An illustrative photo of a Jewish couple getting married. Photo from Justin Oberman/Creative Commons

Even a bomb threat couldn’t stop this Jewish couple from getting married


Gaby and Dan Rosehill wouldn’t let anything get in the way of their wedding day. Even if that thing was a bomb threat that forced all 218 guests to evacuate the hotel where the wedding was taking place

“I was just about to be named husband and wife when the alarm went off. We had to evacuate,” Gaby Rosehill told The Jewish Chronicle about the incident on Sunday in Brighton, England.

“I had to ask the rabbi ‘Is this divine intervention? Does God not want me to get married?’” she recounted. “But he told me it was ‘just a test’ and we would get through it.”

As the bridal party gathered in a nearby hotel, the couple’s wedding planners managed to put together an on-spot wedding, chuppah and all. That turned out to be a good decision, since it took five hours for the police to clear the original venue.

The couple got married in the new location, though the bomb threat changed the order of events a bit, including police questioning the couple about anyone who may have been angry at them — in the yichud room where couples retreat for a little privacy. But the pair managed to keep up their spirits.

“Dan managed to laugh off the situation the whole way through,” Rosehill told The Chronicle.

After police deemed the incident a hoax, the couple and guests were able to return to the original venue — just in time for dessert.

“It just goes to show all you really need is love,” Rosehill said of her special day.

Turned off by rabbis, Israelis are planning small weddings in Greece


Destination weddings abroad are almost unheard of in Israel, where weddings are all about family and community. And what better place to celebrate Jewish continuity than the Jewish homeland?

But this past summer, a new Israeli company challenged tradition by throwing wedding getaways on Greek islands. The one-woman startup, called Wedaway, is tapping a market of Israelis alienated by the Charedi Orthodox Chief Rabbinate, which controls Jewish marriage in the country.

“A lot of people who can’t or don’t want to get married through the Rabbinate find Wedaway online,” company founder and CEO Gal Zahavi said. “But what really attracts them is the idea of a small wedding like they see when they travel or on the internet. And Israelis love Greece.”

Zahavi, who began planning other people’s weddings this year from her home office in the central Israeli city of Kadima, came up with the idea for Wedaway from her own Greek wedding. She and her husband celebrated in a castle on the island of Evia. They wanted something more than the typical Israeli wedding, which often includes hundreds of guests gathered at a local event hall for a relatively standardized few hours of nuptials, dining and dancing.

Later they officially married through the Rabbinate, a decision she said they regret because so many Israelis are not afforded the same privilege.

There is no civil marriage for Jews or same-sex marriage in Israel, but the state does accept such marriages performed abroad. Cyprus, the Czech Republic and the United States are the most popular destinations. While Israelis cannot marry in Greece, as Athens requires documents that Jerusalem will not provide, it doesn’t mean they can’t party there.

Zahavi can thank the Rabbinate for most of her clients. Of the 12 couples celebrating their unions with Wedaway this summer, seven opted to marry outside Israel at least in part to protest the Orthodox authority. Four are not recognized by the Rabbinate as Jewish or have other issues with Israel’s religion-based marriage system. Just one is getting married in Israel and celebrating in Greece.

Neither the Rabbinate nor the Interior Ministry in Israel were immediately reachable for comment.

Wedaway weddings are the kind of carefully crafted events exalted on wedding blogs, reality shows and social media, with charming local musicians, colorful Greek feasts, high-end ouzo cocktails served under paper lanterns and pool parties complete with floatie toys. The ceremonies are usually contemporary takes on religious traditions, Jewish or Christian.

One downside — or upside, depending on how you look at it — is that couples planning a Wedaway wedding have to drastically pare the invitation list. An average Israeli wedding includes several hundred guests — everyone from the couple’s parents to their favorite barista. Zahavi’s clients usually bring 40 to 50 people with them. Even at an average cost of $300-$500 per head, it can actually be cheaper than being married in Israel.

Still, cutting guests can be difficult. Family and community are central to Israeli culture, and a wedding is the ultimate symbol of that, explained Larissa Remennick, a sociology professor at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

“Jews have always been very familial, focused on getting married and having children. The biblical mitzvah to be fruitful and multiply is still very influential in this country. You could says it’s our raison d’être,” she said. “What this company is doing is kind of a subversive act in a way.”

Wedaway isn’t the first company to help Israelis marry abroad; an industry has been around since the 1990s. In 2014, some 8,782 couples registered foreign marriages in Israel, compared with 50,797 who married in the country, according to the government’s Central Bureau of Statistics. But the businesses tend to focus on cutting international red tape, not wedding planning.

Wedding Tours is the biggest marriage abroad company in Israel. CEO Igal Lukianovsky said the company, founded in 2001, arranged 1,200 marriages in Cyprus and the Czech Republic in 2015. Of those, he said, the company helped with no more than a couple dozen wedding celebrations.

“Maybe 80 percent of couples make a party here in Israel with family and friends,” he said. “They go to Cyprus just for the formal part, to sign documents.”

Wedaway, by contrast, is all about the celebration.

A growing number of Israelis are holding off on getting married, some indefinitely. The number of unmarried couples living together in Israel have risen 29 percent in recent years — to 88,000 in 2014 from 65,000 in 2012 — according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. Some attribute this trend to the Rabbinate as well.

In a September statement about the rise in unmarried couples, Hiddush, an organization that promotes religious freedom in Israel, wrote: “Israel’s official, state empowered religious establishment arouses disgust among Jewish Israeli couples considering marriage. This is due to the needless tribulations many couples experience at the hands of the Rabbinate on their paths to marriage, and due to their fear of being required to conduct their divorces via the State rabbinical courts.”

“The Rabbinate is good for my business,” Wedaway’s Zahavi concluded, “but I would prefer that people could get married here.”

Valentine’s Day: An ideal date for Jewish weddings?


In December, around the time my wife and I were celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary, we received an invitation to an outdoor Jewish wedding to be held on Valentine’s Day 2016. Printed on a red postcard affixed with a heart postage stamp, the couple, Lena Silver and Aaron Wolfson, “joyfully” invited us to a “celebration of their love and commitment” in Palos Verdes, California.

“Please bring something warm to wear,” the invite advised, since it was being held near the ocean. And warm is what I wanted to feel — there’s a special kind of heat that’s generated at a Jewish wedding, with all the words, rings, glass breaking and guests dancing, encircling the couple and bringing them together.

Adding to that, the bride’s father and I have been friends since we were teens. I had attended his wedding, and he, as a young rabbinic student, had co-officiated at mine. Remembering how traditional the day was, a wedding on Valentine’s Day — with its murky ties to several early priests named Valentine — gave me pause. Would a Jewish wedding on Valentine’s Day be too corny, too cute, too out of Jewish context?

While clearly not a red-letter day on the Jewish calendar, for many Jews of my generation, Valentine’s Day always seemed like a secular and harmless way to express friendship — and later, love — beginning with the time-honored exchange of Valentines in elementary school. Since my teachers insisted we bring cards for every student, even the new ones, I realize now, looking back, that this probably was my first experience practicing the Torah concept of “welcoming the stranger.”

Still, handing out cartoon-character Valentines to classmates is far different a religious, and public, declaration of lifelong love. Checking online, I quickly found three other Jewish couples — two from Los Angeles, a third from New York — who also were planning to stand under the huppah on Valentine’s Day. Were other Jewish couples just taking advantage of Feb. 14 being a Sunday, a popular day for Jewish weddings, as it’s not Shabbat yet still the weekend? Or is this another phase in the continued warming of Jews to what was originally a Christian holiday?

For answers, I went straight to the couple whose wedding I’ll soon attend.

“It was all about Monday being a holiday,” said Aaron, who met Lena on OkCupid, an online dating service, while he was attending Boston University medical school in 2012.

The couple wanted to “maximize the amount of people” who were coming from out of town, and with Presidents’ Day on Feb. 15, having the wedding on Valentine’s Day was a “brilliant” solution, explained the soon-to-be groom, who was now in a cardiology fellowship at Los Angeles County Hospital and the University of Southern California.

“I was actually pretty embarrassed, but it’s a very convenient day,” added Lena, who was attending Harvard Law School when the couple started dating and is now an attorney with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County. “First, we were going to ignore that it was Valentine’s Day, then we decided to embrace it.”

“It sure helped us to decide what kippah to have,” interjected Aaron, referring to the pink suede skullcaps adorned with hearts that will be given out for guests to wear.

The couple is also planning a Valentine’s Day craft table for their guests to make cards.

But that’s not all the crafting that has gone into this Valentine’s Day wedding. Together, Aaron and Lena have modified the Jewish wedding ceremony to incorporate what they feel is an expression of their loving, egalitarian relationship.

Instead of a traditional ketubah — the Jewish wedding contract that is signed before the ceremony — the couple is using a shtar brit, a covenant agreement.

Traditionally, a ketubah is  a “unilateral agreement” in which “the husband guarantees to his wife that he will meet certain minimum human and financial conditions of the marriage,” according to Rabbi Maurice Lamm in “The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage.”

Though today there are various forms of egalitarian ketubot, Lena felt that “they don’t really give couples an opportunity to explore more expansive commitments they make to each other.”

So instead, Lena and Aaron created their own contract. It’s adapted from a variety of sources, including Rachel Adler’s book “Engendering Judaism,” an article on Ritualwell by Rabbi Heather Altman and Heather Sapiro, and a shtar brit used by Lena’s cousin. The final document, painted by Lena’s great-aunt, “memorializes” the couple’s “shared commitments to each other in different facets of their relationship — economic, domestic, and personal,” according to the program the couple will distribute at the wedding.

They are also making changes to the ring ceremony by having a brit ahuvim, a lover’s covenant, a concept they also adapted from the same Ritualwell article.

The traditional Jewish wedding-ring ceremony, called kiddushin, is when the groom acquires the bride by giving her a small token — usually a ring —  and declaring “Behold, you are betrothed unto me with this ring, according to the law of Moses and Israel.”

During the brit ahuvim ceremony, rather than each putting a ring on the other’s hand, Lena and Aaron will each put a ring in a pouch, symbolically joining their beings and possessions. As they lift the pouch, they will be making a commitment to their loving relationship.

“Why not just use two rings?” I asked, as my wife and I had done at our wedding.

“Both partners acquire the other through the ring ceremony,” Lena responded in an email. “We felt that rather than acquire each other — which means we/our bodies are the property of the other — a ceremony that represents the creation of an equal partnership was more representative of what we hoped to express though our wedding ceremony.”

Still, with all this businesslike discussion of contracts, covenants and who may or may not be acquiring whom, I started to think that my search for a romantic Jewish wedding connection to Valentine’s Day had melted like a box of candy left in the California sun.

There goes my thesis that a Jewish wedding on Valentine’s Day might seem more romantic than contractual, I said.

“I disagree,” Lena said. “I think entering into a committed equal relationship is extremely romantic.”

She was right, I realized. Better than any sentimental card or overly sweet candy, the soon-to-be bride gave me a new way to look at the heart of my relationship, 35 years after my wedding day.

Edmon J. Rodman is a JTA columnist who writes on Jewish life from Los Angeles. Contact him at edmojace@gmail.com.

One-of-a-kind weddings in Israel


Israelis love come-as-you-are weddings, where guests are welcome to bring along a friend, there’s no color scheme and the groom wears an open-necked shirt. But whether it’s a jeans or black-tie affair, in many cases the venue itself provides the Israeli wedding’s wow factor because of its great religious or historical import or its stunning natural backdrop.

“I find most people who do an event in Israel want it to be more meaningful and significant, as opposed to focusing on décor and other extraneous values,” said Judy Krasna, co-partner in Celebrate Israel.

In addition to copious wedding halls, wedding gardens and hotel ballrooms across the country, Israel offers many one-of-a-kind places to get married. For engaged couples abroad, wedding planners who speak their language can take care of all the arrangements.

“We have an insane amount of gorgeous ideas for parties in Israel,” said Adena Mark of A to Z Events Israel.

Mark has hung chandeliers in Zedekiah’s Cave under the Old City walls of Jerusalem, creating a fancy, festive wedding inside this legendary 2,000-year-old limestone quarry. She has staged weddings among the ancient Roman ruins in Caesarea, and decorated forest clearings with twinkling lights in the trees and straw mats on the bare ground.

Mark even has schlepped flowers and portable air-conditioners or heaters to marriage ceremonies on the cliffs of the Judean Desert. “At night it’s magical, with a view of the Dead Sea and the rolling hills,” she said.

Krasna especially loves weddings at wheelchair-accessible Genesis Land (Eretz Bereshit) in the Judean Desert.

