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A Wedding of Israel

By Paula Stern
8/8/2014, 7:08 AM

Last night, I went to a beautiful wedding. There were more tears than usual, hardly a dry eye at some points. It was emotionally exhausting just as it was spiritually uplifting.

The groom, handsome and smiling...had returned from the Gaza war less than a week ago. The entire neighborhood (without exaggeration) breathed a sigh of relief when he came home safe and anxious for a wedding that has been four years in the making. The final plans were all done by his bride; he only saw his wedding invitation last week for the first time.

As he approached his future wife, walking between his father and future father-in-law, both friends of ours, those that watched him cried - all we have lived for in the last month was right before us, what we live for - life, love, the joy of creating new families and futures.

One friend, whose son is in a special combat unit was crying. I wanted to go to her and hug her. These were not normal tears of a wedding but desperate pain stored for a month finally being released. She was on the other side of the aisle and I couldn't get to her and I watched as others held her, wanting to be there with her.

As the ceremony began, a soldier in uniform and a gun came quietly down the side. I whispered his name to my husband; so grateful he'd made it in time to the see his good friends married; to join his parents and even his grandparents celebrate.

The mother of the groom spoke beautifully and turned to ask where her son's friends - his army unit was. A few handsome boys from the back waved and everyone turned and started clapping for them. And then she thanked him, and people clapped even harder. They didn't look particularly comfortable with the praise - especially the one whose arm and hands were wrapped and in a splint. He looked haunted.

Under the wedding canopy, they mentioned a friend of the groom who had been killed in the war and then, at the request of the bride and groom, began the prayer for the safety of Israel's soldiers. Everyone stood, so many more tears.

Soon it was time to dance - and again it was done with all the joy and relief you can imagine. I went to find my friend - the minute she saw me, she started crying again and so did I. So many tears - but so much joy. The evening was about joy - how could it not be with such a beautiful couple?

Over and over again, people said, "now that the war is over" and "thank God it is over." I was lucky - as much as I was in this war, Elie and Shmulik were never called in, at least not so far. All that these other parents felt - the fear, the worry, sleepless nights and more...I had them now but it can never be the same when it isn't your child in the battle. But I had it less than two years ago and four before that. It is a feeling you never forget; it lives forever in your heart and can be brought back in a second.

In a year or two or three, it will hopefully not be their sons but it could be mine again. We live with this because we choose to live in a country too often forced to defend itself.

The ceasefire officially ends in 8 minutes. Four hours ago, Gaza fired mortars at Israel. Is that enough to say the ceasefire is broken? Never mind, we wait...7 minutes to go.

I have opened the applications again on my computer. I am beginning to prepare for the coming Shabbat. I will hold on to the memory of the boys who just left Gaza dancing last night with their friends and hope they won't be called back in.

As always, we are a nation praying for peace; preparing to have that dream shattered.

Five minutes....