Someone Else's Simcha / Noah and Livia's all-American chuppah in Abu Ghosh
For Noah and Livia, two recent American immigrants, building a home in Israel contributes to the future of the Jewish people. For their guests, that means a whole lot of fun.
Location: Ha'Bustan (The Orchard) reception garden, Abu Ghosh
Time: 6 p.m.
In the neighborhood: Abu Ghosh, a predominantly Israeli Arab village nestled in the Judean Hills, about 10 minutes west of Jerusalem. An infinite variety of hummus restaurants line the dusty sidewalks, providing a backdrop to some local kids playing soccer between construction sites that have been deserted for the evening.
Venue: A wide lawn, shaded by mulberry, fig, olive, and palm trees, all gently swaying in the afternoon breeze. At one corner, a free-standing wooden chuppah is surrounded by white chairs, and crowned by winding vine, which has recently yielded large, green grape bunches. Across several paths, a wide seating area is revealed, with several dozen tables arranged on stone terraces, beside a decked dance floor.
Simcha: Noah Moline and Livia Levine's wedding
Number of guests: ~300
Home: Noah (27, graduate student in non-profit management) grew up as the only son of Rich and Joni, in a ConservativeChicago home; Livia (28, doctoral candidate in business ethics and negotiations) is Arvin and Gila's second child, born in California, and raised in a modern Orthodox home in New Jersey. Noah made Aliyah in September of 2008, with Livia making the move in December of 2011. The two live in separate apartments in Jerusalem, and plan to move in together following the wedding.
Aliyah: Livia: "Aliyah was a dream and a goal of mine for a long time. I've always thought of my life in terms of studying things that will help me find a job here and thinking about my life here. I want to live in a place where normal actions – having a normal job, contributing to society in a normal way – also contribute to the future of the Jewish people. Noah was very influential in helping me go through with my dreams."
Joni on her son, Noah: "We came here for six months when he was three, and I think that's when he decided to make Aliyah. He liked the buses."
Noah on Noah: "Really, though, it was when I was 16 and came here for the summer. It was our second week here, and I felt as though I was struck by something, and said: 'I really need to live here.' Since then, I've developed real reasons. I feel very much at home here, I feel that Israel is the future of the Jewish people and I want to be a part of that."
A brief history of time: The two met during their studies at the Pardes yeshiva in Jerusalem, where men and women from all Jewish denominations are enrolled. At first, the two were just study partners; romance arrived later.
Livia: "We both had a lot of people who said, ‘Why don't you go out with Noah?' or 'Why don't you go out with Livia?' and I said, 'No, obviously that wouldn’t work.'"
When did the lightning strike? Livia: "It wasn't actually lightning. I was in Israel for the summer and early on, I began to think it was a good idea. Eventually Noah caught on.”
Livia's older brother J. J.: "I remember meeting Noah and thinking, 'Man, they've got to start doing something.’” Did he say anything? "I said it in davening [prayer], never to them."
Family history: Being an only child, Noah, naturally, is the first to marry.
Joni: "Elated. That's the word. E-L-A-T-E-D. I'm very proud of the choices that he made, coming here, and the woman he chose to marry." Livia, on the other hand, was beat to the punch by J. J., who has been living in Israel with his family for several years.
Rites: After spending the past week apart, the couple begins the evening in separate areas of the venue. On the women’s side, photographers follow Livia around, with friends Simone and Sara ever ready to hand her flowers or a sip of juice. On the men’s side, Noah, along with both sets of parents and surrounded by a mostly men, sits down to read and sign the ketubah.
Noah address the crowd, describing the bond he shares with Livia ("Our relationship is built on the Torah"), but is repeatedly interrupted by the joyous guests, as the crowd uses choice words in Noah's speech (Israel, Torah, water) to break into song (about Israel, Torah, and, of course, water).
Next, it’s time for the couple to finally meet. A musical deluge carries Noah over to the other side of the garden, where the women encircle a seated Livia, Gila, and Noah's grandmother Dolly. Noah bends over and whispers a few words in Livia's ear and rises, wiping tears from his eyes. He then bends over again, and on the third time covers her face with a white, lacey veil.
