Notes on Getting Married in Israel in a Pandemic

Marriage in Israel has always been allowed during lockdown, even amid the very highest infection rates. So, as quarantine loomed, my then-fiancé and I went on with our plans.

A wedding in Modi’in, Israel during the coronavirus pandemic on August 20, 2020. Xinhua/Gil Cohen Magen via Getty Images.

A wedding in Modi’in, Israel during the coronavirus pandemic on August 20, 2020. Xinhua/Gil Cohen Magen via Getty Images.

Jan. 19 2021
About the author

Tamara Berens, a former Krauthammer Fellow at Mosaic, is the director of young professional programming at the Tikvah Fund.

In September 2020, as cases of the coronavirus rose, Mosaic’s Krauthammer Fellow Tamara Berens moved to Israel and documented the journey. Three months later, during another spike in cases, she was married. Here, she narrates that process and turns her eye on the country around her.

On Sukkot, the Jewish festival of booths, it is customary to set up a hut outside one’s home—typically used for all daily activities including eating, sleeping, and davening (praying.) One’s life moves to the hut, a semi-outdoor structure that is intended to allow just enough light through its bamboo roof to glimpse a peek at the stars. This Sukkot, while Israel was under one of its many autumn lockdowns, all of Tel Aviv seemed to have fallen in line with the spirit of this festival. They moved outdoors—to the beach.

Beachgoing for leisure was not on the list of permissible activities during lockdown, and strict fines loomed. Sunbathers began an elaborate dance around the many cop cars roaming the beach to avoid getting caught. When police jeeps rolled close to the water, surreptitious swimmers bolted for the shore. When the police approached the sandy strips along the tayelet, the beachside promenade, sunbathers ran to the sea. One older woman had it down to an art. She brought a jump-rope to feign exercise—permissible—and began to hop as police handed out fines to the lazier folk around her.

But while the beach was assur, forbidden, marriage has always been allowed in some form during lockdown, even amid Israel’s highest infection rates. And so, this past December, even as quarantine loomed, my then-fiancé and I went on with our plans to be married. Despite Israel’s robust response to the pandemic, it is nonetheless the only country—that I know of—granting special exemptions for weddings to take place during all stages of lockdown, allowing greater numbers to gather than the general restrictions. These exemptions include making provisions for foreign family members of the bride and groom to travel to Israel. While most countries only allow people to enter for the sake of a sick or deceased immediate relative during the pandemic, Israel permits celebrations of life, too.

That does not mean it is smart to travel. But for my now-husband and I, with close family scattered around four countries, there was no other option. If we wanted our grandparents, each living in Israel, to be present, we had to bring the simḥah to them.


My parents and brother arrived from England in November and were absorbed into Israeli society for a month and a half. The greatest shock was the culture of mask-wearing. In England, where I am from, you would be hard-pressed to find citizens wearing a mask outdoors. In Israel, and in Tel Aviv more specifically, mask-wearing is ubiquitous indoors and outdoors. I tried on my wedding dress, shoes, and earrings with a purple surgical mask, only taking it off for social-media promotional pictures taken from two feet away: Israel’s huge wedding industry has taken a devastating hit during the pandemic, and every wedding vendor asked for a full photoshoot of me, a rare customer, to boost its online profile.

Day by day, our plans to marry in Caesarea became more precarious. As the week approached, rumblings of a holiday lockdown became a reality. The caterer, based in the Lower Galilee, wanted to start at 11:00 am in order to get back to the north by the start of curfew at 5:00 pm. Messages flooded in from concerned friends. We developed contingency plan after contingency plan as the Israeli cabinet vacillated between different lockdown ideas and the public held their breath.

And then the restrictions vanished without a trace. Due to disagreements regarding the utility of nightly curfews as opposed to a full lockdown, they were never approved, and so we went ahead as normal—if that is the right word—with our twenty-person wedding.

Marriage in Judaism is more than a legal commitment. It is a spiritual bonding. The Sheva Brakhot—seven blessings—read during the second part of the marriage ceremony refer to biblical creation more than they do to romantic love. The married couple takes it upon itself to further God’s wishes for humankind. Even with a pandemic, the ceremony is unchanged. The ḥuppah—wedding canopy—is large enough in its traditional size to allow for social distancing. There, at the foot of Herod’s ruins, on Hanukkah, we were married.


In a taxi in Tel Aviv after the wedding my husband, sister-in-law, and I passed a slew of anti-Netanyahu protestors. Crowds of men, women, children, and grandparents dressed in black “crime-minister” tee-shirts are now a permanent fixture in central Israel, displaying their visceral rejection of the Israeli prime minister on busy streets every Saturday evening. Our driver turned to us and shook his head. “They are all Ashkenazim,” he said. “You know, in Israel, Mizraḥim have four kids. Ashkenazim have one kid and a dog. We will replace them.” As he rolled past a black Toyota, he stuck his head out of the car window to swear at the driver, who was traveling with a dog in the back seat. “Why did you do that?” I asked. “Because he looked like a smolani” (a left-winger).

The 1977 elections that ended decades of socialist rule and swept Menachem Begin to the premiership is known in Israel as the mahapaḥ, the upheaval, and it transformed Israeli society. Israel’s Mizraḥi population was finally accepted into the political process as the Labor party’s grip over major societal institutions loosened. This shift paved the way for cultural mixing over the coming decades that helped make Israel the successful nation it is today.

Israeli society today is elastic. It changes year by year as new immigrants arrive and their children are absorbed into Israeli culture, and as new technologies are invented and disseminated to the world. Sometimes Israel even changes day by day—while you happen to be there for a few months to get married. Weeks after the normalization agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates in August, Israeli radio programs aired interview after interview with lucky travelers to Dubai, and the country already began preparing for an influx of tourists and business opportunities.

Do these changes benefit everyone equally? Behind the theatrics of Israeli politics and protests, sometimes it is hard to tell.

The pandemic has left the country stagnant in some ways. Unemployment rises each month as businesses are shuttered. Restaurants have not been open for indoor or outdoor seating of any sort since September. In the last few months, travel between cities has been forbidden longer than it has been permitted. Yet life rolls on. Israel forges new alliances with its former enemies. The elderly die. Children are born. Couples are married.

More about: Coronavirus, Israel & Zionism