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How to conduct a Jewish wedding when Israel is still burying its dead? These rabbis did it.

(JTA) — The Hamas attacks that claimed over 1,400 Jewish lives on Oct. 7 set off an intense period of global Jewish mourning. As Israel assembled troops for a possible ground invasion of Gaza, and missiles flew back and forth across the border, many Jews around the world struggled to contain their anxiety and sadness.

For many couples whose long-planned weddings fell in the days and weeks following the start of the war, the pall fell over what should have been one of the happiest days of their lives. How do you celebrate when so many are still burying their dead?

This week we asked rabbis across the United States and in Israel how they have gone about conducting weddings in the shadow of the deadliest attack on Jewish people since the Holocaust. Most acknowledged the loss and urged the couple to regard the celebration as an act of life-affirming defiance. Some were asked not to mention the crisis (and regretted that they complied).

Rabbi Jay Stein of Dobbs Ferry, New York, who officiated at his son’s wedding Sunday night in Jersey City, New Jersey, quoted Psalm 37: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,” often sung at the end of Jewish weddings.

“On a day that is really all about celebrating you — remember you are part of something much bigger, something eternal,” he told the couple. “Today, you realize that there will be times of celebration and days of suffering. Our prayer for you is to share in your joys and sorrows together. Joy can quickly turn to sadness and today. I say we must with all of our power turn the sadness into joy because the two of you deserve this day.”

Below are excerpts of remarks made by rabbis at recent weddings or thoughts they shared with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Rabbi Leora Frankel is rabbi of Larchmont Temple in Larchmont, New York.

These weeks since Oct. 7 have felt like a communal shloshim, that intense period of mourning in the first 30 days after a relative dies. Whether or not we know someone personally who has been killed, so many of us are experiencing collective bereavement and craving comfort as we mourn with our Israeli brothers and sisters. And yet somehow, as Jews, we are commanded by our tradition to keep choosing life and finding joy, even in our grief.

Just a week after the terror in Israel erupted, I found myself standing under a gorgeous chuppah at Whitby Castle in Rye, New York with a young Reform Jewish couple. Earlier that week at our final check-in, they sought my reassurance that it was “kosher” to proceed with their wedding in the midst of the unfolding horrors. They expressed anticipatory guilt singing and dancing while so many were mourning.

So I shared with them a famous passage in the Talmud — a rabbinic teaching from nearly 2,000 years ago — which speaks presciently to this moment. In tractate Ketubot, the rabbis inquire about a theoretical and symbolic scenario: If a funeral procession and wedding procession meet at a crossroads, which one has the right of way? This soon-to-be bride and groom were surprised to learn that, perhaps counterintuitively, the Talmud rules that in such a case, the wedding procession should proceed first. Even in the face of death, Judaism asserts that we must lead with life.

Rabbi Jan Salzman is founder and rabbi of Ruach haMaqom, a Jewish Renewal congregation in Burlington, Vermont.

I led a wedding on Sunday morning, Oct. 22, and as is my custom, I only offer remarks that have to do with the wedding. When I introduce the breaking of the glass, instead of the usual story about Jerusalem or tears within joy, I tell the story from the Ari (Isaac ben Solomon Luria Ashkenazi (1534-1572), about the shattering of the divine vessel at the beginning of Creation. I offer the intention that when the couple breaks the glass, their love spews out into the world, embedding shards of their love into every molecule of creation. This past Sunday, I added the line, “and, oy, how we need shards of love to embed themselves in our world!” Everyone knew that I was addressing the shattering of the hopes and dreams of the people of Israel and Gaza, who are suffering in such anguish because of the choices made by their respective leaders. A wedding, like Shabbat, is a moment of healing, of putting forth our yearning for wholeness and not the opportunity for a commentary by the rabbi.

Cantor Dana S. Anesi is director of fieldwork at Hebrew Union College. She recently performed weddings in New York City, New York’s Westchester County and Fairfield, Connecticut. 

