TEL AVIV (Aug. 13)
Talking over the croaks of crickets and under a full moon rising in the east, Yael Bar Zohar, an Israeli actress and model, had the paparazzi under her spell. But the focus in Tel Aviv on Aug. 8 — Tu B’Av, the Hebrew holiday of love — wasn’t on Bar Zohar. Behind her stood 11 young Israeli brides and grooms.
Dressed in white, these residents of Haifa, Kiryat Shmona and Nahariya had come to Tel Aviv, where Bar Zohar was serving as master of ceremonies, to get married because of the ongoing conflict with Hezbollah in the North.
They were there to show the country and the world that Hezbollah rockets couldn’t stop them from enjoying what should be the happiest day of their lives.
” ‘Together’ is the story tonight. We are all together, and that’s the story of our country,” Bar Zohar told a cheering crowd at the Tel Aviv University campus.
The couples all had come to grips with canceled wedding plans and the constant threat of rockets. When some of the disappointed women contacted Easywed, which helps arrange weddings quickly, the company had a better idea: Sponsor a group wedding for all the couples.
Partly owned by the university’s student union, Easywed brought together sponsors and entertainers to donate time and money.
Tel Aviv University already had opened its dorms to families from northern Israel seeking refuge, had provided classroom space to schools too dangerous to stay open in the North and was offering medical support and summer camps for northerners running out of financial resources.
But the group marriage was something different.
The campus, located in a northern Tel Aviv suburb, was transformed into a massive wedding hall to accommodate 11 simultaneous weddings and about 2,000 guests.
On the day of the wedding, the brides-to-be were shuttled to a hair salon, make-up artists and gown shops, where they were dolled up for the big night.
Costs for preparations, the wedding itself and a night in the Sheraton Hotel’s honeymoon suite were paid by local donors, who included the production company Nehes and the travel company Issta, as well as the student union.
Under the palm and jacaranda trees and beside the white university buildings, the canopies were modestly adorned with flowers, tea lights and lanterns.
Spaced about 30 yards apart, each canopy, or chupah, had its own set of white chairs for guests. Each couple brought its own rabbi to officiate.
Guests danced and clapped with excitement as the grooms smashed glasses to formalize the weddings. Entertainment included much more than the standard wedding-band fare: Among the performers was well-known Israeli singer Arkadi Duchin, who sang, “Who loves you more than me?”
The night was replete with gate-crashers, including 80-something Ruti Baruch, who lives across the street and wanted to join the party.
Maya, 3, also joined the party, with her mother and grandmother. Maya’s mother — Michal Olshinka, a former Tel Aviv U. education student — knew the campus and felt comfortable entering without an invitation.
Wearing a dress modeled after her grandmother’s original wedding gown, Maya danced for about two hours around an inflatable plastic wedding cake not far from the dance floor. Her grandmother and mother sat on benches on the sidelines, watching the dinner and celebration.
“It was a dream of mine to marry at Tel Aviv University,” Olshinka said.
But on Tuesday, she said, she was just happy she could show her daughter another side to the tragedy ripping apart the North.
“This is the best thing I could do with my daughter today. It is so sad because soldiers are dying today,” she said.
At the same time, she noted, “the Jewish people throughout history have said that sadness and happiness go together.”
“Happiness” was how Pantiea Patrovi described her feelings when an international camera crew asked her how it felt to celebrate her wedding despite the violence in the North.
More than 170 guests from England had canceled plans to come to Patrovi’s wedding, which had been scheduled for Aug. 7 in the North.
“Today we are going to have a wedding and celebrate with friends and cousins. The real wedding will be in October, but this will go down in the history of our lives — that everybody canceled but we still had a lovely day,” said Patrovi’s fiancÃ©, Shervin Fouladbakhsh, originally from London.
Two days after the wedding, Olesia Saadayev, one of the new brides, said she couldn’t stop thinking about the experience. Speaking to JTA by telephone while riding a bus through the deserted streets of Haifa with her new husband, David Saadayev, she said the wedding was much more than she had expected.
It was much better than it would have been had they gone ahead with their original plan to marry in Haifa on July 20.
“I felt an extra something,” she said.
The Saadayevs — she was born in Russia, he in Azerbaijan — are planning to continue living in Haifa, despite the threat of Hezbollah missiles.
“We’re not running from here,” she said. “This is our home.”