'A costume what?" asked one of the elder family members in an incredulous tone.
"A costume wedding," repeated my fiancÃ©, undeterred by the obvious lack of enthusiasm on the part of his kin.
"So, does that mean I have to dress up?" she asked, leaning across the dinner table with a suspicious glint in her narrowed eyes.
"Yes. Absolutely," he answered. "And if you don't, the guard at the door won't let you in. It's the only way he'll know whether or not you're a legitimate part of the wedding."
At that, she simply puckered her lips and remained quiet for the rest of the meal, occasionally glancing up at us over a bowl of soup or a bite of fish as if to evaluate the seriousness of our request.
Luckily for us, most of our guests had a more positive reaction and were pleased by the idea of wearing a costume, even if they had never heard of coming to a wedding in "fancy dress" as my British friends call it.
Devoted attendees of Burning Man, an alternative arts festival held every Labor Day in the Nevada desert with elaborate costumes and interactive exhibits, we thoroughly enjoy the concept of make-believe. But that was not the only reason why we chose to have a costume wedding. As I am not Jewish, a traditional ceremony in Israel was out of the question. Rather than focusing on the negative aspects surrounding our inability to legally marry in the country where we live, we decided to celebrate the positive sides. After all, we were completely free to create our own ritual beneath the huppa and to indulge our dreams of wild, merry festivities.
Six months ahead of our wedding date, we built a Web site with detailed information about costume themes. Free to choose from gods and goddesses, fairy-tale characters, masked merrymakers, historical figures, creatures from the sea and mythological beings, we tried to inspire creativity and imagination. On our invitation, my fiancÃ©'s artistic mother hand-drew wild creatures in an intricate, colorful pyramid.
"Come as a pirate or come as a ghost/ come as the thing that suits you the most/ come as a goddess or come as an elf/ but please don't come dressed as yourself," I wrote.
Nevertheless, more than a few people warned us that Israelis would never arrive in costume. It was way too much to ask. We heard tales of failed Purim parties and disastrous costume celebrations at which the pitiful few who actually wore disguises felt silly and those dressed normally felt unprepared. We were warned that the best people would do was put on a hat or grab a feather boa at the last minute. Our wills never wavered.
Like every good bride, I scoured all the stores on Rehov Dizengoff for days and met with several fashion designers. In the end, I opted for a vintage bride's dress on Rehov Sheinkin that cost NIS 600 (alterations included) and was exactly what I wanted. The other great thing about not spending thousands of shekels on a wedding dress was that I had plenty of money left to buy a costume fit for a bride.
After meeting with potential wedding planners, we opted for the less expensive, do it yourself route. We had no idea how many hours of wheeling and dealing that required - with Blue Beach, the wedding venue; Almog, the caterer who went missing and was replaced with a large, anxious chef one week before our wedding; Yafit Zahan-Dozler, the wedding designer; Erez Goor, the DJ/talented saxophone player; Nadav, the drummer; Boaz, the trombonist; Meirav, the makeup artist; and Eynav, the photographer who assured us that we looked beautiful on camera.
On the afternoon of July 5, after hours of nail, hair and makeup appointments, it was finally time to slip on my dress. I paced my hotel room alone, folding and refolding the handwritten vows I had composed the night before. I scratched out lines and crammed new letters into tiny spaces above them. It was barely legible. Breathing deeply, I put the wedding dress on.
The words of experienced wedding planners kept echoing in my mind: "It doesn't matter how much money you spend or how many gimmicks you have," they said. "There is only one thing that makes a wedding great in the end: the guests."
In a way, this both alleviated the pressure I felt in my chest and made me more nervous. When my fiancÃ© came knocking softly on the door, I managed to exhale and let it go.
At Blue Beach, an open-air stone venue right on the beach that looks like a Roman amphitheater, our magnificent guests were waiting. Feisty pirates and shimmering fairies mingled with royal kings and noble queens. Habit-clad nuns sipped the aperitif with red-horned devils, as armed women from the territories shot their water guns into the air with joy. A bearded Poseidon conversed with a mysteriously cloaked beauty wearing a gold Venetian mask. There were pharaohs and genies, belly dancers and hula-hoop girls. Hutch arrived with the ABBA quartet. Cowboys and flappers clinked glasses with a group of silken-clad women in Indian saris and a blue-faced Scottish Highlander with bagpipes hanging at the side of his kilt. Beneath the sparkling makeup, colorful wigs and elaborate costumes, some people were unrecognizable.
Like all good Israeli weddings, the huppa started an hour and a half late. And despite our best efforts at organization, creating your own ceremony without a stage manager or an experienced rabbi is no small feat. Only two of the four people holding the poles of our handmade huppa were asked in advance, so two more friends were enlisted at the last minute. A disappointing lack of red wine, even at dinner, made finding some for the blessings nearly impossible. We couldn't locate the rings, but they eventually turned up in my father's pocket. The microphone didn't work until our master of ceremonies and dear friend Asaf, disguised in a blonde wig and feathered bell-bottoms as one of the ABBA quartet, smacked it a few times against his palm.
The costumed crowd waited patiently. After a brief introduction, my poor father, a non-Hebrew speaker, struggled through the hets in the first blessing with great poise. Our friend Jonathan beautifully sang the sixth blessing as the crowd on the sand hummed along. The seventh blessing was omitted, either because I had forgotten to label it with a name or because Jonathan was too hard an act to follow. But no one seemed to notice.
The reading of our ketuba went smoothly. Despite a few tears, we both managed to get through our handwritten vows in English and exchange golden bands. And of course, that momentous moment every groom dreads did not pass without incident. Warned about wearing flimsy shoes, my fiancÃ© had purchased solid boots. Nevertheless, not enough aluminum foil could be found before the ceremony and the glass was too thick, so it took the nervous groom three tries to finally crush it.
As it broke, a small sliver cut straight through the side of his leather boots. My new husband was too excited to notice at first that his sock was soaked with blood by the time my mom the ER nurse got him into the Blue Beach office to apply first aid and stop the bleeding.
Butterfly bandage firmly intact, my husband took a shot of vodka and we changed into our royal costumes and Venetian masks for the first dance as man and wife. Soon, the merrymakers joined us. ABBA performed "Mama Mia" with lyrics personalized for us. We were hoisted into chairs, lifted high above the crowd and spun in circles of dancing revelry. The live band played with great enthusiasm, and the drinks flowed freely.
Despite the angry chef occasionally yelling like a fishmonger at the waiters, a missing blessing and little red wine, disappearing rings, a cut foot and faulty sound, we had the time of our lives. The wedding planners were right: The night was perfect thanks our guests.