I emphasized the themes of the Sheva Brachot, the seven blessings said at a Jewish wedding, looking toward the messianic time, when the world will be whole again. But I really saved any remarks for the end, for breaking the glass. I noted that since Talmudic times, our people have acknowledged that there is sadness even amidst the joy of a couple uniting, and our feelings of profound sadness at this moment, as we think of our brothers and sisters in Israel. But I didn’t linger on that – I could see it wasn’t top of mind for the couples or families (although I choked up talking about it — not sure they noticed). And then they stepped on the glass and went off to party. I personally felt pretty isolated in my grief, in all those instances, frankly.

Rabbi Julie Roth is rabbi at Congregation Shomrei Emunah, a Conservative congregation in Montclair, New Jersey. 

At a wedding this past weekend in Charleston, South Carolina, we focused on the joy. We sang and danced and celebrated this once-in-a-lifetime occasion and mentioned the heartbreak in Israel at the moment when we smashed the glass. Dancing in circles with dozens of young people, with the bride and groom in the center, when everyone started singing the words, “Am Yisrael Chai,” the aliveness of this moment reverberated with the vigils and rallies of the past two weeks. We sang the same words — the Jewish people lives — then with tears of sadness, now with unfiltered joy, making the energy at the wedding that much more precious.

(JTA illustration by Mollie Suss)

Rabbi Elyssa Cherney is the founder and CEO of Tacklingtorah.

Within a wedding there are two ritual moments that stood out to me as I prepared to officiate a wedding outside Philadelphia following the events of Oct. 7.

Shared grief at a communal gathering shouldn’t be overlooked. So I led a moment of silence as a memorial and acknowledgement of remembering those who have been a part of past communities. This can be especially painful for recent loss or if a couple has lost a parent, grandparent, sibling or child whom they would have envisioned being a part of this occasion.

The second is the breaking of the glass, a reminder that we must never take moments of joy for granted. I have often noted particularly shattering moments that align with the couple’s personal values and story prior to them breaking the glass. For this moment, I shared their grief at learning of the horrors unfolding in Israel. “While we share in the blessings of the wedding couple we also remember that marriage is not only about joy, but about supporting one another through the imperfections of the world as well,” I said. “The couple has shared not only their dreams with each other but their deepest fears. They know their relationship is fragile and needs to be treated with love and respect. So as we first shatter this glass as a symbol of the brokenness of our world may their love remain whole and complete always.”

Rabbi Uri Pilichowski is a Jewish educator living in Mitzpe Yericho, Israel. He officiated at a wedding on Oct. 8 in Tel Aviv, one day after the deadly Hamas attacks on southern Israel. 

“Rabbi,” the groom called me, “we’re not sure if we should get married. Our friends have all been called up for reserve duty, and we aren’t sure if it’s appropriate to get married. What do you think?” I was emphatic. “Get married. You’ll do a big party in a month when this is all over. Your family and your fiancé’s family have all flown in. Change the venue and let’s do it!” So we all did.

It was a smaller wedding than planned, but it was joyous and it was a stick in the eye of Hamas. Right in the middle of Tel Aviv we demonstrated that Jewish tradition continues and no one will stop us!

Rabbi Lori Shapiro is rabbi of The Open Temple in Venice, California.

We were in Athens, Greece. People flew in from Israel. The bride and groom were from Paris, and the wedding was held in Athens because one of the families had been saved during World War II by Prince Phillip’s mother, Princess Alice. After the news broke, we met to deliberate: Do we mention the tragedy beneath the chuppah or focus on the simcha?

Against my personal opinion, the groom emphatically chose to focus on the wedding.

Following the wishes of the groom, I limited my words to a brief euphemism during the breaking of the glass. Were I following my instinct, I would have paused and held space and said, “We are all holding space in our hearts at this moment, alive with heartbreak and futility in the face of the horrors we are seeing. And yet, the love of this couple and the work they have before them is a part of the greater plan for repair in this world. Let us take a moment to consider how deeply we observe what is broken and how each of us can rededicate our lives on the merit of this couple towards being partners in peace — from the smallest of moments of our lives, our actions matter as partners for peace in the face of loss and sorrow. And may the broken world of all we have lost make their memories for a blessing.”

