Two years ago, while traveling South America, I met a bunch of Israelis. You already know this but I don’t think I told you about Ilan — the young, crazy, kitesurfer Ilan who is probably the funniest Israeli friend I have today. Almost everyone in Israel is called Ilan (it’s a very popular Jewish name that means “tree”) but this Ilan is different. Aside from he keeps rubbing the meaning of his name to our faces (seriously, I am not sure why a tree is so important), he is someone I didn’t randomly meet in a bus station somewhere but someone who I shared days of being drunk, fat and everything in between.
When I started traveling, I lost sight of how important life events are. I missed a lot of holiday celebrations, including my parents’ wedding. As a woman going into deep explorations about her journey of self-discovery, I realised that traveling is good but at the same time, there were things I had to miss that might’ve appeared simple and forgettable to me, but to the people who treat me as a part of their lives, it is something very important. Being a daughter, a sister, a cousin and a friend comes with responsibility. I then promised myself that when people are important, I will do my best to attend their major life events, hoping that this schedule with ‘work’ will allow me.
In August 2015, Ilan announced that he’s getting married in a year. It was pretty shocking to us — when you are out there backpacking, you’ll never think that people are actually planning their lives. For me, we were all children who were trying to find ourselves through traveling in the hopes of figuring sh*^t out along the way.
Much more when he showed us a picture of the woman he was about to get married to. I have never seen anyone as beautiful as Batel. It has become an inside joke: there is no way Ilan will get married to this very very beautiful woman. I am not exaggerating. Batel is someone who is hard to look away to. To be fair, Ilan is equally good-looking. He just needed a shave.
And so, my friends and I went to Israel to attend Ilan and Batel’s wedding and believe me, it was the craziest episode of the first few chapters of my life in Israel.
Weddings are big in Israel
Not just big as a celebration but big as a life event. Sure, weddings are big in every country in the world, I suppose because this is a time to shed a tear to a love that you witnessed through the years but the one of Israel is young and more often, rushed. As far as my pool of Israeli friends is concerned, Batel and Ilan were the only ones who’ve been together for 7 years before getting married. Some decide to tie the know at early as 5 months of being in a relationship. No, no, no. In your culture, it is bad but Israelis are more often sure of who they want to be with for the rest of their lives. This is the result of the short-term thinking that they have and it’s not bad at all. It’s just that I’ve never seen like it. I met couples who are married longer than they were as girlfriends and boyfriends. I understood how marriages are seen in Israel though I would still freak out if somebody proposes to me after 5 months of dating.
If you live in Israel and have developed a circle, you will definitely attend weddings every month and fill your fridge with picture magnets from the weddings you’ve been to. Yep, those magnets is also a culture here. If you come to a young Israeli’s flat, look at their fridges and tell me what you see. If you didn’t see any picture magnets, then that person probably missed a lot of weddings.
Up to 800 people are invited (always)
200 is small. 500 is usually the normal number of guests. From your grandmother’s neighbour to your grandmother’s neighbour’s niece, to your wedding photographer’s flatmate, everyone is invited. Even people the bride and groom don’t personally know will be present. They are often greeted by people who make them think “where the feck did I meet this person?! Do I even know him?! He’s eating my wedding cake!”
No. Just kidding. They don’t say that. From my observations, they are probably used to being wedding crashed that they will just accept the hugs and kisses from strangers who were wishing them well.
Dressing up is not a problem. When in doubt, wear jeans. Or pajamas.
No. I’m kidding again. The pajama remark is not entirely true but the jeans? The casual wear? Oh my. As you know, I came to Israel with some cheap European airline lost my luggage when I landed Tel Aviv. The dress I was supposed to wear to the wedding was there — a dress from a very remarkable Philippine fashion designer that I should’ve had the honour and privilege to wear in an Israeli wedding. It should’ve been a night I wouldn’t have had to look like a hipster backpacker but oh well… What’s done is done.
Our hostel receptionist told me I sholdn’t sweat it as I can wear something casual in an Israeli wedding but I refused to accept. It’s not okay! My friends were all wearing nice clothes! I had to look nice in my first ever Jewish wedding.
I did what I thought was right — I bought another dress. You know shopping is not very cheap in Israel but I still did it. It’s Ilan. Come on, we need to invest a little. Come wedding time, I was shocked to see that 50% of the guests were casually dressed.
