As a newlywed, the memories of the stress of planning my wedding, which took place just two months ago, remain fresh in my mind. I spent hours with my now-husband planning all the details, leading to our big day with all of our loved ones. Little did we know at the time just how lucky we were to have the wedding, even if our honeymoon was interrupted by the war.
On October 7th, Israelis found themselves in a state of shock, horror, and terror as Hamas terrorists infiltrated southern Israel, brutally murdering 1400 Israelis and taking at least 240 people hostage, in addition to continuous rockets being rained down upon the entire country. Israel was plunged into war, and thousands of reservists across the country were called up to the army.
Numerous couples across Israel had their own beautiful weddings planned for the month of October after the Jewish holidays ended, only to have them come crashing down with the realities of war. Canceled venues, family members unable to arrive, grooms called into the reserves, and more have caused many couples to switch gears and change their wedding plans at the last minute.
While some made the valid choice to postpone their dates for a better time, other couples took a different route and decided that no war was going to keep their weddings from happening. Stories emerged of couples pushing forward and having their weddings in reduced capacities or even getting married on army bases.
On October 12, less than a week after the war began, one groom who had been called up to the reserves decided that he was going to get married that day as planned despite being confined to an army base. But how to make it happen?
Enter Meir Panim.
Meir Panim is a nonprofit organization in Israel that, in addition to its other programs, is known for its “restaurant soup kitchens.” They emphasize the belief that all who come through their doors should be treated with dignity and respect, and their workers and volunteers have dedicated themselves to taking care of others.
On October 7th, as many of the employees saw their own spouses and children being called off to war, the five branch managers immediately sprang into action. Their center in Or Akiva became the heartbeat of their war effort, where they have since been preparing between 10,000-20,000 meals regularly.
Because they are known for feeding people in need, word of mouth about Meir Panim’s work spread, and an army base reached out with a unique and special request: they needed to make a wedding happen on the base because they had a groom who did not want to wait. Mimi Rozmaryn, Meir Panim’s Director of Global Development, explained, “It was just a phone call through word of mouth because we were delivering food to the base already.”
Understanding the importance of this moment, Meir Panim’s Or Akiva branch set out to make the wedding as special as possible. Their staff and volunteers cooked for the groom’s entire troop and then brought in food, fruit, flowers, and any detail they could think of to turn a corner of the army base into a quaint wedding venue.
To make this wedding happen felt so important to Meir Panim, the couple, and the overall morale in the country. Mimi Rozmaryn said, “We just wanted to bring a moment of joy, happiness, and LIFE back to our people in a moment of great difficulty. That moment of happiness and seeing the beauty and love between this couple was everything.”
For bride Anna Penchansky-Michaeli, her wedding was also supposed to take place on October 12th, with her family and friends from the U.S. all planning to fly in for the happy event. But in the wake of the events of October 7th, the venue was canceled, and her family could no longer make it.
But Anna knew that she still wanted to marry her now-husband Tamir in spite of the dark times the country had just faced. “I knew that I always wanted to get married, and more than anything, I wanted to marry this specific man. I just wanted one ray of light in spite of everything.”
Some friends agreed to host at their apartment’s rooftop in Tel Aviv a few days after their originally planned date, on October 15th. Anna spent the day setting up her own chuppah, the Jewish marriage canopy, and used the time to focus on love and tune out the sorrow. Throughout the day, rockets continued to be fired, and she would have to pause her preparations to run to a shelter, but still kept her focus on the love she shared for Tamir. The results were a small and meaningful ceremony, where they declared their love for one another and showed that their spirits could not be diminished.
Her in-laws ordered lots of food for the small group of 18 people present. Upon seeing the large quantities of food, one of the hosts mentioned that her sister was currently in the reserves and asked if they could donate the leftovers to her base. Without any hesitation, the wedding party enthusiastically sent the meal off to their host’s sister. They were happy to receive photos of the soldiers enjoying the meal later, adding even more meaning to the already special wedding.
(Note that the faces of soldiers cannot be shown for security reasons.)
When reflecting on the experience, Anna said, “We just wanted to have one day where there was happiness. We wanted to show the world that we have a love for each other in these dark times. I got home that night, and it still felt special. Best decision we made, and I would not take it back. Every night since I go to bed and think, ‘At least I married the love of my life.’”
Each and every wedding and celebration that has taken place since October 7th has indeed been an injection of joy and light during the troubling times the people of Israel have faced and provides a needed boost of morale to all around them. It speaks to the resilient spirit of the Jewish people and that even in times of darkness, we will still celebrate life and find ways to uplift one another with love.
Main photo credit: Dima Vazinovich