Someone Else's Simcha Pnina and Yitzhak's 50th Anniversary – Indian Love, Set in Gold

Decades after tying the knot in a small synagogue in southern Israel, one young-at-heart couple looks to retrieve the magic of the good-ole-subcontinent days.

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

Location: Shirat Hayam reception hall

Time: 7 P.M.

In the neighborhood: A wind-worn cliff overlooking the sea in the Poleg section of Netanya, about 30 minutes up the coast from Tel Aviv. In the distance, the illuminated tops of luxury apartment buildings flicker like pale-blue lighthouses, and appear fuzzy thanks to wave after wave of nippy sea mist. In the small parking lot, an elderly Indian couple argues about the right way to enter the hall, until the security guard intervenes. Score one for the wife.

Venue: A well-lit, narrow reception area, lined with food stands and a small bar, leads to the main hall, illuminated with purple party lights and set with square tables surrounding a dance floor. Multicolored balloons in the shape of the number 50 hover at the center of each of the tables draped in purple. A wall made of artificial flower garlands, with a large red heart at its center, welcomes incoming guests. At the far corner, a brightly colored henna area is set, complete with four white chairs and ritual decorations.

Simcha: Pnina and Yitzhak Vasker's gold wedding anniversary

Number of guests: 100

Home: Pnina, one of eight children, was born in 1945 to Abigail and Abraham Malker in the Maharashtra region of India just outside Bombay (now Mumbai). Yitzhak, one of four children, was born in Bombay in 1932 to Moshe and Tzipora Vasker. Both Pnina and Yitzhak, who met only upon arriving in Israel, are part of the Bnei Israel Jewish community of western India, one of three main Jewish groups in the subcontinent (the others are Baghdadi Jews, who arrived in the country from Iraq in the nineteenth century, and the Kuchin group, centered in India's south).

Aliyah: The entire Malker family made aliyah in 1961, following Pnina's great aunt, settling in the remote southern town of Yeruham (Pnina: "We didn't know it would be a village. We thought it was a city"). Yitzhak came over to Israel in 1957 along with his father, brothers and sister (his mother died when he was younger), aided by Aliyat Hano'ar, a Zionist group dedicated to bringing Jewish youths to Israel from all over the world. The Vaskers, too, settled in the small Indian hub of Yeruham.

Getting married: As was customary at the time, Pnina and Yitzhak's was an arranged marriage, one set into motion after Yitzhak spotted the young Pnina. He then approached her uncle with a marriage proposal, the uncle then brought the proposal before the Malker family and, following a short bout of deliberation (Pnina: "My mother was against it, because of the age difference. My father thought he was a good man, not lazy"), the wedding was approved. Without much of a nest egg, the new olim tied the knot in a small ceremony at the local synagogue in 1963, documented by one surviving black-and-white picture ("There was only one photographer at that time between Yeruham and Dimona. So he just showed up for the chuppa, and left").

Fifty years and counting: Living in Yeruham, the modest couple quickly became a tribe of its own, with three girls (Tzipi, Hadassah, and Ariela) and two boys (Yoram and Re'em). Pnina worked for many years at the day-care center in Sde Boker, until, in 1985, she qualified as a registered nanny. Yitzhak worked as a guard at the Dimona nuclear research center for 26 years. In 1988, after the children, except Re'em, left the nest, the Vaskers moved from the tiny desert town of Yeruham north to seaside Netanya. Pnina: "The place wasn't going anywhere, and the kids were getting bored." There, Yitzhak continued to work as a security guard, while Pnina resumed her nanny career until both retired.

