Weddings in Israel are… different. If you’re expecting something straight-laced and traditional, you might be in for a surprise. Israeli weddings are spectacles of love and life, but may leave you feeling like you just crawled out of your grave the next morning!
Here’s what you need to know if you ever get invited to a wedding in the Holy Land!
Remember your wedding? All the work finding the perfect bakery for your cake, assembling the bridal party and picking out dresses, and sending out invitations months and months in advance so you could nail down your RSVPs? Yeah, you can forget all of that for an Israeli wedding!
First of all, those invitations are going out maybe a few weeks before the event, not months. You’re also more likely to receive them in a plain card or even as a text message or social media event notice than any kind of fancy, embossed letter. Israeli weddings are huge affairs, but there is a certain degree of intentional casualness to the entire process. It’s much more like being invited to an elaborate party than anything else.
Typically, there are no bridesmaids or groomsmen at an Israeli wedding, so there is no need for anyone to feel snubbed! Sometimes, close friends or siblings will accompany the wedding couple at the chuppa (the little canopy arch the couple stands under during the ceremony), but this is more of an informal position that has only recently been adopted. If you get an invitation to an Israeli wedding, you don’t have to start budgeting out for a new bridesmaid dress you’ll only ever wear once or a color matching tie.
In fact, speaking of your tie, leave it at home. Unless the family is very traditional, what would be considered typical wedding garb in the West would be decidedly overdressed in the Holy Land. The bride will still likely be wearing a beautiful dress, but it’s not uncommon to see everyone else ranging from business casual to downright beach-bum style. Crocs have made more than a few appearances at Israeli weddings! Some may dress up, some might dress down, if you’re not sure what’s appropriate, just ask the wedding couple and let them set the tone!
Be fashionably late
This is one those of us from the West really struggle with. We’re used to arrival times being solid and expected, that it’s just good manners to show up on time, not too early and not too late. If you show up to an Israeli wedding at the time it says on your invite though, you might find a locked door!
It’s an odd thing, but it’s expected for guests to be late by an hour or even more. So fight against all those good manners your mother instilled in you about promptness and be prepared to arrive in style well after the time on the invitation.
Bring your appetite
Guests from the West or new immigrants to Israel might be surprised to discover there’s no wedding cake at an Israeli wedding. While these stacked confectionary constructions are a mainstay here, you won’t find any plastic bride and groom toppers there.
What you will find is food. Lots and lots of FOOD.
Expect to see an entire buffet line of food out and ready when you arrive. Now it might seem unwise to fill up at the reception before the ceremony, but tuck in! This is often the best food served at the wedding, and it’s also the most convenient! There is generally a dinner after the service, but with the typically massive number of guests, it’s going to take awhile! Make sure to enjoy the early food to its fullest, it is a celebration after all!
The flow of an Israeli wedding
Israeli weddings tend to have a long, luxurious, and relaxed reception period before the ceremony. This is your chance to fill up on snacks (really, small meals they call "snacks”), shake hands, and even say hello to the bride and groom. That’s right, they’ll be mingling around the room (or more likely the outdoor area the reception is held at) along with everyone else, no traditions about seeing the bride before the wedding here (unless the family is orthodox and then it’s the entire other way around, where the couple won’t see each other for a week beforehand!)
The ceremony naturally segues out of the reception. Eventually the bride will leave to get into her formal wedding dress while the groom will have what is called a Tisch (or "table”), where he and his friends will get increasingly raucous and joyous, sharing songs and laughs and generally goofing off.
Then there will be the contract ceremony where the groom signs a document affirming his financial, spiritual, and emotional responsibilities to his new wife. After the paper work is done, it’s time for the Bedeken, or the unveiling ceremony. The bride will come out dressed to the nines in her formal wedding dress to be unveiled by her new husband to be, then the two will be led by their respective parents to the chuppa for the wedding ceremony.
This ceremony is a pretty laid-back affair, even among more traditional families. It’s entirely possible that guests will remain standing during the event and even continue mingling. The rabbi or priest will say a few words, the couple will exchange vows (either traditional or personal), followed by a flurry of activity. Israeli weddings are very active, you’ll see singing, dancing, a short ceremony where the groom dances around the bride seven times, and of course, the part that everyone knows, the traditional glass breaking -- Mazel tov!
When the party starts
And just as the glass breaks, the DJ will shatter your ear drums with (probably) a bizarre re-mix of a 90’s club song. As soon as the formalities are over, Israeli weddings kick into high gear and the party begins. Dinner is coming, but in all the pandemonium, don’t expect it any time soon!
Instead, expect a lot of fun. Israeli weddings don’t typically include as many formal "speeches” from friends and family members after the ceremony, but expect to hear many impromptu toasts, pre-made skits from friends celebrating/ribbing the bride and groom, and even video presentations. That’s right, people bust out the AV club skills for an Israeli wedding!
Did you remember to bring a gift? That’s okay, they’re not expected! What is expected though is cash. Wedding guests are expected to kick in to help pay for the big splashy party everyone is enjoying. You don’t even need a fancy card, they’re provided at the wedding! Just write a short message of your well wishes, stuff the card with some bills or a cheque, and drop it in the box – much nicer than finding out there was a mix up at the registry and you’re the fourth person to buy the couple a blender!
Limber up and get ready for the long haul because the dancing and celebration will go long into the night! You might be sore and tired the next day, but you’ll never forget the memories of an Israeli wedding!