But I didn’t.

After the chuppah, an Israeli in the wedding party approached me. “Why didn’t you say something?” he asked with tears in his eyes. I felt ashamed and saddened, a flood of inadequacies in my heart.

The next day, my husband and I were to leave for Santorini for our first vacation together since we had kids. Instead, we changed our flight and flew home.

Rabbi Barry Leff divides his time between the United States and Israel. He spoke at his daughter’s wedding in Jerusalem on Oct. 9, when he told the couple, “It’s a Jewish custom not to delay a wedding when bad things happen. Maybe it’s because so many bad things have happened in Jewish history. It’s an optimistic statement to continue with a wedding. A wedding is about the future. No matter how difficult today is, we are confident the future will be better.” After the wedding, he added a few more thoughts: 

Earlier today, I was thinking in addition to what I said to Katherine and Avichay under the chuppah, I wanted to say something referring to the situation. And I was feeling sad and heavy.

I reminded myself of Rebbe Nachman’s teaching, “mitzvah gedolah l’hiyot b’simcha,” it’s a great and important mitzvah to be happy always, even when it’s difficult to be happy.

And I thought of the commandment in the Talmud, to gladden the heart of the bride and groom.

In other words, I was prepared to have to force myself to be happy in this terrible time.

But when I got here, and saw over a dozen friends and strangers running around, getting everything set up, musicians setting up, a chuppah, and then I saw how beautiful the bride looked, and my heart was overflowing with joy. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a more joyous wedding.

It’s impossible to say gam zu l’tovah, this too is for the best, for a milchamah, a war, but as far as the ceremony goes, this celebration was so much more intimate, so much more powerful, joyous even, than the originally planned 400 people in a hall. It was amazing, and everyone here felt it.

Rabbi Aviva Fellman is spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel in Worcester, Massachusetts. She officiated at a wedding in South Berwick, Maine on Sunday, Oct. 22. 

In our daily prayers, we read from Psalms, hafachta mispdi lmachol li, pitachta saki vatazreni simcha — God, You turn my mourning into dancing, You change my sackcloth into robes of joy. While our hearts break for those who have been lost, those living in constant fear, and especially those still missing, we respond with the fervor of our Israeli brothers and sisters and the resilience of our people throughout history. We declare Am Yisrael Chai, and we keep going, knowing that living, celebrating, and creating a new Jewish family is in and of itself an act of solidarity with Israel, an act of defiance against Hamas, and an act of Jewish survival. So we smile even more widely, we laugh more loudly; we love more deeply and fiercely; we dance more fervently.

(JTA illustration by Mollie Suss)

Rabbi Craig Axler leads Temple Isaiah in Fulton, Maryland. This past weekend, he officiated at weddings on Saturday night and Sunday evening. He offered these remarks at the wedding Sunday in Bluemont, Virginia:

We will momentarily say the Sheva Brachot, the seven wedding blessings. These blessings are less focused specifically on the wedding couple at first, but rather build on the idea that we live in a world of brokenness and pain, where things are not perfect or even ideal. However, the union of this couple, your love that we celebrate in this moment is one act of tikkun, one repair of the broken world that we live in. Your love makes the world more whole. This is true every time I stand with a couple under the chuppah, but in this particular moment of pain, and recognizing that the culmination of the Sheva Brachot links your wedding rejoicing to the songs of joy and gladness heard on the “cities of Judah and the courtyards of Jerusalem,” we can see that this moment of celebration for you and your family provides one bright and shining opportunity for joy not only here, but reverberating through the Jewish world. May the joy of this union be one step towards bringing us back to a time of celebration and rejoicing here, in Israel for the whole Jewish family, and throughout the world.

