Just married

“Why don’t they have the entire ceremony out of doors? Isn’t it a mitzva to hold the huppa under the stars?” Lianne asked, stuffing a forkful of shrimps into her mouth.

(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
All these years later I still lament the fact that I was responsible for the imprisonment of three innocent people, two of whom remain very dear to me, though they have, quite understandably, refused to exchange a single word with me since. My third victim, too, has in the meantime, earned my utmost respect.
It all began quite absentmindedly as I sat around the conference table with my colleagues at lunch, telling them that I would have to leave work early that day to get to the hairdresser in time and wondering what I should wear to my cousin Doreen’s wedding that evening. I did not think that my usual wedding attire would do; the flimsy satin dress would be sure to reveal the numerous rolls of fat that had recently lodged themselves against my stomach from all the cakes brought by my fellow graphic designers to the studio each week.
I explained that the reception would be held at the lookout in Old Jaffa, where the guests could watch the sunset over the Mediterranean Sea as the breeze set in and broke the humidity of the stifling August day. A procession would then accompany the bride and groom to a little gallery in an ancient stone building, where the actual ceremony would be held. I therefore needed layers, I concluded – an airy dress over which I could throw a shawl or cardigan.
The majority of my colleagues were cheerfully engaged in the conversation, either reminiscing about their favorite wedding memories or gossiping about those couples who had spent a fortune on an extravagant affair and whose marriage had not lasted more than a year, so I paid no heed to Lianne, who sat in the corner with a sour expression on her face, which wasn’t in any way unusual for her. She was always bitter or jealous about one thing or another and it had never been any concern of mine. But when she finally raised her voice for the first time that afternoon, I knew I was in trouble: “Why don’t they have the entire ceremony out of doors? Isn’t it a mitzva to hold the huppa under the stars?” she asked, stuffing a forkful of shrimps into her mouth.
“I must confess that I don’t know, Lianne; perhaps they thought a gallery would be more appropriate. My cousin is, after all, a skilled jewelry maker; it may be meaningful for her to be married in the gallery that first exhibited her work and helped launch her career.”
“What’s the name of the gallery?” she inquired.
“I don’t know,” I responded, offhandedly.
“Sure you do,” she insisted. “I saw you designing the invitation during work hours.”
Though my cousin had warned me not to tell anyone about the wedding or its clandestine location, as there had recently been a wave of raids on non-Orthodox marriages and even some arrests, I was so excited by her upcoming nuptials to the man she had been dating for six years that I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. Besides, I had no reason to suspect that any of my colleagues would betray me, not even Lianne.
“The wedding is sure to be something special,” I announced. A young, clean-shaven Conservative rabbi – a friend of the family’s – would be officiating, rather than a wizened, bearded employee of the rabbinate, integrating a reciprocal exchange of rings, appointing female witnesses, and using an egalitarian ketuba that I had designed as my gift to them. Rather than reading like a commercial agreement in Aramaic, their marriage contract contained sincere expressions of their mutual love and hopes for the future, all in the sacred Hebrew tongue. Even though I don’t usually delve into the depths of the texts I receive for design, I was so intrigued and moved by their ketuba that I read it over and over again, reciting it from memory as an incantation in order to conjure a Prince Charming of my own.
“But the best part is that the food will be dairy,” I went on to declare, “so for once it will actually be worthwhile to stay for dessert and catch the second set of sheva brachot, the seven blessings concluding the event.” My colleagues all knew that I suffered from a sweet tooth, so no one raised an eyebrow at that assertion. With the exception of Lianne, that is. She was one of those people who thought that it wasn’t a real wedding unless she was getting a quarter chicken and burekas stuffed with minced meat.
My cousin Doreen and her fiancé Andrew, both staunch vegetarians, were among the most pure-hearted and idealistic members of our generation, and had specifically chosen an alternative wedding of this kind, since they believed that their marriage ceremony should reflect their unique personality and progressive, egalitarian ideology; they did not think that a standard rabbinate ceremony would do them justice.
Lianne must have in good faith believed that she was acting as a conscientious citizen when she called the ritual police that evening. She waited until I left the office and went onto my computer, searching for the file with my cousin’s wedding invitation. It was there that she found the exact name and address of the venue, which she shared with the police.
