“So when is your granddaughter getting married?”
“She was supposed to get married on November 19. A large affair, lots of family were expected from overseas.”
“So what happened?”
“The war happened. The groom was mobilized. Then, suddenly, his whole unit was given a night off. We received a call from our daughter, “The wedding is TONIGHT”! So off we went to see our granddaughter married, with only a couple of hours’ notice. The groom and his army buddies in uniform. It was lovely, lively, and joyful. His buddies each held a pole of the chuppah. And then, the next day, the entire unit was back on the road to Gaza.
“So when is your niece getting married?”
“A large elegant wedding was planned. Lots of family from here and many friends and family from overseas. But the groom is on duty in the Golan. The venue had to be changed. Now the wedding will be smaller with immediate family only, somewhere in the Golan. Right after the wedding night, the groom returns to his base, and the bride to her parents’ home.
This story has become commonplace. The facts are the same every time – a scheduled wedding date, changed due to the war, then a simple, joyous wedding followed by the call back to duty.
These simple stories of true love, faithfulness to the betrothed and devotion to the nation had me ruminating about another wedding, that of my beloved parents. They were wed on August 3, 1947, in Trani Italy in a barracks hall formerly belonging to the Italian army, then converted into a Displaced Persons Camp. There was no bridal gown, no wedding tuxedo, no floral bouquets, no lavish spread of food. Most significantly, neither parents nor siblings were present. Who was in the wedding party? The miniscule remnants of family who had managed to survive: an uncle who had been in hiding in Switzerland, and another uncle who had found refuge in one of the Soviet satellite states and now resided in the same DP camp. This was all the mishpoche witnessing the wedding. My mother had bought my father a pair of trousers for the wedding, cashing a small check she had received from a distant relative in the US. She wore a simple flowered dress of unknown origin. The guests? Other survivors like themselves, young people in their early twenties who had also survived the Shoah. In their souls they carried their own sorrows, their own miracles of endurance. And yet, despite the sparsity of family, the plainness of my mother’s dress and notwithstanding the meagerness of the food, in the black and white photographs of the young couple, showing men dressed in US army surplus shirts and pants, the women in simple dresses, all eyes shone with joy as they looked upon the newest young couple in their cohort. Wedding gifts? There were none. What was there to give? Who had anything to give?
These survivor weddings, which took place at the conclusion of World War II, have much in common with the weddings taking place during the current war in Israel. Both are driven by a sense of urgency for decisions to be made, and for a future to begin now. And, most importantly, they project a deep sense of optimism and hope for a new and better life, and for a Jewish future. The idea of waiting for the perfect wedding date, the made-to-measure suit, the end of the school year or, finally, to save enough money – these notions were “gone with the war…”
The survivor couples had only each other to hold onto, and their pressing desire to begin life anew. They held high hopes for the future. Together they went fearlessly into an unknown future bolstered by their personal strength and determination. They had seen the worst evils and, therefore, the future could only be better. And so it is also with today’s beautiful young couples holding hastily arranged weddings, which are followed by the call back to crucial duties.
The purity and joyfulness of these recent unadorned weddings make the lavish weddings to which we have become accustomed appear hollow and predictable. Perhaps it is because, as we witness the youthful energy and resilience of our determined soldiers, these weddings remind us of the urgency of life, the simplicity of love, and the fact that duty to the betrothed, country, people, and the Almighty are the only essential ingredients for love and marriage.