they send out an invitation. Usually, they design it themselves and print it cheaply. The American custom of having the parents invite the guests and officialize on the invitation that they are the paying hosts simply does not exist in Israel. The couple invites everyone and does things the way they want.

The dress code, as it is for nearly every event in Israel, is casual. While the bride typically wears white, most brides choose a more simple style. The groom usually dons a clean pair of trousers and white linen shirt in lieu of the suit, although it does happen on rare occasions that you see a groom in a jacket and tie. The tuxedo is simply absurd and unheard of.

Many guests come to the wedding straight from work with no time to shower or change. And that's normal. My boyfriend typically wears jeans, and many women wear pants.

Most event spaces are outdoors, as the wedding season runs from late May to early July: it's hot this time of year, but not too hot, and it never rains.

Welcome to the Wedding: would you like a drink?
These weddings properly begins with a cocktail hour. The bar is open, people arrive, bride and groom greet their guests. There is mingling, music, drinking, hour d'oeuvres and excitement. This goes on for about an hour so that everyone is pleasantly drunk. Then, the marriage ceremony under the Chuppah begins.

The Chuppa
Everyone rambles towards the chuppah, drink IN HAND. There are no bride's maids, no flower girls, no best men. No girls wearing the same horrid dress. No freaked out wedding planner running around before the ceremony to make sure the best man has the ring and that everything is perfect. It's not a production. It's as stress free as it can be. In fact, most of the time, there aren't even seats. I mean, there isn't this whole thing with guests sitting a watching a long procession of awkward little girls and boys throw flowers, badly dressed women and men in suits walk down the isle, and then standing up to get a look at the bride who, FOR GOD'S SAKE is wearing a VEIL so you can't even see her face, but you still feel like you have to photograph her because she's supposedly soooo beautiful.....

No, no, no. At these weddings, guests stand gathered around the Chuppah with their wine and champaign, in front of the happy couple and family standing together with the Rabbi. The ceremony lasts 20 minutes at the most. When I say, at the most, I mean it. a 20 minute ceremony is LONG.

Digression: Because Israel is a Jewish state, any civil marriage requires Jewish couples to follow the strictest Jewish marriage ritual laws. Thees include an interview at the Rabbinical court, Torah study, and, for the woman, a ritual bathing in a pool of water called a Mikveh. The union is only recognized if the ceremony is conducted by an orthodox rabbi, and only if it follows the traditional orthodox ceremonial steps exactly. While some more religious couples of my generation appreciate these traditions, most of my friends are secular.
To avoid this orthodox regiment, many young secular couples choose to marry abroad throw a celebratory party with a symbolic Jewish ceremony upon their return. This has become quite a trend among secular Jewish couples of my generation. This may be one of the reasons why the ceremony is so easily whittled down to the bear minimum, but I'm not quite certain.

Once the ceremony is over, and the groom breaks the glass, everyone yells mazel tov and stampedes the bride and groom to congratulate them and share in their excitement. Then, it's party time!

This is a real party.

The Party
Sometimes the food is served right away, typically buffet style. Most of the time guests are starving- the ceremonies frequently don't begin till 8:30, meaning that it's 9:00pm by the time anyone sees their dinner. People get food, or dance, or open bottles of wine. I'm always a fan of buffet style. being a vegetarian, I can actually east salads, potatoes and rice without having to pick steak or chicken off my plate. Plus you eat when you want to, not when you are served. You aren't stuck at your table listening to people make bad speeches because there typically aren't any speeches.

There is also no wasting money on a wedding cake that no one wants to eat. There are deserts, yes, and of course there is coffee, but there is no cutting of the cake.

The weddings that are the most fun are those where the friends go straight to the dance floor to boogie down and start ordering shots. Then there are usually performances by good friends and family: sometimes there are videos, other times musical performances and sometimes even circus acts.

The party typically goes on until dawn, with the old people leaving when they want to. The music typically evolves from a few traditional chuppa numbers (hora, etc) to fun dance songs for all generations, to trance late night for the young kids. It's alright to come just for the ceremony and leave if you have to get back home. No one gets offended.

The Gift
That's really the key here- no one gets offended and everything is less complicated. Nearly everyone brings money, and the custom is to bring at least the amount that the couple spent on you by having you at their wedding. This typically rounds up to about 200 shekels, if not a bit more (50 dollars plus).

It's just a good time had all 'round without all that other awkwardness. It's a fund party without the "to-do"
Plus, having a wedding outside means you usually have some sort of great view- and sometimes even a swimming pool!!!!


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