Not Kansas: The Bravehearts

It was a day of brave weddings. In Israel, we have a different way of saying “You can’t be in two places at the same time.” In Hebrew, it goes: “You can’t dance at two weddings at the same time.” And yet, last Tuesday, I tried. I think it takes a lot of guts to get married. In today’s western world, the odds are against you in many ways. And I can understand why some people are very hesitant to get married these days, especially if they’ve gone through traumatic experiences beforehand – either in a previous marriage, in childhood, or through a friend’s/relative’s relationship. Others feel that a long-term monogamous relationship is doomed for boredom and, ultimately, dissolution. Others feel that being single is freedom, and marriage is jail. Yet others believe that since marriage is an iffy thing, and kids often pay the price of a “failed” relationship, they’d rather not sacrifice their future kids’ emotions on the altar of matrimony. And besides, look at the people we know, that fell in love, tied the knot, and then became bitter enemies. Or, as one Livnot past-participant once told me: “If you love someone, why ruin it by marrying them?” And Hollywood, with those violins playing in the background, doesn’t help much. But there are times when certain situations call for greater-than-usual bravery. That would be Tuesday. As the sun was setting over the Jerusalem hills, a miracle was taking place at an organic farm that doubles as a great venue for weddings. It’s a perfect fit for those who want to get married in Jerusalem, but not IN Jerusalem. For people who are connected to the holiness of Jerusalem, but want the beauty and simplicity of nature in their lives. That is actually a good description of Ben and Jenna: In Holiness, in Nature. They both did Livnot, they both came back on staff. They both came back to Israel to study and live in Jerusalem; Ben became a soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces. They are at one with nature. Their smiles can melt humans. They are avid hikers, love the desert, and understand this Land. Now just take a moment and think: how much swimming against the tide have these two people done? The vast majority of American Jews do not visit Israel. Of those that come and do a program and return to the States, how many come back for a return visit? And how many of those, decide to take a part of their lives and study Judaism and have a go at living in Israel? What is the image that most folks in the West have of the IDF? How many people believe that by joining, you can help fix the world…and yourself? Don’t most couples in Israel with entire families in the USA, go back to the States to get married? And besides, how many brides in Israel wear cowboy boots under the chuppah? The feeling at the wedding was electric, holy, natural. There were so many kinds of people at this wedding, from so many different backgrounds, from different lands, with different outfits and different outlooks. It was a cross-section of the Jewish People. The bride and groom were beaming. Shining. And it was contagious! They made us all shine, too. I had to drag myself by the collar of my white shirt (which is – thankfully – all you really need to show up at a wedding in Israel if you are male) to the car, and drive north via the Jordan Valley to Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu. As much as I wanted to dance the night away with the Livnot crowd, I couldn’t: Shaul was getting married. Shaul, 41, has cerebral palsy, which has affected his four limbs and has slurred his speech. When he was born, his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and choked him so that oxygen did not reach his brain for a while. He has been using a wheelchair and a walker ever since. The kibbutz kids included him in everything they could, and he was part of the community in many ways. After high-school, he continued his studies in a yeshiva, and was ordained as a rabbi. He specialized in the Jewish law and how it relates to those who are physically-challenged. He wrote a book on this subject, the first of its kind. He was active in “The House of Wheels” (Bet Hagalgalim), which provides services and assistance for children and adults with impaired mobility. He started an Israeli religious singles group for those physically-challenged, to help those who wanted to find a match. It worked! In fact, it worked so well, that Shaul himself met Neta. A beautiful relationship blossomed between two beautiful people, and they decided to get married. When I arrived, I could see two elaborately-decorated wheelchairs being pushed and pulled around the circle. Other wheelchairs, some electric, were also “dancing.” The dancing stopped, and Neta’s uncle stepped up to the microphone. He told her story. “The doctors said that Neta will never walk. Neta, as a child, dared to defy them. She tried walking. Now folks, when you and I try to walk, and we fall, we can stop ourselves with our limbs and our sides. When Neta falls, she falls flat on her face. I wonder: how many of us would really try walking if we knew that when we fall – and we fall – we would fall flat on our face? Probably none. But Neta dared. Neta has taught me over the years, that it is WE who are limited. Neta and her friends – THEY are the ones who push their limits, who touch the infinite. We have so much to learn from them. And we have no right to complain. These two special people were born with two great gifts from God: Incredible willpower, and supportive families and friends.” The energy at this wedding was one of overcoming. Every dance-step and every wheelchair wheelie was an expression of “we shall overcome”. Overcome anything! What a powerful, intense, and inspiring evening. Two weddings. Four people. Four people who not only dared to find each other and commit to each other; but four people who defied the odds, who dared to go out of their comfort zone, to swim against the tide, to change their biological fate…and who did it with love and patience, not anger or hate. Often, when we – us limited folks – find ourselves limited, we say to ourselves: “Hey, whadya want from me? This is the way I was born! It’s in my DNA! This is just how I am!” Jenna and Ben, Neta and Shauli – you have taught us this week how to shed our genetic shackles, how to realize how unlimited our limits really are. You are our teachers, we are your students. Now please, go further with it! Meet new challenges, break new shackles, touch new horizons! Inspire us with new examples on how our lives are indeed…in our own hands. Oh, and…Mazal Tov!

Michael Even-Esh
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Michael was born and raised in Kansas City. He received a degree in Broadcast Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism before moving to Israel in 1979. Michael served in the IDF Paratroops, was a nature guide in the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, led exploration teams for the Israel Cave Research Center, spent time as a... Read More