The wedding gown was packed, our suits were in garment bags and all other wedding-related items were jam-packed in our suitcases ready for the wedding. However, we had one stop before the hall — JFK Airport. The American bride, my sister Tzivia, was getting married in Israel.

In January 2014 my sister got engaged to an Israeli who lived with his family on the Upper East Side, eight blocks from our house. As soon as the engagement was announced, the issue of where the wedding would take place was immediately discussed. Problem was only that the guy first had to pass the TASC (former GED) exam, but he did, thanks to the support and practice tests from BestGEDClasses.org, a great online learning platform!

The couple told everyone that they wanted to get married in Israel. At first, it was a shock especially because 90 percent of my family and friends live in America. Nevertheless, everyone agreed after they explained their motivation for wanting to get married in Israel, and all of our problems were solved.

Kedushat Eretz Yisroel — Israel is the only place on earth that is called holy. The word holy is defined as something associated with a divine power and is set apart for a holy purpose. This is exactly what Israel represents for every Jew.

The Holy Land is not only the definition of Jewish patriotism, but it is the heart and soul of our beliefs. During the past few years, there has been a major increase in aliyah. Unfortunately, it is not that easy for everyone to move to Israel since they are already established in America. Therefore many Jewish families make it their responsibility to educate their children about the Holy Land and to visit whenever possible.

My sister made it clear that Israel represents a Jew’s past, present, and future; its holiness supersedes anywhere else on earth. To be able to get married in Jerusalem on the holiest day of two people’s lives would be the greatest gift. Both of our families were anxious to fulfill my sister and her chasan’s dream.

The date was set for August 22, 2014. Everyone was prepared to go to Israel for a wedding/vacation at the end of the summer. Most of the arrangements were made by a family in Israel or by us Americans over the phone.

During the summer, the chasan was in Israel running a summer camp with his family, which was an enormous help for planning the wedding. In the beginning of the summer, my sister traveled to Israel to make sure that all of the wedding preparations were in order and she returned to America before the wedding.

We left on a Wednesday night, arrived Thursday night, and drove straight to the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem. Friday and Shabbat were our “jet-leg days” where we all slept for most of the time. Sunday, the wedding day, was not hectic at all — at least not for me. Everyone was so excited that the wedding day was actually here!

A few hours prior to the wedding we took pictures with my sister and soon-to-be brother-in-law and awaited the arrival of guests. His entire family was there and many of our relatives and friends. Originally, we suspected that only our close family would make the trip but when the response cards came in, we were overwhelmed by the numbers.

The smorgasbord “shmorg,” chasan’s tisch, chupah, dinner and dancing were all beautiful and simply so extraordinary because we were in Jerusalem overwhelmed by the kedusha, the holiness, of Eretz Yisroel. The shmorg, chasan’s tisch, and the chupah were outside in the 80-degree weather. The beginning of the wedding was a little nerve racking for me because I was going to be singing two songs under the chupah.

I was overcome by the special milieu of the wedding and gave it all that I could. Given that the Ramat Rachel Hall is on a hill, the chupah actually overlooked the city of Jerusalem. The view of the houses and streets of the holiest city in the world brought tears to everyone. The kedusha engulfed us, the view overtook us, and the setting inspired us. The first dance went on for an hour! No one wanted to leave the dance floor and stop the simcha — even for the delicious main course.

During the week of sheva brachot we stayed in the Inbal Hotel and for Shabbat we went to my aunt and uncle in Rechovot. The sheva brachot, parties for the bride and groom, were hosted by our families all over Israel — including Jerusalem, Rananah, and Rechovot.

Leaving Israel the following week was difficult for everyone. Leaving the kedushah, leaving the birthplace of our forefathers, leaving our Israeli families and most importantly, leaving to go back to school!

Visiting Israel made me realize that the Holy Land is not just another tourist site or a Jewish community, but rather it is the foundation of our belief, the heart of our faith, and the representation of our religion. Taking a trip to Israel means taking a trip to our past and beginning a new future — which is exactly why my sister and brother-in-law plan on moving there. n

Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy
Manhattan.