Our son Daniel (aka Lt Ledeen, USMC, based in Okinawa) is in the midst of week-long events that will culminate in the wedding ceremony on Thursday afternoon here in Jerusalem. He is marrying Natalie Almog, a woman born and raised in Houston. They both attended Rice University, met and fell in love there, and so here we are: Daniel, daughter Simone, son Gabriel, Barbara and me, delighting in fabulous sunny weather in one of the world’s truly magical cities.
Why Jerusalem? Because Natalie’s dad, Avner, grew up on a kibbutz along with seven — or is it eight — siblings, and while he went to America and married a Texan woman, Rose, the others stayed here and so the bulk of the bride’s family are in Israel. The elders came to Israel from Morocco in the forties, part of the huge but rarely remarked exodus of North African Jews after the Second World War. So this wedding is very different from the typical North or Central European ceremony most Americans are used to. It’s Sephardic, not Ashkenazi, and it’s very Moroccan. Last night we participated in the Henna Ceremony, at which bride, groom, and immediate family members dress in traditional robes (and for me, a big fez), and put a circular patch of Henna on the palm of their right hand. That mark will stay with us for several weeks (I hope TSA won’t ask a lot of pointed questions when we come back). It wards off the evil eye, and initiates wild music, dancing, ululating and of course eating and drinking.
Lots of noise. No quiet conversation, if you see what I mean. Very little sitting. An incredible intensity. And it’s just the beginning.
In the next few days, there will be ritual baths for bride and groom, a formal marriage contract negotiated by me and Avner, a fast for Daniel, and then the ceremony.
So we’re expanding the family, and it is only appropriate that Daniel is marrying a Sephardic woman. Many years ago, when baby Simone was growing up in Rome, she was tended to by a great pediatrician who noted Simone’s large melanin deposit on her hip, and said to Barbara and me, “ah, you’re Sephardim.” That birth mark was unmistakable evidence. So, although we did not know it at the time, it had been appropriate for us to have married in the Sephardic synagogue in Rome. In yet another symbolically appropriate event, we were married by the great Italian rabbi Augusto Segre, after whom Daniel August Ledeen was named (Daniel was born the day Augusto died). And Augusto’s children, who live in Israel, were at the Henna Ceremony and will be at the wedding. Still more Sephardim.
There is more still. I recently gave a DNA sample to a group that tracks your ancestry, and it seems I had a relative who lived in northern Sicily in the twelfth century. So there!
All in all, the expansion of our family is as much a reassertion of who we are as it is a new departure. We’re of course delighted, and that dark henna circle on my palm feels very comfortable.
Jerusalem is a city of miracles, and all our American guests have overcome the blizzard of 2010 and are being rewarded with great weather, great food and great music. It all reminds me of my favorite line from Golda Meir. She was once asked how Israel manages to defeat her enemies despite the enormous numerical advantage held by the Jews’ foes. “There are two ways,” she answered. “There’s the natural way and the miraculous way. The natural way is that God sends a miracle and we win. And the miraculous way is that somehow we do it by ourselves.”
There you have it.