Someone Else's Simcha / Eliav and Osnat's henna - Stop! (Kurdish) line-dancing time!
A young couple plan a bright future, while taking a good look at what the past has to offer (hint: Fun. A lot of fun).
Location: "Ha'Hatzher" ("The Yard") reception hall
Time: 8 P.M.
In the neighborhood: The small commercial center of Ma'ale Adumim, situated about 10 minutes east of Jerusalem. An early-autumn breeze washes over the darkened parking lot of a nearby shopping mall. Blacked-out festive lights in the shape of Stars of David, leftover from the previous Independence Day, hang from poles across the street.
Venue: A small outside reception area, lit in purple and green, dotted by small seating areas where guests chatter and munch on appetizers. A festively decorated side table holds cellophane-wrapped trays containing a blinding array of traditional sweets. Inside the hall, a slideshow featuring images of the happy couple is projected on the wall, flickering on the white tablecloths of about a dozen large tables. A henna area is set up in one corner, with his-and-her seats decorated with Kurdish carpets, along with several small tables holding coffee vessels, sweets, as well as a gilded bowl containing the henna paste itself.
Simcha: Eliav and Osnat's henna celebration
Number of guests: 180
Home: Eliav Eliyahu, 27, an employee of Jerusalem's municipality studying for a degree in political science and human resources, was raised in a traditional home in Maoz Zion, a proud bastion of Jews of Kurdish extraction that is now part of the Mevaseret Zion Regional Council near Jerusalem. His mother Sarah is 64, and his father Ovadia passed away in 2004 at the age of 58.
Osnat Aharon, 26, was born to Ahuva, 54, and Amram, 56 and raised in a national religious home of Kurdish extraction in Ma'ale Adumim; she works for the family's truck-safety business. Both Eliav and Osnat still live in their parents' homes (Eliav: "Out of respect for our parents"), but plan to move to a rented apartment in Ma'ale Adumim after the wedding.
A brief history of time: A fateful phone call, in which a mutual friend told Eliav in no uncertain terms that she had found the girl of his dreams, brought the couple together. Eliav: "She told me that she wanted to introduce her best friend to me, a 'real princess.' And, she added, 'she's just as crazy as you.'" One call led to another, then to a first date in Jerusalem's Liberty Bell Park ("Osnat wore a blue-and-white blouse, jeans, and high heels"; Osnat: "I can't believe he remembers"), and, following a six-month courtship, a proposal.
The proposal: As a first step, Eliav, out of respect to Osnat's father, set up an old-school meeting. "I told him, like they say in the movies, 'I have come to ask for your daughter's hand"; Osnat: "Awww." A month after getting the go-ahead from Osnat's father, Eliav tricked his lady into arriving at a secluded beach along the Dead Sea, complete with a candle-lit path, where close friends and family awaited. Osnat: "As soon as he covered my eyes, I knew;" Eliav: "It took her 10 minutes to regroup. She was so excited."
Rites: The evening's festivities (known in Kurdish as leliye, for the night before the wedding) open in dramatic fashion, as the couple enters the hall in traditional Kurdish dress, accompanied by the boisterous sound of the zurna, a traditional high-pitched flute, and the rumbling bass of the dahol, a double-headed drum. Eliav, dressed in a baggy olive-green shirt and pants (shirwal) and donning a black-and-white kaffiyeh on his head, leads the smiling Osnat, wearing a white multilayered dress (fastana as the under-dress and dulikeisa as the outer decorated sleeves) into the dance floor, as dozens of friends and family members surround the young couple.
Before you know it, joyous dance floor anarchy makes way for the rhythmic, vigorous order of traditional Kurdish line dancing, first with the slow-moving circular shekhane, and later with the jumpy, and, somehow, aptly named chapi, a relative of the Arabic debke. All over the place, big and small versions of Eliav's large frame and bald head, also known as his five brothers, rile up the already wild crowd (Sarah: "They're like genetic duplications of each other").
After a perspiration-soaked bout of dancing, the exhausted guests trickle to their respective tables where they enjoy the evening's meal. Outside, Yossi and Shlomi, the henna's musicians, take a break. For Yossi, who has been playing the zurne for three decades, working the Kurdish events circuit means more than just making a living. "I really want this culture to endure and not to be forgotten," he says, lauding the complexity of Kurdish music and instruments, often dismissed in Israel as primitive ("It takes two months just to learn how to breathe correctly into the zurne").
As the guests prepare for the evening's second grand entrance, the hall's backroom is abuzz with activity, as family and friends gear up in traditional suits and dresses of every color. Surprisingly, among the revelers is Osnat's dad Amram, who, being more religiously devout, was expected to sit the costume-and-dance part out (Amram: "What can I say? A little peer pressure, and here I am"). The ever-present event producer Hasida, a close friend of Eliav's family, along with son Assi, runs from costume to costume, fixing sleeves and straightening the odd kaffiyeh.
The colorful stream of guests, carrying trays of sweets (all handmade by Ahuva), then bursts into the hall, leading to another whirlwind of Kurdish dancing, mixing traditional garb with mini skirts and high heels, which eventually ends up with Eliav and Osnat seated at the henna corner. Following a short spoken blessing by Amram, who proceeds to present the young couple with a gift of prayer books and a new tallit, Ahuva sets to rubbing the henna paste onto their outstretched palms. Next, homemade lokum, AKA Turkish delight, is placed at the end of each of the bride and groom's fingers, with select (and unmarried) guests eating the sugary treats off of their fingers.
Music: Traditional Kurdish music, a-lá Yossi and Shlomi, along with more run-of-the-mill Middle Eastern dance pop.
Food: Appetizers: Kibbeh nabulsi and kibbeh humasta (Eliav: "Nothing like my mother's, of course"), along with fried "cigars," chicken wings, and meat focaccia. On the table: assorted salads, along with fresh flatbread. Mains: A choice of spring chicken, beef roast, kebab, and grilled chicken, served with sides of couscous, rice, green beans and roasted potatoes.
Drink: The most traditional of Kurdish drinks: Vodka. And lots of it. Spotted elsewhere: Beer, soft drinks and assorted juices.
Word in the ear: Eliav, on the dominance of the Moroccan-style henna in Israel: "There are a lot more kinds of ceremonies by other extractions that you hardly see since everyone goes for the Moroccan motif"; Osnat: "Before I met Hasida, I knew only Moroccan ceremonies. Unless they're Yemenites, they're all Moroccan."
In my spiritual doggy bag: That to truly enjoy one's own personal joy sometimes means embracing, and rediscovering the age-old traditions of the community.
Random quote: Eliav's friend Daniel, just before he lends a baffled friend a hand with putting on his Kurdish suit: "He's the only Moroccan here. And he dresses like one too."
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