Israel is always like coming home for me and this was no exception. The purpose this time was a ‘first’ for me—to attend a family wedding. Eliora Leichman, the daughter of my Kibbutz cousins, Rabbi Miri Gold and David Leichman had set her wedding date for July 8, 2014.
My first encounter with Eliora happened when she was 10 months old. At that time, 32 years ago, my late husband, Marvin and I journeyed to Israel with our four children. Israel had just invaded Lebanon, and when we alighted from the plane, my cousin David greeted us in full army regalia, complete with an Uzi, and suggested we go to the kibbutz to see his wife Miri, and their 10 month old daughter, Eliora.
Over the years I watched Eliora grow into a responsible, capable and charming young woman. She has a Master’s degree in arbitration and has a responsible job as the Executive Assistant to the Israel Director of the Jewish Federations. There was no way I was going to miss her wedding, especially since I had been in Israel last Sukkot and was one of the first family members to meet her now husband, Gal and much of his family. I knew I wanted to be part of this simcha!
The wedding festivities started on Sunday, July 6, with a party at Samir’s restaurant. Samir and his wife Saoud have been friends of Miri and David’s for more than 35 years. No visit is ever complete to Gezer (their kibbutz home) without a meal at Samir’s restaurant. He and his sons prepared a feast for all of the overseas guests (more than 40 of us), and both immediate families. It was fun, the food was delicious, as always, and we went away stuffed.
Samir’s restaurant is in Ramle, a small town that has represented peaceful co-existence before it became a political topic. There have been both Jewish and Arab mayors of the town and everyone still lives together with mutual respect and admiration. Samir and his family hosted several of the overseas guests in their homes and of course were all present at the wedding a few days later.
The scheduled day of the wedding was quite tense. There was constant talk of troop mobilization and strikes on Gaza. For two days we had heard sirens and the dull thud of bombs. I later learned that most of the sounds and the lights in the sky were from the Iron Dome, designed to deflect the bombs. Nevertheless, we were ushered into bomb shelters several times during the day. Even when we arrived at the wedding venue and were waiting to take family pictures, we were told to evacuate and go to a shelter, which turned out to be a very fancy ladies room in the catering hall.
I went in to see the bride who was concerned that many people would not attend due to the alert. Well, 400 people did show up to rejoice with her and her chatan (bridegroom), but a few did not. Some people with young children decided they did not want to leave them home alone. The Best Man never got there, he had been mobilized. A cousin of the groom got a cell-phone message during the evening and had to leave. Israel had mobilized 40 thousand troops, and some of the wedding guests were among them. The next day we saw on the news that another wedding was interrupted during the chuppah.
Fortunately ours went off without a hitch and it was a great celebration. What made this unusual was the rabbinic presence. The bride’s mother, Rabbi Miri Gold, is a Reform rabbi who is not permitted to perform weddings in Israel. The couple, Eliora and Gal, wanted to honor both sets of parents. Gal comes from an Orthodox Yemenite family, but both young people prefer the more liberal bent. Thus, they identified an Orthodox rabbi to marry them officially and who would also allow a Reform rabbi to be part of the service. Rabbi Levi Kelman, a former member of Kibbutz Gezer, and college roommate to my cousin David Leichman, recited the Sheva Brachot (7 blessings) as part of the ceremony. This satisfied everyone.
After the chuppah the festivities continued with dancing and rejoicing. The music was what is heard all over the world, and it was loud! There was no Israeli dancing, no klezmer, just regular loud music from a dee jay. All the young people were on the floor and the more mature folks sat outside, watched the sky and just felt good to be together at such a wonderful time.
I left Israel in the wee hours of July 10 with a heavy heart. Israel was at war, but I was more concerned for the bride’s brothers, Arishai and Alon, who are both in the reserves. Fortunately they did not get called up. Arishai spent several weeks as security guard with Birthright groups. Alon led the Israeli National Baseball team to the International tournament in Slovakia where he pitched the entire winning game and brought home the gold medal for his country. (If you want to know more about him, he plays baseball for UCSD, so just ask me.)
Once again I was reminded, that despite bombs and threats, life goes on in Israel. Yes, we are a stiff-necked people who rejoice when appropriate, mourn when appropriate and take things in stride. I cannot wait to go back soon!