Someone Else's Simcha Noah and Elysheva's Wedding

Two Israeli-Americans start a life together with a religious wedding in the Holy Land, undeterred, if a little stressed, by falling rockets and an exploding bus.

Ron Ben-Tovim
Ron Ben-Tovim
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Ron Ben-Tovim
Ron Ben-Tovim

Location: Shoresh reception hall

Time: 6 P.M.

In the neighborhood: The orange lights of small towns and villages dotting the Judean Mountains, like glittering stones in the chilly autumn night viewed from Moshav Shoresh, situated about 20 minutes west of Jerusalem. Down below, a drawn-out line of traffic snakes along the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway, the result of several checkpoints that police set up in the area to search for the perpetrator of the bombing of a Tel Aviv bus earlier in the day.

Venue: A long and narrow lobby, dotted with with fragrant appetizer stands and stuffed with wooly overcoats, long skirts and energetic small talk, most of it featuring an American twang. Cell phones glitter in every corner, as guests try to figure out whether a cease-fire is in the works after over a week of fighting in Gaza. Further inside, dozens of tables, complete with candle holders and flower arrangements, are set in a spacious hall, colored purple by overhead lights. Outside, a white chuppah is set in the middle of a lush lawn.

Simcha: Noah and Elysheva's Wedding

Number of guests: 430

Home: Noah, 22, a student at Jerusalem's Yeshivat HaKotel, was raised as the eldest brother of four by Karen and Bruce Zivan in a religious Zionist home in Rochester, New York. About four years ago, the Zivans made aliyah, moving to the settlement of Hashmonaim, north of Modi'in. Elysheva ("Ely"), 22, a schoolteacher and university student, was born to Nomi and Mark Wise, the eldest of four children in a religious Zionist home in New Rochelle, New York. Later, following her parents' divorce, the family expanded to include stepfather Ben-Zion and stepmother Lisa, along with four stepbrothers ("and one half-brother"). Ely made her aliyah a solo event, moving to the city of Givat Shmuel, east of Tel Aviv. After the wedding, the couple will be moving into a Hashmonaim apartment.

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Aliyah: Although her original plan was to move to Israel a little later in life ("I thought I would do it after college in America, and after I had a family"), Ely opted to stay in Israel after experiencing the Holy Land during a post-high school visit. Dad, Mark, was excited. Mom, Naomi, at least at the time, less so: "She thought I should make aliyah, just that right after high school wasn't the right time to leave my family and to leave America." It took some time, but full parental approval was eventually granted: "Baruch hashem, she's on board and she's very happy for me."

Friends told the couple, 'If you push off this wedding, you're giving in. They're trying to kill you; you build a new home.'
On one side of the lobby, a tight circle of women surrounds a smiling Ely, with female friends and family members clapping and singing.
A string of respected and loved rabbis, teachers and family members perform the traditional seven blessing over the young couple, accompanied by guitar and flute.
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Friends told the couple, 'If you push off this wedding, you're giving in. They're trying to kill you; you build a new home.' Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen
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On one side of the lobby, a tight circle of women surrounds a smiling Ely, with female friends and family members clapping and singing.Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen
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A string of respected and loved rabbis, teachers and family members perform the traditional seven blessing over the young couple, accompanied by guitar and flute.Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen
Noah and Elysheva's wedding

For Noah, things went a tad smoother. After spending one year in Israel by himself, the Zivans crossed the mighty ocean to join their son, putting some distance between themselves and Rochester's a-little-too-small Jewish community: "I remember when we were younger we would go to a bigger Jewish community and me and my brothers would get so excited when we found out there was a person with a kippa on his head, or that there was a kosher pizza store. We were like, 'Whoa! This is the coolest thing in the world!'" Aliyah made these luxuries routine, but other aspects of life in Israel took some adjusting to: "Obviously not everything is the hats and the pizza." One of the un-pizza things was Noah’s military service in the Golani infantry brigade ("That alone was a shock").

A brief history of time: Noah and Ely met through a mutual friend who sang Noah's praises to the soon-to-be blushing bride. Ely: "I said, ‘Okay. He sounds like a great guy.’" The soon-to-be blushing groom heard much of the same and decided: "I'll give it a shot." Their first date was at a Jerusalem café. Noah: "We’re talking, and the next thing you know they're clearing out the restaurant. We both turned to each other and said 'Why does this restaurant close at 10:30 P.M.?' And then we looked at our watches and it was 1:30 A.M. I was like, yeah, that was a good date."

Getting married entered the conversation early (Ely: "Six weeks"; Noah, laughing: "Please don't judge us"). A proposal came over Passover in the form of a flower-wielding, ring-holding Noah unexpectedly materializing in a vacant cable car during Ely's family trip to the north. Swooning, as much over the fact that she's terrified of cable cars as from the proposal, Ely said yes. Noah: "Originally, the owners were so excited about the proposal that they suggested I repel into her cable car."

