Marrying Off the Sister They Never Knew: NCSY Summer Program Hosts an Israeli Wedding

photo courtesy
photo courtesy

By Zvi Volk

It reads like a scene out of a novel.

The setting is Israel during the summer of 2014 just after the fighting in Gaza subsides. A wedding is being prepared in Bet Shemesh. The bride, Leah, and groom, Moshe, are from Kazakhstan. They are chozrei b’teshuva (newly religious) and have no family in Israel.

Several hours before the chuppah, the groom rushes into the wedding venue straight from his army. He is still in his uniform and has to find a place to secure his gun before he can take a shower. The bride is having her makeup touched up for the last time.

The chuppah finally arrives. Leah is beautiful. Moshe is nervous. They are both beaming. Meanwhile, there is a flurry of activity in the courtyard and dining room as a group of young women make the final adjustments in the wedding hall.

A young couple with no family in Israel can’t possibly arrange such a lovely event on their own, but there’s a beautiful secret: Leah and Moshe’s special day is an act of chessed.

In fact, it’s the main chessed project for the 104 girls who attended Michlelet this summer, one of 11 Israel-based summer programs organized by NCSY, the international youth movement of the Orthodox Union. Leah and Moshe are the ninth couple to benefit from Michelet’s unique kindness.

The Michlelet girls quite literally made Leah and Moshe’s wedding. It was as if they were taking care of their favorite sister, though none of them had ever met Leah or Moshe prior to this summer. The NCSYers did everything: cleaning the hall, setting the tables, arranging the centerpieces, pouring cold drinks, serving the buffet before the chuppah, waiting tables during dinner, clearing the tables after the meal, and cleaning the hall following the festivities. In short, everything other than cooking the food.

And when the girls weren’t working, they took the opportunity to sing and dance and make certain that the entire evening was a genuine simcha.

Though the war in Gaza and the language barrier between the girls and the new couple (who spoke very limited Hebrew and no English) made planning and executing this year’s Michlelet wedding a challenge, the smiles on the faces of the bride and groom made it clear that the event was a stunning success. Leah and Moshe were overwhelmed with gratitude for everything the Michlelet girls did for them, and it was a truly beautiful and spirited event.

Adapting to Challenges

Michlelet’s director Rivka Yudin says that the summer got off to a rocky start due to the war. For one thing, she realized that the program could not be hosted in the Reishit building in Bet Shemesh as planned. “While the girls were on the plane, and I was getting ready to leave for the airport, I was making alternate arrangements,” she says. In the end, they spent three weeks in Hispin in the Golan Heights before making their way to the home base in Bet Shemesh for the second half of the program.

“Everything fell into place,” Yudin says, “and we succeeded in instilling in the girls a deep connection with Am Yisrael, Torat Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael.”

The War is in Front of You

“In the US, you only hear about the war in Gaza, but when you’re in Israel it is right in front of you,” says Dina Weiser, 16, from Lower Merion, Pennsylvania, a student at the Kosloff Torah Academy.

“We wouldn’t have connected to the war or to soldiers if we hadn’t come for the summer,” says Abby Andrew, 16, a student at Block Yeshiva in St. Louis, Missouri. “I totally agree,” says Michal Yacker, 16, from Lawrence, New York, a student at the Stella K. Abrahams High School for Girls in Nassau County (SKA). “We laughed together and we cried together. All the chessed and learning we did was dedicated to the soldiers.”

While they were in Hispin they spent a day in Katzrin, the “capital” of the Golan Heights. “We passed out Shabbat candles and asked women to make additional brachot for the soldiers,” says Huvi Rosenkranz, 16, from Queens, New York, a student at Manhattan High School for Girls. “The people we met were pleased to see American teenagers lending a hand and that made us feel good.”

Bridal Shower

Two weeks before the wedding, while the girls were still in Hispin, they arranged a bridal shower for Leah. That was the first time they met her. “When we saw how beautiful she is – both inside and out – it made the preparations for the wedding that much more meaningful,” Yacker says.

“It’s an amazing feeling that we can do this chessed for Leah,” Weiser says, “And the truth is that we had such a good time, it doesn’t really feel like we were doing chessed.”

“I was a bit worried at first because we didn’t really know Leah,” says Tamar Yastrab, 16, from Woodmere, New York, a student at Midreshet Shalhevet. “But once we actually starting working on the wedding, I realized that she was doing a greater chessed for us than we were for her.”

“It is a real privilege for us to be part of this wedding. We’re helping Leah and Moshe start their new lives together and build their home in Israel,” says Sara Bienenstock, 16, from Woodmere, New York, also a student at SKA.

“It’s one thing to be in Israel and go on tours, but it’s another to spend the summer the we did,” Yacker says. “We helped the war effort in our own way, eased a kallah down the aisle, and made a statement to everyone in Israel: ‘We’re here for you.’”