I drop briefly at my mother’s apartment before my brother’s wedding. She’s dressing with the help of her extraordinary Indian caregiver, Swapna Santosh. I see her put on a white skirt (though previously she’d told me sternly that only brides wear white in weddings). I had just brought her the cream-colored lace jacket she loves to wear that my sister picked up from the dry cleaner, and as she puts that on I remind her to wear the gold necklace she got from her grandchildren and not to forget a shawl because the wedding will be outdoors and she may be cold. That’s when she looks at me.
“And what will you be wearing?”
“What I’m wearing, mom.” I tell her. A blue linen, well-cut dress. Colorful choker around the neck, Indian earrings—a gift from my brother who loves India—in my ears.
“That?” she says, shaking her head. I could almost read her mind, if only because in the past she hasn’t hesitated to put it into words: Looks like a bathrobe.
We had a wedding on Thursday night, a Jewish wedding. I’ve attended elegant events in banquet halls and large homes, restrained Buddhist ceremonies, church weddings with the organ pounding out the wedding march, and even in England watched the men in top hats and the women in flowers. I must tell you that when it comes to sheer joy and exuberance, there is nothing like a religious Jewish wedding.
From the beginning there is music, with men singing songs around the groom and women surrounding the bride with their songs, and as both groom and bride advance to the canopied chupa individually, their friends dance around and in front of them, accompanying them to the ceremony. I don’t care much for the ceremony itself—the officiating, witnessing, and blessings are given only by men with the bride standing passively by them—but almost as soon as it’s over the dancing resumes, continues throughout dinner, and goes on and on and on half the night.
My brother, Moti, and Ruth, his bride, couldn’t have all that in the pandemic. There was a limit of 20 people at outdoors gatherings, while indoors restaurants had low numbers they could accommodate. They ended up with 68 of their closest friends and relatives in a small, semi-wild preserve behind his apartment, dotted with trees and benches, with 20 close up and 48 (in theory) at a greater distance surrounding them, all masked. Her children, musicians all, played as their mother advanced to the canopy where the groom waited for her.
At the end of the ceremony they danced only briefly around the couple out of fear of the police coming to disperse them, and then followed the newly married couple down the path to a restaurant with 3 rooms and an outdoor patio that could legally accommodate this number. Food was served in individual Styrofoam boxes. In Israel, the rule is that you wear masks till you sit down at the restaurant table, and then you can take it off, but of course waiters wear the masks continuously.
I sat there with mother, sister, brother-in-law, an uncle and cousins, and thought that getting married in the middle of a pandemic takes a certain kind of audacity, not to mention logistics. It’s easier to leave arrangements to a banquet hall or hotel, but the restrictions are not only severe but always changing in Israel, which has a continuously high rate of covid infections. For this reason, many, many have postponed their weddings for after the pandemic. A wedding in the middle of a plague is a reminder of life.
In Deuteronomy in the Old Testament, God tells His people: “I have given you life and death—so choose life!” So many of us don’t. We lose awareness of the precious moment, we give our attention to slick social media manipulations, and choose to become unconscious. Still, in the face of illness, choose life. In the face of hardship and setbacks, choose life. Moti and Ruth chose life.
It’s so important not to let anything quash our spirits. They’re dampened often, but always we’re enjoined to make a choice. Not just to keep on going—there’s something heavy and resigned about that—but to seek the aliveness of the moment. In that sense it has nothing to do with who wins and who loses, something burns and illuminates all the time, and if I follow that light then things will be well.
For everyone? No. Forever? Of course not. But here I am, in Israel (I return home on Sunday), and recall a famous rabbinical saying: “Yours is not to finish the task; yours is to begin it.”
At the end we walk home, my mom looks up at the dark Jerusalem sky and points: “Look! A plane stopped flying!”
“It’s a star, mom,” my sister says, and pushes the wheelchair to the car.