Weddings Unite Jews Across Cultural Borders

There were lots of numbers to consider at The Great Jewish Wedding Event — which showcased customs from all over the world — held recently at the Bergen County YJCC in Washington Township.

$25,000 — the amount usually spent on a colorful Yemenite bridal dress.

7 — the number of generations Ethiopians Jews are required to trace back before marrying to circumvent possible genetic issues.

5,000 — the approximate number of Jews in India, a country of nearly a billion people.

The numbers and traditions explored were varied, but what they all had in common — the unity of Jewish people in marriage, and the celebration of that fact — was the inspiration for this first-ever large-scale event.

Said Miriam Allenson, spokeswoman for the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey: “We thought, ‘How do these three facets of Judaism — Orthodox, Conservative and Reform — come together?’ It’s at happy occasions, it’s at weddings.”

But like most weddings, the event, which was planned for nearly two years, didn’t quite go off without a hitch.

The “bride” in the Bene Israel Indian wedding ceremony was delayed, necessitating a reorganization of the day’s events. Interspersed with klezmer music by Alicia Svigals, there was a photography presentation by Zion Ozeri; a discussion of Hasidic weddings by Rabbi Dov Drizin of Valley Chabad in Woodcliff Lake; “The Yemenite Wedding Experience,” led by artist Geula Vardi, which featured a dancer from Florida who balanced objects on her head; an Ethiopian coffee ceremony; and a presentation on Moroccan weddings.

But this shift didn’t prevent a standing-room-only crowd at the Indian wedding ceremony, led by Romiel Daniel, president of the Indian Jewish Congregation in Long Island and Rego Park Jewish Center in Queens.

Before the ceremony began, Daniel couldn’t resist making the crowd laugh about most people’s reactions to Indian Jews. ” ‘How can you be Jewish?’ he says many people ask him. ‘You come from India!’ ”

In fact, the country is home to three Jewish communities: the Cochins, who are the fewest with approximately 17 elderly people remaining; the few hundred Baghdadis, who came from Syria and Baghdad in the 19th century; and the Bene Israel, believed to have been in India since 722 B.C.E., when Assyria defeated the Kingdom of Israel. They’re the largest constituency.

The event was extremely well-received, says Allenson. “It was such a wonderful time, and what makes it even more special is that it was educational, too.”

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