The blushing perennial bride.
Pnina and Yitzhak Vasker, surrounded by their loved ones at the Netanya celebration.
Guests boogie down at Pnina and Yitzhak Vasker's 50th anniversary party.
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The blushing perennial bride.Credit: Gil Cohen Magen
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Pnina and Yitzhak Vasker, surrounded by their loved ones at the Netanya celebration.Credit: Gil Cohen Magen
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Guests boogie down at Pnina and Yitzhak Vasker's 50th anniversary party.Credit: Gil Cohen Magen
The Vaskers

Rites: Not five minutes into the event, and the Vasker tribe is already stealing the show, with the couple's children and grandchildren all wearing traditional Indian garb of every cut and color – from the women's flowing, multicolored sari, gangra choli, china choli, and the two-piece Punjabi dress, to the men's white slacks and shirts, complete with iridescent caps. All this was part of Pnina's grand plan to experience the henna ceremony she couldn't afford 50 years ago. Hadassah: "My mother was dreaming about this and planning it all this time"; Re'em: "Obviously this was my mother's idea. Do you think I'd be wearing this if it wasn't?"

Not to be outdone, of course, the royal couple dazzles the most, with Pnina wearing a deep-green sari with gold decorations, and Yitzhak with a gold and white groom's suit, or sherwani, along with a white cap and scarf. Appearing from the back, accompanied by dramatic intro music via DJ Sasson, the young-at-heart couple enters the hall, to the applause and hoots of all the guests.

As they end up on the dance floor, fireworks explode on both sides, reflecting in Pnina and Yitzhak's smiling eyes. Tzipi, their eldest, comes up, reads a greeting ("It may not be easy to sum up 50 years of marriage, but it's harder to maintain a marriage for 50 years"), followed by a group blessing by the grandkids ("We won't forget the chocolate, and the yummy Indian food"). All the grandchildren walk off, leaving only the young Yael, who brings the house down performing a song in her grandparents' honor. Dancing is up next: Pnina rocks it with the boys, Yitzhak with the girls, while a father and little boy rock it Gangnam-style over to the side. After a few tons of soap bubbles and some mean Indian tunes, it's time for a food break.

Back from the break, a wedding party has formed around the entrance, with Vaskers of all shape and size surrounding the couple, covering their heads with an ornate parasol, or jaipuri. Headed by Re'em on the dohol drum, and armed with glittery wooden sticks called dan'gia, the wedding train heads out all the way up to the henna, or mehndi, tent, courtesy of Rutie of Taj Mahal Productions, filled with every color and shape of ritual objects, all with their own meaning and significance. There are twin spinning lanterns, meant to ward off evil spirits (sa'mai); candy, for a sweet life; coconut, so that the family is blessed with sustenance, and beautiful patterns made of multicolored rice, for fertility, and so on, ad infinitum. On both sides, the happy party is flanked by towering andas, standing in for the piles of pots guests would bestow on the young couple.

The couple place garlands on each other, with grandchildren big and small giggling in the background, in the area reserved for the bridesmaid and the best man. Next, Tzipi feeds both candy, and proceeds to tie silver headbands onto her mom and dad (making sure to press them against the older granddaughters' forehead, as a blessing). Next up, Ariela takes a good handful of henna and cakes it around Yitzhak's index finger, with Hadassah doing the same for Pnina. Then, guests file in one by one, blessing the couple with dyed rice and folded bills. After both rice and guests are quite spent, dancing resumes, with Pnina and Yitzhak leading the way.

Music: Traditional Indian music, at the request of the blushing bride ("I wanted it to feel like the old days").

Food: Stands at reception: Meat tortillas, braised beef, and veggie noodles. First course: Fish fillet (tilapia). Main Course: Assorted meat platter with a side of mashed potatoes and salad.

Drink: Coke et al., wine, and whiskey.

Word in the ear: Pnina about the merits of an arranged marriage: "In an arranged marriage, each family takes time to really inspect the other family, see who the father is, who the mother is, who the grandfather is. I think that's good. If there's a good family, then the man or woman are going to be good people. Today, marriage is only about what people can get out of each other, their interests, not stability."

In my spiritual doggy bag: That love, security, and a happy family have more to do with sticking it out than modern notions of sticky romanticism.

Random quote: One female family member, stopping the drumming of one of the elder grandsons: "Does that even have a rhythm? You're not playing in the 'hood you know!"

Want to take part in Someone Else's Simcha? Want to invite Haaretz to your family celebration? Send word to: ron.bent@haaretz.co.il

Pnina and Yitzhak Vasker: Still happy after 50 years together.Credit: Gil Cohen Magen

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