How do you say “I do” in Greek?

Written by Emily

My name is Emily, I am the Development Associate at IRAC, (a fancy way for saying assistant), and for my first IRAC bog entry I am going to complain.

I made aliyah to Israel over two years ago, right after I finished my BA at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I wouldn’t say that I was idealistic, I knew what I was getting myself into and I knew that Israel was not the perfect country. But that was part of the reason I wanted to come, to help make things better, and I think that by working at IRAC I am staying true to that desire.

What I did not expect upon moving to Israel, and what I was not emotionally or mentally prepared for (and still do not know how to deal with), is how Israel would constantly disappoint me, over and over and over again. Yes, there have been many times that I have been proud to be Jewish and newly-Israeli, and have felt reaffirmed in my choice to move here, but there have been far too many instances recently where I have questioned, at the most basic level, “what is going on here?” and “is this a downward spiral that I really want to be a part of?” Thomas Friedman explains my feelings well (as he often does) in his recent NY Times article. I am confused.

A recent, personal, exemplification of my confusion and disappointment in Israel came this past November when I decided to get married. I know that the lack of a civil marriage option in Israel has been discussed here before, and this is just one more story of two Israeli citizens who have been denied a basic right by their government.

Neither my partner nor myself are religious Jews, and the thought of having a wedding that does not reflect who we are, but instead forces someone else’s religious observances on us, was out of the question. Instead, we had the pleasure of spending a bundle of money to leave Israel, a country we are both citizens of, but denies us the right to get married in a civil ceremony, and travel to Cyprus. There is a whole marriage industry that has sprung up in Cyprus as a result of this situation and we paid a travel agent to organize everything for us: the flight to Cyprus, the transportation to the Aradippou City Hall and the awkward “ceremony” where the Mayor spoke in such a thick accent that we had trouble understanding him, but said yes anyway.

Am I happy that I had the chance to spend a few days in Cyprus? Yes, it is a nice country and we made the best of the situation by renting a car and traveling a bit, but am I happy about the “wedding experience” that I was forced into? No. Not one bit.

Though we are planning a real wedding in Israel with our family and friends, I will always know that my legal wedding was awkward, lonely and a little bit sad. True, I could have forgotten about my values and given in to the Israeli Rabbinute, but anyone who knows me will know that this was never an option.

Israel has disappointed me on numerous occasions but this time it was personal, and I will never forget it. I can only hope that I will still be around to see the day when all Israelis are given the basic right to have an Israeli wedding ceremony that fits who they are.

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5 thoughts on “How do you say “I do” in Greek?

  1. Dear Emily,
    Mazzal tov on your wedding and the fact you decided not to give in to the orthodox pressure. We as a people have a problem to rule ourselves. Once we were in the galuth the rabbi’s were the natural leaders. I am not sure if they did a good job but we survived as a people. The way Jochanan ben Zakkai had to change judaism from a tempel religion with priests to a religion with shuls and ultimately with rabbi’s so we have to change now from a religion dominated by rabbi’s to a religion with personal responsibility of the citizens towards their religion. It will take time, courage and endurance. Don’t despair, but persevere.
    I wondered when you said you are not religious, you meant not in an orthodox way, because you can be religious and reform. Judaism is after all a very rich inheritance that you got for free and no rabbinate can take that away.

  2. EMILY,

    MAZEL TOV ON YOUR MARRIAGE. IT REMINDS OF WHAT HAPPENED YEARS AGO WHEN MY WIFE AND I WERE SERIOUSLY THINKING OF MAKING ALIYAH. THEN, WE WENT TO 515 PARK AVENUE AND MET WITH SOME GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL WHO WAS THERE SUPPOSEDLY TO HELP US. HE RECOMMENDED THAT WE BRING A “BIG BAG OF MONEY WITH US AND AFTER LIVING IN ISRAEL FOR A WHILE, WE’LL WIND UP WITH A SMALL BAG OF MONEY.” WE’RE RECONSTRUCTIONISTS, AND I WOULD GUESS THAT THE RABBIS WOULD PROBABLY CONSIDER US AS BEING WORSE THAN HAMAS.
    IN 1965, WHEN WE FIRST WENT TO ISRAEL, WE ASKED OUR COUSIN WHO MADE IT TO PALESTINE BEFORE WORLD WAR II WHETHER HE FELT THERE WOULD BE PEACE IN HIS LIFETIME, AND HE SAID NO, AND HE WAS RIGHT. WILL ISRAEL EVER CHANGE? I REALLY
    AM WORRIED THAT IT WON’T AND SEEMS TO GETTING WORSE.

  3. Thank you, Emily, for sticking up for pluralism. There is a disturbing trend in Israel and the United States to destroy democratic values, and it must be resisted. Whether it is Tanya Rosenblitt standing up for her right to sit in the front of a bus in Israel, or people in the United States struggling to maintain voting rights in opposition to a dozen states’ laws seeking to disenfranchise poor and elderly voters, the struggle is the same. We need to stand up for Israel and America as free, democratic societies.

  4. Emily, Thank you for sharing your story. Although it sounds oh so familiar, as I have had two brothers who got married in a similar way – one in Cyprus (who subsequently after the ceremony there had to delay the “real” wedding back in Israel because of family health issues, and another brother who used his vacation in the States with his fiance as a good opportunity to spend a day in City Hall before flying back to Israel and having a Reform wedding..
    I’m now studying law here in Israel to be able to gain tools to work for IRAC and fight for the causes near and dear to my heart with regards to Religion and State in Israel. As many others I believe the fight is for the official voice of Judaism in this country.
    I wonder if you got registered as a married couple – because what people forget to mention or note is that once you are registered and you’re considered “Kosher” (both jews that can get married), if god forbid you want to change your status in any way you’ll have to go through the rabbinic courts!
    The system comes to bite you in the “tuches” later on if you’re not careful.. a word to the wise – make sure you have some kind of legal document that ensure you’ll have equal rights at every point of the marriage. It’s not a fun thing to think about during the “honeymoon” phase – but one that will only strengthen your relationship in my opinion!

    Noa

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