We confess we have a soft spot in our hearts for a good love story. We also have a soft spot for Israel. Unlike chocolate and peanut butter in a Reese’s candy, however, love (and marriage) in Israel don’t always go great together. You see, the State of Israel will only recognize a marriage if it’s performed by the State-sanctioned religious authority. For Jews, this means that a wedding must be an Orthodox ceremony performed by an Orthodox rabbi. In today’s modern times, when love comes in all shapes and sizes, some 800,000 Jews are unable to obtain a legally recognized marriage in the Holy Land.
This rigid control over marriage forces many Israeli couples to go abroad to say, “I do.” When any couple is legally married abroad, their marriage IS recognized by the Israeli government.
We want to introduce you to three couples who will be traveling next week to get married. Rather than traveling to get married in Cyprus or Europe (common choices for many Israeli couples), they are schlepping all the way to Washington, DC, where they will be officially and legally married on Tuesday, March 26th at a once-in-a-lifetime TRIPLE WEDDING at Washington Hebrew Congregation.
The event, a partnership between the Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist Movements, is called “Three Weddings and a Statement” and will bring people from around the world (and around the corner!) to celebrate love and show their support for marriage equality in Israel.
So, without further ado, let’s meet the lovebirds who will tie the knot here in our nation’s capital on the 26th…
Ilia and Sahar
Ilia, who was born in Russia and made aliyah to Israel with his family in the late 1990s, and Sahar, who was born in Netanya and raised on a moshav (cooperative farm community), met at a conference for alumni of the Shlichut program run through the Jewish Agency for Israel. As schlichim – young Israeli emissaries who live and work in the diaspora – Ilia was based in Toronto, and Sahar spent two years here in DC – at Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation, Ohr Kodesh Congregation, and Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School of the Nation’s Capital. (Welcome back, Sahar!)
Despite their different backgrounds, worldviews, and perspectives on Israel – from inside and outside the country – Sahar and Ilia both feel a strong connection to Judaism and feel strongly that Judaism should embrace equality and tolerance. For these reasons, they want to have a Reform wedding, which is something they can’t do in Israel.
They hope that by participating in “Three Weddings and a Statement” they will inspire others to have a wedding ceremony that works for them, rather than the one sanctioned by the Israeli government. On the lighter side of things, Ilia and Sahar are big foodies who love picnicking in the park and sunning along the Mediterranean beaches.
Aviad and Tsion
Aviad and Tsion grew up a 10-minute walk from each other but didn’t meet until eight years ago when they were college students. It was at the Be’er Sheva Pride House, an LGBTQ organization in the south of Israel that organizes social gatherings. Their connection was instantaneous!
They fell in love, graduated from university, and began their careers: Aviad is a pharmacist at the headquarters of Maccabi Healthcare, and Tsion, a chemist doing research and development work as he pursues his Ph.D.
The couple wanted to be married, had a commitment ceremony in Tel-Aviv surrounded by family and friends in 2014. Sadly, their marriage is not recognized by the State of Israel, and their IDs still say “single,” but they live as if they were married. They have purchased a home in Be’er Sheva and have an adorable dog named Archie.
Both men are very active in Be’er Sheva’s LGBT community and with the Be’er Sheva Pride House in particular, where Tsion served as a board member, and Aviad was a youth guide. In their spare time, they enjoy being with friends and family, walking Archie, and snuggling on the couch, watching TV. They are ready, not just for their official wedding, but for their next journey – parenthood – and are exploring the option of surrogacy.
Anat and Shmuel
Anat, a special education teacher from Kiryat Yam, and Shmuel, an assistant manager at a computer and technology store in Haifa, met online and have been together for nine years.
Shmuel was born in Israel to a deaf couple originally from Romania. His mother, who was Christian, converted to Judaism before marrying his father. Together, made aliyah, were given Israeli citizenship, and raised a Jewish family.
It was only when Shmuel’s mom passed away and he went to make funeral arrangements that he discovered the State of Israel did not recognize her conversion to Judaism back in Romania. This is because, according to the ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate’s interpretation of Jewish law, people who are hearing-impaired cannot convert.
Since his mother was not considered Jewish, Shmuel was classified as a “person without religion.” So, despite being circumcised, becoming a bar mitzvah, and serving in the army, Shmuel could not marry Anat in Israel unless he had an Orthodox conversion. Shmuel did convert, but it was a Reform conversion – a movement where both he and Anat feel more accepted – and they want to have a legally recognized Reform wedding.
In their free time, Anat and Shmuel love movies and always make time for weekly family dinners. They also love to travel and will be heading to Japan for their honeymoon.
About the Authors: Samantha Loss and Jennifer Millstone are Communications Managers for Washington Hebrew Congregation. Jennifer is a firm believer that chocolate can help turn around any bad day and Samantha is usual happiest when she’s up in the air — rock climbing or swinging on the flying trapeze!