Rabbi Karen Glazer Perolman is senior associate rabbi at Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, New Jersey. She officiated at a wedding on Oct. 14, where her remarks included these words:

Our tradition also teaches that there are certain commandments for which we assign special meaning — upon performing them in this world we are granted life in the World to Come: one of these is to celebrate with a couple under the chuppah — to dance and eat and drink, to help turn the spark of love into flames of hope in the midst of a dark season. I encourage all of those here tonight to take this commandment seriously and to celebrate as much as humanly possible — to lift up their joy and through them, the spirits of our people.

Rabbi Jay M. Stein, of the Greenburgh Hebrew Center in Dobbs Ferry, New York, officiated at the Oct. 23 wedding of his son. He closed his remarks with these words of advice: 

Today you stand under this chuppah while so many in Israel rush to safe rooms. Both provide shelter. This chuppah is extraordinary in the support it provides.  Constructed of my father’s tallis, and both of your grandfathers’ tallisim. As we are all able to look into this chuppah and you can feel everyone here, we hope you will always feel the safety of knowing that everyone here is invested in you and you can always count on us.

Rabbi Amanda K. Weiss is assistant rabbi of Temple Isaiah in Fulton, Maryland. She officiated at a wedding on Oct. 21 in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. 

In our last counseling session, a little over a week before, on Oct. 13 — the “Global Day of Jihad,” calling for violence against Israel and the Jewish people worldwide — the brides, with deep respect for the sensitivity of the moment, asked how they might recognize the severity of the war in Israel while maintaining the joy of their well-deserved celebration.

Guided by the wisdom found in the Talmud’s Berakhot 30b-31b, which poignantly speaks of the remembrance of the Temple’s destruction in Jerusalem, the brides and I decided that they would connect it to their rehearsal dinner, and they chose to explain the significance of remembering the brokenness of the world even in our brightest moments. Whether a broken glass at a wedding or a missing piece of a newly constructed home, we are meant to remember that the world is never quite complete — that there is always something that requires a bit of awareness and compassion. As they spoke to this during their rehearsal dinner, the room quieted; their acknowledgement allowed their guests to share that many of their loved ones knew people (or knew people who knew people) who were fighting, were in reserves, or had fallen in battle during this war.

During the wedding ceremony itself, I drew back to the brides’ points and connected it specifically to the glass breaking to conclude the wedding ceremony. This, combined with the joy of the brides breaking their own glasses in tandem allowed for the joy to envelop the sadness, reminding us that there is always the opportunity to overcome.

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Biden Administration Urges Israel to Tone Down Response to Hezbollah Aggression in Bid to Avert Wider Conflict

Mourners carry a coffin during the funeral of Wissam Tawil, a commander of Hezbollah’s elite Radwan forces who according to Lebanese security sources was killed during an Israeli strike on south Lebanon, in Khirbet Selm, Lebanon, Jan. 9, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Aziz Taher

The Biden administration has been pushing the Israeli government to de-escalate hostilities with Hezbollah to prevent a full-scale war from breaking out along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, where the powerful Iran-backed terrorist group wields significant political and military influence.

In Israel’s north, Hezbollah terrorists have been firing rockets at Israel daily from southern Lebanon since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre, leading Israeli forces to strike back. Tensions have been escalating between both sides, fueling concerns that the conflict in Gaza — the Palestinian enclave ruled by Hamas, another Iran-backed Islamist terrorist group, to Israel’s south — could escalate into a regional conflict.

More than 80,000 Israelis evacuated Israel’s north in October and have since been unable to return to their homes. The majority of those spent the past eight months residing in hotels in safer areas of the country. The mass displacement has ramped up pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to find a swift resolution to the situation.

The ongoing conflict between both sides escalated on Tuesday when senior Hezbollah commander Taleb Sami Abdullah was killed in an Israeli strike in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah responded by launching over 200 missiles into northern Israel. 

During Abdullah’s funeral, senior Hezbollah official Hachem Saffieddine vowed that the terrorist group would intensify its strikes on Israel. 

“Our response after the martyrdom of Abu Taleb will be to intensify our operations in severity, strength, quantity and quality,” Saffieddine said. “Let the enemy wait for us in the battlefield.”

