My son Ezra (29) was recently married to Mai Giladi (21) at a place whose English-language name makes clear that this is not your usual wedding hall: Desert Camping Israel (see mirdafim.com). Ezra and Mai, an unconventional couple, wanted an unconventional wedding, and so they worked hard and produced one for themselves.
Desert Camping Israel provided tents for those sleeping over after the wedding, as well as communal facilities and electricity (not to be taken for granted in the middle of a desert). Everything else had to be brought in. Ezra, with help from a friend or two, set up the lighting for the event. Hagit (whom we have known since she worked on Elie’s bar mitzvah 14 years ago) created a gorgeous flower-covered huppa as well as a bridal chair, where Mai held court before the wedding. Nearby, Ezra and Mai had filled a basin with soapy water and hand-made rope bubble-wands. The tables were attractively decorated, as was the stand where Ezra and Mai placed several dozen half-liter bottles of their olive oil. They picked the olives, took them to an olive press, ordered the bottles, and put commemorative stickers on each one.
Ezra’s “groom’s table” was alive with singing and bongo playing. When the time came, Sarah and I each took Ezra by an arm and trekked up a hill to Mai for the veiling. Needless to say, the desert sand made folly of my shined shoes and dry-cleaned pants.
The wedding ceremony itself was fairly traditional, with one lovely innovation: Yehezkel, who conducted the ceremony, said at the beginning, “I invite everyone to take half a minute and connect with Ezra and Mai, to bless them in our hearts; let’s take a half a minute in silence—we can hear the quiet of the desert.” The ensuing silence, like all effective ritual, helped focus our attention and ushered us in to sacred time.
Mai and Ezra exchanged rings under the huppa as well as words. Ezra said: “People couldn’t believe, and neither could I, that I would find someone who was so like me in so many ways, such a good partner: for olive picking, hiking, for everything—someone who gets excited almost as much as me at finding a perfectly good sleeping bag out by the trash.” Mai recalled their chance meeting two and a half years ago in Sinai (Egypt). She said: “I knew pretty much from the start that we would get here. Not why, what, or how, but I knew that I had found my ground, warm and fertile earth. I just didn’t know how it could be logical for a wanderer to be earth.” Mai went on to say: “From here in the daytime you can see a bench on top of a hill toward which we climbed one day, and of course you got there before me, and when I got there, out of breath from trying to keep up, you were waiting for me with a fabulous breakfast. That’s part of the home I feel with you.”
Ezra and Mai consciously omitted an RSVP from their wedding invitation; their attitude was “Whoever comes, welcome.” Because of this, I would venture to say that the number they told the caterer (150) was incredibly accurate, as surprise no-shows were offset by surprise yes-shows—friends who assumed that the fact that they hadn’t received an invitation was a mere oversight. Ofri, a young woman who lives near Mitzpe Ramon several hours to the south, brought her husband and two children, saying: “There’s no way that I’m not showing up for Ezra’s wedding.”
The pescatarian wedding was catered by the oldest brother of Ezra’s best friend, and at 11:00 pm. Ezra’s friend Meni fired up a grill for the carnivores. At about 1:00 a.m., after the Balkan/gypsy/klezmer band and then the DJ had played their last (with a guest DJ appearance by Ofri), a group gathered around a campfire (the wood for the fire had been schlepped in by Ezra), while several dozen people took advantage of the offer to sleep over and headed for their tents. I hope that my brother and sister (who somehow had managed to gain entry to Israel at a time when few foreigners were allowed in), have forgiven me by now for the fact that the campfire was right outside their tent. The atmosphere at the communal sink felt a bit like overnight camp, with a nearby basket stocked (yes, by Ezra and Mai) with toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, soap, deodorant, etc.; and the guitar-playing, singing, and kibitzing at the campfire provided the background for the end of the event.
True delight and happiness were bountiful at this desert camping wedding. As Mai told me afterward: “It was the most us possible.”
TEDDY WEINBERGER is director of development for a consulting company called Meaningful. He made aliyah with his family in 1997 from Miami, where he was an assistant professor of religious studies. Teddy and his wife, Sarah Jane Ross, have five children.