Israeli Couples Wed at Mass Civil Ceremony in Cyprus

Some 170 couples - mostly Russian-speaking Israelis - exchange wedding vows at what was slated to set a world record for the most couples marrying in a civil ceremony.

Dozens of Israeli couples exchanged wedding vows on Friday in a mass civil ceremony on the promenade of a Cypriot coastal resort.

The Mediterranean provided the backdrop for the brief ceremony officiated by Larnaca Mayor Andreas Moyseos for the couples, who were mostly Russian-speaking Israelis.

Organizers said 170 couples were slated to take part in the event in a bid to set a world record for the most couples tying the knot in a civil ceremony. But they were unsure if they had beaten the record of 163 because some couples were no-shows.

"We came up with the idea because we wanted it to be something special," said organizer Natan Uretsky, an Israeli tour operator who specializes in civil weddings in Cyprus and the Czech Republic.

Cyprus, which claims to be the birthplace of Aphrodite, the ancient Greek goddess of love, is a favorite destination for Israeli couples who opt for a civil wedding because of its proximity and ease with which such ceremonies are conducted. Uretsky said about 1,000 Israeli couples tie the knot in civil ceremonies in Cyprus each year.

"You have definitely made the right choice," Larnaca Tourism Board Chairman Dinos Lefkaritis told the couples neatly lined up in rows facing the sea. "Cyprus is the ideal location to get married as it is considered to be the mythological island of love."

A cruise ship ferried the couples to Cyprus for a two-day stay that includes the ceremony and a night of partying in the coastal resort of Limassol.

"I think it's more exciting, more special," Michael Lantsman said. The 32-year-old soundman said he and his 28-year-old bride Rose chose to get hitched in a civil ceremony because they are not religious and they wanted to avoid the "bureaucracy" involved with a religious wedding in Israel.

Religious authorities in Israel don't perform interfaith weddings, although the country recognizes civil weddings conducted abroad.

That's what compelled Russian-born Jew Vladimir Levchin and his 34-year-old bride Natalie — a nurse and a Christian who was also born in Russia — to travel to Cyprus for the ceremony.