Swine flu crashes an otherwise kosher wedding
For those who were brave enough to show up, masks and gloves were available.
Everything at the wedding seemed perfectly normal: numbered tables laden with fine china, floral centerpieces, prayer books - and of course, the hand sanitizer Purell.
But let me be clear. The wedding of two college friends of mine - the well-publicized "swine flu wedding" held in Chicago last week - was not a spectacle. Yes, the groom, Jeremy "Turtle" Fierstien, was diagnosed with swine flu just a couple of days before the (otherwise kosher) wedding, leading to suspicions that his bride-to-be, Ilana Jackson, had contracted it as well. Yes, they wore masks and gloves the whole afternoon, including under the chuppah. Yes, the bride and groom and their families walked around the guests instead of straight down the aisle. Yes, during the reception Jeremy and Ilana were stuck in a corner, given only plasticware for their table, and were unable to dance with the guests.
But for all intents and purposes, the wedding written about in hundreds of newspapers and blogs around the world was nearly the same as any other Jewish nuptial ceremony.
By the time I arrived in Chicago a few hours before the wedding, Jeremy - the one who actually came down with the flu that has caused some panic around the world - was feeling better, but his bride had fallen ill with suspected swine flu. I am not sure what went into the decision to go ahead with the wedding despite the doctor's diagnosis, but as someone who was forced into canceling his son's brit milah at the last second for medical reasons, I think I understand why they did. Believing everything was all right, I didn't want to call off the ceremony; similarly, Jeremy and Ilana believed they were no longer contagious - though the doctor, who decreed that they had to wear gloves and masks, disagreed, and a gaggle of guests decided not to come for fear of catching the flu.
For those who were brave enough to show up, masks and gloves were available to anybody who was so inclined, but the bride and groom were just about the only ones wearing them. During the reception, some chose to keep their distance from the couple and dance the hora away from the danger zone, while others (full disclosure: myself) made a point of ignoring the doctor's orders to keep 10 feet away, in a bid to ensure H1N1 did not detract from the joy of the day. At that point, at least to me, the fear of catching the virus seemed piddling compared to the happiness of two dear friends. In the end, most of the guests ended up surrounding the seated couple, entertaining them with dances, a unicycle and the creative use of, you guessed it, surgical masks and gloves.
As it turns out, the masks and gloves appear to have done their job, since so far no guests have reported getting sick.
I've known Jeremy and Ilana for several years, and if anybody can make the best of a bad situation, they can. I spoke to Jeremy briefly after the wedding about how he and Ilana felt about their "special" day.
"It was uncomfortable," he said. "It would have been nice to dance with family and friends. But we still had a good time."
Joshua Davidovich is an editor at Haaretz