Jerusalem — Months ago, when Pnina Weiss was planning her late-November wedding, she spent a lot of time choosing the hall, the menu, the photographer.
What Weiss couldn’t anticipate was that a war would make it impossible to tie the knot in her fiancé, Shimon’s, hometown of Ashkelon, located just a few miles from Israel’s border with Gaza.
A week before their big day, Israel’s Home Front Command began prohibiting gatherings of over 100 people in the south of the country.
“Everything was set up and we were expecting about 550 guests, including nearly 30 from overseas,” Weiss explained. “We suddenly had to relocate the wedding to the center of the country.”
Weiss was far from alone. Before and especially during Israel’s eight-day war with Hamas, Israelis planning a simcha in the south (and, later, as far north as Tel Aviv) were forced to decide whether to downsize, postpone or relocate their event.
Some families held a brit or bat/bat mitzvah ceremony in their synagogues’ bomb shelter but put off the party for a later date.
Weddings were more problematic.
Finding a new hall for several hundred people wasn’t easy. Convincing frightened guests to attend proved even more difficult.
“Imagine having to contact 500 people to see if they’re still coming, and then redoing the arrangements because the seating configuration in the new location is different,” said Weiss. “Calling the deejay, the photographer and cancelling hotel reservations” for the dozen overseas guests who felt forced cancel.
About 50 guests from the south cancelled as well “either because they didn’t want to leave their children at home” while rockets were falling or “because they were afraid to be on the road,” Weiss said.
While the logistics were challenging, Weiss tried to keep her eye on the prize: her marriage.
“I’m 34 and I waited and davened for this day my entire life. I was prepared to get married in the backyard if necessary.”
Although Mirit Nachmias’ wedding was scheduled to take place in Netanya, a coastal city in the center-north, the majority of her guests were coming from the south and center.
“I cried for two days,” Nachmias said. “I was worried people wouldn’t come, and that our good friends would be called up for reserve duty.”
A close friend was called up “but he somehow managed to make it to the wedding,” Nachmias recounted.
On her wedding day, Nachmias had her hair, makeup and many photos done in Tel Aviv, not far from where she lives. Fortunately, the air raid sirens didn’t sound in the city that day.
Still, of the 700 guests Nachmias and her fiancé Omri had expected, only 450 showed up.
“We contacted the hall and caterer two days before the wedding and explained the situation. They were very understanding,” Nachmias said, full of gratitude.
Ronen Boidek, Nachmias’ wedding photographer, said he wasn’t concerned about a rocket attack per se.
“My only concern was that I might be called up by the army. I’m a medic in a combat unit,” he explained. The call never came.
At the height of the war Israel’s Channel 2 TV profiled a bride named Yael, whose wedding was scheduled to take place in the southern town of Ofakim.
Unable to find another venue that could accommodate 700 guests on two days’ notice, Yael’s family decided to host an intimate ceremony at their home. The big party will take place later this month.
Finding a new wedding dress — Yael’s was stuck in a locked bridal salon whose owners presumably fled from the south — was the least of the worries. Contacting the guests, whittling down the list of invitees and preparing a festive meal all within 48 hours became their top priority.
While the logistics were daunting, the fear that a rocket could make a direct hit kept the family up at night. The bride’s uncle was killed by a Kassam four years ago.
Gazing at a building nearby that was hit by a rocket, the groom’s mother told a reporter she was “fearful. My family and friends are here and if a rocket suddenly fell….”
The groom tried to calm his mother: “There’s a reinforced room just a couple of meters away if a siren sounds. We can run inside and continue if it happens,” he said, trying to sound reassuring.
Despite the huge disruptions, the chupah went on for all three couples thanks to the kindness of others.
Yael’s neighbors helped prepare the food and make her home feel festive. Friends and family helped Nachmias contact the 700 guests.
“People were really wonderful,” said Weiss, who recalled how the friend of a friend, whose wedding took place at the Tel Aviv Hilton the night before, “graciously donated her purple-and-white orchid centerpieces to us.”
Throughout it all, Weiss worried about the southerners living under rocket fire.
“I look at my in-laws and how they’ve had to deal with rockets falling multiple times a day on a daily basis.”
Weiss said her “heart went out” to the owners of the Ashkelon simcha hall who, just a week earlier, had been forced to cancel a wedding two hours before it was set to begin. It was then that she realized she would have to move her wedding location.
The owners gave the staffers all the food they could carry but, due to the war, were forced to throw out 500 meals.
“They sent me a text message the day of the wedding to wish me mazal tov. Please God, we’ll make our bris there,” Weiss said.
While it was “unfortunate” some of the guests couldn’t make it to the wedding, the bride said, “we tried to look at it from a positive perspective.
“People said the ruach [spirit] at the wedding was very strong. The chesed that emerges at difficult times like these shows that we’re one nation and unified.”