secular wedding couple kissing 248 88.
(photo credit: NIF)
For Olga Samosvatov, 29, the decision to marry her long-time boyfriend Nico Tarosyan in an unofficial secular Jewish wedding ceremony on Tu Be'Av, the Jewish day of love, was easy.
"We knew the Rabbinate would make problems for us, so we never even approached them," Samosvatov, who made aliya from Ukraine in 1995, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. "In any case we are secular, not religious, and we just did not want to go through the battle of trying to get married here. Planning a wedding is supposed to be a happy process, and fighting for recognition from the Rabbinate is too stressful."
Tarosyan, 34, who emigrated from Moscow in 1995, does not have sufficient proof that he is Jewish. He is one of more than 300,000 Israelis, mostly immigrants from the Former Soviet Union (FSU), who cannot get married here because the Orthodox Rabbinate has the final say in such matters, allowing only those considered halachically Jewish to marry other Jews.
However, thanks to the efforts of non-profit New Israel Fund and the secular Jewish organization Havaya, which represents several other movements fighting the Orthodox Jewish monopoly on marriage, Samosvatov and Tarosyan will officially tie the knot on Tuesday evening in a public ceremony in Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Square.
Aimed at highlighting the struggle faced by other young couples whose Jewish roots are not completely clear, the marriage will be officiated by a secular master of ceremonies and will include Jewish blessings from high-profile figures such as former Jewish Agency for Israel chairman Avraham Burg and past Knesset member Naomi Hazan, both vocal advocates for secular weddings in Israel.
"I'm so excited to finally be getting married," Samosvatov told the Post. "It is just a shame that it will not really be recognized by the state and that we will still have to go abroad to get properly married."
The two, who currently live in Holon, are planning to honeymoon in Prague, where they will have a non-religious civil ceremony that will allow them to be registered here as married by the Interior Ministry.
"I did not know I was Jewish until I was 12, when neighbors kept painting anti-Semitic graffiti on the door of our home," recalled Tarosyan. "I immigrated to Israel as soon as I finished college and feel very much at home here. However, this need to prove I am Jewish to the rabbis is humiliating."
He added: "In Russia we were hated because we were Jews and here in Israel we are discriminated against as Russians."
"It's a very hurtful situation," commented Diti Degani-Peleg, director of Havaya. "We meet so many couples, immigrants from Russian-speaking countries, who have made aliya, served in the army, but get this slap in the face when they try to get married here."
According to Degani-Peleg, Havaya's aim is to provide a suitably spiritual and Jewish alternative to those who are unable to get married here under current Orthodox directives.
"The situation needs to be changed and we want to encourage as many couples as possible to utilize our alternative experience so that the government cannot go on ignoring this problem any more," she said, estimating that 50 percent of those who turn to Havaya are prevented from marrying here because they are not considered Jewish enough, while the other half simply prefer to have a secular Jewish wedding.
"We also help couples who want a Jewish experience but feel that the orthodox ceremony is not for them," added Degani-Peleg.
While Havaya's main focus is reaching out to those who cannot get married here, it is also involved in lobbying the authorities for a real change. Even though the Ministerial Committee for Legislation last month approved a government proposal for a bill allowing Israelis classified as having no religion to be registered as a couple, Degani-Peleg said this change did not go far enough and would only affect a very small number of people.
"We need a different law that will allow any Israeli to marry any other Israeli," she said.