Saturday, April 09, 2011

What to expect at an Israeli wedding

1. Huge numbers! 400 is normal, 200 is very small, 800 happens

2. People will wear jeans. In fact, many dress in a style that would be appropriate for a “dinner at the local Chinese on a Friday” by Australian standards. But this isn’t so surprising when you consider that Amit, my lovely well dressed fiance, didn’t own a pair of black pants or leather shoes until three months ago (he now owns three pairs of each).

3. Weddings happen mostly at night, after work. So you can go to a wedding on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday (the most expensive) nights. Friday noon weddings happen, but there are issues with Shabbat (the sabbath) entering at sunset, and as most places are kosher, they will kick you out before the sun goes down.

4. There are no bridesmaids or groomsmen. No one wears matching outfits.

5. No one gives presents. Money only! Amit says that if you give a present you are hated forever (unless you are a very close friend, when it is allowed).

6. You will get invited to tonnes of weddings each summer. A rule of thumb on whether you should attend is whether you have the bride or groom’s phone number in your phone book. If you go to all of the wedding you will go broke, no doubt about it!

7. No speeches! There might be a video made by the couple’s friends though...

8. Ladies bring a second pair of shoes with them - flat ones - for dancing the night away.

9. Most weddings follow a particular format, which is almost upside-down compared with traditional Australian/American/English weddings.

So I’ll use an evening wedding as the example, which is the most common here. Below is my experience of Israeli weddings (all five I have attended so far). There are lots of slight variations on this theme, but you’ll get the gist...

Before the wedding
The wedding day starts late morning, when the bride starts getting ready. At midday on a week day you will see the hair salons filled with brides getting their hair done, with a make-up artist lurking in the wings to get started on their faces. This also happens at home.
Efrat having her hair and makeup done at home. Photo by Fly on the Wall
The bride gets dressed with her mum/friends at home. Then at about 2pm, the groom arrives to pick her up. None of this “waiting until she’s walking down the aisle” to see the bride - the groom and bride go off with their photographer to take photos for a few hours BEFORE the wedding. Popular photographing spots include: the dilapidated buildings in Neve Tsedek, the Tel Aviv Port, old Jaffa, Rothschild avenue, the Carmel markets, a field somewhere - wherever the contrast of a couple dressed up and the shabby/natural surrounds are greatest.
Ido and Efrat at their photo session before their wedding
After the photo session, the couple arrive at the venue, shortly followed by the families for the family photos before the wedding begins.

The wedding begins
On the wedding invitation you will see the time that the wedding event begins, and also the time for the ceremony (huppa). If your invitation says 7pm, most people will start arriving at 7.30, and continue to arrive for another 1.5hours.

When you arrive you greet the bride and groom, and then dive into eating all the yummy appetizers. There are usually people walking around with trays, and also there are stations for yummy food. Wedding have amazing food in my experience, and the appetizers are the highlight!

Remember you are in Israel, and unlike in Australia or the UK where you would dive to the bar, Israelis are in no hurry to drink. It’s all about the food.

Speaking of alcohol, it is usual at Israeli weddings to have an open bar - spirits and wine and one cocktail to welcome the guests. This is pretty uncommon in Australia because it would cost a fortune (as Aussies tend to like drinking more than Israelis).

Walking down the aisle
I have seen a couple walking down the aisle alone, but more often the groom is escorted halfway down by both parents, where he waits for the bride, who also is walked to him by both her parents (no father giving the bride away!). At the spot halfway down the aisle, the bride meets the groom, who puts the veil over her face. They then continue onto the ceremony location.
Ido putting the veil over Efrat. Photo by Digital Closeup
The ceremony
The ceremony and its location is called the Huppa (said hoop-a). It is held under a white canopy, often held up by 4 male family members holding each post. Under the Huppa you have the bride and grooms family, the bride and groom, and the Rabbi. The ceremony is then conducted by the Rabbi. This is where I get a bit lost because the ceremony is conducted in Hebrew, with many traditional prayers and blessings.
The Huppa. Photo by Digital Closeup

