Love in the Time of Coronavirus
As wedding industry suffers major collapse, Israeli couples make changes as necessary
On Saturday evening, as the clock struck midnight, Puah realized her wedding, which was to begin in a matter of hours, would not be taking place – at least as planned.
Like other brides across Israel, the 23-year-old Jerusalemite’s hopes were dashed by new government restrictions banning gatherings of more than 10 people due to coronavirus. The Health Ministry reached the decision on Saturday night, prompting an immediate wave of wedding cancellations and postponements.
Once Puah – who declined to give her last name – received word that the venue for her own wedding was canceling the event, she began to consult with her mother, Ayelet, in order to come up with alternatives.
“It was such a mess,” Ayelet told The Media Line. “We didn’t know what to do. It was unbelievable. We no longer had catering or a hall.”
But a solution to the family’s dilemma manifested itself, seemingly out of thin air.
“We called all of our guests and canceled,” Puah recalled to The Media Line. “It was very difficult in the beginning…. But suddenly, everything changed. Our neighbors came and knocked on our door at midnight, asked how they could help and basically put together an event in a matter of hours.”
Thus the family, from the Orthodox-Jewish neighborhood of Har Nof in Jerusalem, decided to go ahead with the wedding.
A local seminary for girls agreed to provide its outdoor amphitheater for the ceremony on Sunday evening. Neighbors then went shopping for last-minute supplies and food, opening their homes to feed members of the bride and groom’s immediate family and close friends – in small groups, according to the Health Ministry’s guidelines.
“Every apartment set up tables and we had 10 people in each apartment,” Ayelet explained. “One neighbor made chicken, another made potatoes. They set up beautifully with flowers.”
Guests at Puah’s Sunday evening wedding in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem sit around a table set up in the hallway of an apartment building. (Courtesy)
Musicians on the street who saw the bride and groom returning from the ceremony performed for free, and onlookers gathered on sidewalks and balconies to sing and dance in the couple’s honor.
“Until the [ceremony] started, I thought it would be a depressing wedding,” Puah went on. “But then, when everything began, I understood that a big [crowd] was unnecessary – our joyous occasion was even more special this way.”
Ayelet agreed, saying the family was “overwhelmed” by the show of support.
“Who needs a hall? Who needs all the fake flowers? It was amazing,” she said. “In a weird way, this coronavirus brought us back to our senses and emphasized what’s really important in life.”
To Postpone or Not to Postpone?
Some 300 Israelis have so far been diagnosed with novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, and tens of thousands are under quarantine. Everyone entering Israel is required to self-quarantine for a period of 14 days, similar to many other countries where the pandemic has taken hold.
Some couples, though, have found creative ways to celebrate their love. One bride and groom even walked down the aisle – in a supermarket, where large numbers of people are still being allowed to gather, although usually as they stock up on rations.
Others have opted to simply postpone their wedding until better times.
Anna Ahronheim, the military correspondent for The Jerusalem Post, was expecting upwards of 300 guests from around the globe at her wedding, which was set to take place in the coastal city of Netanya in early April.
“We postponed until at least September,” Ahronheim told The Media Line. “I was in bed for a few days crying.”
Ahronheim says she was able to quickly move past the disappointment stage after going to the gym and releasing her pent-up frustrations on a punching bag.
“Knowing that I wasn’t alone and that it was completely out of my control – and also that others had it much worse – helped me deal with it,” she explained.
Oxana Bar, a 27-year-old fashion blogger who lives near Tel Aviv, was also supposed to get married in early April, but has now rescheduled for November.
“We decided to postpone because my fiancé’s parents live abroad and would not have been able to attend,” she related to The Media Line. “The venue didn’t cause any issues, and neither did any of the vendors.”
‘People are Dropping Like Flies’
On the vendors’ side of the equation, however, the picture is gloomy. From DJs to makeup artists and producers, thousands of workers in the events industry are being sent home on unpaid leave.
Yana Andreev, founder and owner of Craspedia Events, works as a wedding planner with Israeli Anglophones, being involved in the industry for a decade.
“Vendors are panicking like crazy. We all have to pay rent and employees’ salaries. We have to give deposits back…” she told The Media Line.
“People are dropping like flies right now because the country is not giving us anything,” she continued. “Businesses are going to be closing left and right.”
Eyal Urieli, an owner of the Cassiopeia events venue in Herzliya, told The Media Line that all 50 of his workers had been laid off.
“We have no income right now,” he said. “We’ve been canceling everything since the start of this month. Everybody wants to delay or cancel – and I can’t argue with them. I feel their pain.”
The Israeli government recently unveiled a $2.9 billion package to combat the economic fallout of the coronavirus, including a broad loan fund with attractive interest rates. Yet Urieli called the loans “a joke,” saying they were not a solution for collapsing businesses.
“We don’t need more loans,” he stressed. “We need help. I’m not exaggerating. If this continues for another month or two, I believe most of the industry is going to go bankrupt.”
Herschel Gutman, an event photographer from Herzliya, agreed.
“It’s all very much up in the air,” he told The Media Line. “Everyone needs to come together.”
Perhaps they can take a lesson from Puah’s neighbors in Har Nof.
“Many people,” she said, “told me it was the happiest wedding they’d ever seen.”