The groom is then whisked away by the motley crowd (Arvin: "We have everything here, you've got your non-religious, your ultra-religious, you've got your academics. You've got whatever you want"); Arvin bends over to bless his daughter. A voice on the PA invites the guests to gather round the chuppah. The band sets up (singer, guitar, flute, saxophone, bass, trumpet).
Noah enters the chuppah, escorted by Rich and Joni, and wears a white kittel, or robe, worn on special occasions ("It’s worn traditionally on Yom Kippur. The day of the wedding is considered to be like a Yom Kippur for the bride and groom"). Livia arrives, accompanied by Arvin and Gila, both holding a lit candle. Noah exits the chuppah, takes Livia, and they both re-enter as a couple. Joni and Gila then take the tail of Livia's wedding dress, and begin the traditional encircling of the groom (seven times). Pardes' Rabbi Zvi Hirschfeld addresses the crowd, opening the ceremony ("OK, you guys, ready to get married?"). Friend Josh acts as MC. A voice from over the fence shouts "mabruk!" (Arabic for "congratulations").
The two witnesses step up: Pardes teacher Rabbi Daniel Roth and Nobel Prize for Economics Laureate, Professor Yisrael Aumann, a longtime friend of Livia's family. The ring goes on; the crowd erupts. Childhood friend Sara, who arrived from New York, then reads out the ketubah. A speech by Rabbi Hirschfeld ("In about three minutes or less, I'm going to connect the portion, the chuppah, you and your families. We hope"), followed by Noah's aunt Mindy, from Chicago, reading a blessing, written by a friend of the couple, to the congregation ("thank you for increasing our joy"). Next, friend and teacher Nili addresses the crowd, praising the young couple for aiding both in the spiritual and physical rebuilding of Jerusalem.
Noah receives a tallit, which he uses to cover Livia and himself, and the seven blessings commence, read by family members and friends who have come from Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Brooklyn, and Jerusalem. A bit of confusion ensues, as the family seems to have lost count of the blessings around #6, with Arvin and Josh counting the blessings one by one. All ends well.
The couple adds an eighth blessing, written by Rabbi Amram Gaon in the ninth century, and recited by Livia's aunt Gabrielle, from Brooklyn ("May love and blessings multiply in Israel"). In yet another little twist, Noah breaks the ceremonial glass, with the entire crowd waiting with their congratulations until after a joined singing of Hatikvah, after which the mazal tovs are released from a volcano of joy.
Then, just as some guests step into the chuppah to congratulate the young couple, another jubilant tidal wave washes over Noah and Livia, as the singing crowd carry them up hill toward the kheder yichud, or seclusion room, where the couple can spend some time alone. Friends Jon and David vigilantly guard the door, armed with a couple of florescent-yellow water rifles.
The crowd slowly disperses, and assembles near the dinner tables. About 70 minutes later, the couple reemerges, to the joy of the guests, with the band leading everyone into frenzied dancing circles.
Music: Jewish songs and good ol’ rock n' roll, all played by the Fabrengen band.
Food: Did the couple feel like they had to follow the Israeli trend of high-end food and alcohol? Livia: "That's the Chicago people, not the Israelis"; Noah: "We like our red meat."
Drink: Cocktails, soft drinks, and a full bar, accented by a wide variety of vintage Scotch whisky, at the insistence of the aforementioned "Chicago people."
Word in the ear: Joni, about her concerns with Noah living in Israel: "All three of us were here during the Second Intifada, and my husband and I were walking very close to the Sbarro bombing [in 2001]. What can I say? He went to school in Washington D.C., and the crime rate in Washington D.C. is higher. It’s what he wanted to do, and I'm not the kind of parent to say 'no you can’t.'"
In my spiritual doggy bag: The ability to see everyday life in Israel as somehow contributing to a larger, positive cause.
Random quote: One of the guests to Livia's friend Sara, after she had finished reading the ketubah out loud: "Your Aramaic is flawless."
Want to take part in Someone Else's Simcha? Want to invite Haaretz to your family celebration? Send word to: firstname.lastname@example.org