Someone Else's Simcha / Yoel and Dvorah's Engagement Party - Pleased to Meet You, I'm Sure

The descendants of at least two powerful Hasidic dynasties come together to celebrate the building of a new, albeit arranged, home in Israel.

Ron Ben-Tovim
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Ron Ben-Tovim

Location: Sassov Hasidic Beit Midrash and synagogue

Time: 9 P.M.

In the neighborhood: Rows and rows of graying apartment buildings clumped tightly together in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Ganei Tikva, a 10-minute drive east from Tel Aviv. Towering streetlights discharge spots of fiercely orange light, illuminating men in black coats (rekl and frak) and women with their heads covered. Four empty strollers form a parking lot of sorts outside a lit doorway.

Venue: A small asphalt courtyard separates one red-tiled structure from the narrow street, bustling with late evening traffic. A large white tent has been erected for the women's section, filled with long white tables and white plastic chairs. Gifts pile up on a table to the side, alongside a sizeable buffet and a projector emitting a live feed of the synagogue's interior onto one of the tent's walls.

Inside the synagogue, rows and rows of wooden benches and tables, covered with plastic sheets, face a lofty dais, shimmering in the light of an overhead chandelier. On both sides of the small hall, tall and narrow bleachers (or parentches) are build to accommodate the expected influx of Hasidim. A soda machine hums in the background.

Simcha: Dvorah Teitelbaum and Yoel Horowitz's engagement party, or tnoyim

Number of guests: Around 200

A brief history of time: Dvorah, or "Dvori," 19 ("and eight months"), was born in Ganei Tikva, the 13th of 14 children of the rabbinic head, or admor, of the Sassov Hasidic dynasty, Rabbi Yosef David Teitelbaum. Dvori is the last of her seven sisters to marry ("with me they're done"), with her younger brother the only of the super-sized baker's dozen yet to tie the knot. Yoel, or "Yoli," 19 ("and two months"), hails from Brooklyn, one of six boys and girls born to the admor of the Spinka Hasidic dynasty in Williamsburg. The two are in fact related, since Yoli's mother is - wait for it - Dovri's mother's niece, via yet another influential Hasidic dynasty, Kretshnif. Dvori: "We're first cousins, and a half."

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The 'tnoyim' documentCredit: Gil Cohen Magen
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A heart-to-heart talk.Credit: Gil Cohen Magen
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All-of-a-kind familyCredit: Gil Cohen Magen

Wort: The budding couple met for the first time two days prior to the engagement party in what is known as the wort (Yiddish for "word"), an intimate family affair in which the intended bride and groom meet, and, barring any last-minute objection, celebrate the union. Dvori: "We talked for an hour and a half, and then we toasted Le'chaim." Usually, the wort is meant to be a secret event, since neither family wants to make the union public until the bride and groom get to inspect each other and okay the marriage. Do couples ever reject the deal? Dvori: "Very rarely. But, in any case, the parents really stress that the children shouldn't be pressured to say 'yes,' because people could have second thoughts later on, and that's much more unpleasant."

Rites: Young Hasidim bearing food platters and chairs rush every which way to finish preparations ahead of the expected arrival of the admorim and the groom. Several women, arriving in minibuses and taxis along with their smaller children, help out in the women's section, as gifts slowly gather on a table to the side (among the presents, a cake decorated with a plastic tractor pushing a pile of roasted peanuts, with the caption: "A Home is Being Built"). Dvori, ever-smiling under flowing red hair and wearing a midnight-blue dress, mingles and shakes hands all around.

Inside the synagogue, a group of seven Hasidim, the proverbial wedding band, gathers for a sound check as one of the technicians, in a white dress shirt and black kippa, changes the sound settings with his iPad ("Tzach! Give me another two on the monitor!"). To the side, Hasidim in black fraks and shtaf hats stream in and out of the door leading to a small kitchen/dining room, where workers from Eritrea ladle out fish and kugel from immense cooking pots. A Hasid inserts coins into the soda machine with nimble fingers and picks up a fresh can of energy drink.

In the barely lit courtyard outside, children in polka-dotted sweaters and breeches known as halber-hoyzn play catch, laughing and goofing around. Suddenly, the party, as it were, is interrupted as the kids, as well as a few Hasidim on cigarette break, hustle and bustle, with the arrival of the main entourage of shtreimel-wearing admorim, along with the groom-to-be. Some cars honk repeatedly and loudly when a truck bringing flowers to the women's tent blocks the street.

Within about two minutes the synagogue interior is bustling with Hasidim who pack the hall and bleachers. Making their way to the dais, to the sound of boisterous singing, the honorable group finally sits down, with Yoel, his square spectacles covering a shy and pale face, at the center, Dvori's father to his right and his grandfather (on the Kretshnif side) and his father to his left. The Hasidim sing, dance, and sway all around, as the admorim sitting on either side of Yoel chat with each other, the groom looking on nervously.

After a few bouts of singing the document stating the conditions, or tnoyim, to be met by both families by the time of the wedding is brought forth and signed by all involved in the presence of witnesses. One of the singing troupe's younger members - the soprano - breaks into a moving solo. (An excited Hasid: "What a voice! As sweet as honey!") The elaborate paper is then rushed out to the women's tent, where the smiling Dvori signs it, hunched over one of the dinner tables. Once the tnoyim are back in the hall, they are read aloud by Dvori's uncle, the Kretshnif admor of the southern-Israeli town of Kiryat Gat.

After the conditions are signed and made public, the two fathers, Sassov and Spinka, raise a fabric-covered plate together and then smash it on the ground as a sign of the deal's summation. "Mazel Tovs" sound around the hall, as the singing, dancing, and swaying resumes in earnest. Over at the women's tent dinner is served, with most in attendance sitting down and talking at their tables. A few small children look at the projected images of dancing Hasidim.

Music: The a cappella wonder that is the seven-man singing group.

Food: Fish in mystery red sauce, pickled herring, sweet and savory kugels, an assortment of cakes and desserts.

Drink: Orange soda, club soda, Pepsi, energy drink galore and wine for toasting.

Word in the ear: Dvori, on the place of style and posh in planning the upcoming wedding: "My parents, that's not their thing at all. I mean, they won't sit Hasidim coming from abroad with schnitzel and rice on plastic plates, they respect themselves. It'll be a nice wedding, but not eye-popping. Respectable."

In my spiritual doggy bag: That despite what those outside the Haredi community think, arranged marriages, while not always the fruit of the secular concept of freedom, can be a consciously happy affair.

Random quote: A Hasid discussing grooming issues with his friend: "I really need to do something with my peyot. They look absolutely horrible."

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The tnoyim ceremony.Credit: Gil Cohen Magen

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