In Israel, meanwhile, officials have said they prefer a diplomatic solution to the current crisis but are prepared to escalate military action to push Hezbollah back from the border in order to allow internally displaced Israelis to return home. Polling has shown that the majority of the Israeli public wants the military to engage in expanded actions against the Lebanese terrorist group, which is committed to Israel’s destruction.

The Biden administration has been advising Netanyahu against pursuing the idea of a “limited war” against Hezbollah, arguing that it could spark a regional war throughout the Middle East. According to multiple reports, US officials have warned Israel that Iran could dispatch militants from Syria, Iraq, and Yemen into Lebanon to bolster Hezbollah’s effort.

The White House has also expressed concern  that Israeli officials do not have a clear strategy on how to keep the war contained to solely Lebanon. Fear of a broader regional war has intensified the Biden administration’s urgency to finalize a ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas, which launched the ongoing war in Gaza by slaughtering over 1,200 people throughout southern Israel and kidnapping more than 250 others on Oct. 7.

“We are concerned about an increase in activity in the north. We don’t want this to escalate to a broad regional conflict and we urge de-escalation,” a Pentagon spokesperson told reporters this week.

The Pentagon also released a statement saying that Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and his US counterpart Lloyd Austin discussed efforts to “de-escalate tensions along the Israel-Lebanon border in the wake of Lebanese Hezbollah’s increased aggression.”

According to multiple reports, Amos Hochstein, a senior adviser to US President Joe Biden for energy and investment, will head to Israel on Monday in an effort to temper tensions between the Jewish state and Hezbollah. Hochstein will meet with Netanyahu and Gallant with the goal of swaying them against green-lighting a “limited ground invasion” in Lebanon. Hochstein will reportedly also journey to Beirut to conduct discussions with Lebanese officials.

“There was a lot of work, diplomatic work done behind the scenes by several folks in the US administration, working with regional powers and our allies to try and tamp this down,” Hochstein has said regarding the prospect of a regional war erupting in the Middle East.

Hochstein argued that preventing a large-scale war between Israel and Lebanon requires “active engagement” with both parties and for the public of both countries to “understand the risks” of further escalation. He added that “despite the bravado talk” coming from government officials, Lebanese people do not to go to war with Israel.

“The bottom line is a lot of civilians will die,” Hochstein said.

Despite chest-thumping by Hezbollah leaders, experts believe that the elimination of Abdullah might cause Hezbollah to exercise caution in engaging further with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). 

The powerful elimination worries Hezbollah members. They now understand that the IDF knows much more about them than we do,” Professor Amatzia Baram told The Jerusalem Post. “Additionally, the operation indicates that Hezbollah’s field security is not airtight and that the organization’s intelligence system has been penetrated to such an extent that we were able to eliminate such an important sector commander. The IDF managed to infiltrate their networks and systems and identify the right people for elimination.”

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Iranian Court Sentences Woman to 18 Years in Prison for Supporting Israel

Iranian protesters carry a portrait of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a Yemeni flag as they burn an Israeli flag during an anti-US and anti-British protest in front of the British embassy in downtown Tehran, Iran, Jan. 12, 2024. Photo: Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Reuters Connect

Fatemeh Sepehri, a prominent Iranian dissident and political prisoner, has been sentenced to an additional 18 and a half years in prison after she publicly expressed support for Israel.

The harsh prison sentence appeared to be at least partly in response to a video clip released on Oct. 16 from Ghaem Hospital in the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad in which Sepehri, who suffers from a heart ailment, condemned Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel. Hamas is backed by the Iranian regime, which provides the Palestinian terror group in Gaza with funding, weapons, and training.

“I emphatically declare that the Iranian nation stands in solidarity with the people of Israel,” she said. “I hope [Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks] closes the Islamic Republic’s chapter in history.”


For 45 years, Iranian women have tirelessly battled for their rights, freedom, and advancement. Among them, Fatemeh Sepehri has boldly challenged the ideals of the Islamic Republic. NUFDI proudly awards her the 2024 Humanitarian Award.