“The view from the chuppah over the desert at sunset is the most spectacular backdrop for a wedding ceremony I’ve ever seen,” she said.

“You can choose to do an upscale wedding or a funky one with camel rides for the guests and waiters in biblical garb. For guests coming from outside Israel, it’s a really Israeli experience.”

It’s possible to arrange a wedding on just about any Israeli beach or national park, Krasna said. She recommends a beachfront with a hotel or restaurant in which the reception can be sheltered from the strong sea winds — such as Herzliya’s Daniel Hotel, Al Hayam in Caesarea or the Rimonim Palm Beach Hotel in Acre.

For nuptials in nature away from the waterfront, Krasna likes the historic Hulda Forest in central Israel, the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens or Ein Gedi Botanical Garden near the Dead Sea.

What about a wedding in a winery? Several Israeli wineries can accommodate parties of various sizes, including the Tishbi and Binyamina wineries in the Zichron Ya’akov area and the Psagot Winery overlooking the mountains of Jordan.

Krasna’s favorite spot for a dream wedding in Israel is the Bell Cave at Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park.

“It’s so incredibly different! The guests always rave that they’ve never been to such a cool wedding,” said Krasna, though she warns that the venue does present limitations. “Because it’s a national park, you can only have acoustic music, and the terrain is uneven so if you have elderly guests they might have trouble walking,” she said.

For those who prefer to be above ground, Alon Rosenberg of Danny Marx Productions recommends the Ottoman-period Tower of David citadel in Jerusalem and the historic Masada cliff on the road to the Dead Sea.

Rosenberg said a wedding at the Tower of David is “very, very expensive, and you need to bring everything in,” but for those who can splurge, “it’s like you’re entering a castle surrounded by the Old City walls. It’s a historical site that enables you to have an amazing event in an enclosed structure.”

Danny Marx, who often arranges celebrity affairs, including actress Gal Gadot’s nuptials five years ago at the David Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv, added that venues combining an atmosphere of history with modern elegance make Israeli weddings unique.

Jerusalem resident Reuven Prager aims to put some history back into the ceremony itself. His Biblical Weddings re-creates the ancient custom where every bride in the land of Israel wore a Jerusalem of Gold crown and was carried to the ceremony on a royal litter called an aperion.

Prager built a replica of the crown and the aperion as described in the biblical Song of Songs and Talmudic sources. Ten strong men carry it to the accompaniment of shofar-blowers and harpists. (Prager charges $1,500 but says he never turns anyone away for lack of funds.)

“We dedicated the aperion in a ceremony at the Bible Lands Museum during Chanukah 1992, and the next day we used it for the first wedding,” Prager said.

About 100 Israeli and foreign Jewish couples have used Prager’s aperion for their weddings, while Christian couples from abroad have made Biblical Weddings the highlight of their honeymoon or anniversary trip.

Prager hopes to work with the Tourism Ministry to launch a national competition encouraging the creation of hundreds of aperions and golden bridal crowns across Israel to broaden the availability of this unusual package. The Jerusalem municipality and the Israel Museum stand ready to host the competition. If Prager’s dream comes true, the aperion could usher in a unique wedding startup industry that could happen only in Israel.

Bar Refaeli’s wedding set for September


Time is running out for all of those who dream of dating Bar Refaeli – because the Israeli supermodel is officially getting married in September.

EOnline reports that Refaeli, 30, and her fiancé, Israeli businessman Adi Ezra, 40, are set to tie the knot around the second week of September, right after the Jewish high holidays.

This is not the first time the international star has been engaged or in a high-profile relationship – she was previously married to Arik Weinstein and dated Leonardo DiCaprio from 2006 to 2011.

Refaeli’s current fiancé, Ezra, is the heir to giant Israeli food importing company Neto ME Holdings, Ltd. She has previously said that she wants to raise a big Jewish family with him.

Here comes the groom-ing!


Step aside, brides — those indulgent pre-wedding salon, spa and grooming gatherings are no longer exclusively your domain! Grooms, it’s your turn for a luxurious pre-wedding makeover and grooming session. To ensure you’ll look tip-top in your tux and tie, we’ve consulted local experts, uncovered trends and looked at personal products designed to tame any testosterone-fueled challenge on the big day.

Ask an expert

According to veteran stylist-to-the-stars Allen Edwards (based at A.T. Tramp in Beverly Hills and Decarra Salon in Woodland Hills), good grooming habits should be established long before the wedding day.  

“I recommend men come into the salon more often for hair care, and they should not be afraid to spend more money on a good haircut,” Edwards said. “Although men have a tendency to buy inexpensive shampoo, I recommend they buy a good moisturizing shampoo and condition their hair at least once a week. The three best hair products for men are Imperial, Paul Mitchell and Crew.”

Edwards also recommends men get facials and get into the habit of using a moisturizer every morning. And, just as women turn to magazines for inspiration, he said men can benefit from the same practice, buying magazines such as GQ to review haircut and facial hair trends.  

“Don’t get stuck wearing the same haircut your whole life,” Edwards said.

“Beards are very popular now, and I suggest keeping the beard very cropped.

“On the wedding day, men should keep their hair clean and short, and if they have a beard, it should be groomed a little shorter.”

Smooth operators

In the last two decades, men’s grooming products have gone from utilitarian to upscale, while pop culture and general health trends have made masculine pomades, creams, gels and designer shaves more palatable for even the manliest of guys. 

While many women dream about the kiss on the big day, nothing can spoil her moment quicker than getting her face scratched. Newport Beach entrepreneur Michael Finfrock realized this just three weeks into dating his girlfriend. With his female friends weighing in on the scratchy subject, and with heavy body and facial hair being a part of his genetic makeup, Finfrock was prompted to develop Soft Goat ($11.99 at ” target=”_blank”>amazon.com and ” target=”_blank”>jessyjudaica.com, a Toronto-based custom kippot maker and Jewish event planner with clients in L.A. and San Diego. “Others invite close family and friends to share in the mikveh with stories, blessings and food or drink,” she added.

Indeed, Judith Golden, who oversees activity at the American Rabbinical Assembly Mikveh at American Jewish University, said she has noticed a significant uptick in the number of grooms opting to take the plunge in a more meaningful way. She estimates the number has increased by 50 percent since she began working there 10 years ago. 

“It’s fabulous to see more men doing this,” Golden said. “The mikveh is a metaphor for a new beginning, and is one of the best things you and your future wife can do before you marry. When both partners do the mikveh, they are setting an intention for the life they will live together and the journey they will be taking beyond the wedding day.” 

Group Jewish wedding held in eastern Ukraine


The Jewish community of Dnepropetrovsk in eastern Ukraine held a group wedding for 19 Jewish couples.

Most of the couples that wed Sunday were already married under Ukrainian law but had not had a Jewish wedding ceremony, or huppah, the director of the Dnepropetrovsk Jewish community, Zelig Brez, told JTA.

“It is a huge event in the spiritual sense, and, I’m not afraid to say it – historic,” he said, adding that the ceremonies were the largest group wedding performed in his city – where 50,000 Jews live – since before the communist era.

Ten rabbis conducted the marriages on a terrace at the Menora Center, Dnepropetrovsk’s $100 million Jewish community center, which opened in 2012. The couples received special preparation by Shmuel Kaminezki, the city’s chief rabbi and Chabad’s influential envoy to Ukraine, and his wife, Chana.

Under communism, Jewish life in the former Soviet Union was conducted underground, a reality that meant many Jews did not have a Jewish wedding. In many areas, a majority of Jews were not circumcised.

“The challenge was both logistical and halachic,” the community wrote in a report about the weddings. Special attention went to helping couples feel the moment in their own private context as opposed to a group activity, Brez explained.

For this reason, the weddings were conducted in two groups and not all at once – first for 10 couples and then for the remaining nine.

“It was something special, and I’m happy that I saw my daughter, in the presence of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, finally get a huppah,” community activist Mina Dreitser said of the wedding of her daughter, Miriam Minutova, to Shlomo Skorokhod.

Wedivite: Online wedding planning and sharing


More than 7,000 couples around the world already have used Wedivite, the first free, socially integrated digital platform exclusively for weddings. Appropriately, its alpha launch happened in the traditional wedding month of June.

Conceived and built by Israeli groom-to-be Ben Novak, Wedivite enables sending invitations via email, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, SMS or Whatsapp, or adding a QR code to a printed invitation. There’s an option to create a custom page for a wedding registry, too.

Guests can click to RSVP, add the event to their Google calendar, get directions to the wedding, send greetings and gifts, recommend songs for the playlist and add photos to the online album and live wedding slideshow.

An update due out shortly will offer additional features such as a dedicated gift registry, integration with Google contacts and Dropbox (for photo storage and printing), text reminders for guests and designer invitation templates.

“We’re connecting everything to make it more comfortable for couples to engage guests and to make it cheaper and fun,” said the 29-year-old founder.

Wedivite’s website and mobile app were launched in beta in January and became an instant hit with couples in India, the United States, South Africa, the United Kingdom and Canada. A Spanish-language version was added before the alpha launch after increasing demand from users in Spain, Latin America and the U.S., and Novak recently introduced a Korean beta version.

“Three months ago, a wedding organizer from South Korea emailed me and said online mobile invitations are big in Korea but they don’t have everything I am offering, and she wanted to translate all the material for me [in return for putting] her link on my website in Korea,” he said.

While his fiancé is scouting out a gown and location for the couple’s May 2015 nuptials, Novak is knee-deep in the technical side of pending matrimony, and is learning that vast cultural differences require him to tweak Wedivite for specific audiences.

In South Korea, for instance, nobody uses PayPal or Google Maps, which are integral to Wedivite. And because Koreans typically don’t dance at weddings, there’s no need for a song-suggestion feature.

“One of my dreams is to create a big infographic or PDF with cultural differences between weddings that I have learned about,” said Novak, a Tel Aviv resident.

But some things are universal, such as the increasingly digital components surrounding the romance of engagements and weddings.

Mashable’s 2012 social and tech wedding survey revealed that “relationship status” is the digital age’s version of flaunting a new diamond ring, as 31 percent of engaged women update their status within hours of accepting a marriage proposal.

Other trends show that couples are forgoing classic wedding formats in favor of ceremonies and receptions that reflect their personal tastes and create a positive experience for guests while keeping costs down.

“Wedivite is here to reset the standard of wedding invitations from the traditional to the digital,” Novak explained. “By putting social-media integration at the forefront of our platform, we recognize the influence that social media and digital presence has in the lives of today’s couples.”

Novak was inspired to start Wedivite by a conversation with a newly married friend whose wedding photographer had failed to take a picture of the groom’s mother. Though many guests take their own photos at weddings, these couldn’t easily be added to an official album.

“My idea was to make a shareable photo album for weddings, but I decided, why not make it a lot cooler?” Novak said. “Eventually it became what it is today.”

Novak possessed the requisite skills to realize his idea because he has been a graphic designer and Web developer since age 14, and has experience working for an ad agency and as marketing director for New Media College in Tel Aviv.

“I always had my own businesses on the side, but now I am 100 percent working on Wedivite around the clock,” he said. 

That, and planning his own wedding. 

Israeli wedding of Jew, Muslim draws protesters amid war tensions


Israeli police on Sunday blocked more than 200 far-right Israeli protesters from rushing guests at a wedding of a Jewish woman and Muslim man as they shouted “death to the Arabs” in a sign of tensions stoked by the Gaza war.

Several dozen police, including members of the force's most elite units, formed human chains to keep the protesters from the wedding hall's gates and chased after many who defied them. Four protesters were arrested, and there were no injuries.

A lawyer for the couple, Maral Malka, 23, and Mahmoud Mansour, 26, both from the Jaffa section of Tel Aviv, had unsuccessfully sought a court order to bar the protest. He obtained backing for police to keep protesters 200 metres (yards) from the wedding hall in the Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon Lezion.

The protest highlighted a rise in tensions between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel in the past two months amid a monthlong Gaza war, the kidnap and slaying of three Israeli teens in June followed by a revenge choking and torching to death of a Palestinian teen in the Jerusalem area.

A group called Lehava, which organized the wedding demonstration, has harassed Jewish-Arab couples in the past, often citing religious grounds for their objections to intermarriage. But they have rarely protested at the site of a wedding.

The groom told Israel's Channel 2 TV the protesters failed to derail the wedding or dampen its spirit. “We will dance and be merry until the sun comes up. We favor coexistence,” he said.

