Yesterday, an extraordinary event took place in Efrat. A couple of gerei tzedek (righteous converts) were married in an outdoor ceremony, and the entire town was invited.
Despite the fact that Efrat’s population is over 9,000 souls, it felt very much like an experience one would have had back in a shtetl 150 years ago, where the towns were so small that all the Jews knew one another and everyone—from the town patriarchs to grubby beggars—would be invited to the celebration.
The preparations included an invitation to the entire yishuv to attend, including requests for baked goods for the kabbalat panim, and a person to contact with donations to help with wedding expenses. I received a call from a neighbor who was helping to recruit bakers, and offered to deliver my cake (pictured above) to the person organizing the food.
It may not always be easy to get a divorce in the Orthodox world, but the community does its best to make it easy to get married. Although some people have the desire and means to make a wedding that costs in the tens of thousands of dollars, one can also make a perfectly beautiful wedding on the cheap, outfitting the bride and her attendants in donated wedding and bridesmaids gowns, a chuppah from a gemach (donation center), and cakes and pastries baked by the townspeople, in a beautifully landscaped park in the spring with the sun setting in the west.
When the Cap’n and I got married, our families were able to cover the expense of a mid-priced wedding. What we lacked, however, were the numbers of family and friends. Our families were fairly small, living grandparents too elderly or frail to travel, and relatives and friends scattered over the country. Of the 125 guests invited to our wedding, only 25 were family; the rest were friends, mostly from our community. As a convert and a ba’al teshuva, we wondered how much direction we should provide about how an Orthodox wedding is executed. To address this, the Cap’n and I wrote and photocopied a small leaflet explaining the various customs for guests who might be unfamiliar with the procedure. But the main reason the evening went smoothly was the large number of friends from our community who came and carried the event fluidly from kabbalat panim to chuppah to seudat mitzvah.
I had walked several times through this park in Efrat, admiring the landscaping on the slopes and the wooded area above, with a pergola and brick-paved areas, wondering what the designers could have been thinking. Last night’s wedding showed how perfectly suited that area could be for a simcha, with the bride holding court in a natural alcove of large rocks and flowers, the groom sitting at one of the tables (where the surface is inlaid with a chess or backgammon board) signing the ketubah with his witnesses. A large bricked area (suitable for parking) had been set up for dancing, and other areas for tables covered with sweets.
The wedding between two converts was also beautifully timed, falling just before Shavuot. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, who read the ketubah, underscored this connection in a short speech beforehand, reminding us that Ruth, whose story we read on Shavuot, was King David’s grandmother and will, according to tradition, be the ancestress of the Mashiach.
In the morning blessings, we read that one of the mitzvot whose fruit we enjoy in this life and whose benefit we reap in the world to come is that of escorting a bride to a chuppah. It doesn’t say escorting a bride whom we know well, or to whom we are related. This is why there is no sense of strangeness in participating in and contributing to the wedding of strangers. The wedding last night was a win-win for the Jews (a situation in which one can see the truth in the expression mitzvah goreret mitzvah, or one mitzvah leads to another); the community helped a couple to marry and fulfill the mitzvah of p’ru u’rvu (be fruitful), and the couple enabled the community to fulfill the mitzvah of escorting the couple to their chuppah. In addition, the many families who attended (including the Crunches) were able to teach their children about both mitzvot.
The early spring in our community was a period in which many people lost family members, and shiva houses were dotted all over the Gush. Early summer, on the other hand, has been a season of simcha: a wedding last night, a brit in our community tomorrow (preceded tonight by the neighborhood children going to the home of the new baby and singing Shema and other songs to him to welcome him to our covenant and community), and the festival of Shavuot, followed by Shabbat.
May we merit to know this much joy always.