November 18, 2018

Couples Say ‘I Do’ — in Israel

In 1986, Nomie Azoff stood under the chuppah in the Laromme Hotel in Jerusalem. Nearly 500 friends and family members were there to witness her union with Alan Azoff.

The hotel, which overlooks the Western Wall, is in the center of town, and the scene was breathtaking.

“We were in the heart of everything in Jerusalem, where the modern and the biblical meet. We were surrounded by at least 5,000 years of history. It was magic. You can’t find that anywhere else,” said Nomie, a native of Morocco who met her husband, a Californian, in Israel, where her family moved when she was 8.

Many Los Angeles couples have made the choice to get married in Israel. They do it because they have a connection to the Holy Land or because they were living there at the time. It is cheaper to hold a ceremony and party there, and for many couples, more meaningful.

Despite the language and cultural differences and the stress of dealing with the rabbinate, local couples decided that it is worth the sacrifices to have the weddings of their dreams.

Drew Alyeshmerni Leach of San Pedro married her husband Jason Leach in an event hall in Jaffa on New Year’s Eve 2015. The two wanted to have their wedding in Israel because, she said, it was a strong part of their lives and identities.

“Being able to make that unity in the land of Israel was something we are so privileged to be able to do at this time,” she said. “For thousands of years we didn’t have autonomy. To be able to go to the place where we are from and build the foundations of our future family was really special.”

Alyeshmerni Leach said she and her husband hosted nearly 200 people, ate delicious catered food and had “a fairy tale wedding on the coast of the Mediterranean,” for a third of the cost it would have been in the United States.

“I did a little bargaining,” she said. “But everything was so affordable that I didn’t really have to do much.”

Another bride, Tova Dworkin of Burbank, said she spent $25,000 — about the same amount that Alyeshmerni Leach budgeted for — and had a fancy wedding in Jerusalem on Jan. 11, 2016.

“The food, the band, the hall, the flowers and the decorations were [less expensive than in the U.S.]. It was a lot cheaper to have a kosher wedding there,” she said.

To be able to go to the place where we are from and build the foundations of our future family was really special.” — Drew Alyeshmerni Leach

She and her husband, Akiva Dworkin, hosted 350 people, including family members, friends, community members who had invited them over to sleep and eat meals, and students from their respective seminaries and yeshivas.

“It was the most special thing, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way,” Tova said. “It made the holiest day of your life even more holy because it was in the holy city. We took pictures outside the Old City with Jerusalem stone in the background. It was a very powerful experience.”

Since the couple had some trouble with the language barrier, they found an American wedding planner in Israel to help out. “She made the process so much easier, finding us the perfect vendors, negotiating prices with them, and just generally making sure everything ran smoothly leading up to and on our wedding day,” Dworkin said.

Understanding Hebrew was not an issue for Gabriella Zigi of West Hills, who got married at the port of Tel Aviv in 2009. She had been living in Israel at the time, teaching English and finishing her undergraduate degree, when she met her Israeli husband, Haim Zigi, there.

“We did the wedding at sunset, so you could see the sun setting over the Mediterranean,” she said. “Then we went inside, and it was like a club. We danced
all night.”

Although the California native grew up going to the Conservative synagogue Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, in Israel the rabbinate oversees weddings and makes sure all the ceremonies are technically Orthodox. The couple found a more lenient Orthodox rabbi who allowed the bride to say out loud the vows she wrote. “It was very special,” she said.

Jason and Drew Alyeshmerni Leach married in Jaffa in 2015. Photo courtesy of Drew Alyeshmerni Leach

The rabbinate also posed a problem for the Azoffs, who live in Westlake Village. It wanted to know whether Alan, who met his wife while touring as an oboe player, was Jewish. (He is.) But Alan didn’t understand Hebrew, and he had to answer private questions in front of strangers to prove his Jewish identity.

“Alan just saw a bunch of bearded men speaking Hebrew,” his wife said. “It was a big deal and caused a little bit of a challenge.”

But the final result was worth it — for everyone.

Both of their families made a big effort to attend the wedding because it was in Israel. Their relatives flew in from France, Morocco, England, Spain, New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Belgium.

“No other wedding before that in the family included all the brothers and sisters, let alone the husbands, wives, nephews and nieces,” Nomie said. “There was never a wedding in my family before or after that where everyone was able to come.”

The rainy season in Israel put a damper on the Leach wedding, but the couple took it all in stride. “It rained the heaviest downpour of the season that night,” Alyeshmerni Leach said. “But it ended up being a blessing. No one could leave. There was a storm brewing outside and we were safe and cozy inside. A year later, we had to go back to Israel and get dressed again and retake our wedding photos.”

Despite a few issues here and there, Alyeshmerni Leach had a great experience holding her wedding in Israel.

“It was magical,” she said. “Getting married there was a way for us to unite our families and become a couple in the land where we all began.”