'DEATH TO THE ARABS' THREATS CHANTED

Protesters, many of them young men wearing black shirts, denounced Malka, who was born Jewish and converted to Islam before the wedding, as a “traitor against the Jewish state,” and shouted epithets of hatred toward Arabs including “death to the Arabs.” They sang a song that urges, “May your village burn down.”

A few dozen left-wing Israelis held a counter-protest nearby holding flowers, balloons and a sign that read: “Love conquers all.”

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, sworn in last month to succeed Shimon Peres, criticized the protest as a “cause for outrage and concern” in a message on his Facebook page.

“Such expressions undermine the basis of our coexistence here, in Israel, a country that is both Jewish and democratic,” Rivlin, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud bloc, said.

Lehava spokesman and former lawmaker Michael Ben-Ari denounced Jews intermarrying with non-Jews of any denomination as “worse than what Hitler did,” alluding to the murder of 6 million Jews across Europe in World War Two.

A surprise wedding guest was Israel's health minister, Yael German, a centrist in Netanyahu's government. She told reporters as she headed inside that she saw the wedding and the protest against it as “an expression of democracy.”

Arab citizens make up about 20 percent of Israel's majority Jewish population, and the overwhelming majority of Arabs are Muslims. Rabbinical authorities who oversee most Jewish nuptials in Israel object to intermarriage fearing it will diminish the ranks of the Jewish people.

Many Israeli couples who marry out of their faith do so abroad.

Malka's father, Yoram Malka, said on Israeli television he objected to the wedding, calling it “a very sad event.” He said he was angry that his daughter had converted to Islam. Of his now son-in-law, he said, “My problem with him is that he is an Arab.”

Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan

Tom Hanks, Justin Bieber dance together


Amidst a tumultuous world, a reminder of life’s simpler pleasures. We humbly offer you a video, shot by Justin Bieber at his manager Scooter Braun’s wedding, of Tom Hanks, resplendent in a tallis and yarmulke, singing and jiving to Montell Jordan’s 1995 dance classic, “This Is How We Do It.”

Note: Bieber, in posting this on his Instagram account, describes Hanks as “dressed like a Rabbi.” Technically, from a sartorial angle, Hanks could be any well-dressed male shul-goer. The important thing is that he brings to the role his inimitable  charm and relatability that make him one of America’s favorite actors/Jewish imitators. 500,000+ likes can’t be wrong.

 

Israeli couples say ‘I don’t’ to Orthodox Jewish weddings


For most Israelis in the Jewish state, there is one legal way to get married – God's way.

Israeli law empowers only Orthodox rabbis to officiate at Jewish weddings, but popular opposition is growing to this restriction and to what some Israelis see as an Orthodox stranglehold on the most precious moments of their lives.

Some of Israel's most popular TV stars and models have come out this week in an advertisement supporting a new bill allowing civil marriage. A political storm is likely when it eventually comes up for a vote in parliament.

The Rabbinate, the Orthodox religious authority that issues marriage licences in Israel, says it is charged with a task vital for the survival of the Jewish people, and a recent poll showed more Israelis oppose civil unions than support them.

Nevertheless, many Israelis want either a secular wedding or a religious marriage conducted by a non-Orthodox rabbi. Facebook pages have been popping up, with defiant couples calling on others to boycott the Rabbinate.

In September, Stav Sharon, a 30-year-old Pilates instructor, married her husband in an alternative ceremony performed in Israel by a non-Orthodox rabbi.

“We wanted a Jewish wedding despite being secular. We feel connected to our Judaism, even if we are not religious. It is our people, our tradition,” Sharon said.

Weddings such as Sharon's fall into a legal no man's land. They are not against the law, but neither are they recognised as valid by the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for registering marital status on the national identity card every Israeli is required to carry.

In a twist in the law, the ministry will register as married any Israeli couple that weds abroad – even in a non-religious ceremony – outside the purview of the Israeli rabbinate.

Some couples hop on the short flight to Cyprus to marry. The Czech Republic is another popular destination for Israelis wanting a civil wedding.

Sharon and her husband decided against that option. “Marrying abroad means giving in. We wanted to marry in our own country,” she said.

No formal records are kept on the officially invalid alternative ceremonies held in Israel. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, nearly 39,000 Jewish couples married via the Rabbinate in 2011. About 9,000 couples registered that year as having married overseas.

Muslims, Druze and Christians in Israel are also required to marry through their own state-recognised religious authorities, making interfaith weddings possible only overseas.

WHO IS A JEW?

Secular-religious tensions have simmered in Israel, which defines itself as a Jewish and democratic state, since its establishment in 1948.

About 20 percent of Israeli Jews describe themselves as Orthodox while the majority of citizens are only occasional synagogue-goers. There are also non-Orthodox communities such as Reform and Conservative, but these are proportionately smaller than in Jewish populations abroad.

Ultra-Orthodox zealots have drawn anger in recent years for separating men and women on some public buses and harassing women and girls for what they see as immodest dress. Orthodox rabbis insist that brides take ritual baths to purify themselves before marriage, a practice to which some Israeli women object.

Immigrants to Israel, which since its inception has appealed to Jews around the world to live in the Jewish state, can find marriage through its Rabbinate a gruelling process.

Anyone wed by the Rabbinate is required to provide evidence of being Jewish, usually a simple and quick process.

But when it comes to new immigrants, the Rabbinate requires an affidavit, usually from an Orthodox rabbi in their home country, attesting they were born to a Jewish mother – the Orthodox criterion for determining if someone is a Jew.

And, Orthodox authorities in Israel can pile on more problems by digging even deeper into Jewish roots by requiring additional documentation proving that a bride or bridegroom's grandmother was Jewish.

“It took a year,” said a 34-year-old Argentinian immigrant to Israel, who asked not to be identified.

“They said the papers I had were not sufficient. They kept asking for more and more crazy documents. At one point they wanted me to provide a witness, from Argentina, who knew my grandparents and who had seen them, inside their home, celebrating a Jewish holiday,” he said.

His case was ultimately brought before the Chief Rabbi who ruled the man was Jewish and could marry his bride-to-be.

Israel's government is less strict in determining “who is a Jew” and therefore eligible to immigrate to Israel. Under its Law of Return, proof that someone has at least one Jewish grandparent is enough to receive automatic citizenship.

The Rabbinate says it is charged with preventing intermarriage and assimilation with non-Jewish communities which would endanger their people's survival.

Ziv Maor, the Rabbinate's spokesman, said strict adherence to Orthodox ritual law and practices had bonded Jews across the globe and set common rules for all.

“A Moroccan Jew knew he could marry a Jewish woman from Lithuania,” he said. “Rabbinical law guides us in a very clear way on who is Jewish and who is not … and we do not have permission from past or future generations to stray even a hair's breadth from those criteria,” Maor said.

According to the Rabbinate, only two percent of the men and women who apply to it for a marriage licence are turned down because they are found not to be Jewish.

GAY MARRIAGE

There are other groups to whom marriage is forbidden by rabbinical law.

Same-sex marriage, as in other religions, is out of the question as far as the Rabbinate is concerned. Israel's Interior Ministry recognises gay marriage – but only if it is conducted in a foreign country where it is legal.

Margot Madeson-Stern, a business consultant, was wed in Israel by a non-Orthodox rabbi at a celebration attended by more than 300 guests. The ceremony had no legal foundation in Israel.

“The (Rabbinate) would not marry me. The person I fell in love with was a woman,” said Madeson-Stern, 30. “I'm Jewish. I wanted a Jewish wedding. It's my family, my tradition, it's how I grew up.”

She later travelled with her wife to New York for another wedding ceremony. New York recognises gay marriages, so Israel's Interior Ministry did the same, registering them as a couple.

At least two parties in the coalition government are promoting a bill to allow civil marriage in Israel, including for same-sex couples. One of them is Yesh Atid, which tapped into anti-religious sentiment in last January's national election and finished in second place.

“It cannot be that people who do not believe or whose lifestyle does not suit the Rabbinate will be forced to get married by people whose way is not their own,” Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid told Israel Radio this month.

But tradition could die hard in Israel. A poll published in November in the Israeli newspaper, Maariv, showed that while 41 percent of Jewish Israelis supported Yesh Atid's Civil Union bill, 47 percent objected.

Such bills have been floated at Israel's parliament before. But for the first time in years, ultra-Orthodox parties, which oppose civil marriage, are not in the government.

Yesh Atid believes it has enough votes from lawmakers across the board to pass the law in the next few months. The Rabbinate says it will oppose the measure strongly.

“Matters of marriage, divorce and conversion are our most important fortress. It must not be touched and we will defend it fiercely,” said Maor.

Editing by Jeffrey Heller and David Stamp

Hearts remarried


Marriage means so much, to all of us. Including to unmarried people. We all want to live paired up, don’t we? To die not alone? What’s sadder than a grave all by its lonesome? Two side by side, we feel we can protect each other through all eternity. 

Marriage is also the inner pillar of our psyche. We think of it all the time, even more than of sex. Why we have marriage, why we don’t, why and when did it become better, at last? Look around. Marriage is our life’s top ingredient, as guaranteed as the sun on a bright day.

I could go on. You see my wife and I just rededicated our vows. I’m still bubbling.

Rededication, by the way, is an American invention we should applaud. Even if one remarries not 50, just five years in, those would be some important five years! In the case of Iris and I, we clocked 30 and then decided: We’re redoing it, in Europe where I’m from — where she stems from, too, one generation past. 

I do remember the times when she, or I, doubted that we would last. A counselor told us to beware when you stop fighting, when you have “peace.” Peace means the end of being unique to each other. Better unique and bleeding. So we rededicated — bleeding and all. We have littler fights these days, and better friendship in between. 

Thirty years. And we’re hoping for another 20.

Wow. 

In honor of our roots, we flew to Eastern Europe. Iris comes from Holocaust survivors. I’m from the other survivors, the runaways from communism. 

The logistics were complex. We’re an interfaith marriage, although we don’t live interfaith; the blood that lost the most is the blood whose traditions we follow. So we were looking for a Jewish environment to remarry. 

For our first vows all those years ago, we eloped to Utah, of all places, because I’d been invited to Robert Redford’s Sundance writer’s workshop. We were married by Brother Johnson, a colorful Mormon judge, and enjoyed a Hopi dance and a bridal suite, both arranged by Mr. Redford, on our first night. 

This second time, we wanted something more traditional. But who would marry two Americans — one a Jew, one not — in Hungary or the Czech Republic, lands where my wife’s folks survived? 

Answer: Uh, apparently not anyone mainstream.

We were thrust from something we expected to be so intimate and personal into hectic East European, post-communist politics, with a very bitter-before-sweet feel of déjà vu. 

Europe is not America; its Judaism, like its Christianity, is barely beginning to become flexible. Liturgical adjustments, so familiar in California, are unheard of. My wife researched a comprehensive number of congregations, which would not deal with interfaith couples, period. Discouraging. But at last, a congregation that called itself Reform agreed to revow us. Its leader, guide and navigator came to talk to us at the apartment we had rented in a street behind Budapest’s Belle Epoque parliament building.

“Hi, I’m Ferenc,” the rabbi said to us, walking in.

He was a robust 60-year-old with a light Hungarian accent, friendly, hands-on, beaming American nonconformity. Rabbi Ferenc Raj, whose stature in today’s Judaism I’ll not detail — Google him if you want; he’s far from being obscure — was the only congregation leader who agreed to remarry us despite the interfaith kink. 

We’ll make the service quintessential, he told us. When the groom (me) is told to say, “According to the law of Moses and Israel,” we shall say, “According to the law of God.” For God — he smiled at both of us — is God for all, not for the chosen alone. At last, the groom crushes the glass. (I’d always wanted to do that!)

Surely, this felt so momentous because Iris’ family memories drifted so richly above this city by the Danube — where her mother and uncles hid with fake papers in 1944, helped by the occasional well-meaning Catholic. Iris and I visited the Dohany Street Synagogue, one of the largest in the world, where footsteps from the past resounded in our minds. Compared to the tests and trials of 1944, this year of 2013 should be like a breeze of reconciliation. Well …  

On this mild September afternoon, up in the Buda Hills, in a family’s backyard, standing inside a sukkah — the model of all sacred Jewish spaces, even the wedding canopy, Rabbi Raj explained — Iris and I were rejoined. In attendance, including our son and daughter, were some 30 people only. Careful they were, almost like refugees. Because they were Reform, a sect still fighting to be officially recognized in today’s Hungary. 

I felt so many things on that afternoon. 

I felt the presence of my own tragically departed ones, starting with my deceased twin brother, whom communism killed. I felt reconnected with my wife, and with my deepest lone self. The ritual was too primal not to touch hidden-most memories, which unlocked and flowed in abundance. We drank blessed wine, my woman and I, surrounded by unprepossessing Reform worshippers who deserve to be accepted even if there were just a handful of them. 