Do not bring gifts. Money is enough.
A day before the wedding, me and my friends went around Tel Aviv looking for the best (and funniest) wedding card. Fortunately, two of our Austrian girl friends were friendly enough that they met someone who’s selling wedding cards while having coffee in Florentin. Solved. We have a gift. All we had to do was to write in it.
At the entrance of the wedding venue, there was a big dropbox full of white envelopes. Everyone were falling in line before entering. “Oh, everyone brought wedding cards!” we thought. Little did we know that we had to put money in the drop box like everyone else did. In Israel, weddings are money-making machines. They will plan the most extravagant wedding without considering how they are going to pay for it because everyone will always give money. The financial contribution will cover the cost of the entire wedding — including their honeymoon.
We were told that the minimum “gift” is 300 nis ($78 USD approx) so we all gave our contribution. After a while, when people found out we gave money, they told us we shouldn’t have had to do it because coming there (at our own airfare and accommodation expenses) is more than enough. Too late. The envelope was dropped in the box.
This is probably the reason why some young people avoid attending weddings. It is very expensive. As a start-up nation, Israel has an app for everything — including a wedding calculator. I don’t know what this app is called but it will help you decide how much to give. There will be series of questions you will be asked to answer and in the end, depending on your answers, the app will give you the right amount to contribute. You don’t even have to decide yourself.
In conclusion, it is safe to say that if you served in the army with the person getting married, you will give bigger bucks. The metrics of the app depend on the relationship (i.e. went to school together, childhood friend, Army commander, weed dealer, etc). The deeper the relationship, the higher the amount.
The loudest ceremony
Everyone started yelling when the bride entered. My friends and I started looking at each other like “are we supposed to do something?!” It was a hell of a loud entrance. Imagine hundreds of people cheering? I am used to very solemn ceremonies where you are mandated to keep quiet and shed a tear when the bride starts walking the aisle. In Israel, it’s not the case. From start to finish, the ceremony is loud as feck. It’s also in Hebrew so when you feel lost, just cheer with the crowd and you will fit in.
There will always be unlimited supply of food and drinks
I ate so much during the pre-ceremony cocktail because it looked like a dinner buffet but after the ceremony, I found myself regretting the decision of not taking it slowly. Not just me, but all of us. There will always be unlimited supply of food and people make the most out of it. You paid for it, so you should. I didn’t eat so much during dinner proper because I was really stuffed but I was looking around like I’ve never seen so much food in my life!
Come party time, drinks were flowing like a dam. Whatever cocktail/drink you prefer, just go to the bar and ask for it. It was like going out with the owner of a bar — sky is the limit.
After the drinking session, there will be another round of food. Israelis know the drill — if you come home drunk without eating, you will wake up with a hangover the following day. Apparently, they take care of this, too. It’s amazing!!!
You will get tired from dancing
I did not have the energy to dance that much but looking at how the bride and groom were thrown in the air with blankets, lifted for piggyback rides and carried through tables and a stack of chairs, I swear, I got tired, too. Where in the world did they get all these energies? Israeli weddings also start very late (about 20:00) and will end late, too (2:00-3:00). You will find yourself wanting to sleep for 24 hours after the wedding. That is, if you participated in the craziness.
A lot of Israelis (guests and family) were shocked that we were at the wedding
Due to the high fare and high cost of living in Israel, relatives who are living abroad sometimes fail to go home to attend. We were given special mention all the time as we are a delegation of united colours (Philippines, Denmark and Austria), all came from different parts of the globe (Copenhagen, Hong Kong, Barcelona and Berlin). The most frequent question: “why would you do that for Ilan? It’s amazing!”
I don’t know, but for us, it is perfectly normal to attend a wedding of a person who is important to you. It also served as a mini reunion for all of us because we all shared a big chunk of each other’s lives back when we were still traveling Peru so for us, it’s no big deal. We can do it for anyone who were a part of that Paracas circle.
Like what I said, Ilan is not just someone I randomly met. He is someone I shared my life with, in the strangest period of my adulthood. Now that I made Israel as my home-base, Batel and Ilan are my emergency contacts because I know, in case of emergency, they will always be there for me. That’s proven and tested. In fact, this friendship is.
Photos: © Idan Hasson
Have you attended an Israeli wedding? What are your observations? I’d like to hear your thoughts! Please leave them on the comment box below.