Mazel tov

Though my teaching assistant contract in France finished at the end of April, and May saw my triumphant return to Atlanta, my international travels were far from finished. Within a few weeks of my flight home, I found myself walking through the terminal at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport, ready for another long overseas trip. Accompanied by my parents, my brother, and his girlfriend, I was embarking on another foreign adventure, this time to see my sister’s wedding in Israel.

While I was excited for the trip and the upcoming festivities, as we made our way through the airport I could not help but feel antipathy toward the flying experience. Having just returned from France, and therefore having spent over two hours passing through customs and security before exiting the airport, to say I was not happy to be going through the trials of international travel would be an understatement. This time, however, I was flying with company, which is an unbelievable improvement over a solo experience, and it helped me forget about my present airport situation and focus on the immediate future. I looked forward to the moment when I would be free from airport bondage and finally able to enjoy the wedding, the happiest of occasions.

The seed for the wedding lay in my year in France. This past February, my family came to visit me in France during one of the many two-week vacations the French school system builds into the calendar each year. Included in the group were my sister and her then-boyfriend, who flew into Paris from Israel to spend a week with us. From the moment they landed in Paris, they made a bee-line for the Eiffel Tower, where my future brother-in-law proposed to my sister. As such, our vacation turned into a wonderful celebration of their happiness, and soon after plans began for a wedding in May.

While we knew this wedding would be an experience in discovering another culture’s traditions, we had no real idea what to expect. My brother-in-law, who met my sister over six years ago while working as a security guard for her Birthright tour of Israel, is Israeli, but his family’s origins hail from Yemen. This wedding would be a fascinating mix of intersecting cultures, from American to Israeli to Yemenite. As we passed the time between flying to New York JFK Airport and then to Tel Aviv, Israel, the forthcoming wedding drew many a comparison to the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” We knew it would be huge, with three hundred Israelis attending, and we knew it would be unique, as two nights before the wedding we would attend a Yemenite Henna Ceremony.

After our arrival on Friday night and dinner with my brother-in-law’s family, we rested and anxiously awaited the Henna, scheduled for the next night. I asked my parents what this ceremony was all about, and I was told it was their version of a rehearsal dinner. This turned out to be a bit of a stretch, unless you consider dancing to Yemenite music in traditional costume to be a typical rehearsal dinner. The evening was a splendid event and offered an amazing glimpse into an ancient pre-wedding ceremony, as my sister and her future husband dressed in multiple costumes throughout the night, danced their way through Yemenite tunes, and managed to pull it all off despite a few glitches in setting up the seat arrangements before the ceremony.  For those less interested in dancing, there was a magnificent spread of salads, desserts, and drinks, including a local malt-flavored soda, to occupy one’s time. The event culminated in a ritual intended to bless the couple and send them the best of luck. Members of each family took mud from a bowl, placed it in their hands, and spoke a few words about the bride and groom. This last part was a surprise for me, as I had not counted on having to pontificate on the virtues of my sister and brother-in-law; attempting to dance to Yemenite music was almost an easier task. After I stumbled through my speech, and the rest of the family finished theirs, the Henna dwindled down to its finish and the night drew to its close.

As amazing as this ceremony was, it was only matched by the magnificence of the wedding. Two days later, the big event had arrived, and everyone was in full preparations mode. By six o’clock that evening, we were all dressed, pruned, and gathered at the wedding hall. Once again, I found myself feeling like I was on a movie set. The ceremony was held outside, on a beautiful lawn lined with Roman-style columns and white chairs and tables. We treated ourselves to a delicious first course of meat and wine as we waited for the wedding. Once everyone gathered in their chairs, the ceremony commenced. On the stage, underneath a large open canopy known as a Chuppah, stood my sister, brother-in-law, both sets of parents, and the rabbi. As he chanted in Hebrew, photographers swooped all around, snapping the best shots of the Chuppah and its participants. When the ceremony concluded, all three hundred people present rushed the stage to offer hugs, kisses, and the warmest Mazel Tovs possible for the bride and groom. Afterward, everyone headed inside to an enormous dance hall, where a continuous slideshow depicted the best photos of the newlyweds, two more courses of food were served, and no one was left without a dance partner. Even those not enthralled with the heavy dose of hip-hop, electronic, and Yemenite music playing were brought into the group dancing circles. The party, aided of course by the open bar in the hall’s center, continued until the wee hours of the morning, when only those who did not have work the following day were left to dance. Wearily, we drove home that night, blown away by our first Israeli wedding experience.

A few days later, I sat at the terminal in Tel Aviv airport awaiting my return flight to America. This time, I did not dread the tedious flying process. Rather, my mind was still full of thoughts from the trip, and I could not stop comparing this wedding to a typical American wedding. Neither is really that different from the other; a wedding is always a celebration of happiness, love, and life, no matter where it is held. There is a reason people tend to have such fond memories of weddings, as there is an overriding sense of joy present. Though I was amazed at the decadence displayed at this wedding hall, I knew that it was all done to celebrate the love between two people close to me. And the festivities have not yet concluded; come August, there will be a second wedding here in Roswell so that our friends and family in America can attend and wish the best upon my sister and brother-in-law. I can say I happily await part two of this Israeli wedding.

Photos: By Tom Bledsoe
Thomas A. Bledsoe

Thomas A. Bledsoe

Thomas Bledsoe is a resident of Atlanta, Georgia and a recent graduate of the University of Georgia. He has a degree in History, as well as minors in French and Religion. After completing his studies at UGA, Thomas moved to Vannes, France in September 2011 and will be there until May 2012. In France, he works as an English teaching assistant in a vocational high school and writes for the National Geographic France website. This is his second time living in France. In 2009, he spent a semester studying in Lyon, France as part of an exchange program. He will share his thoughts, observations, and experiences about life in France.