I went to my cousin Liora’s wedding recently. Other than the bride (my third cousin) and her family, I didn’t know anyone at the wedding (my wife Sarah was at a business dinner in Tel Aviv). Yet I was happy with my gin-and-tonic and the hors-doeuvres (there was even sushi), and I knew almost all of the music played by the disc jockey, including hits from Van Morrison, Donna Summer, Diana Ross, the Bee Gees, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Billy Joel.
The wedding ceremony was short and uneventful. Only about 30 chairs were set up at the ceremony for a crowd of several hundred people. I took this to stand for the attitude of the wedding party toward the ceremony itself, performed by an ultra-Orthodox rabbi (no need to sit and get comfortable). At the reception, my cousin Alona, Liora’s sister, was nice enough to look out for me and seated me at her table with her husband’s family. The dancing at the wedding was mainly to the music of popular American and British rock groups from the sixties to the present. There was no traditional Jewish (simcha) music, and only a handful of contemporary Israeli tunes. Despite this, I was having a good time. Liora and Ron had a lot of their friends out with them on the dance floor, and everyone seemed genuinely happy. Yet something in me was murmuring: this seems more like a dance floor at a nightclub than at a Jewish wedding.
During a break in the dancing, I had a chance to speak with Deeta, Liora’s mom. After a while Deeta said: “You’re probably not used to this kind of a wedding. Well, we do things a little differently. But our weddings are nice too.” I was moved by this. I knew that Deeta had recently attended my cousin’s very traditional Jewish wedding in New York. In effect she was telling me: “Don’t judge us.” When I told a friend about what Deeta had said, he suggested that her words revealed that she was aware of the shallowness of Liora’s wedding in terms of its Jewishness. I’m not so sure about this. Other secular Israeli couples, after all, do not have Jewish religious weddings. These couples travel outside the country for civil marriages, which are then recognized by the Israeli Rabbinate. Clearly, Liora and Ron’s wedding was “Jewish.” But how Jewish was it? Here is where I think Deeta’s comment comes in. Deeta was telling me to enjoy myself and not to be busy comparing this wedding to other weddings. She made me ask myself right there and then: Who appointed me arbiter of Jewish culture? I remembered too that even Jewish tradition says that the most important thing for a guest to do at a wedding is to rejoice with the bride and groom. So telling myself “oh, give it a rest,” I returned to the dancefloor—just in time to move to the beat of the Village People’s “YMCA.”
Teddy Weinberger, Ph.D., is Director of Development for a consulting company called Meaningful. He made aliyah with his family in 1997 from Miami, where he was an assistant professor of religious studies. Teddy and his wife, Sarah Jane Ross, have five children.