Instant Honeymoon Party at Ascent

by Rivka Cylich


The night drifted in to Safed as it always does, silently and softly with a faint whisper of something more. Walking the shadowed cobblestone alleyways, you could almost hear the soundless call to the casual wanderer to journey the ancient city's mystical pathways. But then again it was a typical Safed night: of secret and mystery, of stars and lights. Who could know that in this backlit period for slumber, the unforeseen was about to take place.

Earlier in the day, among the various visitors and guests passing through our doors was a young Russian couple who had just moved to Israel from the USA. Anna Gaifman, recently a professor at Boston University, explained that since her impressionable experience in Ascent over Chanukah she had been looking forward to finally making her way back to 2 Ari Road, and now she wanted to share the experience with her brand new husband, Moshe, a researcher for a university in Moscow. When I met them by the desk I was taken by Anna's glowing smile and the couple's genuine happiness. It was a real pleasure to welcome them and help them settle in.

Later that night, after their appointment with Rabbi Eli Kaye to decipher their Bible codes, we found out some incredible news. The Rabbi had discovered that not only were the young couple newly-married, but tonight was the third night in the week of the wedding, when it is customary to celebrate each night (and/or day) with a festive meal culminating in the recital of the special Sheva Brachot - the Seven Blessings for a new Jewish couple.

Anya and Moshe told us that they hadn't planned to make Sheva Brachot. Their wedding had taken place on 16 Tammuz, the day preceding the fast day that inaugurates the three week period of mourning for the destroyed Holy Temples in Jerusalem. They thought that since the Three Weeks were specifically intended as a mourning period, therefore no happy events were permitted, not even their Sheva Brachot. Well, that's what they thought.

With the green light from executive director Rabbi Shaul Leiter, Rabbi Kaye quickly convened the staff for a 12th hour emergency meeting to figure out how to make it happen. Essentially we needed a minyan, tables set, food, guests, wine and lots of simcha.

Couldn't be more simple.

A quick headcount of male guests at Ascent that weekday night left us about six men short of a minyan. Someone ran out to grab some students studying at the Chabad yeshivah, while we busied ourselves setting up the deck tables in the garden-courtyard outside. By the time the guests arrived, the tables were set with royal red cloths and piled with dips, crackers, salad, cakes, cookies, wine and drinks with floating candle centerpieces at each table to create that extra touch.

The men toasted L'chaim, sang and danced, while the women on the other side of the partition, including some students from the Machon Alte Seminary for Jewish women, joined in the beautiful and infectious mitzvah of rejoicing the chatan v'kallah.


In all of 18 minutes, a seemingly mundane Wednesday night, the 18th of Tammuz (please don't tell me about July 4th; I'm from Australia), was transformed into a beautiful festive occasion charged with excitement, goodness and boundless positive energies. All who participated couldn't help but marvel and be humbled by the great merit to be part of such an awesome and special happening. When Moshe stood up and delivered a stirring few words, Anna's smile grew even wider.

Looking back, this Mitzvah Meal was exactly what the Three Weeks is supposed to be all about. As Rabbi Kaye explained in his speech to the couple, these three weeks may mark the tragic period of national mourning for the Jewish people, but we are promised that these days will be revealed eventually when the Holy Temple is rebuilt as days of true joy as they were always intended to be since the creation of time itself. In the spirit of this reality, we make a point of revealing the essence of this period by looking for ways to legitimately create and take part in joyful occasions during this time.

May we all merit to experience the ultimate joy of the three weeks, now, with the arrival of Moshiach, the ushering in of the Redemption of our people and the whole world, and the building of the Third Temple in Jerusalem -- the ultimate Sheva Brachot.


[Rivka Cylich, of Melbourne, is the dorm-counselor of the Ascent 2007 English-language summer program.]

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