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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Come as you are

One of the cultural stumbling blocks over which I find myself constantly, well... stumbling [that whirring sound you hear is my High School English teacher spinning merrily in her grave], is the tricky decision of what to wear to an Israeli wedding.

In the U.S. I had a much better handle on the social niceties, and in many cases the hosts would gently guide you by indicating on the invitation how formal (or informal) the affair was going to be. 

But here in Israel there seems to be no reliable guide one can use to judge what to wear to a wedding.  You just sort of make a wild guess based on what you know about your hosts and dress accordingly.

This method has let me down on more than a few occasions.

I've shown up at weddings here wearing a suit and tie, only to find half the men wearing casual slacks and open-necked shirts... and the rest in jeans and t-shirts.  I've also shown up wearing a white shirt and slacks only to find most of the men walking around in jackets and ties. 

It's gotten to the point where I sometimes bring a few extra items of clothing in the car as a hedge against the inevitability embarrassment of guessing wrong. (For the record, my wife somehow always manages to be dressed impeccably and appropriate to the occasion.  That I don't 'accidentally' spill something on her is a testament to what a good sport I am. :-)

Last night Zahava and I attended the wedding of a friend from our town.  The bride was one of my regular trempisti'ot (hitchhikers) to Beer Sheva over the past year, and we have become quite friendly during the hours together in the car.  She is a very low key, down-to-earth person... so while I surveyed the possibilities for humiliation hanging in my closet, I hazarded a guess that the attire would be more towards the casual end of the scale.  The fact that the wedding was to take place at a small rural Moshav (sort of a collective farm) helped cement my decision.  Slacks and an open-necked shirt it was.

When we showed up, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was to be an outdoor affair, and that several men were walking in dressed at about the same level of studied slovenliness as I was.  But when we got inside I got a big surprise that has changed the way I will view the issue of wedding attire forever.

It seems the groom is an officer in the elite Magallan Paratrooper unit of the IDF.  I hadn't really given it much thought until we walked into the place, but obviously he and most of his friends had been fighting for their lives in Lebanon for the past month... and the wedding was taking place only two days after the cease-fire took effect.

How do you plan a wedding under such circumstances?!?

Well, it turns out that the two families had gone ahead with the final preparations for the wedding in hopes that the fighting would end in time.  Israelis are incredible optimists that way.

When I was talking with the Bride's mother before the ceremony, she told me that the army had offered to let the groom leave Lebanon early for his wedding, but he refused to leave his men while the war was still raging.  His rationale was that his men were already operating under extremely dangerous conditions in enemy territory... and to have a new, unfamiliar officer take over his command would further endanger everyone.  So he made the decision to stay.

Looking around the reception it was easy to spot the groom's friends.  They fell into three groups:

1.  Those that had returned from Lebanon two days ago.  These were the guys whose sunburns had mostly faded to tans and who had been able to shower, shave and change into mostly clean uniforms.

2.  Those who had returned from Lebanon the previous night.  While they had shaved and had managed to buy or borrow clean white t-shirts during the day (and had tossed aside their sweat-stained olive-colored uniform shirts), they still wore filthy army pants.

3.  Those who had come directly from Lebanon to the wedding that day.  These were the guys who hadn't had a chance to even wash their faces or find a clean t-shirt.  They had several days worth of stubble on their cheeks and still wore their dirty army uniforms stained with the soil of Lebanon.

What all of these young men shared in common was the inevitable M-16 casually slung over a well-muscled shoulder, and an impossible level of enthusiasm and energy... broad toothy smiles and friendly shouts that gave hint to the simple, unimaginable pleasure they were experiencing at being safe and alive. 

As Zahava and I wandered around the place we watched as groups of these young soldiers hugged each-other with joy, asked after friends who had 'only' been wounded... and occasionally paused to quietly mention the name of a friend/comrade who was conspicuously absent.

Walking around with many of these active duty and reserve soldiers were girlfriends, and the occasional wife.  Maybe it was my imagination, but the women seemed to absolutely drink in the men with their eyes as if to constantly confirm that they were really standing there beside them.

Nowhere was this deep, penetrating gaze more apparent than under the chuppah (the marriage canopy).  As silence fell over the gathered crowd sitting under the open sky and the ceremony began, all eyes were on the bride... and her eyes never left the strong, smiling face of her groom for even an instant.

Zahava leaned over and whispered to me that she couldn't imagine how the bride had managed to remain sane knowing that terrorists had been trying desperately to kill her soon-to-be husband in a foreign country only days before they were to start their life together.  While I understood and admired the groom's loyalty to his men, I couldn't help agreeing with her on that point.  This beaming, beautiful bride was made of stronger stuff than I could imagine.

