One year ago today, I was wearing the biggest, poofiest white dress I could find. Also a tiara. Also about 300 hairpins that took more than 20 minutes to remove.
It’s our one-year anniversary today, so instead of talking food I’m talking wedding memories. Below you’ll find a reprinted article that appeared in Binah magazine early last summer. It’s long, but everyone loves reading wedding anecdotes, right?
Photo credit for all images (except those of the Kotel, Fro Yo, and tichels) goes to Yiftach Paltrowitz. The Kotel photo is by Batya Carl, who flew in from the States to be my shomeret. The Fro Yo and tichels pics are my own.
I’d love to hear about your own experiences. Share away in the comments section!
I was standing at the Kotel in my wedding gown.
For years, I had hoped for and dreamed of this: to find my zivug, build a life together in Israel, and visit the Kotel on the day of our wedding. Incredibly, it was happening. I made aliyah at 23, met my husband-to-be one month later, and was engaged before I had been in the country five months.
Neither of us had immediate family living here, and that put us in the position of wedding planners, a role we took up whole-heartedly. The date, invitations, hall, caterer, photographer, band, bentchers, and centerpieces – everything was up to us. Was it stressful? Of course.
But it was also special. Before long, it became clear that this wedding we were making in Israel was very different from the weddings my friends had made back in the States.
I can sum it up in one line: The entire country seemed to share our joy.
Wherever I went, as soon as someone learned I was a kallah, I received a warm mazel tov from a sincerely-happy-for-me stranger. And I mean everyone.
There was the shoe store salesman who practically jumped to help me when I explained that I needed pretty sneakers to dance in at my wedding. There was the florist who threw in a free boutonnière for my chasan when his sisters went to pick up my bouquet. And that’s just the beginning.
There’s something about living in Israel that’s hard to put into words. If you’ve lived here yourself, you’ll know what I mean. The feeling that “we’re all in this together” is impossible to miss when you’re surrounded by other Jews who are also preparing for Shabbos, making mishloach manot, or buying sink inserts before Pesach.
Yes, Israeli society is polarized – there are so many different groups of Jews, and we don’t always get along. But as my chasan and I muddled through the endless details of planning our wedding, we felt a boost of support from every kind of Jew here.
I vaguely remembered hearing from friends about getting a marriage license in the States. Having never done it myself, I can only venture a guess as to what the process is like: simple, painless, no big deal.
Well, that’s not what people say happens here.
In Israel, a new couple registers with either the Rabbanut or the Eidah Chareidis, and it’s rumored to be a big hassle. A friend of mine suggested we take along our great-grandparents’ marriage certificates to ensure everything ran smoothly…and she was only partially kidding.
It was with some trepidation and lots of curiosity that I took the bus into Meah Shearim one afternoon. After just a few minutes of searching, I located the correct building and walked in. It seemed more like a yeshivah than an office. (There was actually a commercial-size pot filled with what looked to be leftover cholent, just sitting in the hallway.)
Taking a guess, I started up the stairs ahead. A flight or two up, I asked a group of young Chassidish boys which way to go for the Eidah Chareidis. One of them pointed me in the right direction. I followed a sign into the closest room and saw…a small room. There was a counter and two chairs, and that was it.
This was the Eidah Chareidis?
Since there was no line, it was already my turn. (If only it would be like this in the post office!) The man sitting behind the counter was dressed in Chassidish garb and had a long, flowing white beard.
He asked me a long list of questions about myself and my family and requested that my chasan come in to answer the questions for his side, all without looking up. I smiled to myself when I realized that the man registering my marriage was so in tune with tznius that he didn’t make eye contact with the girls who came to his office.
I had expected this to be a frustrating experience, a nightmare of bureaucratic red tape. Instead, it was simple, painless, no big deal.
Even better, it showed me once again the beauty of living in Eretz Yisrael, where even legal documents are processed with middot.
I won’t soon forget the day I took my wedding gown home on an Egged bus. The dress was a dream, and quite a steal at NIS 350 (about $100) from a gemach in Har Nof. The seamstress lived nearby, and I was to take the dress to her three weeks before the wedding for the first fitting. She would then make alterations in time for me to return for a second fitting one week later.
