In the summer of 2008, Ilana Shafran and Josh Mandel stood under a chuppah on a patio overlooking Jerusalem, illuminated by the gold of the setting sun. About 250 guests from the United States, Israel and Europe shared in the simcha as the couple became husband and wife.
“Having a wedding in Israel was my dream, and it wasn’t very hard to convince Josh to go along with it,” said Shafran. “Everything was so perfect — it really turned out to be a dream wedding.”
Of course, that wedding, planned right down to reciting of vows against a spectacular backdrop, took months of meticulous arrangements for the couple.
Putting on a wedding is challenging enough, but planning one halfway around the globe can seem formidable. For Ilana, however, working on that goal was a welcome distraction. At the same time couple became engaged, in August 2007, Josh was sent to Iraq with the U. S. Marines.
Doing something in anticipation of their future together helped her maintain a positive focus during the eight months her fiancé was in a war zone.
“I threw myself into work and planning for the wedding to stay busy,” Ilana explained.
Of course, Ilana didn’t do it alone. “If you’re going to have a wedding that far away,” she advised, “it’s best to get whatever help you can to make sure it’s as stress-free as possible.”
She enlisted the help of two wedding planners — one in her hometown of Cleveland, the other in Israel. Save-the-date cards were mailed out six months in advance and included tour and hotel information. Her local planner helped with travel arrangements for guests and dealt with problems regarding their overseas plans.
Ilana cautions brides who might be considering a wedding in Israel to also look into the necessary certification well in advance. A tremendous amount of paperwork needs to be completed for the Israeli rabbinate before it allows a wedding ceremony to be performed.
Most of the 80 guests who came from the United States for the wedding made a vacation out of the trip to Israel, arriving about a week in advance of the nuptials. For some, said Ilana, it was a first visit. She and Josh, both strong Zionists, were delighted their wedding was the reason for the experience.
As a surprise, Josh arranged with the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv offices of the U.S. Marine Corps to have four Marines at the wedding. Guests arrived beneath their raised swords.
The Marines practiced secretly with the groom-to-be a few days before the wedding to ensure everything would be flawless. It was their first experience at a Jewish wedding. They stayed for the duration, danced at the reception and “really had a blast,” Ilana noted.
The couple took extra precautions to avert any potential last-minute disasters. For example, Ilana brought her entire wedding ensemble on the plane as carry-on.
Still, there was “one big drama.” Ilana forgot to bring her contact lens case, and she put each lens in a separate cup by the sink in her hotel room. The cleaning person came in to tidy up and promptly tossed the lenses down the sink and disposed of the cups.
“I almost had to wear my glasses on my wedding day!” Ilana recalls with horror. Thankfully, her eye doctor was able to fax her prescription to Israel, where she secured a new pair.
“A wedding anywhere is wonderful, no matter where it’s held, but being able to have it in Israel adds such a special component,” Ilana said. “It’s a different dynamic that really does lend itself to a very meaningful event.”
Stephanie Garber wrote this piece for the Cleveland Jewish News.