Man plans, G-d laughs. All of us have experienced some aspect of that aphorism over the past several months as simchas, cultural events, work, travel and more have been canceled or altered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the midst of this turmoil, my son, Jason Greenberg (known by his yeshiva peers as Yosef Pesach), announced he was engaged to Chassida Deutsch, to whom he was introduced in Israel, where he has lived since the fall of 2011.
Educated Jewishly at Pikesville’s Beth El Congregation, Yosef has been on a somewhat different path since his bar mitzvah and confirmation days. His journey in Israel began at Marbeh Torah, an English-speaking yeshiva in Bnei Brak for Jews not raised Orthodox but who have embraced the tenets of Orthodoxy. He now attends the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem, the largest yeshiva in the world, where his new father-in-law teaches.
Yosef has never been one to forge a linear path, so it was not surprising that he began dating Chassida during a time of global shutdowns. During their pandemic courtship, appropriate venues for Orthodox dating – such as hotel lobbies and restaurants – were closed. Instead, they met in outdoor spaces, practicing social distancing for both COVID-19 and prescribed dating guidelines.
We spoke about Chassida after their dates and he praised her warmth, spirit, character and pretty face. After four years of searching, it seemed he found his beshert. They announced their engagement on Mar. 31, and our wedding saga began.
Because of the pandemic, Israel’s borders were closed to tourists. Our only option to attend the July 2 wedding was to obtain a permit to enter Israel only available to first-degree relatives (i.e., parents, siblings and grandparents) for weddings or funerals. We reluctantly accepted the fact that the only members of the groom’s family able to attend were my ex-husband, Mitch Greenberg, our son, Daniel, and me.
The process required a strictly enforced two-week quarantine, and we agreed that the three of us would quarantine together. I booked an Airbnb near Yosef’s yeshiva so he could help us with food and supplies.
Going into Isolation
We arrived on June 16 and drove straight to quarantine. Yosef rented a car to transport us — no public transportation or taxis for those of us entering bidud, quarantine.
The apartment was much smaller than expected. The courtyard that looked in the pictures like it was open-air was enclosed, allowing in only one small shaft of sunlight. One exterior window in Mitch and Daniel’s bedroom was our only source of natural light.
Mitch and I worked remotely throughout the quarantine, while Daniel watched movies, listened to music and entertained himself online all day.
I later discovered that Mitch snuck out in the wee hours of the morning to run through Jerusalem, while Daniel and I were asleep at home. He dubbed Daniel and me the “rule followers”; we were not leaving confinement prematurely.
Leading up to the wedding, Mitch and I spoke about Yosef and his future. I always held onto a secret hope that he might find his way back to the States. His marriage to Chassida, an observant Israeli with her entire family nearby, sealed the deal that he is never coming home. Mitch said he resigned himself to this several years ago.
On the day of the wedding, we drove to Havat Emek Ayalon, a ranch in the heart of the Ayalon Valley. We arrived early and marveled at the gorgeous kallah and her beautiful family as they posed for pictures. Yosef was dashing in an elegant formal suit his grandparents bought him, with gold crescent moon cufflinks left to him by my late father glistening at his cuffs.
Yosef, Mitch and Daniel congregated with the other men for the signing of the ketubah, and I adjourned to the main tent where Chassida, her mother and I waited for Yosef to veil his bride. His hands shook as I placed the veil in them. Tears streamed down his face as he placed it on her head.
Chassida’s mother and I led her to the chuppah and helped her circle her waiting chosson seven times. Rabbi Naftali Elzas, head of Yosef’s first yeshiva, officiated the ceremony. After sharing wine, breaking the glass, placing a ring on Chassida’s finger and hearing the blessings, Yosef and Chassida were husband and wife.
There was no kiss at the end of the ceremony. We were surprised to see the couple holding hands as they walked from the chuppah.
They entered the yichud room together, their first time alone and symbolizing their marital status. Yosef presented Chassida with a solitaire diamond ring, using the stone that had passed from his paternal grandparents to his parents and to him. When they emerged, Yosef’s yeshiva friends danced them to the celebration.
The happy occasion was marked by feasting, dancing and singing on each side of the mechitzah, which separated the men and women. Our friends and relatives back home watched the festivities via livestream and enjoyed being “part” of the celebration.
Evidence of the pandemic was obvious at the wedding, too. We used a ribbon to dance in a circle on the women’s side, instead of holding hands, and most people wore face masks. I cringed as I spied Yosef on his side of the mechitzah shaking hands with his guests.
Painful to Say Goodbye
The following day, we gathered at a yeshiva in the settlement town of Mevo Horon to welcome Shabbat together. Over dinner, relatives and friends spoke about the couple and offered blessings. Mitch delivered an ad-libbed speech and shared how Yosef’s friends, who continued their whooping and cheering, welcomed him so enthusiastically at the wedding and allayed any fears he had about not feeling part of the festivities.
Yosef also addressed our group, speaking about why he had been so emotional under the chuppah and what marrying Chassida meant to him. He shared that he understands life is made up of moments that define the totality of our journeys. His wedding day, he said, was his best day so far.
He reflected on the path leading him to that day, the years he invested in his studies at yeshivot and his decision to be a Torah-observant Jew. He acknowledged that his chosen path was not always easy on his family and how much he appreciated the sacrifices we made to be part of his wedding.
Yosef thanked G-d for getting him to this day and told his new bride how much he looked forward to building a family together. The only thing missing was someone singing, “Sunrise, Sunset.”
Flying home the following day, we were still buzzing from the joy of Yosef and Chassida’s wedding, but also smarting from the pain of saying goodbye to them. The pandemic will likely affect when we can see the newlyweds again. We are hopeful they will be able to come to Baltimore in the fall.
To say the steps required to get to Yosef’s wedding were unprecedented is an understatement. When I envisioned his wedding, it certainly did not include quarantine and face masks! While it was heartbreaking that so many loved ones could not join us, I am forever grateful I had the opportunity to stand under the chuppah with Yosef and Chassida and help them start their journey as husband and wife.
In that moment, everything that it took to get there fell away and all that mattered was this beautiful young couple beginning their life together. May this bridegroom always rejoice with his bride, and may we always be able to share life’s joys with them.
Melinda Michel is vice president of Women’s Philanthropy at The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore. Mitchell Greenberg, a partner in the law firm Price Benowitz, contributed to this article.