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A Hasidic Royal Wedding, or How the Munkacsers Took over a Convention Center

The Munkacser Rebbe pulled out all the stops Sunday for the wedding of his only daughter, Frima Rabinowitz, 19, to Rabbi Yosef Horowitz, 20, both of Brooklyn.

At least 20,000 Jews, mostly Hasids, filled the Jacob Javits Convention Center here and poured out onto adjacent streets, filling rooms, nooks and crannies. They came from Brooklyn and afar to witness the truly exciting spectacle.

The wedding proved a curiosity for Jew and non-Jew alike. A television news crew for a Tokyo show, somewhat dazed, shlepped cameras and sound gear and shyly asked questions about the unusual proceedings. Female reporters were loudly advised to stay out of the men’s section.

However, in the women’s section — half of the building — men were ubiquitous, eating, talking, checking out the scene.

The Munkacser Rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Rabinowitz, a Holocaust survivor from Hungary most of whose followers perished in the camps, now counts among his adherents some 35,000, some of whom in turn are involved in “mixed marriages” to non-Munkacser Hasidim.

At Sunday’s wedding, there was ample evidence of about every Hasidic group, as satin caftans of stripes, flowers and basic black vied for attention with Prince Edward coats and more conventional suits. There also were just plain yeshiva bochers, beardless and sporting fedoras.

DIVERSE AUDIENCE

Relentless tzedakah ladies demanded charity from the latest arrivals. There were well-fed and totally covered women representing “Bikur Holim” (visiting the sick) for the Ladies Auxiliary of Adas Yereim of Vien, the community headed by the groom’s father, Rabbi Yecheskel Horowitz.

Vien being Vienna, there was Viennese family present, as well as people from Israel. One woman, from Hadera, said she was staying in Boro Park “with some people named Schwartz.”

There were women present who had been together in Auschwitz. Many present were natives of Transylvania.

Although slated to begin at 6 p.m., the wedding ceremony did not take place until almost 10 p.m. Until then, people arrived. There were many crashers at this well-publicized “chassana,” frankly admitting, “We wanted to see what it was like.”

Tables groaned with earthly delights, including soda bars replete with bottles labeled for the occasion with colorful decals bearing the name “Munkacs” in Yiddish and the names of the bride and groom over a Jerusalem scene.

FLYING CATERER

The event was catered by David Scharf, who since the night before had been ferrying by helicopter between Brooklyn, Manhattan and Teaneck, where a Lubavitch wedding was taking place Sunday afternoon for 26 Soviet couples who were being remarried in a ceremony organized by the Bris Avrohom organization of New Jersey.

The bride did not arrive until about 8:30 p.m. She was escorted through thick crowds to a platform awash in carnations, chrysanthemums, lilies and orchids, a work of love from florist Magda Silberman of Boro Park, Brooklyn. She had been laboring on the mammoth white creations since 8 a.m. with a team of four.

The platform contained a throne-like seat adorned with flowers and adjacent, smaller seats for the immediate female relatives. Photographers in work clothes jostled each other shamelessly for an appropriate perch, standing on highly coveted chairs.

RUSHED TO ‘BEDEKKEN’

Finally, it was announced over the loud-speaker that the “bedekken” was “about to take place.” This is the ancient ceremony of the groom’s covering the bride’s face after verifying her identity, which dates from the time when Jacob was tricked into marrying the wrong sister, Leah, instead of his promised Rachel.

For this, the Hasidic men suddenly stampeded, the groom hidden somewhere in their midst. Hundreds of caftans and shtreimels pushed toward the platform, the women forming a chain along which the entourage might pass.

Following the “bedekken,” the pale and apparently weak groom who had been fasting had to be physically pulled through the human aisle. The bridal procession fooled everyone by taking off in an entirely different direction.

The procession looked somewhat incongruous as the young bride, her face hidden by the jeweled cotton veil, was escorted up the plain, industrial escalator, her mother and future mother-in-law holding aloft braided golden Havdallah candles.

The procession emerged from the center into the warm and humid night, making its way toward the chuppah, made of flat-bed trucks and wooden planks hammered into place that evening while guests arrived. The blue velvet canopy covered an area larger than most Manhattan apartments.

Hasidic watchmen stood at the periphery of the chuppah, their faces to the crowd, while brave cameramen valiantly climbed the stanchions and hung perilously from them, their microphones held aloft.

MARRIED BY GRANDFATHER

Illustrious and related Rebbes from the four corners of the earth read the seven benedictions, and the bride’s grandfather, Rabbi Aaron Bernstein of Jerusalem, married the couple. The glass was broken over the public address system, the band took its cue, and the procession of newlyweds and family came down the stairs, back into the center, and then hurdled carpet-covered platforms that stood in the way between them and the only operating escalator. Hundreds of people followed suit, jumping over these platforms in full dress.

Downstairs, men and women filled two separate rooms, each with a capacity of about 4,000. Security men directed people to the respective areas, as many chose to walk back and forth in the halls, again checking out the red sports cars on display.

In the women’s dining room, Hasidic women from anti-Zionist sects danced together to modern Israeli music, and young girls admirably performed the latest Israeli folk dances.

In the men’s section, headed by three tiers of Rabbonim, the band played soft waltz-like tunes, and nobody danced.

By 12:20 a.m., the bride and groom, who were sequestered after the ceremony, had still not returned…

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