Loud raucous party halls featuring tacky chandeliers. Tables laden with greasy chicken and salads doused in mayonnaise. Cheap liquor, under-dressed grooms (think: shorts and sandals), black-hatted Orthodox rabbis racing through the blessings, and complete irreverence for formality and decorum.
These were once the telltale signs of an Israeli wedding. But not so much anymore. Today, with good taste and attention to detail being the new norms, and with more couples going for weddings that reflect their personalities and values – those wholesale-style affairs have become a relic of the past.
“Nobody wants cookie-cutter weddings anymore,” notes Naomi Tabor, a popular wedding planner who recalls being shocked when she experienced her first weddings in the country after emigrating from France 15 years ago.
“Those were the days when they would use to use those horrible satiny tablecloths at weddings, and things were done in such poor taste,” she sighs.
The holiday of Lag Ba’omer – which falls this week and provides a one-day respite from the traditional seven-week mourning period that begins after Passover, during which it is forbidden by Jewish law to get married – is a big wedding day in the country. But the official wedding season kicks off only next month, immediately after the holiday of Shavuot, and lasts until October, when the dry season is over.
To usher in the season, we’ve prepared a list of 11 hot new wedding trends in Israel.
* Reverse weddings. What’s switched around here is the traditional order of events: At these celebrations, the big meal comes first and the chuppah ceremony follows. The idea behind this particular format is not just to be different for the sake of being different, but also to accommodate guests arriving after a long day of work. In this country, almost all weddings take place on workdays. Israel being Israel, time is never sacred, so it is not uncommon for the chuppah to take place an hour or more after the time designated on the invitation. The upshot is that many guests, tired and hungry after a hard day’s work, are not as focused as they should be on the main highlight of the evening. Thus was born the clever idea of feeding them first.
* Friday weddings. These take place during the day, of course, because no local rabbi in his right mind would agree to officiate at a wedding held on Shabbat. The appeal of Friday celebrations is two-fold: 1. Most Israelis don’t work on Friday, and the school day is typically shorter (in fact, many teens don’t even have classes on Fridays); and 2. It’s cheaper because there’s not as much demand for venues on that day of the week and because it’s possible to get away with lighter, brunch-style fare. Until just a few years ago, Friday was the only time available for a daytime wedding, what with Saturdays off-limits because of Shabbat. But a recent ruling by a group of modern Orthodox rabbis allows for weddings to be held on Israeli Independence Day, which falls during the above-mentioned seven-week mourning period, but warrants an exception, like Lag Ba’omer, according to the ruling. Unlike Lag Ba’omer, Independence Day is a national holiday, so everyone in the country is off. That has turned weddings on that day into a category of their own: It’s the one time a year in Israel that a bride and groom can begin their big day early and end it dancing late into the night (the equivalent of a Saturday or Sunday wedding abroad).
* Sleepover weddings. It takes a special kind of bride and groom to prefer spending their post-nuptial night roughing it up with all their buddies instead of pampering themselves in a honeymoon suite at the nearest five-star hotel. But they do exist, and their numbers are growing. These celebrations are typically held in the middle of a forested area – and there are quite a few to pick from in Israel. Friends of the bride and groom bring along sleeping bags, so that after the party is over, they can all camp out together under the stars (a type of activity that is obviously not suitable for elderly folks). To top it all off, a catered picnic breakfast is typically served at dawn.
* Socially conscious weddings. Also known as potluck affairs, these events require guests to bring along a dish to share. Obviously not suitable for a large number of guests, these are becoming the weddings of choice for a small, yet growing, demographic of young Israelis ideologically opposed to the increasing amounts of money being spent on lavish affairs that last but a few hours, at a time when poverty and other social problems pervade the country. At some such celebrations, the guests provide all the food, while at others, they suffice with the appetizers, sides and desserts – the bride and groom assuming responsibility for the main course. Invitations? No need to waste precious paper on something so trivial. Guests will generally be notified about the upcoming event by Whatsapp or email. Moreover, the guests at these DIY affairs are usually not expected to bring the usual big checks for the newlyweds.
* Out-of-the-box venues. Back in the day, Israeli weddings were generally held in big, charmless halls. From there, they transitioned to more appealing outdoor venues, typically the grounds of kibbutzim and other former agricultural communities that offered big outdoor spaces and pastoral settings. “Young Israelis today want a place that expresses their personal style,” says wedding planner Inbar Rotem, the founder and director of Bebke, which specializes in what it describes as “tailor-made” events. Incidentally, she and her husband got married in a carrot-and-potato packing house. “We are seeing more weddings out in nature, in the sand by the sea, in the dessert, in forests,” she says. “Many Israelis are holding weddings in wineries, old warehouses and even their favorite bar.”
