When I received the wedding invitation from our neighbors, I was delighted to share in the celebration with this kind-hearted, friendly family. Last night, when I arrived at the wedding hall, they eagerly welcomed me among the first guests.
The bride looked lovely in her elegant white wedding dress, her mother and sisters in stylish gowns of dusty rose. The hall was perfectly arranged, with tall white gladioli flowers gracing each table.
In Israel, there usually aren’t formal place cards or assigned tables so people choose to sit with their friends. But since I didn’t know anyone there except for the bride’s family, I sat down at a table with a few of her young friends. The other chairs remained empty.
At last it was time for the wedding ceremony. We all watched as this hopeful young man and woman were transformed into a husband and wife. After the ceremony, were turned to our tables for the first course.
Just then a woman with three children and a toddler in a stroller entered the hall, glanced around, and seated themselves at my still mostly empty table. I sensed almost right away there was something rather strange about them. The woman was wearing a shabby jacket and skirt, and the girls wore plain sweaters over their school uniforms with scruffy headbands.
After the mother ensured they all washed their hands, they started to eat the variety of salads placed on the table. I could not help noticing the oldest girl who looked about 11or 12. She appeared decidedly uncomfortable, her dark eyes darting around the elegant hall.
Then the waitress came over to us, serving the first course consisting of potato-filled puff pastries and fish. The mother chose fish for herself and pastries for her older children. Though she tried to feed some of her fish to the toddler, but he shook his little head in refusal so she picked him up and nursed him modestly under her jacket.
The strangest part was that this family did not look at all happy. All the other wedding guests seemed to be smiling, relaxed, and enjoying themselves, but this family looked quiet and tense. They did not go over to wish mazel tov to the bride but remained at the table unobtrusively eating their food.
The way they were acting seemed very strange to me. Suddenly the music picked up the tempo and people rushed up to dance.When the first round of dancing came to an end,we returned to our tables for the main course. But now my table was noticeably empty again. The strange family had disappeared.All the napkins had been neatly refolded and their chairs carefully pushed back in.
At last, I realized that they were uninvited guests who had come to the wedding to eat some dinner.
People are now becoming aware of the alarming financial problems many families in Israel are suffering. Even with both parents working, many are living below the poverty line. Family allowances were drastically reduced to a paltry $40 a month. The National Insurance Institute had opposed the cuts, warning that they would drive some 35,000 children into poverty.
A few years ago the Minister of Welfare and Social Services, Meir Cohen, stated: “We are working to create a primary framework for a program that will constitute a comprehensive battle against poverty. I will establish a council in which the members of the Coalition for Food Security will take an active part.We cannot allow there to be hungry children in schools or in their homes.”
“Of course we’ll help any needy family, and we have allocated hundreds of millions of shekels for nutrition security,” Yair Lapid, the former Finance Minister, had claimed.
Meanwhile one concerned mother found her own temporary solution for her family. They had come to the wedding not for the celebration but for “nutrition security.”
Providing a table for the poor used to be a long-standing custom at Jewish weddings in the past. Their presence, rather than their presents, was considered to be an important omen for a long life to the newlyweds.
Last night, I witnessed the pain of poverty up close and personal, right in the midst of the joyousness of my neighbor’s wedding.