by Xu Gang, Deng Yushan
TEL AVIV, Israel, Aug. 4 (Xinhua) -- It was a hot
summer night, yet about one hundred people gathered at Tel Aviv's Dizengoff
Square for a young couple's unofficial secular Jewish wedding ceremony.
Tu Be'Av, the Jewish day of love which falls on
Tuesday, is a traditional Jewish date from biblical times when single men and
women would meet during the grape harvest.
To the accompaniment of loud, brisk music, people
drinking beer and wine cheered and danced, congratulating the young couple --
29-year-old Olga Samosvatov and her long-time boyfriend, 34-year-old Nico
Tarosyan -- on their marriage.
It was, doubtlessly, a happy scene. However, for the
young couple who have been in love for five years, it was a bittersweet wedding
Samosvatov immigrated to Israel from Ukraine in 1995
with her Jewish mother. A secretary in a Tel Aviv law firm, she is able to prove
that she is Jewish and would be entitled to marry in an Orthodox ceremony.
Nevertheless, Tarosyan, who immigrated to Israel from
Russia in1995 and currently works as a computer technician after serving in the
Israeli army, does not have sufficient proof that he is Jewish and is not
entitled to marry in an Orthodox ceremony.
Tarosyan is one of more than 300,000 Israelis, mostly
immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who can not get married here because
the Orthodox Rabbinate has the final say in such matters, allowing only those
considered halachically Jewish to marry other Jews.
"We knew the Rabbinate would make problems for us, so
we never even approached them," said short-haired Samosvatov, dressed in a light
blue skirt and wearing glasses.
"In any case we are secular, not religious, and we
just did not want to go through the battle of trying to get married here.
Planning a wedding is supposed to be a happy process, and fighting for
recognition from the Rabbinate is too stressful," she said.
However, thanks to the efforts of non-profit New
Israel Fund and the secular Jewish organization Havaya, which represents several
other movements fighting the Orthodox Jewish monopoly on marriage, Samosvatov
and Tarosyan tied the knot on Tuesday evening in the square, though the wedding
will not change their legal status.
"I'm so excited to finally get married," said
Samosvatov. "It is just a shame that the marriage will not really be recognized
bythe state and that we will still have to go abroad to get properly married."
The two are planning to honeymoon in the fall in
Prague, where they will have a non-religious civil ceremony that will allow them
to be registered here as married by Israeli Interior Ministry.
"Whether our marriage here is recognized by the state
or not is not that important. The important thing is that we are married," said
curly-haired Tarosyan, who also wears glasses.
"I did not know I was Jewish until I was 12," he
added. "I immigrated to Israel as soon as I finished college and feel at home
here. But this need to prove I am Jewish to the rabbis is humiliating."
According to Diti Degani-Peleg, director of Havaya,
it's a very "hurtful" situation.
"We meet so many couples, immigrants from
Russian-speaking countries, who have made aliya, served in the army, but get
this slap in the face when they try to get married here," the director was
quoted by local daily The Jerusalem Post as saying.
Havaya's aim is to provide a suitable spiritual and
Jewish alternative to those who are unable to get married here under current
Orthodox directives, said Degani-Peleg.
"The situation needs to be changed and we want to
encourage as many couples as possible to utilize our alternative experience so
that the government can not go on ignoring this problem any more," she said,
estimating that 50 percent of those who turn to Havaya are prevented from
marrying here because they are not considered Jewish enough, while the other
half simply prefer to have a secular Jewish wedding.
While Havaya's main focus is reaching out to those
who can not get married here, it is also involved in lobbying the authorities
for a real change.
Israel's Ministerial Committee for Legislation
approved in Julya government proposal for a bill allowing Israelis classified as
having no religion to be registered as a couple, but Degani-Peleg said this
change did not go far enough and would only affect a very small number of
"We need a different law that will allow any Israeli
to marry any other Israeli," she asserted.