I've been to hundreds of weddings in my life and am loath to compare one to another.  Each is special and each is the holy union of two people.  But I have never seen the likes of the dancing that ensued once the couple were officially married last night.

The men, who should have been too exhausted to move, flew around in wild circles lifting the groom (and each-other) high into the warm night air. I stopped trying to keep up after 10 or 15 minutes.  The women matched (and maybe even exceeded) the men for sheer output of energy... and the two groups sang so loud that the highly amplified band seemed only a background afterthought by comparison.

As we ate the courses of the festive meal together under the starry night sky, I couldn't help but notice that all the happy celebrants seemed to exist entirely in the present.  No talk of yesterday's events.  No thought of what the morning might bring.  And most of all, nobody seemed to notice that some people were wearing dresses or jackets... others were dressed in the equivalent of rumpled, dirty, olive green pajamas... and the rest fell somewhere in between.

It was then and there that I resolved never again to worry about anything so meaningless as what to wear to a wedding.   

I realize now that to be Israeli is to just show up to share your friend's happiest occasions... and occasionally their grief.  Nobody is interested that you are a snappy dresser or that you know what people are wearing this season in Paris or Milan.  They want you there to help celebrate and commemorate an important event in their lives.  You, not your wardrobe.

If an Israeli host bothered to take note, they would notice that this person came dressed in a jacket and tie... and that other person joined the celebration in their very best jeans and t-shirt.  And they would conclude that both were dressed exactly appropriate to the occasion. 

But no Israeli host would ever notice such things.  Because the height of Israeliness is that people honestly expect you to simply come as you are.

219_95

Posted by David Bogner on August 16, 2006 | Permalink

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Which reminds me of a story.

I was driving into work with my usual jeans and tee, when I remembered that I was invited to a Bris for one of my hareidi co-workers that morning.

I couldn't go all the way back home, so I drove to the Bris, only to find all of the men dressed in long black coats and suits.

I was slightly embarrassed, until the father of the boy, the husband of my co-worker, strode over to me and welcomed me, saying how much it meant to them that I was able to come. He had never even met me before.

I said that I felt underdressed, and he said not at all, that these were his friend's everyday clothes, too. And what was important was that I had come.

Big fuzzies.

Yehuda

Posted by: Yehuda Berlnger | Aug 16, 2006 1:14:37 PM

Amen!

It is for fantastic posts like this one that I read your blog- and blogs in general.

(BTW, just to get back to shallow nonsense, I'm also in the carry-spare-items-(ie shoes)-in-car-to-wedding camp, and I'm a girl. Go figure)

Posted by: PP | Aug 16, 2006 1:14:50 PM

Wow.
My friend's wedding last Wednesday in Jerusalem was a nice Israeli mix, although of course not as wide-ranging as the wedding you described.
My other friend's wedding in NYC this past Sunday, on the other hand, was the craziest, funniest-and-most-fun, geekiest wedding ever. There were people wearing suits, and people wearing weird suits, and people wearing costumes, and people wearing "slacks and an open-necked shirt" as you put it, and people even more casual than that...

But it definitely doesn't compare to an Israeli wedding immediately following war.

Posted by: Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) | Aug 16, 2006 3:08:50 PM

why is your english teacher spinning?

sounds like a great wedding, i wish i coulda gone.

Posted by: Tonny | Aug 16, 2006 3:12:40 PM

Good post, but I still am catching phrases like "Israelis are incredible optimists that way." in your posts. I mean, time to say "we" instead of "Israelis", don't you think?

As a matter of fact, the right moment to start using "we" is when you step of that plane, you know...

Cheers.

Posted by: SnoopyTheGoon | Aug 16, 2006 3:31:33 PM

What a terrific post!! Bless the new couple and all the soldiers -- active duty and reserves.

Posted by: Yaron | Aug 16, 2006 3:33:55 PM

thank you for sharing that story

:)

Posted by: Sarah | Aug 16, 2006 3:36:31 PM

Your post brought tears to my eyes.

Posted by: mother in israel | Aug 16, 2006 3:44:06 PM

What a beautiful post!

My first Israeli wedding was my first night on the kibbutz. I knew absolutely no one (not even the other ulpanistim who had arrived) and my Hebrew was pretty rusty, but I was welcomed with smiles and outstretched hands. It really didn't matter who I was. All that mattered was that I was there to share in the celebration.

It's a special memory for me. And it still pales in comparison to what you've just described.

