Someone Else's Simcha Dror and Natti's Wedding: Kibbutz Love, Sans the Rabbi

A young secular couple sifts through the ins and outs of the traditional wedding ceremony to come up with something all their own.

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

Location: Kibbutz Dorot

Time: 4 P.M.

In the neighborhood: Hot desert sun blazing over the red-tiled rooftops of Dorot, a kibbutz situated about seven kilometers east of the southern town of Sderot, and about 15 kilometers from the northeast tip of the Gaza Strip. A young woman steps out to hang her laundry, intense in its color compared to the yellowing patches of wheat fields on the surrounding hills. A peacock's shrill cry breaks the easy Friday-afternoon lull.

Venue: Amid stretches of green lawn, tall palm trees reflect in Dorot's rectangular swimming pool. Colored paper boats float lazily in the clear water. On a stone surface, white tables and chairs are set under the cover of several white parasols, barely keeping out the blazing sun. On the other side of the surface, a white sheet is placed on the lawn, flanked by a small table with a bottle of wine, the site of the evening's civilian ceremonials.

Simcha: Dror and Natti's wedding

Number of guests: 150

Family history: Dror, 30, an advertising copywriter, was born to Naftali and Yehudit Lavi, raised in Dorot with his little brother Gilad. Natti, 27, a part-time nanny studying to be a naturopathic therapist, was born to Damian and Cecilia Calabrese, raised in nearby Kibbutz G'vulot. After her parents divorced, each moved on to form new families, turning only-child Natti to a sibling mogul (Damian has two kids from his second marriage in France, while Cecelia had two kids with her second husband, joining the two children he already had with his first wife). Damian: "It's an interesting mix"; Natti: "As far as I'm concerned they're all my close brothers and sisters."

Let's get together: Despite Natti and Dror being brought up just a few kilometers apart, they never set eyes on each other until one fateful Saturday afternoon in their adoptive hometown of Tel Aviv. Having both returned from their big post-army trips, the couple-to-be waited for the same bus until, when no bus came, they started talking. And talking (and talking some more). Eventually, the talkative two took a sherut taxi together, where they, ahem, talked.

Feeling the moment of truth draw near, Dror finally popped the question – the phone number one, obviously – only to realize, a second before Natti descended, that he didn't know one crucial piece of information. Dror: "So I said 'Uh, wait, what's your name? Oh, cool,' and she stepped off."

Safely in possession of both number and name, the first date came five days later in a Tel Aviv bar. Did they talk there too?

Natti: "Did we ever! At some point they even had to turn up the music." A year later, they moved in together in Jaffa, and two years after that came the wedding.

Dror and Natti
Dror and Natti's wedding at Kibbutz Dorot.
The wedding was held at Kibbutz Dorot, about 15 km from Gaza.
Dror and Natti's wedding

Tying the knot: With Natti and Dror both growing up in decidedly secular homes (Natti: "Very secular"), the couple decided they weren’t going to toe the wedding line and instead would come up with a ceremony of their own. So they researched the roots of the traditional Jewish wedding. With the aid of a secular rabbi, they chose the parts that would stay, albeit modified, and tossed others out the window. Natti: "It was a very significant and teaching process"; Dror: "We wanted to make the ceremony accessible to everyone, without anything separating us and our guests."

As for Natti's parents, who tied the knot in a civilian service almost 30 years ago, the choice was a blessing, despite the fact that they know their daughter's secular bond to her new husband isn't legally recognized by the state. Cecilia: "I would have stood under the chuppah if she would have wanted it, but I'm very glad I don't have to"; Lilach, Natti's sister: "I think it's really cool because they invested time and thought into getting it done exactly how they wanted to."

Rites: Friends and family slowly stream into the swimming pool compound, most heading straight for the bar to get a refreshing cup of lemon punch to ward off oppressive late-spring heat. Young men and women holding drinks chat around an industrial-strength fan, hiding under one of the white parasols.

A friend of the couple's walks in with the wedding cake, decorated with the likeness of a man and a woman lounging near a tree. "It won't stand up in this heat!" one friend advises, and the sugar installation is moved to the shade, but not before everyone has a chance to snap a picture on their iPhones.

One of the couple's friends, our MC for the night, picks up the mic and calls everyone to gather near the lawn, where white chairs are placed in rows before the ceremony site. Cecelia sits down in the front row and sets up a tripod for her video camera, as Dror's dad Naftali sets up his homemade bubble machine.

First up are the groom and bride, holding hands as they walk to the white sheet on the lawn, big smiles on both of their faces.

Dror thanks the crowd for coming to celebrate the "festival of their love," and the MC says the evening represents the "freedom and autonomy of the modern secular Jewish person." Next up, the couple reads their blessings to each other – Dror's consists entirely of famous lines from Israeli love songs. Natti: "You began making my dreams come true from the moment we met."

The MC calls family members and friends who go up one by one (or group by group) to bless the newlyweds in a nod to the traditional seven blessings: Damian, who hands out envelops with candy (for a "sweet life together"); Ceclia and her partner Carlos ("today a new family is sprouting out of love"); Dror's family, and the rest of the happy bunch.

Next up, the hooped-jewels part of the ceremony arrives, with the MC explaining that the rings mark the moment when Natti and Dror "lay the foundations for their mutual home in an egalitarian and mutual way." The bride and groom bless each other as they place the "bling." Everyone raises their tiny plastic wine cup, as Natti's red-haired nieces sprinkle rose pedals all over. The MC blesses the couple, wishing them luck in their new life. And with a flourish of "lechaim!" music bursts through and the dance floor is slowly filled.

Music: Easy listening jazz, Latin pop, and Israeli dance.

Food: Constant flow of bite-sized dishes: Sirloin tortillas, fish and chips, tomato and garlic gnocchi, eggplant and pesto crostini, salmon in teriyaki sauce, mini hamburgers, spicy sausages and beef bourguignon.

Drink: Wine, beer, fruit punch, sparkling wine, and soft drinks.

Word in the ear: Damian: "I think what they're doing is very important. They're telling a coercive [religious] system that they're Israelis that want to start a family here and they want to do it their way."

In my spiritual doggy bag: That throwing out the book doesn't mean you can't take a page from traditional ceremonies, or at least an educated look.

Random quote: Yonatan, Lilach's boyfriend, on whether there's a wedding in their future: "It's OK. I already know her favorite jewelry shop." Lilach: "But they don't have diamonds!"

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