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Essay

The world, the wedding, and the war in Jerusalem

istockphoto/joel Carillet

JERUSALEM — My entire family, 26 Americans, gathers in Jerusalem for the wedding of our youngest daughter to an Israeli-American. We arrive in shifts, some 10 days before the wedding, some seven, some four. To use other markers, the first group arrives the day the bodies of three kidnapped and murdered Israeli teens are found. The second, the day a Palestinian teenager is abducted and murdered in a revenge killing. The third just after rockets, from Gaza into Israel and from Israel into Gaza, begin falling.

There are five days until the wedding. The conflict is escalating.

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One evening, before the entire family has arrived, my husband and I, and one son and daughter-in-law relax in the living room after their five children are in bed. We open windows to let in music from a nearby festival, savoring the cool Jerusalem evening breeze, pouring glasses of wine.

A siren sounds. Long, low sounds. The music stops.

We rush to the basement for shelter from rockets. We wait. And wait.

When the music resumes, we go back upstairs.

Three rockets: One landed in an open area, the others were stopped by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system. Shaken, we pour more wine.

Do we, should we, leave? Do we, should we, persuade her to stay? Amid rockets falling? Tanks? Possible ground warfare? Air raid sirens? ’

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Our oldest daughter, arriving with the second group, wants to leave. Now. Before the wedding. “Four generations of one family are here. It’s not safe. Four generations of one family,” she repeats.

Do we, should we, leave? Do we, should we, persuade her to stay? Amid rockets falling? Tanks? Possible ground warfare? Air raid sirens?

We stay, hoping she will do the same.

Our new in-laws — Sephardic Jews, refugees who fled Iraq and Egypt in 1950 — have planned a henna party to celebrate the wedding.

Our daughter agrees to stay for the party.

That evening, I dress in Moroccan henna-party clothes and check the mirror.

Air raid siren. Again.

Stay inside, I think. Do not leave. But if I have to leave, do I change my clothes? Stay in costume? With a war going on? Talk about theater of the absurd.

My future son-in-law calls. Are we OK?

Fine, I answer, but (and I know this is absurd) I don’t know what to wear. What does one wear to a costume party when there’s a war going on outside? For taking care of children and grandchildren, for helping with the wedding, I am prepared. But not for this.

He tells me to wear clothes to go to a nice dinner. Not black-tie nice. Just nice. I change into a dress, jewelry, heels. So this is life in a war zone.

Saturday afternoon, preparing for the close of Shabbat, I go with children and grandchildren to the Wall. We join a stream of people , enter the area of airport-type security, place bags on conveyor belts, and pass through a screening device.

That’s when we hear it. Another air raid siren.

Shunted into bunkers: cramped, tight, hard-to-breathe-in elevator-like closets. One son in one. His daughter, shoved with cousins and my other son, into the other.

We are — each of us — praying at the Wall.

This is life in a war zone.

When it’s safe, we proceed to the Wall, the podium that once supported the Second Temple. Granddaughters beside me, I lean into the Wall. Please, I pray, please make this end. Let there be peace. . . . And, God, I know it’s a lot to ask, but let my daughter enjoy her wedding. Let us all enjoy this time, together, with family.

And as the Wall supports me, I feel a little something. Perhaps it is God. Because from here, as they say, it’s a local call.

The following day, just before the wedding, I return to the Wall. I write a note, a message to God, scrunch it into a small ball, and insert it into a crack in the Wall.

I lean against the Wall, my forehead touching it, my hands feeling its warmth, absorbing its ancient energy. I feel blessed with family, with love, with life.

And that evening, all of my family (including the daughter who wanted to leave) dance in celebration of the wedding of our youngest daughter and her beloved.

The war is very far away.

And the world is very, very good.

Thank God.

Linda Marshall can be reached at linda@lindamarshall.com.
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