On Saturday morning, the elderly woman on duty at the gate of Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael directed the arriving wedding guests to the main parking lot near the dining hall. Although the kibbutz is on the seashore, the simple wedding was to be held in a more accessible and location, the air-conditioned members’ club.
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That made sense, considering that the bride has just turned 93, and the groom will be 94 in a few months. After having four children together (the oldest is 71), 12 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren, Jimmy Shamun and Rivka Lifschitz, among the kibbutz founders, have finally decided to tie the knot.
“We didn’t have a wedding, it wasn’t the custom on the kibbutz,” Shamun explained as he welcomed the guests, seated next to his life partner. The guests enjoyed lunch together in the club, the walls of which were adorned with pictures of the couple and their tribe. Then there was a small ceremony.
No wedding canopy or breaking of a glass, but relatives telling about the couple, great-granddaughters scattering flowers on the floor and a white wedding cake with colorful images of bride and groom. The bride wore a flowered blouse; the groom wore a button-down shirt and a hat made by the kibbutz’s plastics plant.
Shani, one of the granddaughters, said in her toast that she discovered that at some point the kibbutz had registered them as married without their knowledge. Roni Lifschitz, a distant relative, told how Rivka had kept her original name when she believed that none of her relatives had survived the Holocaust, and before she met Roni’s father in Israel. But then Jimmy interrupted and gallantly said: “She kept her name because she’s independent. She’s a person and I’m a person, even when there’s a connection.”
One of the young great-granddaughters just couldn’t hold back and burst out: “But why are you getting married now?” Shamun explained to her that “thanks to the wedding, we were able to get everyone together. We are one couple and you’re all connected to us in some way. That gives us a reason for living. Some of you hardly ever see each other and we needed something extreme.”
In talking to some of the guests, it was clear how very extreme this was for the couple. Elad Shamun, the couple’s grandson, said his grandfather was very anti-establishment and anti-Rabbinate, and also didn’t like to be the center of attention. “He was willing to put himself in the center for one day to get everyone together,” Elad said.
Hila Koler, the wife of one of the grandsons, said: “At first nobody believed they were serious because Jimmy doesn’t really go with the flow. And then all the grandchildren took matters in hand. We started a WhatsApp group and he liked that the best,” she said.
Shamun knew each of the guests personally. He introduced one man as “a special man. He was born in Switzerland, went to ulpan [Hebrew class] made a connection with one of the girls and settled here. He has three children and he’s a close friend; every morning he comes to check whether I’m still alive.” Turning to another young man, he introduced him as a worker near where Shamun still repairs electrical appliances for the kibbutz.
Rivka Lifschitz was born in Germany and came to Jerusalem with Youth Aliyah when she was 14. Jimmy was born in Baghdad, and his family moved to England, from where he came to live in Israel and study at Gymnasia Herzliya in Tel Aviv when he was 13.
After a time in Pardes Hannah, the Kibbutz members moved to a site near Rehovot, where they operated a secret bullet factory deep underground beneath a kibbutz. Rivka worked in the laundry. In 1948, after the factory closed, the kibbutz moved to its current location.
“What’s left are our memories and your future,” Shamun said during the party. “Together we founded this place and we’ve seen a blessing in our work.”