To my readers: Take note that such exclusions still exist. Help leaders like Rabbi Raj — through inclusiveness of them and others, the past might have been different. Help people like Rabbi Raj, even if you’re not Reform or not even religious. 

I could write more about the passive-aggressive relationship of Europe’s Eastern lands to their Jews. Hungary’s erraticism is up there, and then some. When you pass the plaques on this and that building, you’re reminded that Budapest birthed Edward Teller, father of the hydrogen bomb — on the plaque, his name is duly Hungarized, Teller Ede. Equally honored, Herzl Tivadar. Huh, who? THEODORE HERZL? Hey, you’re ours again, Tivadar! I felt like moaning: Would the real Europe ever stand up and say, “I regret that I oppressed my Jewish sons and daughters who so often carried my name to the heights. I repent, I do. Deeply and sincerely, I weep over my cruelty and vow not to restart it!” 

Oh well. Evil didn’t stop in 1945, and doesn’t target Jews only.  See what’s happening right now to the ancient minority Christians, burned in their churches, routinely killed, in Syria, Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia, while the world is in busy conference talking about anything else but that. 

Let’s all do the little that we can do. Like, let’s all remarry. 

You know what I mean.


Petru Popescu is a Romanian-born, best-selling novelist. He lives with his family in Beverly Hills.

How to buy the best diamond wedding ring for your buck


When Jeremy Ziskind of Pico-Robertson proposed last year to his then-girlfriend, Allyson Marcus, he had a basic idea of what kind of engagement ring he would give his future wife.

“Allyson told me pretty early on in our relationship that she loved the idea of a heart-shaped ring,” he said. “So I knew that’s what I wanted to get.”

Relying on a tip from a friend, Ziskind searched for rings on

I am my beloved’s: How to avoid making your wedding day one to forget


It’s no secret that all the planning and decisions required to pull off a wedding can cause stress and worry. From flower designs to musical selections, there are a million things that might drive you meshugge.

But that doesn’t mean you have to accept that there will be unavoidable hiccups and “oy vey!” moments. With a few insider tips, you can avoid some problems the way you avoid Aunt Helen’s chopped liver.

No matter what happens, remember to enjoy the experience. At the end of it all, you still get to marry the love of your life. 

Stay on your chair

During the horah, tradition calls for the newlywed couple to be lifted up in chairs and raised above the crowd like royalty. It’s fun! It’s festive! It could leave you with a co-pay at the ER! 

No need for that. Just make sure your venue has two armchairs. The arms keep you stable, and you’ll also have something to hold on to as your tushee gets bounced around. Be sure to tell your venue coordinator or wedding planner that this is a must-have and that your designated lifters should grab the correct chairs.

Keep your dress white

During your ceremony, you’ll be instructed to take sips of wine. But in all your excitement to get down with a little “borei p’ri hagafen,” you might giggle or get shaky and then — drip! — wine on your dress. Avoid a mess and heartache. Use white wine in your Kiddush cup so that if any spills, it won’t be as obvious. 

Think about your ink

When it comes to your ketubah, you should use only the best pen to sign your John Hancockstein. After all, you’ve spent a lot of time selecting the right words and artwork, and most likely you’ll want to hang it in a special place in your home. So why would you use an office pen? Or a permanent marker? 

Those inks will fade or ruin the fine ketubah paper. Make sure to use an archival pen with a fine point. Go to your local art supply store. They’ll point you in the right direction. 

Break the glass, not your foot

At the end of the ceremony, the groom stomps on the glass that’s wrapped in a cloth or bag and the guests yell, “Mazel tov!” That’s a perfect scenario. What if the groom steps on the glass and then … crickets! … It doesn’t break?

Avoid this scenario or you’ll have over-eager bubbes shouting, “Mazel tov!” over whole, unbroken glass. Grooms, take note: Use your heel — not your toe — when stepping on the glass. More pressure and control can come from the heel, and you’ll hear that perfect crunch that leaves no doubt that you just tied the knot. For bonus points, step on the glass with your heel on a hard surface. Avoid sand or grass, and try to make sure your chuppah ceremony takes place somewhere paved. 

Why you should yichud

After your ceremony, you’ll be giddy with hot-off-the-presses newlywed excitement. You’ll probably want to join your guests and start the party off with drinks and appetizers at cocktail hour. I urge you: Wait. Take a breath. Enjoy some private time with your spouse. 

This period of seclusion is called yichud, and it’s a special moment to be alone together after you leave the chuppah. Back in the day, this would be the time that the couple would consummate their marriage, but if that doesn’t sound all that sexy to you, that’s OK. No pressure. Consider this as your time to savor all that you experienced together under the chuppah. Your guests will be fine, and you won’t miss out on much. 

Have the venue coordinator or your wedding planner bring you a special spread of food and drinks so you can share your first married bites and sips together. Take a few minutes alone together to reflect and collect yourselves — and finally relax! Then you can rejoin your friends and family and continue the party.


Alison Friedman is owner and editor-in-chief of The Wedding Yentas (theweddingyentas.com), an online guide for Jewish brides. She lives in Thousand Oaks. 

Here comes the … wedding dress


The inspiration for Mor Kfir’s wedding gown design — lace interwoven with embroidered, braided threads and silk chiffon fabric — was the tragic bride possessed by a devilish dybbuk in the classic 1928 Yiddish play starring Hanna Rovina at Habima National Theater of Israel.

For Yael Geisler, inspiration took the form of her Turkish-born grandmother’s dowry chest brimming with hand-embroidered tablecloths, napkins and linens. She tailored a gown of silk satin and delicate gold lace adorned with hand-embroidered oriental motifs.

These two dresses are part of a new exhibition, “Here Comes the Bride: Bridal Gowns Embroidering a Jewish Story,” at Tel Aviv’s Beit Hatfutsot, The Museum of the Jewish People, through the end of February 2014. From Tel Aviv, it will go on the international road, stopping first in Austria.

“Here Comes the Bride” results from a unique collaboration between Beit Hatfutsot (bh.org.il) and Ronen Levin’s third-year wedding-gown design students at Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv.

Each of the 14 students received a sketchbook and access to the museum’s entire collection of synagogue models, Judaica, marriage contracts, musical instruments, embroidery, dowry chests and family photos, according to Irit Admoni Perlman, director of the museum’s Israel Friends organization and the innovator of the collaboration.

“Initially, we thought the synagogues would best connect them with the Jewish lifecycle traditions,” Perlman said. But many of these talented students delved deeper, as chronicled in their sketchbooks, which are part of the exhibition.

“Most of them started with one idea and ended with something else,” Perlman said. “At the end of the day, they all did something related to their roots.”

The exhibition of 13 bridal dresses, one henna ceremonial gown and one groom’s outfit reflect styles and traditions of Jewish communities in Yemen, Iraq, Turkey, Salonika, Spain, Poland, Germany, Morocco and Algiers. It was first debuted at the 2012 Tel Aviv Fashion Week and at an event of the Nadav Foundation, a Beit Hatfutsot supporter and cosponsor of the exhibition.

“There is nothing like this in the world,” Perlman said of the show, which opened in September.

Wedding gown by Chen Ariel Nachman, whose ancestors are from Greece. Photo ocurtesy of Israel21c

Tradition With a Modern Twist

In her sketchbook, Adi Bakshi explains that her crepe-and-organza creation copies the delicate woodcuts and thin silver cords on the oud and qanun, two traditional Middle Eastern stringed instruments that formed the soundtrack of her childhood in an Iraqi Jewish home.

Tiny horizontal silver beads are stitched in two lines down the bodice of Bakshi’s dress to evoke frets, while hand-cut leather insets join the front and back of the dress to mirror the woodcuts.

Delicate crochet embroidery incorporated into Hadar Brin’s voile gown evinces the meticulous scribal arts practiced by her great-grandfather in Poland, who hid a mezuzah upon the advent of World War II that was retrieved by her family 60 years later.

A replica of a wall of the El Transito Synagogue in Toledo, Spain, inspired Levi Shenhav.

“The synagogue’s design integrates elements from Islamic decorative art and from Christian painting styles, blended into Jewish traditional art and calligraphy. Together, these elements create stunning visual themes,” he writes. His white chiffon gown incorporates beaten copper leaves and flowers adorned with leather strips and light pearls, reminiscent of the synagogue’s structure.

Chen Ariel Nachman’s ancestors are from Thessaloniki, Greece, where Jewish women once adorned their heads with amulets embroidered with baroque pearls in the shape of the Tree of Life symbolizing the Torah and the cycle of life.

Twelfth-century wedding rings inspired this gown by Eyal Ran Meystal. Photo ocurtesy of Israel21c

“I tailored the gown from wrinkled chiffon embroidered with baroque pearls, lace and beads, sequin leather and ropes coiled with embroidery threads, reminiscent of the fringes adjoined to Jewish prayer shawls, wishing to create an organic and natural look,” he writes.

Twelfth-century German wedding rings in the shape of a house inspired Eyal Ron Meistal to incorporate the rings into the wedding gown he created.

“The gown borrows from the formal structure of the ring … tailored of wild silk embroidered with thread and beads with ornamentation borrowed from the ring. The silk organza strengthened with Plexiglas rods symbolizes the wedding canopy rods that adorn the bride’s veil.”

Shani Dahan and Shani Zimmerman together created a Moroccan-style bridal gown, henna dress and groom’s ensemble inspired by the Dahan family’s heirloom baby outfit used at circumcision ceremonies, as well as the traditional jalabiya robe used in the henna ceremony.

Perlman notes that the student designers used tradition as a springboard to design garments “with a modern twist.”

For example, Chen Meron fashioned a simple but revealing bridal gown inspired by the leather straps of the tefillin worn by Jewish men as a symbol of connecting to God and preserving Jewish identity through the trauma of the Holocaust that the Meron family survived.

Meron’s gown contrasts the masculine elements of tethering, binding and clasping the leather to the arms, with the feminine, flowing bridal gown tailored of heavy crepe fabric accented by pale leather straps embroidered with golden beads.

New and improved: These upgraded wedding venues aim to add ‘wow’ to your vows


Some brides look for the hottest new places for their wedding ceremonies and receptions. Others are interested in staging their nuptials at L.A. mainstays. There are places, however, that offer the best of both worlds — locations that are definitively part of the local DNA, yet have undergone renovations or added new spaces that make them modern and more relevant than ever for today’s brides.

Skirball Cultural Center

The most recent addition to the area’s venerable venues is in the Sepulveda Pass at the Skirball Cultural Center. That’s where bride-to-be Danielle Cohn expects to be the first bride to marry at the Skirball’s ” target=”_blank”>skirball.org), is just as enthusiastic about how the expansive, 17,500-square-foot event facility conceived by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie will expand ceremony and reception options. One of the most stunning features of the project is a fully retractable window-wall that gives a dramatic view of a cascading terraced garden, providing an Impressionistic mural-like feel. The entrance plaza, meanwhile, is accented with coral trees, enamel art panels and a monumental fountain. 

“The Skirball is deeply rooted in both Jewish tradition and the local Jewish community,” Delanoeye said. “We are proud of our history as a gathering place for Jewish families of diverse ancestries. Based on the way the concept of a chuppah has been built into the architecture [an effect achieved with arched ceiling appointments and tiered gardens in full view], for example, wedding ceremonies can take place indoors or outdoors.” 

Guerin Pavilion interior at dusk. Photo by Elon Schoenholz

The facilities also include a bridal suite, rooms that can be used as a private space for the groom and his groomsmen, a room for the yichud following the ceremony just for the newly wedded couple and a family room for gatherings of the immediate family. While there is one caveat — the 4,000-square-foot kitchen is not equipped for glatt kosher events — award-winning chef Sean Sheridan and his team are able to plan menus tailored to the tastes and preferences of the couple using kosher products or kosher-style service. 

“We really look at the total needs of the family and the extended community as well as the couple getting married,” Delanoeye added. 

The Skirball’s Herscher Hall and Guerin Pavilion accepts listings and bookings for up to 18 months in advance, though Delanoeye said that there is a greater demand for wedding bookings between the months of March and October. 

Sportsmen’s Lodge

Sure, the five-star prestige hotels dotting L.A. County have name recognition. But when it comes to historic name-dropping, it’s hard to top Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City, which opened in the 1880s and later evolved into a popular “rural” hangout for Hollywood legends such as Clark Gable, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Although Los Angeles’ urban sprawl has since spilled over into the San Fernando Valley, it is still a popular place for Hollywood productions, including the television series “Parks & Recreation.”

