Another Wedding in Israel
"We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have." Frederick Keonig
There's nothing like a wedding to bring folks together.
Our family's weddings in Israel do more than that -- they bring worlds together.
My brother-and-sister-in-law are observant, religious Jews who've lived in Israel almost 25 years. The rest of the family are secular Jews here in America.
We share a common religion but practice a variety of different customs. Especially those between the sexes.
Religious women of all ages dress modestly, skirts below the knee, sleeves below the elbow, necklines high. Religious men wear predominantly black suits and white shirts. Married women cover their hair. Married couples adhere to specific rules on personal behavior.
Men and women don't touch each other--from a tap on the shoulder to a hug--except as spouses or parents/children, and even then, rarely in public. And no, not even an "air kiss" is permitted. (Though I've now created with my newest nephew-in-law, the "air hand-shake." And each visit I bring Hershey's Kisses in symbolic outreach to all my nephews.)
Few religious Jews in Israel watch television or go to movies, with the possible exception of Disney cartoons or nature shows. Teenagers might have MP3's or even iPods, but the music is either religious or extremely bland.
When young men and women reach marriageable age, dates are arranged with suitable candidates after both families have checked each other out. The daters go to restaurants, museums, zoos, the beach. They talk, share experiences, hopes, dreams, get to know each other. If they don't hit it off, they move on to another eligible suitor.
Not so different from the American mating game. Except religious daters never touch, not even to hold hands, much less kiss. Not even after they're engaged. I'm told some do--their dates are private, no chaperones--but most are spiritually committed to their deeply held belief in no premarital contact.
Hard to imagine such restraint in America. Among Jews or Christians.
That's the key: restraint. Commitment. Faith in a Higher Power and a set of laws and teachings more than 5 thousand years old. In a way of life that reveres God and family over all else. That values learning, actual and spiritual growth, respect for self and others.
There's much to admire about our family in Israel, but their respect for each other and the Jewish religion is highest on my list. There's something deeply comforting about the purity of Jewish rituals, both simple and complex.
As always, I was welcomed back to Israel with joy and love. As always I brought my love, life experience and loving guidance to the newest family bride. And as always, I came away having learned as much, if not more than I could ever teach.
Because it's not what you wear that makes you a Jew, it's what you believe. Me, I believe in God. Our family. And in Israel.