Gun-toting and hate-spouting, with long payot (sidelocks) bouncing, youths sing murderous songs and leap together in a frenzy.
Sorry everyone, but if that’s what you think our weddings are like, you are going to be disappointed. Except for the bouncing payot.
People do tend to find their mates among those who are similar to them, so marriage within the Yosh community is very high. (I use the term ‘Yosh’ to signify the geographical area of Judea and Samaria. The word ‘settlers’ sounds very temporary to me, as if we have just arrived and not quite dug our roots, despite the fact that third generations have been born here. ‘West Bank’ suggests to me a tiny family-run loaning house near the Grand Canyon. And the ‘Green Line’ is a great label for ecologically-correct clothing. I will stick to Yosh, a region like, say, the Galil or the Negev.)
Boy meets girl, usually through mutual newly-married friends who want to share their bliss with the world. Recently computer dating sites have become more popular and are very successful. The groom is still studying, in Yeshiva, often combining a degree, as well as active army service. Somehow all this has to be combined and achieved within a few years, and a wedding thrown in for diversion. The bride has completed a year or two of national service and is now studying too, she will probably have a baby before she graduates.
Our families are large so our weddings are large. The average family has four to eight children, some of whom are already married and have their own kids. Add the uncles and aunts and cousins. And the work colleagues. The couple have friends accumulated from every stage of their lives so far – school, Bnei Akiva, yeshiva, national service, studies. The beauty and the beast of living in a village is that you have contact with everyone. From the synagogue, the local school, the stores, and the extensive social obligations which might be a burden until you yourself are in need, and then feel the warmth of the community engulf you with support. Whom will you omit from the guest list?
All Yosh weddings are identical, and yet each has its own particular flavor. An extensive smorgasbord is the backdrop for discovering who is invited, and who you know from the ‘other side’ – an inevitable conclusion. The bride sits in her flower-strewn chair surrounded by her girlfriends who sing softly to her. They are interrupted by screams of joy when a long-lost school chum appears joins the circle. The groom is in a separate room, his closest relatives around him, as the Rabbi checks the ktuba – wedding contract. At the appointed hour, all the men gather to say the evening prayers, and then promptly half an hour late, the groom is led to his bride, whom he has not seen for the past seven days.
Some of the band will accompany him, drowned by the singing of the groom’s friends, who dance backwards before him, hopefully without tripping. As they reach the bride, the entourage stops, and the young man beholds his chosen one – she is more beautiful than he remembers. He approaches her slowly, and whispers something to her. Then after checking that it is truly her (since Laban switched daughters and cheated Jacob, we have been rather wary), he covers her face with her veil, and is led out by the same entourage to the chupa – the canopy.
The bride is brought in and we all rise in deference. She walks around her man 7 times, while an appointed young cousin keeps count. The Rabbi is from the groom’s Yeshiva, he will make the standard joke of asking whether the ring is worth more than a pruta (the minimal coin). The glass is solemnly broken in the middle of the ceremony, in memory of the destroyed Temple. Some scattered guests will applaud and then cringe at the frowns of those-in-the-know. We Yosh residents take the rebuilding of the Temple very seriously.
The ceremony is over and the couple is danced to the a little room where they can finally be alone for a few minutes. They are holding hands, for some this is the very first physical contact between them. The guests need not rush to the dining hall, their places have been assigned. There are awkward moments when two life-long enemies discover that they are sitting at the same table. (I personally have seen this happen, and noticed them freeze, then thaw and eventually warm up to each other during the evening. Did the planners not know of the animosity, or was this a dastardly scheme to make peace? In a world where everybody knows every detail of his friend’s life, I’m skeptical of the former).
The unmarried boys are seated at the end of the room, the unmarried girls at the other end. This absurdity is demanded by religious piety. Surely, when all the girls are at their prettiest and most of the boys are wearing fresh shirts, a wedding would be the ideal place for mutual pursuit. But convention rules.
The guests are at their tables and the first course is served to a background of quiet music which permits conversation to those who have bought megaphones. There is an atmosphere of expectation in the air, for soon the mechitzot – the barriers which separate the dancing areas of the men and the ladies – will be rolled into place. The music will rise by decibels, the girls will slip off their shoes and everyone will gravitate to the floor to greet the young couple.
Yes, all the Yosh weddings are the same. We might go to two or three weddings in a week and sit with the same people and eat the same food. (We do try not to wear the same outfits but who remembers?) The music, the jokes, the ambience, so familiar and predictable. But the formula works, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’ve got to stop writing, the bride and groom have entered.
to be continued….