Throughout its history, Sportsmen’s Lodge Event Center (The Sportsmen’s Lodge has a country charm that makes it attractive for weddings. Photo courtesy of the Sportsmen’s Lodge

Meanwhile, the landscaping and country charm are still major selling points for Jewish couples, down to a gazebo that can be adapted into a chuppah on the north end of the property, said director of sales Angie Groves. 

“It is a unique venue in the Valley, as not too many other places in the area have lush ponds, waterfalls, bridges and century-old trees,” Groves said. “While we don’t have a kitchen, what makes Sportsmen’s Lodge appealing to the many Valley Jewish communities is that we do allow outside kosher catering. 

“While some families love the Hollywood history behind it, others come for one of our two unique ballrooms. We have the 9,550-square-foot Empire Ballroom that features a built-in stage and can accommodate up to 600 guests, while our Starlight Ballroom has windows on two sides of the ballroom that overlook our gardens. The spaces are certainly not the typical four-wall banquet room.”

Other features and amenities include portable dance floors, bars, high-tech audio/visual capabilities, individualized décor and assistance in booking all sorts of live entertainment. While the event page on their Web site promises, “We’ll help you plan an old-Hollywood soiree for the ages,” the staff is also sensitive to the needs and concerns specific to Jewish weddings. Weddings need to be booked up to 18 months in advance. 

The Olympic Collection

Although the Olympic Collection (The Olympic Collection has six ballrooms and a large, open-air terrace. Photo courtesy of the Olympic Collection

As a chuppah is traditionally connected to the outdoors, according to Morea, the large Regency Ballroom includes a garden terrace with a built-in gazebo that can be customized with florals and greenery. For the winter months, the ballroom includes a skylight at the top of a beautiful curved marble stage that opens fully to the sky. The smaller Atrium Ballroom, accommodating up to 150 people, features windows and sliding glass doors for clients desiring natural light during their events. 

The Olympic Collection’s executive chefs hail from Spain, France, Iran, Armenia and Central and South America, and can fully integrate the client couple’s desired culinary style with the dietary requirements of the family and guests. Behind the scenes Morea said there is a separate on-site kosher kitchen under supervision from the Rabbinical Council of California. 

The Olympic Collection accepts listings and bookings for up to 36 months in advance, and its staff of wedding planners can assist couples with the items necessary to fully customize their wedding and reception, including dance floors (with a mechitzah, or divider, if desired), bars, tables, chairs, custom linens, lounge furniture and specialty lighting and even the wedding cake itself.

Writing your perfect wedding speech


You’re getting married! He finally popped the question: “Will you sign the prenup here and here?”  

Oh, and he asked The Big One, too. Since you said yes, Vera Wang has been gowning, Jimmy Choo, shoeing. Mothers have been kvelling. Daddies have been liquidating portfolios — and that’s just for the cake.    

Now you have to write your speech. And you want it to be worthy of your sparkling day. Here are a few suggestions that never miss.   

Dig for original thoughts, not what the rest of the world has already recycled. Aren’t you more special than that? Surely you don’t want your speeches clogged up with clichés. 

Don’t expect your remarks to pop out whole and perfect in 10 minutes. Start jotting down notes. In those notes, make a list of things you might want to include. Like a grocery list. Don’t cross anything out. Save it all. There are no wrong answers. You can choose the best items later; now you’re just scribbling down ideas and feelings. 

On your “grocery list,” instead of “linguini, zucchini, scaloppine and gum,” you might write, “Just thinking about you makes me happy.” Then start a new page for all the reasons you’re honored to be your fiancé’s life partner. After that, tell a story or two about your courtship, and you’ve already got a good start on your wedding speech. See?   

Procrastinating is normal. Even with everything you do to avoid writing, the warm-up is part of any creative process. Each warm-up is different. While you’re doing it, you will feel completely nuts. But you aren’t.    

As an example, here’s what I do. While getting ready to write, I go shoe shopping, take long walks, devour candy corn (Brach’s brand only), lock my phones in the trunk and grab my writing ritual stuff: a blue glass of water, a second chair on which I rest my right foot, and Post-its saying “I can do it I can do it I can do it” that I hang around my computer monitor. Next, I roll my shoulders backward and forward, stretch my jaw six times, and finally type something silly, like, “If Brad Pitt divorced Angelina Jolie and begged me to marry him on Wilshire Boulevard in rush hour traffic, I’d have to say no because I love you and…”

At that point, I actually have something on paper, and I’m playing with the words, instead of clobbering any syllable that isn’t perfect. I revise and revise and revise. Eventually, something clicks in my gut saying I’m finished.      

Here are five additional tips for writing your wedding speech.   

• Start early. Don’t wait until the flowers flop over before you commit quality time to what you want to say. As soon as that ring is on your finger, set aside five minutes a day.       

• Practice. Once your speech is finished, rehearsing will help you relax. Honest.  

• Be brief. This is about love, not a debate on health care.     

• Say what you feel, what only you can say because nobody but you is you.         

• Be a little funny, a little teary, and finish on a happy note.  

To show you the importance of choosing every word carefully, I was contacted many years ago by The Hershkowitz (not his real name). He had already asked a remarkable lady to marry him, twice, and got “no way” both times. So he asked me to write his marriage proposal.         

I did. She said yes. He and Julie have been married 27 years.                                 

Now the pressure of the proposal is behind you and your fiancé. And as you approach your wedding, you have all the tools to be sure that somewhere inside you there’s a basket of beautiful words from which to choose just the right syllables for your one-of-a-kind, once-in-a-lifetime wedding speech.


Molly-Ann Leikin is an executive speechwriter and Emmy nominee living in Santa Monica. Her Web site is anythingwithwords.com.

Relationship advice: Marry young


I know the arguments that people give for delaying marriage: 

“I’m not ready.”

“I need to be financially secure first.”

“Right now, I’m preoccupied with ____” (fill in the blank).

“To tell you the truth, I’m having too much fun to settle down.” (This argument is usually offered by males — and generally told only to other males.)

Others cite data suggesting that marrying later means less likelihood of divorcing.

I would like to make some arguments on behalf of early marriage.

The first and best argument for early marriage — providing, of course, that one meets a good person and believes this person will also be a good parent and/or provider — is that it forces you to grow up.

Nothing — and I mean nothing — makes us grow up as much as marriage does. Children are a close second, but the maturity leap from singlehood to marriage is still greater than the maturity leap from marriage without children to marriage with children.

The problem today is that becoming mature is not even on the list of most young people’s life goals. If anything, staying immature — committing to no one and remaining dependent on others — is more of a goal.

That is what “not ready” usually means.

Putting aside the financial issue, which we will address, “not ready” almost always means not willing — not “not ready” — to take on the permanent commitment to someone else that marriage entails.

Why were people throughout history ready to commit to marriage at a much younger age than people today? Only because society expected them to become adults at a younger age than today. Nothing makes you an adult as much as responsibility does. And no responsibility makes you an adult as much as marital responsibility.

And why, even today, are religious Jewish and Christian young men and women ready to marry in their early 20s? Because their values and their culture expect them to.

Let’s be honest. “I’m not ready” is usually a statement of emotional immaturity even when the person is otherwise a wonderful and responsible man or woman. 

As for the financial aspect of “not ready,” this is puzzling. People who say this may be entirely sincere, but they may also be fooling themselves. For one thing, two people living together cuts many costs almost in half. For another, nothing spurs hard work as much as marriage (and family) does. Married men make more money than single men. Moreover, many of the happiest and most bonding memories of couples are the early days when they financially struggled.

Another argument pertains to each sex separately. 

To women, I would argue that:

a) More good marriageable men are available when a woman is 23 than when she is 33, not to mention 43. To deny this is to deny reality. To dismiss this as “sexist” is to complain that life is sexist. Moreover, it is irrelevant whether it is “sexist”; all that matters is whether it is true.

b) She will learn little more about men and relationships by either going from relationship to relationship after college or by living with a man for many years without marrying. In other words, all those years a woman spends avoiding looking for a man to marry are largely wasted. There is rarely major emotional growth — this is just as true for men — during those unmarried years. And, in the meantime, she might have been able to find a good man and begin the most satisfying thing in life — making a home and, hopefully, a family. 

c) The notion that marriage will interfere with her career means she believes that, in the long run, career success will bring her greater joy and happiness than marital success. For the vast majority of women, this is not true. Young women who do not believe this should speak to successful single women in their 40s.

To men, I would argue that:

Guys who spend their lives avoiding marriage are, as a general rule, not impressive. That is one reason committed bachelors rarely get elected to high office. Neither sex thinks much of them. I understand men “sowing their wild oats” in the belief that it can help later on in life if they are plagued with curiosity about what it would be like to be with another woman. But after a certain age, chasing women is quite pathetic, and men doing so are spinning their wheels in terms of personal growth. Unfortunately, not all men want to grow up — just ask all the women looking for a man who complain of a surfeit of “man-boys.” 

I learned all this first from traditional Judaism, and later from life and from callers to my radio show. 

In order to be a judge on the Jewish high court, the Sanhedrin, a man had to be married and a father. Also, in traditional Jewish life, a man could not wear a tallit (prayer shawl) in synagogue until he was married. It was the community’s unsubtle way of telling males that until they committed to a woman in marriage, they were still considered a boy.

There are, of course, exceptions. But in general, boys and girls stay single. If they want to become men and women, they marry.


Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

Married, but not in Israel


Located in the eastern Mediterranean, the island of Cyprus feels very familiar to Israelis, due to its warm climate, arid stretches of mountainous land filled with olive trees and beautiful beaches.

Not a bad place for a wedding, right?

Every year, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, about 20,000 Israeli couples get married outside of Israel, many of them in Cyprus. But it wasn’t the dream of a destination wedding, or of getting married in far-flung yet familiar-seeming territory that shaped the decisions.

Many simply felt they had little choice but to marry abroad: Israel’s religious authorities — the only entities authorized to perform weddings in Israel — are prohibited from marrying couples unless both partners share the same religion. To have their marriages recognized by the Ministry of the Interior for the purpose of spousal benefits, mixed-religion couples must have civil marriages abroad. 

“Civil union” has been available since 2010, but only for the very small number of couples of which both partners have “no religion” listed on their government I.D. cards. As of early this past summer, only about 80 couples have entered into an Israeli civil union, most likely because anyone born into a family with a stated religion isn’t eligible. 

Israel actually has a common-law arrangement through New Family, an organization that advocates equality for all families. Partners are issued Domestic Union Cards, which serve as legal proof of status as common-law spouses in most (though not all) institutions in Israel and many abroad. But it is not the full-fledged marriage that most Israelis and their parents have long dreamed about.  

A growing number of couples — no one knows how many — of the same religion, who could therefore marry in Israel, also fly abroad for a quick civil marriage ceremony to avoid having to deal with the notoriously bureaucratic Orthodox rabbinate, or its Muslim and Christian equivalents.

An entire industry, most notably on the island of Cyprus and in the Czech Republic, has grown up around the phenomenon of overseas weddings. And it doesn’t cater just to Israelis.

The Web site of Cyprus Wedding Celebrations, a company based near Limassol, offers information in a variety of languages, including Russian, Ukrainian, Dutch and Hebrew. Dina Martjens, the company’s founder, said in a phone interview that she annually arranges 50 to 80 weddings for overseas couples, many of them from Israel and other Middle Eastern countries.

There are thousands of couples who are eligible to be married in their home countries, “but want to avoid the Big Fat Greek Wedding so common in the Middle East, especially in Lebanon and Israel, where you have to invite the whole kibbutz,” Martjens said, referring to the lavish affairs common in many societies.

Because Cyprus issues a marriage certificate the same day as the wedding, most Israeli couples return home the day of the civil ceremony. A small number stay longer to enjoy a honeymoon by the beach or head for one of the many quaint villages that dot the countryside. 

Companies based in both Israel and Cyprus arrange flights and ground transport, book the wedding venue, and secure the wedding license and marriage certificate. They can arrange for witnesses and post-wedding fees and ensure that all the documentation gets to the right clerk. 

“Those who come just for the day get married at the municipality. They wait their turn, and the actual ceremony takes seven minutes,” Martjens said.

Wedding in Cyprus, an Israeli agency that specializes in weddings on that island and in the Czech city of Prague, serves 1,200 couples a year, roughly 60 percent of them unable to marry through the rabbinate.  

“The rest are Jews who don’t want to make a wedding via the rabbinate, and there are also a small number of Arab couples — one spouse Muslim, one Christian,” said Igal Lukianovsky, the agency’s owner.

