Location: Troya ("Troy") reception hall
Time: 8 P.M.
In the neighborhood: An island of monolithic warehouses in a sea of drying corn fields near Moshav Bnei Darom, just outside of the southern Israeli port city of Ashdod. A sizable sign marking the wedding's venue is lit just as the sun begins to set, advertising the second coming of the fabled city of Troy to anyone driving on busy Route 4, which runs all the way from the border with Lebanon to mouth of the Gaza Strip.
Venue: A lush garden, anchored by a bubbling, round water feature, (filled, no doubt, with Hecuba's tears), with a twisting, ancient olive tree at its center. The new-ish façade of an ancient castle rises to the sky, complete with what appears to be a massive wooden portal, towering above everything in sight. Turning left toward the reception area (since the right side is occupied by the reception of another wedding), a long line of appetizer stands are revealed, situated near the battlements of the chuppah area. Inside the hall, dozens of tables, decked in black tableclothes and adorned with golden candlesticks, fill out the massive space, illuminated by a projector throwing changing images of the happy couple on the wall.
Simcha: Mike and Christine's wedding
Number of guests: 500
Home: Mike (26, an airport baggage transporter) was raised in a secular, yet traditional, home in Ashdod, to loving parents Badri Ben, 47, and Irma Ben, 41, both of Georgian extraction, along with his two younger brothers Itzik, 24, and Shlomi, 17. Christine, who was born to a secular home in Russia 21 years ago, coming to Israel with her mother Ina Vologodsky and little brother Stas, 20, when she was 8 years old, two years after her father Alexander was killed in the line of duty as a police officer in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk. Christine: "We had family here. My mother's parents thought moving to Israel would turn over a new leaf, start a new life."
A brief history of time: The two met in a pool hall where Christine once waited tables, and which Mike and his friends used to frequent. Did he hit on her? Christine: "I hit on him! I kind of liked him, and said 'why should I wait until he hits on me?' So I got his phone number, we started texting, and then dating. He's the first man I ever hit on, and the only man I'll ever be with." Mike: "I remember someone calling, and me not even knowing who it was. I didn't recognize her. But one thing led to another, and things got going."
Family history: Being both the first to marry in their generations, Mike and Christine's parents were excited about the wedding. But that joy was abruptly severed by when Ina, Christine's mother, died from heart failure just a few weeks before the planned celebration. She was 48.
Christine: "We thought about moving the date, but the rabbi wouldn't have it. He said that a wedding is a mitzvah, and once you set the date you can't change it." How did the preparations proceed? "Mike's parents were so helpful, I can never thank them enough. They took me in as their daughter." Badri: "She says we supported her, but really she supported us. She's a very special young woman."
Rites: After a long line of guests waits patiently to greet the famiy and take photographs with them, the rabbi's voice finally booms over the crowd, asking everyone to gather near the long, white-satin-lined aisle. Four little girls, all in white, sprinkle rose pedals on the long road to the chuppah. First Christine's family is invited to stand under the chuppah, followed by Mike's. Next, a smiling Mike, dressed in a silvery suit and tie, is escorted down the aisle by Badri and Badri's father Moshe, 78. And then, the moment everyone has been waiting for arrives. Christine appears at the end of the aisle, escorted by her maternal grandmother Tamara and a teary-eyed Irma. Mike approaches his bride, and the two walk to the chuppah together, with crackling sparklers lighting their way.
Mike and Christine's wedding
After the first round of blessings, as well as, of course, the all-important placing of the ring, the ketubah is read aloud, and then passed on for safekeeping to Irma, who stands in for Christine's mother. Then come the seven blessings, accompanied by two drummers dressed all in white, followed by the rabbi's short speech prior to the breaking of the glass ("Before the Great Temple's destruction, as we remembered last week in Tisha B'av, we were all one people, and after it we were split into different backgrounds, Gerorgian, Moroccan, Russian"). And, finally, with one swing of the foot (Rabbi, with a smile: "If he breaks it, don’t be too impressed, we put a disposable cup there") the glass is broken and a happy mob ransacks the podium. Christine's grandmother, still holding on to the ceremonial candle stick, slowly makes her way back down the aisle.
In the hall, guests wander over to the many tables arranged around a central square bar. Suddenly the lights go down and the newlyweds enter the room to a flourish of oversized shofars. Soft music then filters through the loudspeakers, as Mike and Christine take to the floor for their first slow dance as a couple. Family and friends gather around the dance floor to adoringly watch the young couple, as the air is filled with the heady mixture of smoke (courtesy of a nearby machine), soap bubbles (another machine) and softly-falling flakes from an unseen source in the ceiling. A spotlight follows. Several photographers, carrying enough equipment to shoot a Hollywood film, swarm all over the floor, immortalizing every angle of the atmospheric dance.
As if waking from a dream, the audience is revitalized by the sudden introduction of dance music, with guests finally joining the couple in a furious bout of shimmies and shakes.
Music: Middle Eastern pop and dance-floor bangers.
Food: Appetizers: Grilled beef, chicken tortillas, summery soups in cocktail glasses, and stir-fry. Inside the hall, tables groan under the weight of salads and breads, with an intermediate course of either salmon or veal folded into flaky pastry. Mains: A choice of spring chicken in chimichurri sauce or steak. But the real showstopper of cuisine is the couple's multi-layered masterpiece of a cake, topped by large figurines of a bride and groom, and crafted by hand by this groom's mother, Irma. Mike: "It's even more delicious than it is beautiful."
Drink: Vodka in its many earthly manifestations (clean, with Red Bull, clean), along with considerable amounts of whiskey, beer, or any other merriness-inducing tipple.
Word in the ear: Christine's grandmother, following the chuppah ceremony: "I believe God will make things better. That's how I pull through."
In my spiritual doggy bag: The ability to look brightly into the future, and celebrate the moment, as opposed to languishing over the past.
Random quote: Rabbi, talking Mike into blessing the wine just before the end of the chuppah: "It's just wine. Soon you'll get to the vodka."
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