* Shorter guest lists. Local wedding celebrations were once renowned as mass events: Aside from the immediate and extended family, the guest list was likely to include childhood friends from the neighborhood and school, old friends from the youth movement, new friends from work, army buddies, fellow travellers from the quintessentially Israeli post-army trek around the world, and university classmates. The list has become a bit more select of late, says Rotem. “Typically, an Israeli wedding has about 300-400 guests,” she notes, “although I have to say that five years ago, it was not uncommon to have a wedding with as many as 800-1,000 guests. Today, we’re doing more weddings for just 80 to 100 guests.” However, it’s not necessarily cheaper that way, she cautions: “People are just spending more money per guest.”
* Celebrity chefs and other culinary musts. “Gone are the days of choosing between chicken and steak,” says Lian Matias, the editor of Israel’s most popular wedding blog “My Day,” which is also published in English. “More and more venues are bringing local celebrity chefs to take the helm in the kitchen.” But even when it comes to those who can’t afford – or would rather not spend money on – big names like Yonatan Roshfeld, Ran Shmueli and Yisrael Aharoni, the quality of food at the typical wedding today is light-years away from what it used to be. As Judy Bernstein, who worked as a wedding planner for 15 years in the Orthodox community, sums it up: “Mayonnaise is out, out, out.” So what’s in, in, in? Sushi bars, taco bars, and obviously, very expensive cuts of meat. As Amit Bar Tzion, founder and director of Easywed, the wedding planning company that organizes the largest number of events in the country, points out: “Entrecote has become the standard.” Once considered a phenomenon confined exclusively to the so-called “Tel Aviv” bubble, vegan weddings are another hot trend, says Bar Tzion. So, too, are food trucks that serve up “libations with a twist,” as Matias describes it. The revolution hasn’t passed over beverages either, with expensive liquor labels the norm at most local weddings these days, where soft drinks in plastic bottles have also been replaced by what Bernstein calls “more boutique-y flavored water and sodas.”
* Stylish grooms and strange-footed brides. No, it is still not common for Israeli grooms to dress in suits or tuxedoes. While fashions have certainly changed in the country, the climate has not, and the warm temperatures typical of the local wedding season still do not lend themselves to the layered look. “Hipster,” Rotem notes, is what best describes the look of many Israeli grooms today. Rather than the jacket and tie, they opt for the vest and bow tie. Many have also begun to sport a boutonniere. And the brides? White is still by far the color of choice for gowns, but many are breaking with tradition when it comes to footwear. At one recent wedding she planned, Rotem says the bride wore All-Star sneakers under the chuppah. At another, the female centerpiece of attention had bedroom slippers on her feet. “Pink and yellow shoes peeking out of the wedding gown have also become a thing,” says Rotem.
* Fewer establishment rabbis. In order to be officially recognized as a married couple by the Ministry of Interior, a bride and groom must be wed by an Orthodox rabbi approved by the Chief Rabbinate. Many young couples, ideologically opposed to the rigid rules of the Chief Rabbinate, have been choosing other options. According to a poll conducted earlier this year by Hiddush, an organization that promotes religious freedom in the country, 65 percent of Jewish Israelis oppose the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly on marriage, and an estimated 20 percent of all couples today marry outside the rabbinate. While in the past, many of those opting out of the rabbinate would marry abroad so that they could register as married, today more are opting to hold two ceremonies: one in Israel with friends and family, officiated by someone of their choice not sanctioned by the rabbinate, and a second civil ceremony abroad which will allow them to make their status official. According to Rabbi Ehud Bandel, a popular Conservative rabbi on the local circuit, a growing number of couples he marries are not bothering with the second ceremony – many of them, in a deliberate act of defiance. A growing number of Orthodox couples are also revolting against the rabbinate, preferring to tie the knot with the blessing of a rabbi of their choice, even if he is not sanctioned by the official rabbinical establishment. Rabbi Chuck Davidson is one such rabbi – in fact, one of a small handful of Orthodox rabbis who openly defy the rabbinate by officiating at such ceremonies. “This trend has gained momentum in recent years but what started it all, I believe, was the ultra-Orthodox takeover of the Chief Rabbinate about 20 years ago,” he says.
* A warm challah for the road. Many newlyweds want their guests to leave the festivities with something quintessentially Israeli or Jewish in their hands. Potted cactus plants have become a popular giveaway, as have freshly baked challahs – the latter a particular hit at pre-Shabbat weddings.
* Flower booths. Matias, the “My Day” blog founder, calls this one of the most uniquely Israeli wedding trends of recent years. As they arrive, guests are directed to a booth where they can choose from a wide selection of flowers to be arranged into their own personalized corsage, boutonniere, or wreath around the head. “It isn’t cheap,” she cautions, “but it goes a long way in making everything prettier and happier.”