Eighty percent of Lukianovsky’s clients marry in Cyprus because it takes less than an hour to fly there from Tel Aviv and it is relatively inexpensive. Wedding in Cyprus, for example, offers a one-day, all-inclusive wedding package starting at 520 euros ($690) and a two-night package for 570 euros ($755). A single day in Prague will cost a couple 700 euros ($928).   

Arranging a wedding in Prague is more complicated, Lukianovsky said, because Czech authorities require more documents than the Cypriot authorities.

That didn’t deter Roey Tzezan, a Haifa-based scientist, from having a civil ceremony in Prague three years ago, despite the fact that both he and his now-wife, Gali Alon, are Jewish.

“We don’t like the way the rabbinate has a monopoly over marriage and its attitude toward women and human rights in general,” Tzezan said.

The couple also opted for a Masorti/Conservative wedding in Israel, even though it wasn’t recognized by Israeli authorities.

“We’re extremely connected to the deep roots of Jewish tradition and feel it’s important to remain part of the Jewish world. At the same time, as long as the rabbinate dictates norms to the Israeli nation, we cannot consider ourselves fully part of Israel’s Jewish community.”

Uri Regev, president of Israel’s Hiddush-For Freedom of Religion and Equality, said marrying abroad isn’t a solution to the religious establishment’s “monopoly” on marriage and divorce.

“Many Jewish couples don’t realize that marrying in Cyprus doesn’t exempt them from falling into the rabbinical courts if the marriage ends in divorce. And if they’re not Jewish, dissolving the marriage is even more complicated.”

Regev said that opinion polls show that “a clear majority” of Israelis “want freedom of marriage” — the right to an Orthodox, non-Orthodox or civil marriage that will be recognized by the state.

“Israelis want the same rights people enjoy in every normal democracy,” Regev said. 

At long last, lasting love


Encino lawyer Jeremy Karpel’s home has an art gallery feel to it, with an eclectically decorated living room spilling out into an elegantly landscaped yard. During one recent weekend, it was the perfect backdrop for a party commemorating his grandparents’ anniversary, filled with the sounds of big band-era greats, as spun by a 9-year-old DJ.

But this was no ordinary anniversary. Eddie and Ruth Elcott of Arleta, both in their 90s, were marking 70 years of marriage.

While laying down their own roots — resulting in a fleet of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, including the precocious DJ — the Elcotts contributed to a number of San Fernando Valley Jewish organizations as well, among them their longtime congregation, Adat Ari El in Valley Village.

Still, the visual centerpiece of the Aug. 24 anniversary party was purely personal: a suitcase packed with 1940s wartime correspondence between the couple, then barely in their 20s. The suitcase lid is adorned with a portrait of the then-newlyweds and promotional material for a book that features them, “Project Everlasting: Two Bachelors Discover the Secrets of America’s Greatest Marriages,” written by Mathew Boggs and Jason Miller.

While the Elcotts have been in the public eye of the local Jewish community personally and professionally for decades, one of the most defining moments, according to the couple, took place while promoting the book on CNN. The reporter asked the Elcotts if they ever considered divorce. Not missing a beat, Ruth replied, “Divorce? Seldom … if ever. Murder? Often!” 

“It made people around the world laugh, but it also made them think,” Eddie said following their anniversary party, lounging comfortably in the living room of their home of 60-plus years. It is covered wall-to-wall and table-to-table with decades’ worth of framed photos and albums and a sculpture of a young girl dancing that Ruth’s family smuggled out of Germany.

The couple first met back in 1940 at a Jewish United Service Organizations (USO) party in New York City. That’s when a streetwise young soldier from Harlem set his sights on a delicate beauty whom he later learned got herself and her family out of Germany when Hitler came to power, thanks to forged documents, a job opportunity to work on a farm in England and other twists of fate.

“I still remember that when you got out of Germany, you really made a vow, that you would not let Hitler win,” a still-inspired Eddie told his wife. “That’s been basically what our lives since the war have been about. Rather than shy away from the past like other survivors, Ruth made it a point to tell the story to our children and family, as well as high school kids all over Germany, explaining the Holocaust and what she needed to do to survive. Ruth was and is very much a model for how to survive.”

After her father was imprisoned in 1938 and the freedoms of Jews became unbearably restrictive, Ruth decided to take action. When she heard about job openings in England, the 17-year-old obtained a passport and then forged paperwork to indicate she was the required age of 18, she said.  


The couple first met during World War II — a recent German immigrant and a streetwise young soldier from Harlem.

During the train ride to Amsterdam, en route to England, she feared that the German conductor would discover her forgery and send her to her death. Instead, once the train crossed into Holland, Dutch authorities threw the German personnel off the train. Ruth’s job in England involved hard work on a family farm, but she ultimately obtained the means to get her mother, father and sister out of Germany. 

No one in the extended family survived the Holocaust, however, according to the couple’s daughter, Diane Karpel of Northridge.

Later, Ruth’s wedding to Eddie was an almost spontaneous affair, consisting of the couple and two witnesses they randomly met shortly before Eddie shipped out. Although wartime romance inspired many Hollywood movies in the early 1940s and the USO gained iconic status through its entertainment and social gathering opportunities, reality put Eddie and Ruth’s relationship to the test. 

“We all grew up during that war,” Ruth said. “Soldiers came back and realized the world had changed a great deal. Young women realized that they not only had children to take care of, but husbands as well, especially those injured during the war. We had nothing when we started out, and yet we did it — we got through it. [Eddie] did not come home to a wife happy to see him and a rosy future, but instead home to [a reality that he had] a child and no money.”

War separated the couple during the critical first years of marriage, but they wrote each other every day, chronicling an eventful time in world history and their own lives. Shortly after Eddie’s departure, Ruth learned she was pregnant with their daughter, Diane. Soon after, Eddie’s unit was torpedoed on the way out to the Pacific Theater. Dozens of Ruth’s letters finally got to Eddie a month later, after Diane was born.

“When we wrote to each other every single day, we realized how little we knew about one another … and that our family structures and upbringings were completely opposite,” Ruth said.

That didn’t stop them from dedicating themselves to the task of maintaining a family once Eddie returned.

“We had to start all over again, and when Eddie was in school, I did everything needed to maintain the household,” Ruth said. “Two and a half years later, our son David was born, and we now had two children to care for on my beautician’s job.”

What each one of them separately went through gave them the backbone to weather the challenges, said their son, Shalom Elcott, president of the Jewish Federation & Family Services of Orange County.

“My parents were both street fighters determined to survive,” he said. “My father grew up in Harlem in a working-class family, while my mother grew up in a well-to-do family in Germany who lost everything and [she] had to get her family out to safety.”

Among the things the family did manage to get out was a crystal bowl that survived the war and several moves, only to be destroyed by the Northridge Earthquake. Its remains have been incorporated — as a symbol of endurance — into 14 statues held by multiple generations of family members. The sculpture was commissioned by Diane Karpel.

Shalom Elcott views his parents’ marriage through the lens of their devotion to building the Jewish community in the San Fernando Valley. His father, a political science educator at West Los Angeles City College, taught confirmation at Adat Ari El, and his mother was active in Sisterhood. She also was a religious school teacher at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino and spoke about her experiences in Germany locally and abroad. Shalom Elcott also remembers heeding their encouragement to get involved in different community and philanthropic organizations.

“We had that strong Jewish upbringing in part because it was my mother’s way of continuing the now ongoing joke she played on the Nazis [by] getting herself and her family out. This now includes 18 great-grandchildren who exist because of my parents’ will to survive,” he said. “All of us and many of our children are involved in some form of Jewish education.”

Wedding: Bridge to reconciliation


I got married June 30 at the Chabad Residential Treatment Center. 

Yes, you read that correctly. I didn’t get married at the Four Seasons but at a drug and alcohol rehab facility on the corner of Olympic and Hauser boulevards. It was the most un-orthodox Orthodox Jewish wedding a girl could have. 

Aside from the fact that it took place at a rehab, the attendees included the following: Orthodox Jews, gay men, transsexuals, sober folks, residents of the rehab and people who don’t fit into any of those categories. 

Who would have guessed that this would have proved the means to reconnecting me and my husband with his estranged family?

You see, my husband and I were two former stray dogs who ran loose on the proverbial highway of life. We’re both recovering addicts — I have eight years and my husband has 10 years clean and sober. The reason we decided to get married at the treatment center was because that is where my husband was for the first two years of his sobriety, and we wanted to give back to a place that had given so much to him.

We had such a vast array of guests because we’re both underdogs and understand the misunderstood. We see the beauty in the abnormal. But mostly, we believe in second chances, and we were fortunate enough to get them.

Both of our lives had been burned to the ground before we met. I was a drug addict in an unhappy marriage to a man who hadn’t touched me in more than six years, had just been fired from my job, was homeless and sleeping in my car. My now-husband had gotten into some serious trouble with the law and got a nudge from the judge to get his life back on track. He entered the Chabad treatment center in 2003 suffering from multiple addictions. We met after he heard me speak at an AA meeting.

The severely destructive paths that we were on all but decimated our relationships with our families. Unfortunately, he caused a lot of shame to his family through his behavior while drinking and using — he was arrested and had to be bailed out of jail by his parents — and they became estranged. 

His brother and sister couldn’t bear witness to his unraveling, so they cut him out of their lives. His parents were in shock, so they kept their distance, not really knowing what to do. Then there was my family, who was not supportive of my choice of partner because of his troubled past as well as my horrendously embarrassing first marriage to a questionably gay man. 

What finally swayed my family is meeting my love for the first time. They saw what a transformed, wonderful and good man he is. He has this calm inner light that shines brilliantly. I believe that light is God-consciousness. 

I found this quote by Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach recently, and I believe it defines who my husband is:

“Every Jew must firmly believe that inside him there resides a pure soul. Regardless of what his situation may be, even if has strayed from the right path, the inner essence of his soul — which is a portion of God — remains pure and unsullied. … From this tiny center of the soul that has not been tainted by evil, the transgressor derives the strength to do teshuvah (repentance), make amends for his failings, and soar to the loftiest spiritual heights.”

My husband has soared to his highest self by working a stellar recovery program for 10-plus years now, repenting and redeeming himself. Most importantly, he has a strong connection to his higher power. 

For years, my love would write letters to his brother and sister, trying to make amends. Those letters went unanswered for 10 years. When we got engaged, he decided the time was right to try again for reconciliation. Much to his and my surprise, both his brother and sister responded to his calls and e-mails. It wasn’t much, but it was something. 

We had no expectation that they would attend the wedding, but at the last minute they showed. It was a miracle — my husband’s entire family came to our wedding. His mother, father, sister, brother and cousins all flew to Los Angeles from back East. 

The door to forgiveness was open, and they all walked through. Seeing my husband’s brother — a man who previously said he would never speak to him again — joyously dancing the hora in front of us made me cry for days. 

His sister was so grateful that the wedding gave her family a chance to reunite. I kept looking over at my mother-in-law, who sat with her entire family surrounding her, in tears. She never thought this day would come. It was a special day and what seemed like the hottest day of the year. The love radiated as strongly as the sun.

Everyone who attended the ceremony commented on how intense it was because it was healing on so many levels. My husband’s family relationships are finally mending. It goes to show you: Never give up hope. Miracles happen. It is only when you open your heart that you will be able to reach out and begin to build a bridge of reconciliation.


Mara Shapshay is a blogger, writer, performer and stand-up comedian.

‘N Sync’s Lance Bass engaged to Michael Turchin


It’s been a pretty good few days for Lance Bass. First, there was the ‘N Sync reunion at the MTV Video Music Awards, and then, over the weekend, he proposed to boyfriend Michael Turchin.

“He said YES!! Love this man,” read Bass’ caption on an Instagram photo he posted Sunday that shows him pointing to Turchin’s engagment ring.

While Bass was raised Southern Baptist, Turchin, an artist and aspiring actor, is a self-described “nice Jewish boy.” The couple has been together since 2011.

Mazel tov guys!

A short history of Jewish intermarriage


JTA’s Uriel Heilman reported this week on the continuing evolution of Jewish attitudes toward intermarriage. After the clarion call of the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey showed a 52 percent intermarriage rate among American Jews, Jewish groups poured millions into efforts to stem what was seen as a threat to the future of the community.

Intermarriage has long been an issue of concern to American Jews. In 1926, the marriage of “Miss Mina Kirstein” of Boston to a non-Jew was considered worthy of a news item in the Jewish Daily Bulletin, the precursor to JTA’s Daily Briefing.  But the degree of fear engendered by intermarriage, not to mention its frequency, has ebbed and flowed over the years.