— سه خط طلا (@misanthropgirl) March 19, 2024

Although Fatimeh’s court records are unavailable to the public, her brother Asghar Sepehri tweeted details about the sentence. According to her sibling, Fatimeh was sentenced earlier this month by a judge of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Mashhad to seven years for supporting Israel, another seven years for conspiring against internal security, three years for insulting Iran’s so-called “supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and one year and six months for propaganda against the Islamist regime.

Iran’s rulers regularly call for the destruction of Israel, often referring to the Jewish state as a “cancerous tumor” or “the Zionist entity.”

Sepehri was originally arrested in Sept. 2022 following the killing of Mahsa Amini, a young woman whose death at the hands of Iran’s morality police sparked nationwide protests against the ruling Islamist regime on an unprecedented scale.

Sepehri’s pro-Israel video was posted after she was temporary released from prison to undergo open-heart surgery. According to her family, Sepehri has been subjected to intense “psychological torture” while in prison. Her brothers, Mohammad-Hossein and Hossein, have also received severe sentences for similar charges: eight years and two years and 11 months, respectively.

In the past, Sepehri has been an outspoken critic of Khamenei and the Islamic Republic more broadly. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reported in 2021 that Sepehri said on video that she hoped to see the day when Khamenei would be dragged through the streets and killed like Libya’s late ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

Days after Sepehri received her sentence, Iran released political prisoner Louis Arnaud, a French citizen, on Thursday. Arnaud was arrested in Sept. 2022 as anti-government protests were erupting across Iran. French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted shortly after Arnaud’s release, “Louis Arnaud is free. Tomorrow he will be in France after a long incarceration in Iran.”

Louis Arnaut is greeted by Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné at Paris’ Le Bourget Airport following his release from Iran. Photo: Screenshot

Three French nationals remain imprisoned in Iran as political prisoners. French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné posted on social media that securing their release remains a top priority.

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Former ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ Star Patricia Heaton: Every Human Being Should Be Against Antisemitism

One of the billboards erected in partnership between JewBelong and O7C. Photo: Instagram

Emmy Award-winning actress Patricia Heaton said this week that following the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel, it should be a “natural” reaction among all humans to want to combat antisemitism, as well as support the Jewish people and Israel’s right to exist.

The “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “The Middle” star, who is a devout Catholic, made the comments during her guest appearance on the NewsNation show “CUOMO,” where she also advocated for Christians to voice solidarity with Jews and Israel after Hamas terrorists murdered 1,200 people and took 250 hostages during their Oct. 7 onslaught. Heaton began by telling host Chris Cuomo that after the Oct. 7 atrocities, she was “confused by the lack of outcry from the churches.”

“I even posted on Instagram, ‘Did you ever have that thought that if you were in Germany during World War II, you hoped that you would be that good German that helped to hide your Jewish neighbors? Well, today you have that opportunity,’” she added.

Following the Oct. 7 attacks, Heaton founded a nonprofit called the Oct. 7 Coalition (O7C) to urge Christians to be visibly outspoken against antisemitism, and in support of Jews and Israel’s right to exist. Heaton’s O7C has since teamed up with the nonprofit JewBelong to launch a nationwide billboard campaign to raise awareness about antisemitism in the US.

Talking about why she wanted to get involved in rallying support for Israel and Jewish communities facing a rise in antisemitism in the US since the Oct. 7 attacks, Heaton said, “I think if you’re a human being, that should be your natural response to what we saw.” When asked about how people in the entertainment industry have reacted to her avid pro-Israel stance, she said Jewish friends in the business have called her “brave and courageous.”

“[But] I just think this is just a normal human reaction,” she said. “I have heard ‘We have projects we have to promote. We don’t want to bring politics into it.’ I guess if someone spent 50 or 100 million on a movie, they don’t want to introduce this subject matter and I guess you can understand that. But generally speaking I think Hollywood could do more to support our Jewish community.”

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