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Bring My Sons from Afar and My Daughters from the ends of the Earth
by Judy Lash Balint
November 4, 2002

Ashdod--It's eighteen years since Dareje Tesame Barhe, Nagist Mahartu Zarihun and their baby daughter made the arduous journey from Ethiopia to a refugee camp in Sudan before being airlifted to Israel as part of Operation Moses--the semi-secret operation that brought almost 7,000 Jews from Ethiopia to new lives in Israel.

Last week, that baby daughter, Tadela a.k.a Chaya, now a tall, slender, poised young woman, married Yosef Main, an American yeshiva student from Cleveland, in a wedding ceremony that was pure Israel.
Hundreds of guests converge on a bright, modern wedding hall near Chaya's home in the port city of Ashdod, south of Tel Aviv. It's Thursday night, the start of the Israeli weekend, and a popular night for weddings. According to the invitation, the chupa is set to start at 7 p.m., but everyone knows that in reality, it will be almost two hours later before the ceremony gets underway.

The parents of chatan and kallah stand together receiving their guests. Most of the Ethiopian women stop politely to kiss the mother of the chatan on both cheeks several times, in Ethiopian fashion. Yehudit Main, Yosef's mother, is beaming with the joy of the occasion as she meets and greets her new, vastly extended family by marriage.

Dozens of tables are already filled with friends of the bride and her family. Many women wear traditional Ethiopian dresses and headcoverings. White cotton robes adorned with green, red and yellow or threaded with blue, draped gracefully over the shoulders. Distinctive tatoos mark the necks and foreheads of a number of the middle aged and older women. A few of the older men wear similar plain white robes, but the younger generation are dressed in typical Israeli wedding attire--ranging from casual to dressy, with varying levels of cover-up, depending on the level of religious observance.

Friends of the young couple make up the rest of the crowd--a few busloads of fellow yeshiva and seminary students arrive from Jerusalem in time to witness the bedecken, which takes place in an upstairs ante-room, after the chatan, his father and father-in-law sign the requisite papers.

All the while, loud Hasidic-style wedding music blasts through the hall. Unfortunately for chatan and kallah, nobody thinks to turn the music off during the ceremony. The couple struggles to grasp a moment of solemnity and holiness under the chupa, but it's difficult with the pounding music and the crush of people pressing in around the wedding canopy.

After the ceremony, Chaya's friends pull her into a women's circle of dancing and song, while the men grab Yosef. After a few rounds of circle dancing, the MC announces the start of traditional Ethiopian music. The women slide out onto the floor with quiet smiles. Their dancing reflects their character--quiet, almost restrained movements of the shoulders and neck in time with the beat of the music, while the rest of their bodies remain still. Many of the non-Ethiopian women try the dance, but most don't have the natural grace of those born into the rythym.

On the men's side, it's the same shoulder movements with a bit more forcefulness. Yosef is surrounded by the dark, smiling faces of his new family who are enjoying his attempts to learn the moves.

As we sit down to the meal, our waiter introduces himself as Sasha--an immigrant from the Former Soviet Union. He's serving a table of American and British immigrants, at a wedding where most of the guests were born in Ethiopia. Across the hall, there's another wedding going on--many of the women are wearing saris. The couple is from the community of Jews from Cochin, India.

In the words of Isaiah (43:6) inscribed on Yosef and Chana's wedding invitation: "Bring My Sons From Afar and My Daughters from the Ends of the Earth."