How to Get Married in Israel During COVID-19

My husband and I were matched online through sister sites Saw You At Sinai and See You in Israel (co-created by Nefesh B’Nefesh) on January 15, 2020. I was a critical care nurse from Texas, and Akiva was a policy officer for CIDI, a pro-Israel lobby group in the Netherlands. It was a perfect match. We had the same beliefs, values, religious observance, politics, and goals in life. After exchanging a few texts and calling a few times, it became clear that we had the exact same sense of humor as well! The only problem was we were living in two different countries, literally an ocean apart. Hearing I was planning a trip to Israel, Akiva decided to meet me there, and we met in person in Jerusalem. We went on two dates before returning to our respective countries. Then COVID-19 hit, and international travel was banned. We continued texting back and forth and making video calls that would last over 6 hours. Quite a feat considering a time difference of seven hours! We fell in love over our mutual love of Hashem, Israel, the Jewish people, and good memes. We met each other’s family over Zoom.

Eventually, we decided to move up our Aliyah date (mine was initially February 2021), and we planned to get married. We pushed each other to get all of our documents together for Aliyah approval, and on September 10, we made Aliyah together from two different sides of the world (wedding dress in a carry-on bag). After getting out of quarantine on September 24, we went on our third date. He took me to The Wohl Rose Garden in Jerusalem, went down on one knee, and asked me to marry him. I’ve never been more sure of a decision in my life. Finally being together after being apart for so long felt like coming home. We were determined never to be separated again. In addition to moving up our Aliyah, we decided to move up our wedding date. And so we got engaged on our third date and married 3 months later on December 15, 2020. Rosh Chodesh, Chanukah, and exactly 11 months since we had been matched!

To get married in Israel, you have to first check to make sure you’re eligible to get married through the Israel Chief Rabbinate, or the rabbanut. Israeli law does not permit civil marriages within the State. If you are unsure if you are allowed to get married through the rabbanut, I suggest contacting ITIM to find out and advocate for you. If you are not allowed to get married through the rabbanut, many Israelis have gone abroad to have civil marriages (which are recognized by Israel) and then return to have a chuppah ceremony in Israel under a Rabbi not part of the Chief Rabbinate.

You must open a file with the rabbanut at least 45 days before your wedding. To open a file, you will need:

  1. National ID (either Teudat Zehut or Passport)
  2. Proof of Jewish Status- Letter from the rabbi of your previous country (if born Jewish) or conversion documents
  3. Proof of single status- Letter from the rabbi of your previous country attesting that you are not currently married already
  4. Letter from officiating rabbi certifying he agrees to officiate the ceremony
  5. A letter stating the bride has taken Taharat Mishpacha classes (family purity law)

It is highly recommended to use a third party when dealing with the rabbanut if the couple getting married is a special case or has extenuating circumstances (especially in the case of converts, former widows/divorcees).

We used ITIM as a third party service/advocate in dealing with the rabbanut. There are other options as well. I found this infographic on The Center for Women’s Justice’s Facebook page.

Once you have a file up and running, the fun begins. Checklists are your friend! Although some things are different now due to corona, we found that looking at checklists frequently reminded us of things we had forgotten we needed. We were able to plan our wedding in three months, without a wedding planner! Here is a list of websites we found with useful checklists:

  1. Smashing the Glass
  2. The Knot
  3. Chabad.org

Originally we had planned for our wedding to take place on top of E1, the first time a wedding would take place at that location in recent memory. Logistically it was just not meant to be. As new immigrants with little resources and only 3 months to make it work, we couldn’t have our wedding in a place without lighting, shelter, or even bathrooms! This was almost heartbreaking as it was both of our dreams to get married on that hilltop. In the end, we found an alternate location that matched us perfectly, right here in our own yishuv Eli! With the current pandemic, health considerations are very important. The Ministry of Health releases guidelines and rules when it comes to events such as weddings. These rules can change and often do. It’s best to be outside as much as possible (weather permitting) and have guests wear masks and practice social distancing (no hugs, handshakes, dancing).

Speaking of guests, the number of guests you can have changes often as well. Sometimes it’s 20, sometimes it’s 10 (if indoors). At one point, they were allowing more guests if they stayed in pods (groups) of 20. Israeli police have been known to show up at weddings and give fines for people not following the restrictions on guests! It’s very hard having to pick and choose who to invite to the wedding and who has to watch via Zoom, Facebook Live, or some other streaming service. Even harder is having family abroad who can’t travel for the wedding. Akiva’s entire family couldn’t make it to our wedding, but we pushed forward! We discussed it and decided the most important thing was that we would be married. His family was so incredibly supportive of us (and still is). We arranged a professional photographer (Herschel Gutman) and videographer (Pavel Dibrov) to film our wedding so those closest to us could see it in good quality. I put together a collection of video messages from family and friends who couldn’t make it to the wedding (a surprise for my husband) and a beautiful slideshow of our relationship from our first text exchanges to a few days leading up to our wedding.

When you meet with the rabbanut, they give you a ketubah (one that folds in half for travel) and a copy of the ketubah (for their records) to be signed at the wedding. We decided that we also wanted a beautiful ketubah to display on our wall, so we commissioned Rachelle Tchiprout to paint us an original watercolor Lagoon ketubah. Because of COVID, we met outside of her apartment in Tel Aviv. She passed us the ketubah (already framed and with a special pen included) through the door (she’s really great, easily the most responsive vendor we had throughout our planning process).

