Fatigued, enervated, depressed from trying to find a potential wife in seemingly endless visits to singles’ bars and the need to try to impress, to drink, to recite his life history, to do the same (without the drinks) via internet matching, he wished he could simply skip the find-a-mate stage and be married with a family.
Adopting the adage, ‘change place, change luck’, he decided to give Israel a try. The scene of the Song of Songs, he told himself, half encouragingly, half ironically. So far in the Holy Land in the six months he had resided there, nothing had developed in that direction and he thought he might have to throw up his hands (and hopes) and return to the States.
One evening, the sound of a hubbub outside his small apartment caused him to abandon his TV dinner and look out the window. A wave of men in black dress and impressive fur hats streamed past his amazed eyes. Other men and boys and women stood on balconies and even roofs, watching the spectacle.
He descended the four floors and asked someone what was going on. “The daughter of the Admor is going to stand under the huppah, the bridal canopy.” “Admor?” he asked. “Our blessed teacher and rabbi, the leader of our hasids ,” the young man explained. “Impressive,” he replied. “Must be an interesting ceremony to witness.” “Come. Everyone is invited. Wear a white shirt and a jacket, and a skullcap or hat, of course. But be prepared to stay up late – the marriage ceremony itself only occurs around four in the morning.”
That deterred him, momentarily. The much shorter weddings he had attended had seemed too long. He realized the real reason was that he hadn’t found a wedding partner for himself; watching others tie the knot depressed him. Since coming to Israel, he hadn’t been up so late. His level of Hebrew did not facilitate indigenous singles bars nor other locals for meetings of possible maidels. The all-night affair seemed a lengthy process to go through to get married yet he was curious to see it. The bride is already taken, he joked; at least the ceremony promised an interesting change from spending so much time alone in his flat. Dressed appropriately as instructed, he followed the procession.
He found himself in a huge hall with what seemed to be thousands of men dressed in black, He located an inconspicuous place in the rear where he could watch the main event.
There ensued a long period during which the important dignitaries, men with beards, centered their attention upon an elderly man with a white beard who seemed to embody the features of a biblical prophet. Apparently, he was the Admor. Occasionally he would recite a blessing, drink from his wine glass and exchange handshakes (brief hand touches, according to protocol) with dignitaries. Acolytes passed out glasses of wine and later other drinks and trays of sweets. He, too, received them.
A section of what seemed to be bleachers which surrounded the hall on all sides filled with joyous men was given over to a male choir. The songs they sang were superb melodies, uplifting; if there was a heavenly choir it would sound like it, he thought. At times the uplifting songs were mixed with spirited marches superior even to his jazz favorite, ‘When the Saints Come Marching In.’
Oddly, he felt envy for these people. They all seemed so joyous, It had been a long time since he had felt such joy.
After a long time of singing and dancing, the bride entered, dressed in a bridal dress the likes of which he had never seen. The bottom half of the dress was shaped like a wide bell above which the woman was swathed in white, and she wore a thick white veil. She stood in the middle of the hall, eyes downcast in modesty — a pose she was to remain in for many minutes, while, all the time, the Admor danced around her in a wide circle in prancing steps, while the men in the hall watched, sometimes singing, sometimes dancing in place. And then, as the Admor danced in a circle around her, she turned to face him, bowing to him every few moments so that she completed her slow stately circling in place as he completed his wider circle.
He had never witnessed a wedding, so uplifting, so regal, so impressive in his life. No English royal wedding seen on television came close. He was in shock.
And then, as the groom danced around his bride, he, the onlooker, wished he was the lucky chap dancing before his modest, pure, bride.
The bride began to slowly circle the groom seven times. A guest standing near him, apparently realizing he was unfamiliar with the proceedings, explained that the number seven symbolized completion and holiness within time and space. The seven circles also corresponded to the seven times the word kallah (bride) is mentioned in the Song of Songs.
He felt an ecstasy, a euphoria, as if he existed above time. Or as if his time had been but preparation for this moment in time. The next day, as if still in a dream, he joined a yeshiva of the sect of the wedding he had witnessed. A year later he had an arranged marriage with a young woman of the sect. At their wedding, not one as grand as that of the Admor’s daughter but splendid in its own way, he stood as his bride, in white, eyes downcast in modesty and purity, circled him seven times and he felt something he had never felt before — a completeness and holiness within time and space.