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During the three weeks "between the straits" leading up to Tisha Be'Av, Jews are supposed to be mournful and remember the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. It is a tradition that celebrations and Jewish weddings not be held during this time but be postponed until after the fast, when the Sages bade that the Jewish nation can be happy again.
This year in Israel, that happiness took a long and roundabout journey in arriving. But it was clear last Tuesday night (August 8) that despite Katyusha rockets raining down on civilians in the North and our soldiers dying in Lebanon, nothing could stand in the way of true love.
Pure happiness painted the night white at Tel Aviv University, host to the first of two mass weddings planned for Tel Aviv this summer. Some 40 couples are to marry at a second, larger mass wedding arranged by a PR company in Tel Aviv port this week.
Hailing mainly from northern cities such as Haifa, Kiryat Shmona and Nahariya, 10 brides stood beside 10 grooms under 10 white huppas on the university campus lawns. Some 2,000 guests - plus a fair number of uninvited ones - elbowed their way to catch glimpses of the brides and grooms basking in the glory of their newlywed status.
It was an event that international and local camera crews recognized as more than just a good photo opportunity. The celebration symbolized that despite the violence and tragedy in the North, happiness could prevail.
One of the 10 couples to tie the knot were Haifa residents Olesia and David Saadayev. The new Mrs. Saadayev said that the mass wedding turned out to be more than she had dreamed.
She was one of the 10 women who cruised around Tel Aviv on the wedding bus earlier that day. Decorated with flowers and ribbons, stopped at Kikar Hamedina where the ladies got an all-expense-paid day at the upscale A to Z beauty salon. While they primped and preened, their men headed to a local spa.
The clothing, the wedding, a night in a honeymoon suite and a brunch the next day were all made possible by a host of donors who answered wedding planners Easywed's call to sponsor a mass wedding for couples from the North.
The idea to host a mass wedding at the university came about after Easywed received about 100 calls from brides-to-be and their mothers, in tears and frantic about having to cancel wedding plans in the North. The company tried to soften the blow and come up with an alternate plan.
Unfinished wedding dresses were hanging in seamstresses' shops; wedding halls had been bombed; guests were too afraid to come to the North - these were among some of the stories Easywed's VP Rinat Zolty Meroz starting hearing about a month ago. She called around to see if wedding halls in the Tel Aviv area could take on more couples. They were all booked solid.
Then Easywed had another idea: It would sponsor a mass wedding.
"Every day we help couples with their weddings. Our service is a one-stop shop," said Zolty Meroz. "The purpose of Easywed is first to help them save money. Since we plan weddings mostly for young people and students, we had the database and contacts to suppliers, so we started making calls."
The fastest wedding Zolty Meroz can remember organizing was in three weeks for 400 guests. Last week's mass wedding was arranged from start to finish for 2,000 guests within two weeks.
"People can't get married in a bomb shelter. They need to hear music, not sirens," said Zolty Meroz. "Besides, this is a month when Jews are supposed to be happy."
"The mass wedding gave much more to the guests than the usual simcha," exclaimed Shervin Daniel Fouladbakhsh, 24, a property developer from London. He had planned to marry his fianc e, Panti Patrovi, 23, in Tel Aviv, but the wedding - set on that same day - had been canceled because 160 family members and friends from London didn't want to fly to Israel.
"The Jewish people, all their lives, have been messed around. Even after 40 years in the wilderness, they didn't give up," said Fouladbakhsh. "There has always been devastation for the Jewish people, and we have always managed to pull through and turn our situation around. The Jewish nation - as a people - when they are together are strong. This wedding was a perfect opportunity for people to be together."
Fouladbakhsh joined the nine other couples, who danced the night away in white lace and satin, except Patrovi who was dressed in burgundy. She opted out of white, as the couple wants to have an "official" huppa in October, when Fouladbakhsh's family from London will brave the flight to Israel.
Patrovi and her family put on a great show for the camera crew as they danced into the night, she waving her bouquet made of candies and marshmallows.
In times of crisis like this, the true Israeli spirit shines like gold. People had heard about the mass wedding and had bridal dresses shipped to Tel Aviv; photographers (one for each couple) volunteered to document the day; the A to Z salon laid out a red carpet from the street to the salon entrance and threw candies on the brides. The travel company ISSTA and the Sheraton Hotel gave each couple a suite for their wedding night.
And even though they shared a dance floor and a large inflatable wedding cake, each couple retained its own individuality, marked by their preference in rabbis, which ranged from Orthodox to Reform.
Some women like Saadayev spared the tears for fear of ruining a day's worth of make-up, but nonetheless the day was an emotional one from start to finish.
Zolty Meroz, as an expert in simchas, offered herself for those who couldn't cry. "I was there, and I was crying with them," she said.