Akiva met our chazzan Aviya Nachshon at a Shabbaton in The Netherlands. They hit it off immediately and became great friends. Akiva was very impressed with his singing ability (Aviya studied at the Tel Aviv Cantorial Institute), and Aviya readily agreed to sing and play music for us. He knows how to play the piano and guitar.

We searched online and found the most beautiful and meaningful chuppah (Seven Species) by Chuppah Craft. This was the most straightforward aspect of the wedding logistics. We told him where the wedding would take place, and they delivered the chuppah, set it up, and then took it down after the chuppah ceremony finished—no hassle, very professional and discreet.

We ordered benchers with our names and date on them through Koren Publishers. The Koren Sacks Birkon bencher has beautiful photos of Israel inside (with an index at the back), an introduction from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, and his own English translation.

We both wanted to have a new tallit wrapped around us under the chuppah. Akiva really wanted to have one with techelet (blue strings in addition to white). He found a company that sells them online and ordered one from Ptil Tekhelet. And Akiva also found a gorgeous silver kiddush cup from Hazorfim. Our chuppah (smash) glass was special-ordered through our local Judaica store, Tefillin Eli.

I am not great at drinking wine. I’m one of those women whose favorite wine is Bartenura’s Moscato. So that was our choice of white wine, haha. My husband and I are both conservatives politically. We are fans of the Trump administration, and annexing Judea and Samaria is at the forefront of our minds. So it’s no surprise that we decided on Psagot Winery’s Pompeo red wine for our wedding (they even featured us on their Instagram story).

I ordered a lot of the decorations through Etsy. Some of them didn’t arrive on time, and some have yet to be delivered (oops). My wedding was perfect regardless (and I still had quite a few decorations), but make sure you start thinking about decorations far enough in advance if they’re arriving by mail. I ordered A LOT of fairy lights through IKEA Israel.

I made some friends here in Eli and got to know my neighbors well. We have a neighborhood Whatsapp chat, and I was able to ask if anyone had any folding tables and chairs they were willing to lend for the dinner. We ended up with 4 tables and 40 chairs! One of my friends asked around for ideas for a kallah chair, and she found a beautiful garden chair that we could drape with gold and light blue fabric.

Our caterer is an Eli local, and he was recommended to us through friends. We paid 90 shekalim/plate (waiting service included) and had many different delicious food options to choose from. We did not have much time to eat during the wedding, so we requested the leftover food to munch on the rest of the week.

I mentioned earlier that I brought my dress in a carry-on bag (you read that correctly) on my Aliyah flight. I found it in Dallas from David’s Bridal shop. When I tried it on, I knew deep in my heart that it was my dress. Because I’m modern orthodox, in order to wear it at my wedding I was going to need to have it altered dramatically. I took my dress to a master seamstress in Dallas (she’s originally from Israel!) and told her I needed the dress to be made more modest by adding sleeves and a higher neckline. She took fabric from the train of my dress and created a long sleeve shirt that lays over the front of the dress and buttons up in the back. You can’t even tell that it’s not one piece. I had a deadline of 5 weeks before I would make Aliyah. This amazing woman worked day and night, finishing everything in only 3 weeks! I found ivory lace shoes on Etsy that perfectly matched the color and style of my dress. Since I tend to be pretty clumsy, I opted for flats instead of heels and got the added benefit of comfort! I also ordered my two-layered veil through Etsy (all of which I packed into my carry-on for Aliyah). Akiva brought his suit, tie, and shoes with him on his Aliyah flight from The Netherlands. We bought our wedding bands (I gave him his in the yichud room) at Miss Alma on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem.

I had my hair and makeup by Neriya Cohen, who lives right here in Eli! I went to her house for a trial session, where we discussed how my hair and makeup would look. I had a friend pick up extra flowers in addition to my bouquet to be delicately placed into my hair. In total, my hair took 3 hours, and my makeup took 2.5 hours to complete. It was all worth it though, as I’ve never felt so beautiful and I looked exactly how I had imagined for my dream wedding! Even with all of the wind at the train, my hair stayed perfect, and you couldn’t tell I had eaten (and kissed) by my makeup. No touch-ups were necessary!

When we first visited Eli (and signed for our apartment), we were taken on a tour around the yishuv by Akiva’s good friend and our future Master of Ceremonies Avner Amichai. Avner took us up to our future chuppah location Eli Visitor Center, or “The Train.” The area is absolutely gorgeous, overlooking Samarian hills and valleys. You can even see Shilo from here! Before our wedding, there was a light fog in the valleys, which made some incredible photos. It was very cold and windy (being a hilltop in December), but luckily the weather waited to rain until we were already having dinner. We told everyone to bring heavy jackets, and we were able to position a heating lamp by my kallah chair. We went to our local municipality office to reserve the train and only paid 1,000 shekalim, with a 2,000 shekel security deposit. The ketubah signing, refreshments, ad the bathroom were inside (with heating). Photos, the bedekin, and chuppah were outside. After the chuppah, we drove down to my parent’s house (also in Eli) for the dinner. We separated everyone into different rooms (upstairs and downstairs) to comply with the Ministry of Health guidelines. If not for the rain, we would have set up the tables outside on the balconies (also upstairs and downstairs).

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