Bittersweet secular wedding ceremony on Jewish day of love 2009-08-05 09:29:51   Print

    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 ceremony.

    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 people.

    "We need a different law that will allow any Israeli to marry any other Israeli," she asserted.


Editor: Lin Liyu
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