Posted by: Cara | Aug 16, 2006 4:21:09 PM

Yehudah... May I assume that when you wrote "Big fuzzies" you really meant 'warm fuzzies'. You see, "Big fuzzies" makes me think you might have been talking about the Hasidim present at the Brit. ;-)

PP... You see? I'm capable of occasionally stopping my incessant ax grinding. :-)

Steg... The only way I've been able to describe the difference between an American and Israeli wedding to someone who has never experienced both is that an American wedding is like a really well engineered studio recording while an Israeli wedding is the live concert version of the album.

Tonny... My high school English teacher (Mrs Taylor)was really into alternative energy sources. Before she died she wrote up a will that stipulated that she should be wrapped in miles of copper wire and buried inside a magnetic coffin. That way each time I wrote a sentence like the first one in today's post, the world would be provided with a nearly limitless source of free electricity.

Snoopy the Goon... When I write the term 'Israeli' I might mean one of two different things. The first is citizenship. I became in Israeli in this sense the moment I made aliyah. The second is the cultural sense. While I will likely spend the rest of my life learning cultural lessons such as the one I described in today's post... I will never truly be an Israeli in this sense. That will be my children's inheritance.

Yaron... Thank you. They need all the blessings they can get right now.

Sarah... Don't thank me... I'm a giver. :-)

Mother in Israel... If it makes you feel any better, I cried at the wedding and again while writing about it. :-)

Cara... Let's not get all competitive. Some people's memories are just of higher quality than others. ;->

Posted by: treppenwitz | Aug 16, 2006 4:28:47 PM

beautiful post!
We had a touching moment at the eden palace last night when the father recited tehilim prior to the chatan/kallah dance set-400 voices as one.
hey-does this mean you don't need the short sleeve Hawaiian tuxedo shirt anymore?

Posted by: Robert I | Aug 16, 2006 4:51:35 PM

Wow. Wow. What an unbelievable couple. Mazel Tov and thanks for sharing.

Posted by: Essie | Aug 16, 2006 5:08:34 PM

Ahem. Kleenex alert.

You're such an amazing storyteller. As much as I wish you'd surreptitiously brought a camera, you really didn't need one. I can picture every face and every expression just from your words.

p.s. Sadly, any American woman who wanted a wedding like that would have to elope. It's definitely a cultural thing, making weddings into life-size fabergé eggs, here.

p.p.s. Your electromagnet teacher would be proud that you didn't end the sentence with a preposition!

Posted by: Tanya | Aug 16, 2006 5:14:29 PM

Very nice.

Posted by: Jack | Aug 16, 2006 6:25:41 PM

It's been said before (and certainly said better), but it's not Life that conquers death, it's Love.

Thanks for a story that so vividly reminded me of that.

Posted by: Talmida | Aug 16, 2006 6:58:46 PM

Man, I'm having my first "wake up" cup of coffee this morning and I'm already crying. Trep, you sly guy, you did it again. You really need that kleenex alert icon! Beautiful story. I could see it you wrote it so well.

Posted by: Tracey | Aug 16, 2006 7:00:55 PM

Sadly, I have not yet been to Israel...but reading your post makes me long to do so even more than the davening I do every day. Another Treppenwitz masterwork.

Posted by: Elisson | Aug 16, 2006 7:10:17 PM

You remind me of a prophet, comforting us after we’ve witnessed our defeat and destruction.

“Yet again shall be heard in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride.”

Jeremiah 33:10-11

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Aug 16, 2006 7:15:48 PM

Your post brought tears to my eyes.

Mine as well. Beautiful, Trep.

Posted by: Ezzie | Aug 16, 2006 7:25:44 PM

Wow. Beautiful post. Thanks.

Posted by: Rahel | Aug 16, 2006 7:58:04 PM

beautiful. and you know... if it weren't for all those explosions and such - I may put this wonderous place on our retirement considerations list.

Posted by: lisa | Aug 16, 2006 8:43:57 PM

Thanks so much for this beautiful article which captures so beautifully the unique spirit of our wonderful Israeli young men and women, God bless them. And may the young couple know much joy till 120.

Posted by: Leonie Lachmish | Aug 16, 2006 10:26:59 PM

echoing Elisson, your words make me feel a lot better about this whole mess.

Posted by: david | Aug 16, 2006 10:41:25 PM

oops, i meant Dr. Bean. sorry, Elisson, maybe next time :)

Posted by: david | Aug 16, 2006 10:42:48 PM

Absolutely amazing - and completely the opposite of the mentality in my community, where, when you go to a festive occasion, even if you're impoverished and wear the same clothes every single day of the year, you have to dress up like a model just for that occasion. : D Beautiful, inspiring post!

