The Incredible Corona Wedding Outside Our Window
A makeshift wedding on the street produces a miraculous, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Sunday, March 16 – 8:00 p.m.
My married daughter receives a call from a friend. “My sister has a friend whose wedding is coming up. Government restrictions are tightening – effectively shuttering event halls and casting hundreds of weddings into limbo. This couple wants to make a wedding ASAP and the bride is making phone calls right now, desperately seeking a suitable location. ”
The light bulb goes off in my daughter’s head and she calls. “Since your house sits alone on a cul-de-sac,” she says, “would you object to having a wedding on the street in front of the house?
This sounds like an amazing mitzvah opportunity, and truth be told, I’ve harbored a decades-long dream of hosting a “home wedding.”
“I have no jurisdiction over the public street,” I tell my daughter. “The important thing is that they follow all government guidelines.”
“Okay,” she says. “Just be prepared that someone might come soon to check it out.”
Sunday 10:00 p.m.
Out my front window a young chassidic man is surveying the cul-de-sac. I come out to speak with (who turns out to be) the groom's twin brother. "I love the spacious, pastoral location and the good street lighting," he says, gesturing toward the expanse. "And the cul-de-sac is tailor-made as a dance floor!"
He spins and cheerily declares: "We'd like to have the chuppah, meal, and dancing all here tomorrow evening."
I shrug. “It’s not up to me. I only ask you to observe basic guidelines: that none of our neighbors object; that the music stops at 11 p.m.; and that all government guidelines are observed.”
He assures me they’ll follow the guidelines and he races off to arrange the entire event in a few hours.
Monday 11:00 a.m.
A delivery truck arrives and drops off plates and glassware. The reality is starting to sink in.
Volunteers arrive and begin stringing festive lights above the cul-de-sac.
Tables and chairs are delivered.
A keyboard and sound system is set up in the street.
The caterer arrives and begins setting small tables at far corners of the cul-de-sac.
A group of volunteers arrive to set up partitions – cleverly turning the cul-de-sac into two fully separate zones, one for men and one for women – thus doubling the permitted number of guests.
The photographer and videographer arrive. The forest that borders the cul-de-sac serves as an elegant backdrop for photos of the bride.
The guests arrive, most with gloved hands. I watch the proceedings from the sidelines, from the safe and comfortable distance of my front yard.
I’m asked to be a witness under the chuppah. (A Jewish wedding requires no more than four people: bride, groom, and two witnesses.) In this new role, I’m suddenly thrust into the center of the action – under the chuppah, aside the officiating rabbi.
Before the ceremony begins, an announcement reminds everyone to maintain safe social distance.
The rabbi says the blessings. The groom utters the ancient words. A gold band slips onto the bride’s finger. Myself and another witness confirm: “mikudeshet” – married! The groom breaks the glass and we sign the marriage document (ketubah).
Mazel Tov! The ceremony ends and everyone is buzzing from the palpable energy and holiness. Nobody is stressing about flowers or catering. The photographs, video, and music are irrelevant. Who needs a wedding hall? This is spontaneous joy – simcha – pure and simple.
One chassid tells me: “I’ve been to a thousand weddings, but this is once-in-a-lifetime.”
The guests settle down for the meal and I retreat back into my house for a breather. These are Karlin Chassidim – renowned for lively celebrations – and I want to be ready for the dancing.
The dancing begins. The Chassidim form in a circle, while holding – not each others’ gloved hands – but creatively holding chairs in-between them to maintain distance. As they dance faster and faster, their fur hats (shtreimels) bob up and down, while spiritual electricity fills the air. The pastoral setting and forest backdrop is like a spectacular film playing out before my eyes, transporting me back to a village in 18th century Poland.
At that moment, a chassid pulls me aside and says: “Tonight is the 21st of Adar, the yahrtzeit of Reb Elimelech of Lizensk.”
My jaw drops. It was in a village in 18th century Poland where Reb Elimelech, a spiritual giant, led the early Chassidic movement – with students like the illustrious Chozeh of Lublin and founders of Chassidic dynasties like Gur, Belz, Satmar and Sanz.
The chassid tells me how every year on Reb Elimelech's yahrtzeit, Adar 21, the village of Lizensk, Poland comes to life with 10,000 chassidim converging to visit his grave. But this year, with coronavirus restrictions, nobody could visit – leaving Reb Elimelech's gravesite empty and forlorn.”
The chassid looks me in the eye and says: “Since nobody came to Lizensk, the spirit of Reb Elimelech ended up on this cul-de-sac.”
“It certainly feels like it,” I say, letting the weight of the moment sink in. “But why here?”
“Because the groom is a 12th-generation descendent of Reb Elimelech of Lizensk,” he replies.
I do a double-take and my thoughts swirl, when another chassid picks up the thread:
“Reb Elimelech promised that whoever does a kindness for his descendents – until the 10th generation – receives personal intervention and blessing.”
“But the groom is 12th generation!” I stammer. “Quick – where’s the 10th generation?”
The chassid gestures toward a very old man sitting in a chair. “The groom’s Zaydie (grandfather) is right there. Go ask for a blessing.”
I rush over to wish the grandfather a hearty “mazel tov” and ask for his blessing.
He looks at me with sparkling, saintly eyes and says: “May all the joy of this wedding enter your home.”
Word has gotten out and people are coming to see this “public event.” With increased numbers comes a safety risk, and announcements are made requesting that people disperse.
A police car pulls up to the cul-de-sac. (Police are taking coronavirus restrictions seriously – even arresting wedding organizers and fining attendees.) The officers get out, look around, and – finding the guidelines observed – leave.
This police visit, only a few minutes before the music was set to stop, brings the wedding to an abrupt ending (and saves me the uncomfortable task of having to enforce the 11 o’clock cut-off).
We invite the bride and groom into our home for a quiet moment to wish them “mazel tov.”
The groom quotes the Talmud (Brachot 6b) how bringing joy to a bride and groom merits five "voices": The voice of joy, the voice of gladness, the voice of the groom, the voice of the bride, and the voice of those who give thanks to God.
“Just yesterday, we weren’t even sure we'd have a wedding,” he said. “This turned out even more joyous and special than if all had gone according to plan. We can never thank you enough.”
As my teenage boys finish sweeping the cul-de-sac from confetti thrown in celebration, my thoughts turn to the Talmudic dictum: “Bringing joy to a bride and groom is akin to rebuilding Jerusalem.” I ponder the meaning of Jerusalem – a metaphor of Isaiah’s vision of a perfected world, epicenter of the universal values of "love your neighbor," "beat swords into plowshares," and "proclaim liberty throughout the land."
The cul-de-sac, now empty, shows barely a sign of the miraculous event that just took place. May it represent a ray of light in our new global reality, a brick in our rebuilt Jerusalem.