In 1967, a study by the Reform movement’s rabbinical group found that intermarriage rates were actually lower than they had been in the early days of North America’s settlement by Europeans. Between 1654 and 1840, the study found, there were 942 Jewish marriages, only about 15 percent of which were between Jews and Christians. The low rate may have owed something to the fact that large majorities of Catholics and Protestants at the time opposed marriage to Jews.

Back in the 1960s, long before the NJPS, solid evidence of intermarriage rates was lacking, but what did exist pegged the rate lower than what had existed in the first two centuries after the Pilgrims arrived. The federal census bureau put the intermarriage rate at 7 percent.

Two years after the Reform study, a woman identified only as Mrs. Moses Richler told a conference of Jewish women that if current trends persist, there would be no Jews in Canada in “four or five generations.” Mrs. Richler said that in 1968, 18 percent of Jewish men and 12 percent of Jewish women married out.

Since then, the rates have grown dramatically (and, last we checked, there were still Jews in Canada). Jewish consternation over the issue has also risen. Following the 1990 survey, several academics concluded that Jewish engagement was far lower among intermarried couples and the Jewish community should focus its resources on combatting intermarriage and providing avenues of engagement for the in-married. Others argued that if effective outreach was made to intermarried families, they too could be drawn into the Jewish fold.

A similar debate has unfolded over the decades within the religious denominations. The Reform movement has wrestled with the issue most prominently, particularly over the question of whether rabbis should officiate at interfaith weddings, gradually coming to the view that rabbis should perform such weddings in the hope that a welcoming approach could increase the odds of future Jewish engagement.  The Conservative movement, which long considered itself less vulnerable to the threat of intermarriage, had to reconsider that position after 1991, when the NJPS found that the intermarriage rate in the movement was not 5 percent, but 28 percent  Among the Orthodox, which maintain the most uncompromising stance toward intermarriage, the threat was recognized far earlier. in 1979, Rabbi Bernard Rosenzweig, the president of the Rabbinical Council of America, said intermarriage had reached “catastrophic levels” and formed a commission to fight it.

In recent years, the intermarriages of several high profile Jews have both driven home the reality of American Jewish nuptials and raised further questions. An essay by Harvard Law professor Noah Feldman in the New York Times in 2007 challenged the decision by his Orthodox alma mater in Boston to eliminate his Korean-American wife from a photograph. The 2010 marriage between Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky prompted a debate over whether to celebrate the extent of Jewish inclusion in the corridors of American power or lament yet another soul lost to the community.

Meanwhile, the trend lines continue as they have for decades. This year, Naomi Schaefer Riley reported that intermarriage rates are rising among all American religions, but are highest among Jews.

The war against intermarriage has been lost. Now what?


When the nation’s largest Jewish federation convened its first-ever conference recently on engaging interfaith families, perhaps the most notable thing about it was the utter lack of controversy that greeted the event.

There was a time when the stereotypical Jewish approach to intermarriage was to shun the offender and sit shiva.

A generation ago, the publication of the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey showing intermarriage at the alarmingly high rate of 52 percent turned into a rallying cry. No matter that subsequent scholarship revised the figure down to 43 percent, interfaith marriage was seen as the core of the problem of Jewish assimilation in America. Jewish institutions poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Jewish identity building with an eye toward stemming intermarriage.

Fast forward two decades and the question is no longer how to fight intermarriage, but how Jewish institutions can be as welcoming as possible to intermarried Jews and the gentiles who love them.

“Clearly, Jewish communal attitudes have changed,” said David Mallach, managing director of the Commission on the Jewish People at UJA-Federation of New York, which hosted the one-day interfaith conference in June.

“One of the results of the whole process begun with the 1990 study was that in a free America we’re all Jews by choice. That’s been a profound insight that has permeated a lot of the work of the Jewish community in the last 20-plus years,” Mallach said. “It shifted the discussion from the classic stereotypical sitting shiva and never talking to a person again to saying that if we’re all Jews by choice, let’s also sit with this segment of the community and offer them that choice.”

In 1973, the Reform movement’s rabbinical arm, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, issued a nonbinding resolution opposing officiating at intermarriages. Today, more than half the movement’s rabbis perform interfaith weddings.

In 2010, a task force at the CCAR recommended shifting away from focus on preventing intermarriage to reaching out to intermarried families and adapting rituals to include non-Jewish family members. Now the movement is considering a further step.

Rabbi Aaron Panken, the new president of the rabbinical seminary of the Reform movement, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, told JTA last week that HUC is planning to take a “very serious look” at whether to end the school’s longstanding policy against admitting intermarried rabbinical school students.

In the Conservative movement, it’s no longer uncommon to see non-Jews on the bimah during a bar mitzvah service. Some Conservative synagogues even grant voting rights to non-Jewish members. Officially, the movement’s only rules on the subject are that rabbis must neither perform nor attend interfaith weddings. But the latter regulation often is ignored.

“First someone has to make a complaint, and nobody has ever brought a complaint against a colleague for having attended an intermarriage,” said Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the movement’s Rabbinical Assembly. “It would be hard to imagine that someone would be punished for it.”

Even in the Orthodox movement, the idea of shunning the intermarried is passe, seen as counterproductive to the ultimate goal of getting unaffiliated Jews to embrace their Jewish identity.

“The preponderance of intermarriage has made it usually pointless to shun those who have married out,” said Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for the haredi Orthodox Agudath Israel of America. “Once upon a time, intermarriage was a sign that the Jewish partner was rejecting his or her Jewish heritage. That is no longer the case, of course, and hasn’t been for decades.”

While there have been no national studies of Jewish intermarriage rates since the 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey, which reported an intermarriage rate of 47 percent, anecdotal evidence and general population surveys suggest intermarriage is on the rise.

A landmark 2008 study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that one-third of all marriages in the United States are now interfaith, and Jews are the most intermarrying ethnic group of all (Mormons are the least). The survey also found a growing number of Americans switching religions: Twenty-eight percent no longer belong to the religion in which they were born, or 44 percent if switching Protestant denominations is counted.

“What was once seen as abnormal, socially taboo, something you did not publicize has become socially acceptable,” Erika Seamon, author of “Interfaith Marriage in America: The Transformation of Religion and Christianity,” said at the UJA-Federation conference in June. “This is a huge shift.”

Today, the very notion of fighting a battle against intermarriage in America seems as likely to succeed as a war against rain: It’s going to happen, like it or not. The question is how to react.

Given that the children of intermarriages are only one-third as likely as the children of inmarried couples to be raised as Jews, according to the 2000-01 NJPS, the overall strategy appears to be the same across the denominations: Engage with the intermarried in an effort to have them embrace Judaism.

That’s true from the Reform movement to Chabad, with the exception of some haredi Orthodox. Where the denominations differ is how far one may go in that embrace, and how strongly — if at all — to push for conversion of the non-Jewish spouse.

At Orthodox synagogues, non-Jews cannot ascend to the bimah, and many synagogues go so far as to deny certain ritual roles to Jews married to non-Jews.

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism leaves it to the discretion of its member synagogues to set the rules on how to treat non-Jews. Rabbi Steven Wernick, the association’s executive vice president, says conversion of the non-Jewish spouse should be a goal. The only question is tactical — how and when to bring it up.

“Do you have the conversation about conversion first, or do you welcome them in and then have the conversation about conversion?” Wernick said. “You build the relationship first and then you have the conversation.”

In the Reform movement, there is some question about the significance of formal conversion.

“There are plenty of people who want to sojourn in the synagogue and not convert and still know they’re part of the Jewish family,” said the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, who has advocated a vision for the movement as a big tent with the flaps wide open.

“He’s living in the Jewish community. He’s trying on Jewish commitments,” Jacobs said. “Conversion can’t be the only thing we talk about, but it also should not be off the table. We’d be delighted to have people join the Jewish people.”

Perhaps more than anything, the shift in attitudes has changed the conventional view of intermarriage as a net loss to the Jewish community, in the form of the out-marrying Jew, to a potential gain, in the form of the non-Jewish spouse or children who may convert.

“Once you’ve intermarried, it doesn’t mean you’ve left the Jewish faith,” said Rabbi Menachem Penner, acting dean at Yeshiva University’s rabbinical school, the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.

“As times go on, we have to constantly evaluate what is the best response,” he said. “Given that it happens, what’s the best way for the community to approach it? The last thing we’d want that person to do is to throw everything away just because they’re intermarried.”

Weddings: Fabric of your (future) life


Weddings are unquestionably high-pressure situations, with budgets, guest lists and locations being hot-button issues. However, as real life and reality television attests (Exhibit A: “Say Yes to the Dress” on TLC network), there is nothing that can bring out a bridezilla quite like the quest for the perfect dress. 

And while every bride-to-be must consider her body type, personality and vision of the big day, some Jewish brides have several additional things to address, including acceptable standards established by their denomination. 

So, what’s a nice Jewish girl to do these days?

Alison Friedman, Thousand Oaks-based owner and editor-in-chief of The Wedding Yentas (
Wtoo’s Shiloh gown features an illusion bateau neckline and detachable tulle train.

“We will take care of helping the bride get her dress back to L.A., whether it is packing it in a suitcase for her, shipping it, or even traveling first class and taking the dress home that way, with some even buying a separate seat for the dress!” said Rochel Leah Katz, a fitting specialist there who works specifically with religious brides to reconcile tradition and fashion.

She said that most of her designers who offer adaptable dresses for Orthodox Jewish brides include Edgardo Bonilla, Judd Waddell and Augusta Jones, with prices ranging from $4,000 to $13,000.  

“There are only a certain number of designers willing to modify a dress from scratch so it looks like it was made that way,” Katz said. “Among them, only a small number of their dresses can be adapted.”

Like Litt, Katz said that lace is an adaptable fabric for shoring up necklines and sleeves. 

“Depending on their degree of religiosity, some brides line their lace and others don’t,” she explained. “Some brides line parts of the dress, and others line the whole thing down to the 3/4 sleeves. Some brides like the beaded lace, as opposed to plain lace.”

In terms of general advice and observations, Katz said the enduring “Jackie O” look (covered up, but curve-revealing) from the late 1960s is readily updatable through beautiful fabric, clean lines, smooth seams and an elegant shaped skirt. And while she’s seen younger brides opt for the Cinderella-style ballroom skirt over the A-line, mermaid or “fit-and-flare” styles, she recommends more streamlined fits for brides over 35, as the frilly and voluminous look of the Cinderella dress may not be considered “age appropriate.”

In the end, perhaps the most important thing for brides, as well as for the tailors and designers they work with, is that they be wholly committed — not just to the groom but to the dress.

Conversion celebration takes a surprise turn — into a wedding


Helen Rados showed up at the Bedford Post Inn north of New York City to celebrate the conversion of her friend Angela Gold.But as she approached, Rados spotted a chuppah on a hill behind the building.

She figured someone else had booked a wedding. Then she saw Angela wearing a white dress with pearls and beading.

Howard Lebowitz, meanwhile, noticed a piece of paper with Hebrew and English on it. He looked at it more closely: Wow, it’s a ketubah, a Jewish wedding contract, for Angela and her husband, Sam. “This is not just a conversion,” Lebowitz realized. “They’re getting married.”

Some 50 people came to the May 7 party, having been invited to celebrate Angela’s conversion and the conversion of her and Sam’s two young sons. It wasn’t long, though, before some of the guests were buzzing about a wedding about to take place.

“It was a big surprise and very exciting,” said Rados, one of Sam’s first cousins.

A week earlier, Angela, 34, had appeared before a beit din, or rabbinical court, and dunked in the mikvah’s ritual waters to complete her conversion; he son Jacob, 2, joined her in the mikvah (6-year-old Haden had pink eye and had to wait a week for his immersion).

Shabbat morning before the surprise wedding, the Golds, who live in Carmel, N.Y., were called to the Torah at the Conservative Temple Beth Shalom in nearby Mahopac as kallah and chatan (bride and groom).

Angela was given her Hebrew name.

Angela had considered the possibility of converting when she and Sam, 62, married seven years ago in a civil service with just a handful of people in attendance. But way too much was going on at the time.

“There were so many changes, leaving my job, leaving my family, moving to another country,” said Angela, who immigrated from the Netherlands to marry Sam. The two had met 11 years ago when she was vacationing in Florida where he lived at the time. Friendship, then a romance, followed.

As for Sam, he says he never wanted to pressure her to convert. “It just fell into place naturally,” he said.

“I couldn’t be more happy for myself; I’m going back to my roots,” said Sam, the son of Holocaust survivors.

