Three weddings send message to Israel

Shmuel and Anat Carmel were one of three Israeli couples to be married in Washington to demonstrate for marriage equality in Israel. Photo by Samantha Cooper

Nearly a thousand people were at a wedding celebration last week at Washington Hebrew Congregation. But it wasn’t just any wedding.

There were three chuppahs, inscribed with justice, peace and equality. Under each wedding canopy stood a couple — the two brides wearing flowing white dresses, the four grooms dressed in dapper suits.

When the last glass had been shattered the couples cried in joy. They knew that when they returned to their homes in
Israel their unions would be recognized by the authorities.

In Israel, personal status issues are overseen by the authorities of a citizen’s religion. For the Jewish majority, that authority falls to the haredi Orthodox Chief Rabbinate, which doesn’t recognize non-Orthodox weddings held in Israel. So many Israelis go abroad to wed in countries where their unions are legal and are recognized when they return home.
Sahar Malka-Rabkin and Ilia Rabkin walk off the bimah after getting married. Photos by Samantha Cooper

The triple wedding on March 26 at Washington Hebrew Congregation was part of a push to change that. It coincided with the AIPAC conference, when all eyes were on the U.S.-Israeli relationship.

Aviad and Tsion Raz are gay. Anat Carmel is Jewish, but according to the rabbinate, her husband, Shmuel, is not. His mother was Christian and her conversion was considered invalid because she was deaf. Sahar Malka-Rabkin and Ilia Rabkin are Reform and were married in Washington to protest the rabbinate.

The couples were wed by Reform and Conservative rabbis. Each couple took turns in each of the steps required to
get married.

“For a long time, when I was figuring out who I was and what I was, I believed that this kind of happiness could never be mine. But here I am before you, the happiest man alive,” Aviad told Tsion as they made vows to each other.

It was over within an hour.

At the reception, a klezmer band played as guests danced the hora. A few guests sneaked off to bring chairs with which to raise the happy couples. Only Avian and Tsion Raz took part together, lifted up on the shoulders of supportive strangers.

Aviad and Tsion Raz walk down the aisle after getting married at Washington Hebrew Congregation.

Plans for the triple wedding began in 2018 when Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center in Jerusalem, contacted Washington Hebrew Congregation’s senior rabbi, Bruce Lustig.

“I love our couples,” said Nell Shapiro, president of Washington Hebrew Congregation. “They could not be more charming. They have so much personality. It really leaps off stage and you really see the personality come out and you see how much this means to them.”

Twenty area congregations co-sponsored the celebration. Along with other organizations and businesses, they helped make possible the food, clothing and ketubot. Washington Hebrew congregants offered their homes to the couples.

Political leaders from both countries attended. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) told the couples: “I want to thank you for bringing so much joy to Washington, D.C., because that’s something we’re in desperate need of here…We are looking forward to a day when everybody on Earth can marry the person they love.”

Member of Knesset Merav Michaeli of the Labor Party said she hoped everyone will be able to celebrate “in an equal Jerusalem.”

As the evening wound down, people ate slices of wedding cake, topped with six figurines. Guests dressed in outfits from jeans and sneakers to formal suits wished the six people mazal tov.

In the synagogue lobby stood a huge poster directed at the Israeli government, days away from facing an election:

“We supported them as they stood under the chuppah and were married in Washington, D.C., and we share in the joy and blessing of the Jewish families they will build in Israel.”

As guests added their own statements, the message was clear: Marriage equality in Israel is important to Jews in the United States.

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