Location: Elysee Gardens reception hall
Time: 7:30 P.M.
In the neighborhood: A chilly late-winter breeze blows through the sweeping fields of rural Binyamina, located about 30 kilometers south of the coastal city of Haifa. Clouds gather overhead, following a few weeks of unseasonably warm and dry weather. In the middle of a darkened road, the reception hall's neon sign lights up like a bright red beacon, shining down on a large outdoor parking lot.
Venue: Palm trees dot a wide garden, colored by yellow and green party lights. Guests begin to gather near the hall's entrance, as a sudden downpour catches them by surprise, rushing to safety indoors. Inside, white square tables are set around a narrow dance floor, with a white-linen chuppah set at the far side. Video panels set on the wall flash blue sparkles, as a slideshow of the couple happily posing in their wedding garb comes up on a large LED screen above a small stage.
Simcha: Dmitry Verch and Mariana Lipshetz's wedding
Number of guests: ~100
Home: Mariana, 34, an employment supervisor at the municipality of Or Akiva, was born to Vadim and Svetlana Lipshetz in Russia's southwestern Ural region, joining big sister Irena. In 1990, the family, excluding Vadim, made aliyah during the massive wave of post-Soviet immigration in the early 1990s, arriving at the central city of Rehovot. Initially, Vadim elected to stay back and watch over his mother and take care of the family's affairs, planning to join his family in Israel. However, following several postponements, he ultimately fell ill and passed away a few years ago. Mariana: "We all went there to be with him in his final days."
Dmitry ("Dima"), 30, a carpenter and part-time computer repairman, was born to Nina and Alexei Verch in Russia, alongside big sister Lila and little sister Yulia. Like the Lipshetzs, Dima's family also arrived in Israel during the great immigration following the collapse of the U.S.S.R., finally settling down in the central city of Rosh Ha'ayin.
A brief history of time: After knowing each other for quite a while through mutual friends, the two finally hit it off after getting a chance to talk, hitching the same ride en route to a night on the town. A few days later, Dima called her up. And once useless introductions were out of the way, it was pretty much smooth sailing to the chuppah, with both Mariana and Dima realizing pretty quickly that, after a few years around the dating block, this was finally the real thing. Mariana: "You can't really explain it. It's a kind of security, that this is it. Even if everything isn't always easy, it's just it."
With everyone on the same page, the proposal was a mere technicality, with the two discussing the matter one day, and Dima arriving with a ring the other. Mariana: "I know people who did the whole thing, and broke up a month later. That's not what's most important."
Dmitry and Mariana's wedding
Going Reform: As a result of expected issues the ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate may have had with Dima's Judaism (since he is Jewish only on his father's side) the couple elected to conduct a Reform ceremony, led by Rabbi Sa'ar Shaked. Mariana: "We wanted to have a traditional ceremony, but it's a problem. We knew there was no point in trying. We knew they [the Rabbinate] were very strict. We called rabbis, asked around, but there wasn't much we could do if we don't have the paper saying he's Jewish."
Rites: Guests file into the well-lit hall, as a four-piece singing band takes to the stage, made up of two men in metallic grey suits and two women wearing long sequined dresses. One of the male singers, who would turn out to be the evening's MC, welcomes the crowd, getting the party started with a rousing rendition of Blondie's "Heart of Glass." After a few songs, and with most of the hall now filled, the MC calls for the guests to file along the white-cloth path leading to the chuppah. The blonde member of the singing group takes the lead, breaking out into a Russian pop song.
House lights go down, leaving only red beacons, as the video screens embedded in the walls shift from pink sparkles to red-hot flames. Miniature lights, spread across the back of the chuppah, twinkle pink, as the music switches to Irish world music powerhouse Enya ("Sail Away"). First up are the parents, arriving in one uniform row, as the MC greets them in both Hebrew and Russian.
Next up are the happy lovers, who walk halfway down the aisle, at which point Dima places the veil over a smiling Mariana. They then proceed on their short journey, as sparklers erupt on both sides of the white-cloth trail, eliciting applause and hoots from the crowd. Smoke hangs for a few seconds in the air, before being dissipated by gusts of air-conditioned air. Rabbi Shaked welcomes the young couple, attempting a sing-along of "Siman Tov u'Mazal Tov," with a few guests clapping along. However, a mention of the couple's names brings out all the enthusiasm back into the room.
Following a short opening statement ("I feel as if you two have really entered into my heart"), the rabbi moves on to the blessing portion of the evening, taking time to explain each and every move. Rabbi Shaked then takes a few moments to remember those who have passed away and could not attend, with both Dima and Mariana visibly moved. Then, comes the glass, as well as the foot that breaks it, and in no time at all a merry human swarm breaks into the chuppah, nearly sideswiping the rabbi, who manages to slip out the side.
With the kiss-and-hug deluge now over, guests quietly return to their seats, as the brunette member of the singing group prowls around the dance floor, performing a smoky version of the Tina Turner classic "Private Dancer." Waiters rush in with platters filled with food, as the music continues to alternate between Hebrew and Russian songs. After a few moments of eating, the evening's MC again invites the "royal couple" out, this time for their first slow dance as a married couple. Mariana and Dima step onto the black-tiled floor, with the video screen behind the stage flashing red hearts. Dry ice and soap bubbles are added to the romantic scene, as the two seem to float on a cloud of their own. Providing the final touch, sparklers erupt from what seems like all sides of the dance floor, as the smiling couple dances away to the flashes of innumerable iPhones.
As the slow dance culminates, the band breaks into now classic Middle-Eastern party dance songs, with guests slowly entering the dance floor. Two belly dancers emerge from behind the scenes, joining the guests and the band as they rock the night away.
Music: The alternating internationality of Russian pop, American pop, and Israeli, well, pop.
Food: Starters: salmon; fire-grilled chicken livers on mashed potatoes; chicken tortillas. Main courses: beef steak and grilled spring chicken.
Drink: Vodka, red and white wine, soft drinks, orange juice and lemonade.
Word in the ear: Igor, a friend of the couple, on his choice to go Reform on both his conversion and his wedding ceremony: "The Rabbinate was really nasty to me, until eventually friends told me: 'Why are you banging your head against the wall? Just do a Reform conversion and get it over with.'"
In my spiritual doggy bag: That Jewish tradition is accessible to all, even if the Jewish establishment doesn't necessarily always think so.
Random quote: Two friends speaking during the chuppah: "Yeah, I remember attending a wedding in this place, only with a normal rabbi."
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