Amid Coronavirus, at Israel’s Banquet Halls There Is Little to Celebrate

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Illustrative: A Jewish wedding.
Illustrative: A Jewish wedding. Credit: Evgeniy pavlovski / Shutterstock.com

After the date of her wedding had to be changed four times, Omer Goraly of Nof Hagalil finally had her bachelorette party on Friday. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement that gatherings were being limited to 50 people in light of the latest surge in COVID-19 infections, has cast a new shadow of uncertainty on the couple’s planned nuptials.

“Now it’s already a crying party,” Chen Yasnits, Omer’s fiance, tells Haaretz. Although the new restriction must be approved by the Knesset before going into effect, Yasnits recognizes that the festivities will probably be put on hold once more.

“After this I don’t plan to reschedule,” he says.

Some 550 guests were expected to attend the wedding, at Afula’s Beresheet hall.

“In March we were watching television and saw the events canceled before our eyes, and we postponed until May,” Yasnits says. But the pandemic didn’t disappear, and he and Goraly moved the event to October.

File photo: An Israeli events hall.Credit: Troy

“And then the media were saying that in October there would probably be an outbreak due to winter,” and we moved it forward, to July 16,” he says. They changed the date yet again after the cabinet decided that indoor weddings with up to 250 people would be allowed only through July 9. “We scrambled to push up the date, I drove all the suppliers crazy,” Yasnits says.

“I’m 90-percent certain the wedding reception isn’t going to happen,” Yasnits adds, disappointment in his voice. “If Grandpa or Grandma catch the virus, how will I be able to sleep at night?”

He says his family alone is 80 people, so holding a wedding with only 50 guests is out of the question. Yasnits is a paramedic and ambulance driver with Magen David Adom, and conducts coronavirus testing around the clock. “As it looks now, the coronavirus is here to stay, Either we learn to live with it or do something extreme, but you can’t drive us nuts,” he says, regarding the country’s decision-makers.

Ahmed Abedah, owner of Almas halls in Acre, has had to stop activity at his wedding hall following coronavirus restrictions, June 7, 2020.Credit: Remi Shelish

Laura Moha, who lives in Moshav Barak, in northern Israel, was looking forward to the bar mitzvah of her son Ron, as a beacon of hope following a series of family tragedies. After her youngest daughter, now eight, recovered from a serious illness, Laura’s husband fell ill and died two and a half years ago. “We haven’t really recovered,” Moha says. “[The bar mitzvah] was supposed to be a moving event, joy but also tears. It was everything to me. It was my husband’s dream to hold it in a banquet hall, and our son also very much wanted that. I have no words to describe the pain, I’m so confused. I try to relax, so as not to have a heart attack beforehand,” she says.

Moha says the bar mitzvah was originally scheduled for March, at Pe’er Halls in Afula, with more than 320 guests. It was postponed until May, and then to July 9. The planning began a year and a half ago, she says, “and I’m on my own. I’ve never done an event like this alone, it’s complicated. My husband was a photographer, he took care of this sort of thing.” The guest list has been cut to 150, and it will have to be reduced to 50 if the cabinet resolution is approved. Moha says she understands the situation, but she’s angry at the people who broke the rules and led to the latest restrictions. “It’s frustrating that over things like this I have to cancel my event again and again. My son doesn’t understand. Yesterday he cried, and I couldn’t stop him. He asked, “Why? Don’t I deserve it?”

Alongside the pressure and uncertainty faced by their customers, banquet hall owners are taking a huge economic hit. Erez Shedo, the owner of Beresheet, Pe’er and other event venues in and around Afula, says the coronavirus crisis drove him to tear up his Likud party membership card.

“My father has been a member of the Likud Central Committee for 30 years, and I was No. 3 in the party’s Afula branch two years ago,” Shedo says. “For years I voted for Likud automatically, I didn’t care about investigations,” he says, referring to Netanyahu’s legal problems. But now, he says with evident pain, “I’d cut off my hand that voted for them, the way they’re cutting off our sector. They killed us. I’m 45 and I’m on sleeping pills. Maybe a Meretz government would be better. You don’t put together an emergency government in order to bring us down.”

Shedo says venue owners who demonstrate flexibility and allow their customers to change their dates bear a heavy economic burden as a result, including rent, bills and salaries of regular employees. He says that during his 30 years in the business, he always did whatever the state asked and made all his payments on time. But now that he needs the state, “They threw us away. I’m not [Harel] Wiesel or [Jacob] Halperin,” he says, referring, respectively, to the CEOs of the Fox Group chain of clothing stores and the self-named, ubiquitous chain of optical shops. “I deserve a rescue plan, a defibrillator. [The government] had months to get organized and draw up an economic program in the event of another outbreak. That’s no way to organize.”

Ahmad Abdah, who owns the Almas event hall in Acre, says his entire days are filled with phone calls, including from other hall owners. “I tell them to cancel events,” he says. “The prime minister ruined us.” The government decisions have been a death knell for the Arab community’s event halls, he says. Arab families won’t hold ev ents for 50 people, he says — the smallest events are for 300 or 350.

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