 Key parts of the ceremony include:
Blessing the wine, the bride and groom drinking from the same cup. Photo by Digital Closeup
Exchanging the Ktuba - the wedding contract, which states how much money the groom is paying for the bride?? The Ktuba is signed before the ceremony with the Rabbi and the men of the families. Photo by Digital Closeup
The groom putting the ring on the bride’s finger (on her pointing finger, not her ring finger, where she puts it later). Photo by Digital Closeup
And to end it all, the groom smashes a glass! (a glass that is wrapped in aluminium foil so you don’t get glass everywhere). Photo by Digital Closeup
This is my take on a ceremony that I don’t quite understand - for more details check it out here: Ceremony: Jewish Wedding Rituals

In my opinion, the Huppa can be a bit impersonal, with the Rabbi following strong rituals, and the bride not usually saying a word during the whole thing. And another thing, during almost every wedding I have attended here, guests are talking between themselves during the ceremony! I find it so incredibly rude! Perhaps it is a consequence of the large numbers invited to weddings... or perhaps Israelis are just rude. You decide.

After the ceremony
Once the glass is broken, people rush to the Huppa to kiss the happy couple and say their congratulations. And then they run to get their dinner (20 mins of ceremony makes you starving apparently). There will be buffets with tonnes of food - beef, chicken, fish, six salads, etc etc.

You’ve barely digested a thing when the dancing starts, and goes on and on for another 4 hours minimum. It is all about the party at the Israeli wedding and the dance floor is packed for hours with the guests.
The dance floor. Photo by Digital Closeup
The bride on the dance floor. Photo by Fly on the Wall
The groom and bride on the dance floor. Photo by Fly on the Wall
Conclusions about Israeli Weddings (from an Aussie perspective)
Israeli weddings are all about the fun. Food, a few drinks, and dancing till your feet won’t hold you any longer. There is little formality about the whole affair. And sometimes I feel that the event doesn’t honor the bridal couple enough. But the food is fantastic, and it is great fun to dance the night away!

For a humorous take on Israeli weddings, check out comedian Benji Lovitt's blog.

What about our wedding?
We are getting married in June, on a Friday afternoon. A Friday afternoon wedding is rare in Israel, but we’re not restricted by a Rabbi or a Kosher venue, so we will all party into the evening, and everyone will have Saturday to recover before work on Sunday.

Our wedding here isn’t a registered one, because we cannot get married in Israel. Israel only permits religious weddings, and mixed-religion or secular weddings are not recognised. However, if you get married overseas, your marriage is recognised for all official purposes in Israel. We are getting married (again) in Australia in December.

Our ceremony will be conducted by a wonderful friend of ours, and will have some Jewish traditions, but will be designed by us.

There may be speeches, we won’t mind if non-Israelis bring presents, and the rest we’ll leave a surprise.

We’re super excited!

Thanks the the wonderful bride and groom, Ido and Efrat, for letting me use their wedding photos. You are the best!


  1. ahahah, this is spot on! i have "only" been to one wedding in israel, yet i get the idea of what u are saying so well :) in my opinion, it can probably be a bit too close with a very small wedding, & classic israeli ones are certainly on the other side of the scale!

    no one wants to _talk_ to bride/groom, they just wanna party, but not get drunk :)

    ps. i was seemingly the only drunk person out of 2-300 at the wedding i attended.

  2. Thanks Jo - fascinating! Hope you have a lovely time at both of your weddings. Keep up the great blogging.

  3. One thing I forgot to mention is that there is no wedding cake at Israeli weddings. My Mum just spent hours hunting the card shops in Australia the other day trying to find a card that didn't have a wedding cake on it so it would be appropriate for our Israeli wedding!

    PS. Tale - I always feel like I'm the only one drinking at weddings too...

  4. Congrats and good luck for the big day!

    Israeli weddings are different but also a lot of fun.

    Keep up the blogging - it is always good to read about this country from an outsider perspective.

    It is the real Hasbara.

    The Disgruntled Diner