VIDEO - Tens of thousands of servings of cholent, thousands of production workers and ushers, hundreds of rabbis and rebbes, dozens of choir members and one "heir," just 18 years old, all came together Tuesday night for the "wedding of the year" – and perhaps of the decade – in the ultra-Orthodox public.
Video courtesy of jn1.tv
Tens of thousands of Hasidim and members of other Jewish denominations celebrated the marriage of Shalom Rokeach, the grandson of the Rebbe of Belz, one of the biggest Hasidic movements in Israel, to Hannah Batya Penet, the daughter of one of the community's noble families. The two, by the way, are distant relatives.
Belz wedding (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
The Rebbe and his wife's long wait for the birth of their son provided another meaning to the great joy, with the marriage of the first grandson.
The tens of thousands of Hasidim from Israel and abroad, flocked to Jerusalem in recent days and attended the "pre-wedding" events as well such as the "aufruf" held on the Shabbat before the wedding, yet the highlight was during the marriage ceremony on Tuesday night.
Moderate religious, Lithuanian and Sephardic Jews are in full attendance to honor the Belz Rebbe (Photo: Meir Alfasi, Kikar Hashabat)
The couple was wed under a glorious canopy installed on the main traffic island in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Kiryat Belz. The men were then directed to a huge tent near the Hasidic movement's house of study, while the women celebrated with the bride at Jerusalem's International Convention Center.
When Rebbe danced with Rabbi Ovadia
It was likely the biggest haredi wedding ever held in Israel, both in the number of participants and in the list of dignitaries who accepted the Rebbe's invitation. Rabbis and public figures from a wide spectrum of the haredi and national-religious sectors arrived to pay their respects to the Belz Rebbe, who maintains close relations with the different circles as well.
Chuppah on traffic island in Jerusalem (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
The Ger Rebbe, head of Israel's largest Hasidic movement, and Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, one of the leaders of the Ashkenazi Lithuanian public, received a special welcome from the Rebbe and his followers, but the highlight was the entry of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
The Sephardic leader arrived at the Belz "hangar" in spite of his old age and medical condition, and the audience repaid him as thousands of Hasidim cheered enthusiastically, and the dancing on the tribunes grew more and more frenzied.
Rebbe dances with his grandson (Photo: Meir Alfasi, Kikar Hashabat)
The choir which entertained the celebrators (accompanied by just one musical instrument – a synthesizer) replaced the Hasidic tunes with a Mizrahi melody for a short while. The Rebbe and Rabbi Ovadia got up, held each other's hands and danced – taking the audience's breath away.
"The uniqueness of this celebration is in the fact that there has not been a wedding for the grandson of the Belz Rebbe since before the Holocaust," says Rabbi Aharon Vind, one of the event's participants. "This wedding, for this public, for the tens of thousands of people here – marks the victory over the German Nazis, damn them.
"Showing what God did, the victory over them, that they wanted to destroy the entire nation, and thank God – the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread."
Groom and his bride dance in front of thousands (Photo: Meir Alfasi, Kikar Hashabat)
Another participant, Eliyahu, who is not among the Hasidic movement's members, explained that "all the Jewish people came here to share the joy, and are experiencing the same thing."
The celebrations continued until dawn, in expectation for another highlight, the last in this wedding – the "mitzvah tantz," in which the Rebbe danced with the bride as each held the end of a sash, followed by the groom himself and his new wife, hand in hand in front of the thousands. The unusual show of intimacy between the couple is common once in a lifetime, on their wedding night – and only in Hasidic communities.
'The Rebbe is our father'
Haredi political commentator Meir Berger of Hamevaser newspaper, a Belz Hasid himself, tried to demonstrate the magnitude of the event in his eyes: "The Rebbe is our father, a spiritual father, and every single one of us, in Israel and in the world, is a real partner in this joy."
Berger noted the Hasidic dynasty's rise from the ashes of the Holocaust as well, adding that it is now one of the biggest in Israel with Torah institutions, kashrut systems, charity organizations and study institutes helping "home economics."
Masses gather ahead of chuppah (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
The Belz journalist noted, however, that the wedding also expressed the modest and simple side of the Rockeach family, which chose as a bride a girl from a "regular" family in the community (although "wellborn"), and did not ask to be matched to an offspring of another rebbe.
Despite the modesty, an event of such magnitude involves a high price, and the haredi public estimates the cost of the wedding production and the accompanying ceremonies at millions of dollars.
The events were funded mainly from the money of the Hasidic movement's donors around the world ("the rich men") and from sponsorships granted by businesspeople. So who says there is no equal share of the burden?