War: Spending the week before the wedding apart can be trying for any young couple, but add a small war in Israel's south, and tensions take off a like wayward rocket. With many of the couple's friends being called up for military service, the young lovers began second guessing the wedding: Ely: "We just thought, 'How in the world are we getting married in a time like this? How are we going to have this big party and lots of dancing and food and drinks and just enjoy ourselves?' It just felt so wrong." But the advice they got from family, friends and teachers was always the same: "They said, 'If you push off this wedding, you're giving in. They're trying to kill you; you build a new home.'"

It didn’t help that Noah spent the week worrying about whether he too would be called into service, keeping his cell phone on and a bagged pack during his “Shabbat chatan,” or “groom’s Shabbat,” on the week of the wedding. Karen: "He came home to pack, and you could see he was nervous. But he didn’t want to talk about it.” Noah: “I guess you could say Hamas wasn't too happy about me getting off the market. A friend of mine said, 'While you were in Gaza someone must have really taken a liking to you, because they are not happy.”

Rites: On one side of the lobby, a tight circle of women surrounds a smiling Ely, with female friends and family members clapping and singing. Inside the dining hall, the men convene for evening prayers, davening fiercely, with at least half the congregation reading their prayer texts from Blackberries and iPhones. The wedding band, late to the occasion because of terror-related traffic (with the rabbi just making it), performs sound checks in the background. As soon as the praying concludes, three band members (guitar, clarinet and drum) show up and the music starts. Young men hop and dance around the blushing groom.

Suddenly, a flashflood of men and boys surges jubilantly out of the dining hall, sweeping away anything (e.g. a man reading the news on his cell phone) in its way. The happy procession slowly advances toward the female circle with joy reaching climactic heights. At last, a flushed Noah gently approaches, bending over to whisper in his now-blushing bride's ear. The crowd goes berserk. Noah places the veil over Ely's smiling face as the masculine torrent surges behind him. One by one, the guests trickle out to the lawn and settle near the chuppah.

Accompanied by Karen and Bruce, Noah arrives at the chuppah, where he is given a white kittel, a ceremonial robe, to wear. Soon enough, a veiled, yet somehow still visibly excited, Ely arrives with Nomi and Mark. Ely and the moms take the required seven trips around the groom. Following a short speech by the presiding rabbi, Noah's yeshiva head, Rabbi Rabbi Baruch Vider, a string of respected and loved rabbis (including Rabbi Shaya Cohen and his turbo-charged singing voice), teachers and family members (including all eight grandparents) perform the traditional seven blessing over the young couple, accompanied by guitar and flute. Then that little thing with the glass, and the couple is whisked away to the yichud, or seclusion room, for a little alone time. But not before they are told that not only are they now officially married, but the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas is also officially in effect. Ely: "It made the simcha that much more unbelievable" Noah: "We're that good."

Walking into the dining hall, a friend of Ely's from school, who was still on reserve duty but got the wedding night off, walked amid the well-dressed crowd wearing an olive-green uniform and carrying his rifle. Karen, bubbly and smiling in a purple ensemble, muses about the few close family members who cancelled because of the week's hostilities: "It's not a reflection of how attached they are to us; it's just a reflection of how attached they are to Israel. I love them, but some people just don't want to get stuck in Israel." Speaking of the desire to come to Israel despite the now-culminated war, Suzie, a friend of Karen's from Rochester, says: "Since I support everyone who lives here, and I want to help, I think it would have been quite vain of me if I didn't come."

However, that doesn't mean you can't have some wild experiences. Like, say, hearing a rocket alert sound in Jerusalem just as you're visiting the Kotel with your 11-year-old niece. Suzie: "We had to run for cover, so we went to the arches, where the Kotel tunnels are. She was physically shaking." As long as everyone was huddled in the tunnel, the emergency tourists asked the guide to explain a little about the complex. Suzie: "He said, “You're lucky; this usually costs money. I guess God really wanted you to be here.' So we said: 'You betcha!'"

Back from seclusion and with all the tension gone, the band kicks in, and it's finally simcha time on the gender-separated dance floor. People simcha like a war just ended – for real.

Music: Hasidic music, Hasidic rock, and some Hasidic pop.

Food: Appetizers: Mini-burgers, herring, chicken skewers and stuffed grape leaves. On the table: Assorted salads and flat bread. Starters: trout fillet, chicken pastry and an Israeli version of a chicken burrito. Mains: Steak, spring chicken and smoked goose.

Drink: Soft drinks, wine and coffee, along with an impressively well-stocked scotch bar.

Word in the ear: Ely, on relatives choosing to stay away: "It's just a different mentality. When you're over there, everything is scarier. They hear about the rockets, they don't hear about the 12 hours when there aren't any rockets and everyone is enjoying their lives."

In my spiritual doggy bag: To stay positive, even when there are plenty of negative things (including rockets) to think about.

Random quote: One guest to another, talking about the IDF operation in Gaza: "Sucks being in Hamas, I guess. You can't get to your car."

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Noah and Elysheva considered canceling their wedding when Israel and Gaza started exchanging blows.Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen

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