The couple had bought a new house a couple of years ago. They joined Beth Shalom about a year ago and then Angela enrolled in an introduction to Judaism class, studying for conversion.

The Golds gradually shared with close family and friends the news that Angela would be converting. All the while, she says, they were thinking: “Wouldn’t it be great to invite people to celebrate the conversion and then have this wedding … Everybody can just show up thinking they’re coming to a brunch, wear whatever they feel like wearing.”

After milling around at the inn (co-owned by actor Richard Gere), guests were directed outside and up the hill where chairs were set up in front of a chuppah. Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Eytan Hammerman welcomed the guests.

“There was whistling and clapping,” Sam said. “I wish I had a camera to snap some of the faces of the people.”

Angela was escorted down the aisle by her mother and Jacob, Sam by his adult daughter, Bari, and Haden.

“It was just a fantasy,” Sam said. “You couldn’t write it any better than it happened.”

Crowdsource your Simcha


When Amanda Melpolder began planning her wedding to Jeff Greenberg, she hoped the ceremony would be unlike others.

Melpolder had become involved in an independent minyan in Brooklyn after converting to Judaism several years ago, and she and Greenberg wanted their wedding this month to reflect the prayer group’s community spirit and sense of do-it-yourself camaraderie.

Friends were asked to lead prayers and narrate the signing of the ketubah, or marriage contract. Melpolder, a chef, solicited recipes from guests that would be bound in a souvenir cookbook. Assignments were given to friends based on personalities and interests.

“Since our Jewish community is one that we created and are actively part of, it made sense that our wedding would be the same theme, with people leading different parts of the ceremony,” Melpolder said.

Such participatory approaches to wedding planning might seem like a feature of the information age but may be just the latest incarnation of an older Jewish tradition.

“The word ‘crowdsourcing’ is a new word for an old thing,” said artist Nahanni Rous, who creates custom chuppahs, or wedding canopies.

“We are pretending that we just invented this idea of the shtetl. It’s like everybody would come to the wedding, and that was how a community got together to celebrate.”

In other words, it has always taken a village. It’s just that now the village looks quite different.

Based in Washington, D.C., Rous often incorporates crowdsourcing into her work, such as asking friends to submit fabric swatches.

Her chuppah-making career began, appropriately enough, at her own wedding. She and husband Ned Lazarus, who met in Israel and married in 2004, had two ceremonies, in Jerusalem and New Hampshire, to accommodate friends in far-flung locales. Each guest was asked to bring fabric that was pinned to a sheet at the wedding.

“We had people from every region of Israel and the Palestinian territories at the ceremony. We had everything from a kippah with a Magen David knitted on it to a Palestinian flag to a piece of someone’s wedding dress and a map,” Rous said. “It was a really beautiful hodgepodge.”

Since then, Rous has worked with couples to create custom chuppahs, incorporating everything from traditional Jewish symbols to quotes from poets such as e.e. cummings and Pablo Neruda. Some of her clients aren’t even Jewish but like the concept of the chuppah.

In some cases, crowdsourcing is a way to make guests feel more involved in a ceremony, but it can also be a way to make logistics a little easier for the bride and groom.

When Caroline Waxler and Michael Levitt married last summer, they came up with a Twitter hashtag for their wedding guests. Waxler, who runs a digital strategy company, knew her tech-obsessed friends would be tweeting photos from the ceremony and reception.

With the hashtag #waxlevittwedding, she was able to find them easily.

“When you’re making a commitment in public to one other person, it’s kind of also a reminder that in your life you are supported by people, not just by one other person,” Rous said.

While crowdsourcing methods can make family and friends feel more involved in the wedding, Melpolder admits that she may have other reasons for making the big day a little more social.

“I really hope someone hooks up at our wedding,” she said. 

What I Married Into


Salt into meat
browned briefly.
 
Carrots, paprika, potatoes.
As it is written on her greased page.
 
I sing Dayenu, improvise verses
as I churn the soup.
 
Meal of bitter herbs I married
into. Chopped apples and cinnamon.
 
Matzos wrapped in linen.
Silver goblet for the prophet.
 
Celebrant out of bondage,
shank of a lineage I’d refused.
 
The woman who loved my husband
without doubt I carry to all things
 
was certain her recipe would not fail,
the matzo ball would be light,
 
our daughters would marry well,
the brisket tender.
 
Mother-in-law of big bosom,
sequin and shocking pink,
 
took me in — hug
into faith I’d waited for. 
 
Today, in my kitchen
littered with pots and peelings,
 
parsley limp in its strainer,
I want her bossing, her sass, soft arms,
 
her gold rings
in the dish by the sink.


Barbara Rockman lives in Santa Fe, N.M., where she teaches poetry at Santa Fe Community College and in private workshops. Her collection “Sting and Nest” received the 2012 National Press Women’s Book Award and the 2012 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award.

Tales from a mother: The Jewish wedding


Every time my son, Jonathan, left for school, for camp, for college, I felt a heartbreaking sense of loss. That’s because your main instinct as a mother is to keep your child as close to you as possible. But your main job as a mother is to prepare your kids to separate. It’s the cruel catch-22 of parenting.

I am generally an outspoken person, but with Jonathan I often kept my feelings to myself. He announced that he was going to work in London for a year. What I said was: “Oooh, that sounds wonderful!” What I was really thinking: “You’ll be looking the wrong way and get hit by a bus, you’ll get chronic bronchitis from that miserable climate, and you will learn to think of toast as a meal!”

The only good thing about working in England is that the Brits know zilch about Jewish culture, so whenever Jono wanted to visit he could just make up a holiday. “I’ll be out next week. I have to be with my family for the first five nights of Kishka.”

When he got here, Jono told us that things with his girlfriend had gotten “serious.” Oh, my God! A WEDDING! “I have dreamed about this day for years! This is the best Kishka present you could have given me!”

That was a big fat lie. The fact is I’d be perfectly content if Jonathan stayed single forever. That way I wouldn’t have to share him on holidays, I would remain the leading lady in his life, and I wouldn’t have to watch him making googly eyes at some trollop! But there’s a rumor going around that I might die someday, and I didn’t want my child to be alone. He called a few weeks later to describe the wedding plans: a huge, traditional, black-tie affair in New York after he moved back from London. “Oooh, that sounds wonderful!” Oy!

I took a valium and spent the rest of the day on the phone with the Yenta Brigade. “Are they out of their minds? It’s too big, it’s too formal, and it’s too Jewish. … What do you mean ‘It’s not my wedding?’ Why does everyone keep saying that?” 

I said nothing to my son about my concerns. For starters, why black-tie? In our artsy, hippy crowd we don’t wear tuxes and evening gowns. And why the huge guest list? People are not going to fly in from all over the world for a glass of champagne and some chopped liver.

Most importantly, I’m not comfortable with all that traditional Jewy stuff — a rabbi saying prayers, a Hebrew marriage contract, and 100 baby-blue yarmulkes from UnderTheHuppah.com. Our family is not observant in any way. We are secular Jews who believe in the time-honored ancestral values of eating out, going to the theater and bargain shopping. But, again, I kept quiet.

Things got frantic. I had to buy a gown, we had to fly to New York, and my husband Benni’s huge Danish family was coming in from Copenhagen. I figured we’d take them out for Chinese — as an introduction to Jewish culture. And then things went from frantic to insane: Benni’s brother was coming with his two ex-wives, and they were all staying in the same room with one king-sized bed. And now you know why the Danes are considered the happiest people in the world!

I found a beaded gown at a yard sale that still had a $1,200 price tag on it. I paid 20 bucks, and kept the tag in case I wanted to resell it on eBay. Benni dug out his old tux from 1967, which still fit perfectly — as long as he didn’t button it or zip up the fly. 

To my surprise, people did fly into Manhattan from all over the world, and everyone looked magnificent in their evening clothes. I got a shiver when Benni’s very assimilated Danish Jewish family put on yarmulkes for the first time in their lives. 

Four young men carried the chuppah, which was draped with the bride’s late father’s prayer shawl. When the music changed, Alisa, the bride, entered wearing her great-grandmother’s lace wedding veil. And when my son looked at her, I felt that same sense of loss that I used to feel when he went off to school, to camp, to college. Only this time, he wasn’t coming back.

Then — just like in “Fiddler” — Jonathan broke the glass and everyone shouted “Mazel tov!” We danced back up the aisle, and we kept dancing, eating, drinking, laughing and crying the whole night. And all the things I worried about — the formal attire, the big crowd, the Jewish stuff — turned out to be all the things I liked best about the wedding. I am so glad that I did a mother’s job and kept my big mouth shut!

Humorist Annie Korzen is an actress (“Seinfeld”), writer and speaker. She is the author of “Bargain Junkie: Living the Good Life on the Cheap.”

Documentary filmmaker has a ‘Hava Nagila’ in her heart


“Hava Nagila” is one of those songs, like “Celebration” and “Auld Lang Syne,” that brings back memories and gets stuck in one’s head. In fact, “Hava Nagila” is so ingrained in American pop culture that many non-Jews can readily identify it, and high-profile non-Jewish recording artists, including Harry Belafonte, Connie Francis and Glen Campbell, count their renditions as a career highlight. 

As filmmaker Roberta Grossman discovered, the circumstances that brought “Hava Nagila” to such widespread recognition are complex. With wit and scholarly research, she takes viewers on “Hava Nagila’s” journey, from its semi-tragic origins in the 19th century Ukrainian village of Sadigora to its nearly worldwide renown as a Jewish anthem today, through “Hava Nagila (The Movie).” 

Opening in L.A.-area theaters on March 15, there will be a March 7 screening and question-and-answer session with Grossman presented by the L.A. Jewish Film Festival and the Jewish Journal at Laemmle’s Music Hall 3 in Beverly Hills. 

[For tickets to the “Hava Nagila” screening, visit Director Roberta Grossman   Photo by Robert Zuckerman

But when Grossman’s young daughter asked her to “make a happy film next time,” that led the filmmaker to consider making a substantial but entertaining documentary about “Hava Nagila” as a Jewish cultural milestone.

“While we were making it, I realized those ‘Hava’ moments at events like weddings, bar mitzvahs and other family gatherings stamped my soul,” Grossman recalled. “I did not know what the words meant, or know if it was a written song or traditional hymn. While researching and shooting, we encountered fabulous scholars who studied the origins and impact of ‘Hava Nagila.’ This, in turn, made us realize that the song is a window into more than 150 years of Jewish history, culture and spirituality.”   

Grossman and her team found some of the best material for the film by accident. For instance, while shooting footage in Sadigora, Grossman ran into the great-great-great grandson of Rabbi Yisroel Friedman, the Ruzhiner rebbe, who is credited with originating the song as a Chasidic nigun, or wordless melody, in the mid-19th century. (The lyrics were added in 1915 by composer Abraham Zevi Idelsohn.) For more than a year prior to that chance meeting, Grossman had been searching doggedly for a descendant of Friedman to discuss the role of Chasidic life and how it shaped the song’s beginnings.  

“My grandmother said the meeting … was bashert, or mean to be,” Grossman said. “Besides the fact that he spoke eloquently about Jews in Sadigora in the 19th century, he had a foot in the non-Chasidic world and graciously allowed us to film and interview him and to use the footage.”

One of the most profound revelations Grossman experienced while making the film came from interviews with klezmer musicians. 

“At first, I could not understand why they expressed hostility toward the song,” she said. “I eventually realized ‘Hava Nagila,’ for some, represented the disenfranchisement of the old Yiddish klezmer tradition in the way the Hebrew language displaced Yiddish.” 

Although Grossman’s next project will focus on the more somber topic of the secret archives of the Warsaw Ghetto, she makes the point that the widespread embrace of “Hava Nagila” in the ’50s and ’60s was ultimately a direct response to the Holocaust along with the determination of a people to endure and carve out a better life.  

Even with the exploration of the Warsaw Ghetto in progress, Grossman insists she will return to a cheerful topic. In much the way she did with “Hava Nagila,” she plans to examine the cultural impact of “Fiddler on the Roof,” Norman Jewison’s 1971 film adaptation of the Broadway hit. 

Almost like the song that inspired it, “Hava Nagila (The Movie)” has already made a big splash on the film festival circuit both nationally and internationally, including opening the 2012 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. 

“From the first frames on, people were clapping, singing along and laughing,” Grossman said. “There were 1,400 people in the audience at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, as well as three more sold-out screenings. Between July 2012 and March 2013, 55 Jewish film festivals included ‘Hava Nagila (The Movie),’ and about half of these had it open or close their program.

“No pun intended, but this film is really hitting a chord with viewers.”  

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