The closure of event halls and gardens over the Coronavirus period, has caused chaos and financial loss for thousands of couples planning to get married in Israel.
After several anxious months dealing with complete uncertainty, they have been left with two choices. Postpone their wedding at their chosen venue to a date in the future (hoping that things will be better by then) or have their wedding on their original date, but find a new location that is permitted within the Coronavirus regulations. Permitted locations include villas, private homes, rooftops, restaurants, hotels and public areas that have been offered by various local authorities. Under current regulations relating to gatherings, 30 guests are allowed outdoors and 20 guests indoors.
As the Coronavirus period has stretched on and couples see no end in sight, many are deciding to go with the second option of finding an alternative location for their wedding. Their posts on Facebook and other social media platforms are heart-wrenching. ‘Young couple desperately seeking villa in the center of Israel for a small wedding at low cost, due to the current situation.’ ‘Couple on second postponement looking for any location for our wedding next Wednesday.’ ‘Searching for a restaurant or other venue that can host 150 guests in capsules.’
These posts are generally met with hundreds of responses from equally desperate vendors, who will do anything to make money at this difficult time. They offer villas, family backyards, restaurants, event venues with ‘restaurant licenses’ and lots of other services that the couples didn’t actually ask for.
The whole thing is sad, but more than that, it is dangerous. The events industry in Israel prides itself on its adherence to strict regulation. Wedding venues have to obtain specific permits and must comply with a long list of building regulations, insurance and fire safety requirements. They also pay taxes and comply with laws relating to the acceptance of cash payments and employment of staff. Any event planner will tell you that they would never allow their clients to sign with a venue that didn’t comply with these basic requirements.
The Coronavirus regulations that have closed the regulated event halls and gardens, have basically opened up a frightening black market in the events world. Whilst some couples are opting for hotels and high-end restaurants that comply strictly with the regulations, many couples are choosing locations that operate according to a much more flexible interpretation of the law and questionable health and safety standards.
I have heard stories of weddings taking place at private homes and villas with bad lighting, uneven ground, unlicensed caterers and guests jumping into swimming pools with no lifeguard present. At these ‘under the radar’ venues, it is also very unlikely that you will see much social distancing, mask wearing or alcogel.
Flimsy bamboo dividers are being used to create separate areas and couples are being told that they can have large numbers of guests, way over the legal limit, as long as they are split in this way into ‘capsules’. Creating loopholes is clearly not in the spirit of our collective responsibility to fight the Coronavirus pandemic and may well lead to outbreaks.
In short, the situation is dire. We need to push for the official event venues to be reopened under strict regulation, so that couples can get married where they were meant to, knowing at least that it will be safe and legal. The reason for the closing of the event halls and gardens was to reduce the high infection risk that they posed, due to mingling and dancing, which naturally occur at any wedding.
In reality, closing the official event venues has not stopped weddings, it has just pushed them to other unregulated venues with the same crowding and infection spreading and little or no policing. The black market needs to be shut down before we all pay a serious price.