Living on a Prayer: The Groom from Gaza

On Monday the 13th of Av, the anniversary of his family's evacuation from their home of two decades, Yedidia Akerman was present at another life-changing event - his own wedding.

groom gaza 88 298 (photo credit: Tamar Wisemon)
groom gaza 88 298
(photo credit: Tamar Wisemon)
This time last year, 22-year-old Yedidia Akerman was evacuated from his home in Neveh Dekalim. One can only imagine what the young religious soldier felt as his senior commander sent him with four comrades to pack up his family's home before it was bulldozed. This time last week, Akerman, now enrolled in an officer's training course, was back in Gaza chasing terrorists amidst the rubble of the former Gush Katif communities. Akerman prayed one tearful afternoon prayer service with some of his comrades in the remnants of the Moshav Katif synagogue. On Monday the 13th of Av, the anniversary of his family's evacuation from their home of two decades, Yedidia Akerman was present at another life-changing event - his own wedding. The marriage is noteworthy for two reasons. Firstly, because of the young couple's decision to commemorate the date of Akerman's community's destruction with a joyous wedding, and secondly, because, somewhat ironically, it was the Disengagement Authority's lack of preparation that brought about their first meeting. After the Akermans were evacuated to the Shalom Hotel in Jerusalem, Rina Akerman was contacted by an old friend Danielle Belgrade living in the city who asked what she could do to help the suddenly homeless family. The thirteen-strong Akerman family, along with all the other reluctant hotel guests, was desperately in need of a reliable laundry system since the Disengagement Authority's efforts had been less than successful. When Belgrade offered to pick up, wash and dry the family's laundry, she thought it would be for a week or two at most, but she continued to do it for the seven months that the Akermans remained in the hotel. Meanwhile, Yedidia Akerman returned to his army unit and came "home" to the hotel for occasional weekends. One Thursday night he arrived unexpectedly early and Rina suggested he drive the laundry over to the Belgrades to save them the trip. The Belgrade's eighteen-year-old daughter, Yehudith, was home and the two young people ended up chatting into the small hours of the night. Soon after, they were engaged. Yehudith Belgrade was not in Gush Katif with her peers during the disengagement. After much agonizing, she had made the decision to participate in the March of the Living, on the assumption that it would not be so simple to evacuate Gush Katif and she would still be able to return to Israel in time to participate in the protests. The 13th of Av, the date of the Akerman's eviction, found her on a windy hill at the edge of the Majdanek concentration camp futilely trying to light a Yarzheit candle in memory of her grandfather who was murdered there. To her dismay, the candle kept blowing out. In tears, Belgrade silently promised her grandfather that she would do more than simply light him a symbolic memorial; she swore to become the memorial herself by rebuilding the family that had been destroyed in the Holocaust. One year later to the day, Belgrade stood together with Akerman under a wedding canopy in Mitzpeh Yeriho, near Ma'aleh Adumim, a community that recently received a letter from the Disengagement Authority informing the residents that they are one of the first communities slated for evacuation. Many of the close friends, teachers and family of the couple were unable to attend the joyous occasion because they had received emergency call-ups to the Northern Border. There was one exhausted young man, however, who strode in to the wedding hall still in army uniform, straight from his service in the North. Behind the wedding canopy, lit by the setting sun, the desert vista of the Jordan Valley stretched out. After Akerman broke the glass (commemorating the destruction of the Second Temple), he asked his family and friends to sing the Carlebach song based on the Kaddish prayer [Nusach Sefard], "Veyitzmach Purkanei Viyikarev Meshichei [And He will cause to bring forth our redemption and bring close our Messiah]. His family sang this very song as they were led away from their home in Gush Katif last year. Mirroring another Talmudic wedding tradition, ash-infused soil of the Majdanek death camp mixed with the sand of Gush Katif was placed on the groom's forehead, a symbol of the many destructions that the Jewish people have suffered since the destruction of the Temple. And then Akerman led his new bride from beneath the canopy into a dancing circle of friends to begin his new life.