How many times one can talk about barmitzvah plans while going in 100-meter circles? Many! Especially when the rules keep changing. My coronavirus buddy and BFF had to plan her son’s barmitzvah again and again over 12 weeks as the permitted gathering went from 10 people to 20, and then 50, but only outside. And I was with her every step of the way.
With venues closed and synagogues shut down, thousands of Israelis had to choose between waiting until they could have the event of their dreams or doing the best they could — even if it meant a wedding in the back yard or a barmitzvah in a car park.
Lifecycle events are a major part of Jewish life. More than just personal milestones, circumcisions, bar/batmitzvahs, and weddings are communal celebrations, often with hundreds of guests. With Israel closed to non citizens, Zoom played a role in many a simchah.
In true Israeli style, people did the best they could with what they had.
Those with celebrations in mid March and April held them in living rooms, with just enough guests for a prayer quorum.
My sister was luckier than many. With the rules changed to 50, she was able to have her son’s May barmitzvah in a shaded park — with city and police permission, of course. Every guest had to be written down, name and ID number. Masks and hand sanitiser sat on the table for those without. We celebrated, masks on, with socially distanced family photos.
Many weddings took place in the backyard with grandparents, family and friends watching on Zoom. The uncertainty and change of plans caused much stress. But, it also, for some, delivered unexpectedly positive results
One couple held their wedding in the courtyard of a Jerusalem yeshivah with only their closest family beside them. But above them, on every balcony of the dorms, stood hundreds of friends and strangers singing and dancing for the bride and groom. The videos spread on social media and the spirit of a young bride and groom lightened the depressed world just a little bit.
Jaely Rothschild Kurtz says of her daughter and son in law’s Corona wedding, “They were meant to be married with about 450 people. At certain points, we didn’t know if we’d even have ten. In the end we had 50 people in our backyard. It was magnificent. The garden was magical. The guests were family and a handful of other close friends so everyone was invested and fully into the simchah. We did everything ourselves, in our gowns and heels. The energy was off the charts. We set up a live stream with over 1,000 views. At the end of the wedding my daughter turned to me and said, ‘Ima this was perfect, exactly what I wanted’. Was it perfect? No, it wasn’t the wedding she or we had planned. She wanted a run of the mill, forgettable wedding. But you don’t always get what you want. They got a very unique, special, loving wedding in the most comfortable place for the bride, her backyard.”
Another mother describes the difficult decision her daughter and son in law made to push up their wedding. “My daughter got married six days earlier than the planned date because of the proposed closure. The event went from 450 to 20 guests. It was small, intimate, lovely and everyone worked hard to keep things calm and happy. After the fact I can see that both the groom and bride exhibited tremendous maturity to do what they did. But it left a mark, even a bit of trauma. It was not the large happy event they had planned together. It was the correct decision, but the couple paid a heavy emotional price. My only wish is that their marriage be based on the maturity and the trust that they exhibited in making this difficult decision.”
As for my friend? In the end, her son’s barmitzvah party was planned in five days and held in the courtyard of a girls’ school. Her parents, stuck in Canada, watched on Youtube live as 50 of her closest family and friends celebrated. That Shabbat her son read from the Torah in a shaded car park. How did she feel? “It was the most special and beautiful simchah. It shows you can plan and plan; in the end, it was nothing like we expected but was beyond our wildest expectations.”
Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll is a writer and activist