I left her apartment the day of the second appointment weighed down by two large (and very heavy) garment bags filled with the dress, two huge hoop skirts, and various accessories, but buoyed up by the steady stream of mazel tovs from my Sephardi seamstress and her young Chassidish assistant.
It was no more than a few minutes’ walk to the bus stop, but I thought I’d collapse under all that beading and tulle. I got a lot of smiles once I reached it – apparently, people could guess what was in the bag, though the ring on my finger probably gave it away, too.
The bus came, and I got in line with the others, nonchalantly handed my bus pass to the driver, and looked around…where does one put a huge wedding gown on an Egged bus?
There was really only one choice: To hang it over the pole suspended from the ceiling. Up it went. The second garment bag didn’t have a hanger, so I put it on the seat next to me and tried not to laugh out loud at myself.
The bus started moving, and so did my dress. I watched, cringing, afraid it would whack the woman sitting nearby. But she just smiled at me. At one point, the driver called for me to move it slightly – but that was it. I considered this a minor miracle.
Soon enough, it was time to get off. As I stepped down into the crowd of people waiting for the bus outside, I got some funny looks and a smiling “Mazel tov!” (Naturally, it was from someone I didn’t know.) A few minutes later, the dress and skirts were safely stored in the apartment I shared with two girls.
Schlepping my wedding wear home was nothing compared to the challenges of finding a caterer who would make a respectable meal for the right price.
In Israel, many halls use their own catering crews, but their prices were all too high. After making some 20-odd calls to halls and hotels in the Jerusalem area, my chasan and I realized our best option would be to find an inexpensive caterer and an inexpensive hall and lump them together. We set out on our search.
Someone’s sister’s uncle’s friend put us in touch with a caterer in Kiryat Sefer. “He’s cheap,” this person said. “He’ll work with you.” We spent the better part of an afternoon and evening getting to Kiryat Sefer (an hour away), meeting this guy, and getting back home.
In a small, dingy hall that was used for a simchah earlier that day and had not yet been cleaned, the caterer pulled out a sample menu. We talked about fish versus borekas, chummus versus techinah, and got a price quote. He certainly was cheap. But would the food be tasty? Or just edible?
He offered to give us a ride to the edge of the city, where we could more easily catch a bus home. On the way, he told us that he had grown up on a kibbutz, completely secular, before becoming the chareidi Kiryat Sefer resident he is today. My chasan and I smiled at each other.
Only in Israel does the caterer share his teshuvah story with you – and give you a ride to the bus stop.
We ultimately decided against using this man’s business – instead, we found a reasonably priced caterer who we believed would prepare a meal that was more mechubad. Was it? We hope so.
We each ate about two bites at the wedding, of course, and can’t for the life of us recall how anything tasted. There’s a photo that shows one of my brothers with three plates of dessert in front of him. At least someone enjoyed our portions!
So Israel was full of Jews we didn’t know who were thrilled to hear our good news. It is also full of seminary girls, one of which happened to be my sister.
Having her nearby as we planned the wedding proved not only fun, but incredibly useful. She designed our monogram, was a sounding board for color theme discussions, and together with my shomeret, decorated the chuppah, kallah chair, and aisle in the hours before the wedding.
Then there were the centerpieces. Between the two of us girls, we came up with an idea I prayed would work: Arrange three scented tea lights in small glass votive holders and sprinkle flower petals between them.
Where does one go for centerpieces on a budget? The shuk.
My sister and I made our way through the throng of shoppers in Machane Yehudah, past the fish stands and the fruit stands, the trays of fresh rugelach and the man yelling about a sale on melons. We tried a few shops selling house wares, where I bargained like a true Israeli while my sister looked on in amusement. When we found potpourri in the right color on Agrippas Street afterwards, we discarded the idea of flower petals and called it a day.
And how did we reward ourselves for our efforts? Fro Yo, of course, where we combined too many ingredients and ended up with a do-it-yourself flavor my sister dubbed “interesting, though not altogether delicious.”
