Gay Marriage: The Jewish Experience, Art Exhibit

Men with men, women with women, bisexual with whoever they wanted, men as brides, women as grooms and even a trio of girls – dozens of people who  passed by the famous ‘Great Synagogue’ on Tel Aviv’s Allenby Street last Friday found themselves under the Khuppah “experiencing” marriage, as part of an art exhibit dealing with the meaning of marriage.

DAN_3294_cThis unusual occurrence, during which hundreds of participants experienced the Jewish wedding ceremony produced by brother and sister Yair and Hilla Vardi, was  part of the performance art festival “Talui Ba’Makom” (‘Depending on Where’), now in its fourth consecutive year, with the support of the Municipality of Tel Aviv – Jaffa. The public was invited to “choose” a bride or a groom and experience first hand what’s it like to have a Jewish wedding ceremony with all its rules, including the seven blessings, Kiddush over wine, exchanging rings and of course breaking the glass.

Amir Swissa, a  36 year old gay Telavivian guy, chose to share the experience with Yair Vardi , who was himself one of the people who offered themselves to reenact a wedding. Amir wore a veil on his head, circled around the groom seven times, drank the wine, and stood still during the  reading of the Ketubah. “This theatrical experience led me to understand how the institution of marriage is essentially degrading for women ,” Swissa told Israeli website Mako. “This is the first time I realized that according to Jewish ritual the bride is not being asked at all if she wants to get married. I realized that her face  is actually hidden behind a veil and realized how important it is to also have the option of a civil marriage so that everyone, including gay and lesbian couples, will be able to get married here in Israel.”

At the “Depending on Where” Festival, various artists from various fields  created works  built at the unique location of where the work is presented. “We chose this type of exhibit in order to explore the wedding ceremony and its social significance in our time,” says Yair Vardi , “in order to raise different perspectives of this issue. The political and social issues around marriage and weddings are many and varied – DAN_2973_gfrom the  religious authority of  the Chief Rabbinate  re the ritual Halacha, through universal and Israeli issues of gay marriage and same sex couples , differences in perceptions of gender parity and commitment to  issues of the status of women and the marriage ceremony and the arrangement of  property. We need to provide protection from the oppression of women in politics, economy, the extensive wedding industry and matchmaking and dating sites . “

Why did you do it in front of the Great Synagogue ?

“We chose the plaza between the Great Synagogue and the popular bar “Port Said” as a part of the effort to look at the Tel Aviv pickup scene, the sexual encounters and interactions of market introductions that occur daily in front of the Great Synagogue. The synagogue has historically been intended to be a hall for religious ceremonies; it was a main cultural center of Tel Aviv during the establishment of the State and is now mainly appropriated as the wedding industry’s venue for couples whose socioeconomic status is high.

Exhibiting the “bachelors” under the stairs of the synagogue while  a wedding is taking place upstairs, and doing this in front of the lively bar scene in Tel Aviv which contains ‘potential grooms’, the event sought to examine the complex relationship between the two, to create this mirror reflection and especially to treat the complex situation of the individual looking for his or her own private corner of love, touch, relationships, dedication and commitment. “