Posted by: Irina | Aug 16, 2006 10:47:27 PM

And that's why I want to be there instead of here. I want to be in a place where it matters what you brought on the inside, not what you're wearing on the outside.

Thanks for the beautiful post.

Posted by: projgen | Aug 16, 2006 11:50:01 PM

Heartwarming post.

Posted by: The Back of the Hill | Aug 17, 2006 3:46:32 AM

You better think about where you can move to away from the Middle East.

G_d has forsaken your people. In every other war Israel has been in since 1948 G_d has blessed your people with miracles to help you win, but not this war.

Why?

I believe it's because of the tolerance that has been seen in your nation for homosexuality, BSDM, and other immoral behavior.

Chronicles 24:20
New International Version (NIV)

20 Then the Spirit of G_d came upon Zechariah son of Jehoiada the priest. He stood before the people and said, "This is what G_d says: 'Why do you disobey the LORD's commands? You will not prosper. Because you have forsaken the LORD, he has forsaken you.'

Posted by: Gene | Aug 17, 2006 5:59:02 AM

OMG, it's a bible thumper. Ignore him, if he really knew the bible well enough he wouldn't be here acting holier than thou. But enough about that idiot.

This post was awesome! Of course it made me tear up a bit, but it was the good kind of tearing up. :) You sir, are an incredible writer.

Posted by: dragonlady474 | Aug 17, 2006 6:30:41 AM

David,
that was a really nice post, but I could have used a tissue warning. They should be zoche to build a Bayit Ne'eman B'Yisrael.

Posted by: Faye | Aug 17, 2006 6:41:20 AM

Now this is the kind of post worth coming out of a self-imposed blog reading ban for! Thank you for the uplifting reminder of strength and humanity in the midst of the mess of the past few weeks. I have never been to a wedding outside Israel that could compare to one there - the energy, the air, everything is different, elevated. That I got to wear sandalim and an untucked shirt at most of those weddings was a total bonus...

Posted by: mcaryeh | Aug 17, 2006 8:26:35 AM

That is AWESOME. I would have loved to attend a wedding like that... and yes, your post made me all misty-eyed too! If your English teacher is supplying the world's energy right now, she must also be spinning from happiness at how well her former student can write. (And I think that mangled sentence just made her go 'round again.)

In any case... wishing the couple a long, happy and peaceful life together!

Posted by: Chantyshira | Aug 17, 2006 9:21:12 AM

Is it any wonder that Israel is the "apple of G-d's eye?"

Posted by: Dina | Aug 17, 2006 9:30:29 AM

Robert... I still have them but never wear them. Should I send them to you? :-)

Essie... Yes, besides the circumstances the couple happen to be quite special all on their own.

Tanya... I am blessed with very good material. These stories tell themselves. As to the cultural divide, I'm sure that there are also carefully orchestrated wedding here complete with bridezillas... but they are the exception, not the rule. And yes, ending sentences with prepositions is something up with which I will not put. :-)

Jack... Thanks.

Talmida... Another blogger who linked to this post put it quite nicely. He said that a culture of death can never conquer a culture of life.

Tracey... I shelved the idea of the Kleenex alert right after I publicized it. Besides the obvious fact that I often don't know what is going to have this effect on people, it seems a little presumptuous to predict that something I write will make people cry. Then, of course, there is the whole 'spoiler' aspect. :-)

Elisson... You, the world traveler on the tab of the great corporate salt mine, have never been to Israel??? Get yourself over here on your very next vacation. That's an order! You can consider this your engraved invitation to stay in the guest suite at chez treppenwitz for the duration of your visit.

Doctor Bean...'Prophet' might be a little strong. I'd prefer 'visionary', but it's really up to you. :-)

Ezzie... Thanks. And thanks for the link as well.

Rahel... As I told Tanya, I have good material with which to work.

Lisa... Most of Israel is far safer than most U.S. cities. Let's face it... if all you knew about NYC was what you saw on the news... you'd never go near the place.

Leonie Lachmish... Amen.

David... No worries. they're both quite quotable. :-)

Irina... One shouldn't really place value judgements on these kind of cultural norms. But it makes sense to join the culture that feels most comfortable to you. That's what we've done.

projgen... Well put. So I assume your aliyah plans are in high gear? :-)

The back of the hill... and a heart-warming experience.

Gene... Now that's how you troll a message board. Nicely done. ~GAZE~

Dragonlady474... Now, now... just ignore him. It's early in the day and he probably hasn't had his meds. :-) and thank you for the compliment.