Our engagement overlapped with the Yamim Nora’im, and my chasan and I spent one of the Rosh HaShanah meals with close friends of his, a young couple he’d known all of his four years in Israel.
He and his friend were old yeshiva buddies and told me about the time they tried to outbid all the other guys on Simchat Torah, ending up pledging themselves to dozens of extra hours of learning. My chasan had spent many a meal at their table.
As we neared dessert, his friend’s wife asked me whether I was planning to wear a sheitel. “No,” I smiled, “just tichels.”
“Then let me make your tichel party,” she said. And she did.
This young married girl, someone I barely knew, contacted two of my friends after Yom Tov to ask if they wanted to work on the party with her. She offered to host and to make all the food. When I heard about this later, I was stunned, and yet not altogether surprised.
After all, in a country where total strangers were genuinely delighted at the news of our upcoming wedding, she fit right in.
At five months, our engagement was considerably longer than many of my friends’ engagements had been. We say now that the first five months of marriage were so blissfully happy that they sort of neutralized the stress we were under back then.
Of course, there comes a point when pretty much everything that has to get done is done, and there isn’t anything left to stress about. My chasan and I made weekly to-do lists, and when I checked my final list two days before the wedding, I realized with a jolt that there really were just a few things left.
Where was I on the evening before my wedding? Shopping for sheva brachot outfits and matching tichels, much to the thrill of the young girls working in the store. “Your wedding is tomorrow?!” they asked incredulously. “Mazel tov!”
I was standing at the counter, pulling shekels out of my wallet, when my father and youngest brother showed up outside, luggage included, fresh from the airport. Seeing them, I burst into happy tears, which my father thought was sweet and my brother thought was kind of funny.
The cashier smiled and wished us mazel tov on our way out.
But sheva brachot shopping wasn’t the last item on my list. That would be buying wine for the chuppah and wedding meal, which I picked personally later that night with my father, brothers, and shomeret in tow.
It was a good thing my father was there – it was he who pushed the heavy shopping cart back to my apartment. It was also a good thing that bringing groceries home in the cart is considered normal in Israel.
The day finally came, and the hours passed quickly. I stopped worrying, started enjoying, and watched as things came together.
My apartment was transformed into a beauty salon as the hairdresser and makeup artist worked their magic on me, my mother, sister, mother-in-law, four sisters-in-law, and two bubbes-in-law.
I got dressed in my bedroom with the help of my mother, who cried at seeing me in a wedding gown, and davened minchah by my window, with the hills of Yerushalayim in plain view.
The makeup artist gave me a brachah as we prepared to leave for the Kotel, and I paused in the doorway to daven that the other two girls living there would soon be blessed to find their life partners.
And we were off.
The taxi driver seemed to enjoy this particular assignment, and directed my mother, sister, and shomeret in helping me get into the cab – no small feat in a dress with hoops the size of mine.
We pulled into the Old City and approached the security hut by Dung Gate. At first, the guard told our driver he couldn’t enter the area.
“I have a kallah,” the cabbie explained, motioning to the back seat. The guard peered through the window. “Kallah?” he asked. “Betach – Of course!” He waved us through.
The experience was awesome in the truest sense of the word. I grasped my mother’s hand as we made our way over the ancient stones, glowing, laughing, enjoying every second.
It was my wedding day. And I was at the Kotel.
As expected, I was mobbed by women seeking a brachah. Women of every age, every background – very frum, sort of frum, not at all frum. My shomeret captured it all in 72 glorious photos.
Finally, I handed my bouquet to my sister, took a few tissues, and went to daven.
I didn’t need a siddur. I just spoke.
Even better than standing at the Kotel in my wedding dress was standing next to my chasan, under our chuppah, in my wedding dress.
This was our moment. As the music keyed up for Im Eshkacheich, I thought about how fortunate we were to be fulfilling our shared dream of living in Israel. Mashiach had not yet come, but we were there, waiting for him.
A minute later, we were being danced back down the aisle as a married couple, beaming for all we were worth.
With everything that had taken place on our way to the chuppah, it was truly a wedding that could only have happened in Israel.