Location: The Riverside reception hall
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Time: 7 P.M.
In the neighborhood: A wide, lush lawn spreading on both sides of the Yarkon River, running through the northern part of Tel Aviv. Streetlights reflect on the shimmering water as a small group of family and friends pack up a modest picnic birthday picnic with the waning light. A large billboard across the main street displays a picture of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe with the caption: “Tefillin – The Jewish People’s Secret Weapon.”
Venue: A modern concrete structure perched over the river, completely still in the evening air. Inside, a round, intimate restaurant-like space opens up, filled with deep couches and sharp lighting fixtures, and surrounded by panoramic windows. Outside, a narrow porch looks over the dark river. A sign indicates a nearby bomb shelter.
Simcha: Liron and Ran’s wedding bash
Number of guests: 200
A brief history of time: Ran, 30, was born to Shmuel and Jo-Beth Ben Yehuda, a little brother to sister Noa and older brother to sister Lior. Raised on pastoral Kibbutz Ma’ayan Baruch, near Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, Ran enjoyed a pleasant childhood, albeit dotted by the odd missile barrage (“I was a kid. I was just happy that school was off, I didn’t really understand what was going on”). Liron, 35, was born to Israel and Ra’aya Wasserman in Kiryat Bialik, joining older siblings Nir and Dganit. Losing Ra'aya at a very age, the family later welcomed Israel’s new wife, Dina, awarding Liron a younger brother by the name of Shai.
Meeting up: Flipping one day through his dating app of choice (Gay Romeo), Ran chanced upon the picture of a beautiful young man, and the two soon developed a mutual interest. Virtual interest soon shifted into texts and phone calls, but Ran, wary of the torturous local dating scene, tried to play it cool. “It was just that he was a beautiful guy," Ran says, "and given my experience with beautiful men in Tel Aviv, I wasn’t going to rush it.”
Despite Ran’s early misgivings, and Liron’s own bout of cold feet (“Ran just told me to let go, and I did”), the two got serious fast, and soon knew where things were going.
Since Israel does not legally – or, in any other shape or form – recognize same-sex marriage, the couple, after about a year of dating, bypassed the legal stuff by getting married in New York City. Now all that was left was to celebrate everything but the legality of their union, along with family and friends in Israel.
But Liron was called up for military service amid the weeks-long clash between Israel and Hamas-ruled Gaza just as the couple was supposed to send out their invitations. Liron: “Ran had to do that one by himself. Luckily they decided they didn’t need me after four days and let me go.”
Rites: Friends and family stream into the small venue, as Liron, in a gray suit and green bow tie, and Ran, in a navy-blue suit, greet their guests with warm embraces and mile-wide smiles.
A small crowd slowly amasses, made up mainly of smartly dressed young men and women, and including what could be a world record for white dresses worn at a wedding. After some mingling, drinking and good times, it’s time for the main event.
Standing in the middle of the room, Idan, a friend of the couple’s and the night’s master of ceremonies, stands near a table on top of which are a bottle of wine, a wine glass, and two glasses wrapped in tin foil.
Soft music kicks in as the crowd packs around the ceremony area; on cue, two girls enter in white dresses, marking an aisle with rose petals to the delight of the cheering crowd.
However, the real cheering starts as the men of the evening make their beaming entrance, smothered in hoots and yelps. Behind the grooms, members of Ran’s and Liron’s families stand proudly by, with the exception of Liron’s dad and his wife, who are absent for personal reasons, and Liron’s older brother, whose absence, let's say, bears more of an ideological hue. Liron: “Let’s just say my brother and his wife won’t tell their kids their uncle is getting married.”
The first part of the ceremony features four relatives and friends, congratulating the young couple and wishing them a long and happy life together. Those include: Ran’s grandmother Heddi (“There were a lot of weddings in the Ben Yehuda family,” she says smilingly, “but none like this. It’s a first time for two boys”); Liron’s sister Dganit (“Everyday I’m proud of the fact that you’re my brother and of the path you have chosen for yourself”); Ran’s friend Chen (“Your love moves me”); and Liron’s friend Hezi, who was instrumental, it turns out, in the couple’s meeting for teaching Liron the spaghetti Bolognese recipe the latter mythically used to win Ran’s heart.
Once their loved ones have spoken and their own self-styled ketubah is read, the grooms bring out their own vows, with Ran praising their relationship (“You taught me what love is”) as well as his partner’s sense of humor (“Even if the only one laughing is you”). Liron, making good use of that sense of humor, says: “I love waking up next to you every morning, even it takes two hours for you to get up”).
Finally, each groom gets his own glass to break, not as a way to remember the Great Temple’s destruction, as is traditional, but in order to “enhance love.” Bang go the glasses as the floor is flooded with thumping dance music, colorful party lights, and hugs. Lots and lots of hugs.
Music: Easy listening electronic (reception), and all out dance-pop war (party).
Food: Four party-style food stands, including: shawarma, club sandwich, salad bar, and some upscale masabacha (a variant of hummus) and pickles.
Drink: Alcohol, in all shapes and forms (wine, whiskey, vodka, sangria, fizzy wine, beer, etc).
Word in the ear: Liron, on the ability to lead a gay lifestyle outside of Tel Aviv: “I lived with a former partner in Haifa for a few years and we had to move to Tel Aviv. There’s no life for gays outside of Tel Aviv, I think you can say that.”
In my spiritual doggy bag: That a home is two people loving each other and interested in building a home. And that’s it.
Random quote: Guests discussing the finer points of missile detonation sounds in various points in Israel: “I was in Be'er Sheva and I heard a loud bang! I said to myself: ‘What is this? I’m used to the ones I hear in Tel Aviv!’”