THE EVENING started off beautifully as the two families gathered from near and far. The bride and groom were radiant and their effusive smiles were nothing but infectious. The setting sun cast a golden halo around both of their heads and the photographer averred that he had never captured better matrimonial shots.
The young rabbi then held a ram’s horn to his mouth and blew the shofar, signaling the beginning of the procession. The marching klezmer band and all the guests accompanied the bride and groom down the cobblestone alleyways of Old Jaffa, enfolding the couple in warmth and joy.
At first I did not understand why they triple locked the doors of the small vaulted gallery once all the guests had entered. I just knew that when I started feeling claustrophobic and wished to get a breath of fresh air before the start of the ceremony, I could not open the door. Like most galleries, the cavernous hall was not very spacious and its underground location made it dark and dreary; even the pashmina shawl I had brought with me did not suffice to abate my shivering. But as soon as the ceremony began with the bride and groom circling each other, I was distracted from my physical discomfort, my spirits uplifted.
My euphoria came to an abrupt end. Sirens that gradually grew louder penetrated the hall and shattered the attentive silence, interrupting the charismatic rabbi mid-blessing. Just as Doreen was about to sanctify Andrew as her sole beloved by slipping the wedding band onto his forefinger, after reciting a well-selected verse from the Song of Songs, two police officers stormed into the hall, tearing down the heavy bronze doors despite the fact that they had been triple locked precisely for this reason.
“What a travesty this is,” one of them yelled, his thundering voice rebounding against the thick stone walls. Laying a heavy palm on Rabbi Shapiro’s shoulder, he inquired: “Don’t you know that what you are doing is illegal? How dare you marry a Jewish couple in the State of Israel without the rabbinate’s authorization? This is punishable by imprisonment.”
Shaking off the officer’s hand and looking him straight in the eye, Rabbi Shapiro responded, his voice just as loud and steady as the officer’s: “I dare you to throw me in jail for helping this young couple exercise their freedom of religion in the Jewish state. I have performed dozens of weddings in the United States of America and you want to prevent me from officiating here in my homeland?”
“I’ve got a warrant for your arrest right here, sir,” the policeman retorted, waving the scribbled sheet of paper in the air. “Don’t you care about the agunot, all those women whose husbands won’t grant them a divorce, whose plight you may be perpetuating by marrying this man illegally?”
Rabbi Shapiro could not hold back the laughter that erupted from his throat. Little by little the guests, who had by now crowded around the canopy for a better view of the scene, joined in the laughter, until it reverberated throughout the gallery.
Only my cousin Doreen was sobbing silently against her new husband’s tuxedo-clad shoulder, the most important day of her life ruined. Turning to her, the police officer shouted, “Come along, ma’am. Don’t make me drag you out of here by the train of your dress.” Head bowed, she and Andrew followed the policemen and the rabbi out of the gallery, her long majestic veil trailing behind her.
Pushing the three culprits into the van, the police officer took a marker out of his pocket and inscribed “JUST MARRIED ILLEGALLY” on a cardboard poster that he placed in the windshield. The van drove off into the night, the siren blaring and the blue and red lights flashing as all of us shocked guests waved goodbye.
Only Andrew’s father fumed: “Why do they always have to be so unconventional? I told him it was preferable to do everything through legal channels, but he absolutely refused to approach the rabbinate and said everything would be all right. Well it isn’t.” I, personally, was so upset that I couldn’t even enjoy the chocolate soufflé.
Instead of going off on their planned honeymoon to Santorini, Doreen and Andrew spent the first two years of their marriage in the great intimacy and austerity of a prison cell, which they shared with Rabbi Shapiro. But we all knew that if they could survive that, their marriage – though apparently illegal – would last for eternity.
As for me, not only have I not yet met my intended, but I am constantly reminded of my guilt as I walk into the office each morning and see Lianne’s framed certificate of honor, bearing the embossed insignia of the Israeli government.
The author wrote this short fictional story in 2015 when the law stipulating that anyone choosing to be married outside the rabbinate and anyone officiating at such a ceremony could be subject to two years’ imprisonment was first instituted. She says that this has now sadly turned into reality with the arrest and interrogation of Rabbi Dubi Hayun in Haifa last week.