Faye... Amen.

mcaryeh... There you are. I was just saying to a friend that you seem to have fallen off the face of the 'sphere. Nice to see you back.

Chantyshira... Thank you. I was only half kidding about my English teacher. Each time I paint myself into a corner as I did at the start of this post, I can see her shaking her head and taking out her red pen. Funny how memory works. :-) I echo your wishes for the couple.

Dina... I'm assuming that's a rhetorical question. ;-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Aug 17, 2006 9:30:40 AM

That was a beautiful recount.

Posted by: Trias | Aug 17, 2006 8:17:48 PM

What a beautiful and touching story.

Posted by: jaime | Aug 17, 2006 9:47:21 PM

Oy. Tzipi Livni is does not speak English. A handicap that I thought only belonged to Amir Peretz.

Haim Ramon, on July 12th, goes up to the north to party. Just as people begin trekking into bomb shelters. And, Halutz is selling off his stock portfolio. Before all the action begins.

Now, Mazuz is charge Ramon with "forcibly" kissing a girl. At the party. Up north. Following a photo-fest, where she asked him to pose with her family. I'm sure her first name is not Monica.

You can't have great military plans if all you've got in the knesset are clowns.

Excuse me. Sure, I blame Condi. But Condi shouldn't have gotten to square #1. How did such a loser, as Olmert, NEVER LIKED WHILE HE WAS MAYOR OF JERUSALEM, not live up to his reputation? He was known as a selfish man. You're surprised he helped a contractor around restricted building permits? Got him to tear down a landmark, and build bigger; and then include Olmert in a sweetheart deal.

How long will it take for these clowns to go?

I can see WHY Dahlia Itzik had a "secret" meeting with Bibi, last Sunday. I couldn't see as clearly why it leaked. Other than Shimon Peres leaks like an old man his age, whose leaked before. Then it dawned on me. Bibi's NOT GOING TO WORK WITH OLMERT. Or the non-English speaking clowns, Tzipi and Amir. The Kadima Party needs other solutions.

While oddly enough it's NOT the "going straight to Beirut" that's a problem. It's all the stolen supplies discovered when the reserves reached their wearhouses in the first place.

You bet, ahead a scandal.

But it will take lawyers, and justice, YEARS to sort this out. By then? Olmert will be living high off the hog in France.

How did so many incompetent clowns climb to the top? Their funny shoes gave them leverage on the greasy rope?

Posted by: Carol_Herman | Aug 18, 2006 2:18:52 AM

David, I do hope you'll reprint this on the OU site. Wonderful story; thanks for sharing it. I retold it today to a couple of family members -- that's how much it moved me.

Posted by: Pearl | Aug 18, 2006 7:07:30 AM

Awesome! It’s funny how all the M-16’s render the wedding site a secure zone.

Posted by: pk | Aug 18, 2006 10:32:57 AM

I just tried to read your Friday blog, which has not been posted yet. will try later again. Your blog has become part of my daily routine. Am traveling to Israel coming Wednesday, to an Anglo/American wedding taking place at the King David Hotel on Thursday night, as I usually travel with hand luggage only, your blog yesterday was very encouraging. I shall go as I am. Am a wee bit intimidated by the location, and the 'posh' crowd (!?) but it is Israel after all. If you are any where near the KD on Thursday evening, Martin and I would realy love to meet you and Zehava. thanks for your daily blog. yaffa

Posted by: savta yaffa | Aug 18, 2006 12:17:45 PM

"Maybe it was my imagination, but the women seemed to absolutely drink in the men with their eyes as if to constantly confirm that they were really standing there beside them."

It wasn't your imagination.

Posted by: diana | Aug 19, 2006 4:32:54 PM

Trias... Thank you. I really didn't do it justice.

Jaime... I am kicking myself for not bringing my camera.

Carol Herman... I didn't vote for them.

Pearl... I'm supposed to have something over there this Friday. I'll ask them if they want it.

pk... Good point. :-)

Savta Yaffa... We look forward to seeing you Thursday.

Diana... You were there too?

Posted by: treppenwitz | Aug 20, 2006 2:29:20 AM

What a moving post!!

For the record, I don't remember what anybody wore to my wedding. I got married in Israel and all I cared about what that people came. Two of my best friends were in miluim at the time and I begged them to see if they could get leave for just a few hours. They couldn't. But I wouldn't have cared how they looked as long as they were there...

Posted by: Rivka with a capital A | Feb 19, 2009 5:04:25 PM

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