JTA — With just a few weeks before his planned return to Tel Aviv after resigning in March as Israel’s consul general in New York City, Asaf Zamir set out Friday for an iconic Israeli experience: getting married abroad.
Zamir and his wife, actress and model Maya Wertheimer, had a Reform Jewish wedding in 2017 in the Jewish state. But Israel does not recognize non-Orthodox Jewish weddings and does not have the option of civil marriage, so their union had never been recognized.
That changed after the couple’s ceremony on Friday at the New York Public Library, which was officiated by New York City Mayor Eric Adams and witnessed by two Jewish friends, comedian Alex Edelman and artist Rebecca Moses. Now, when the couple returns to Israel after nearly two years in the United States, their marriage can be recognized by the state following some paperwork.
The couple’s choice was a common one among young Israelis — many of whom choose to wed abroad. Some couples travel to tie the knot because their marriage is not allowed under Orthodox Jewish law, as in the case of same-sex marriages or interfaith marriages. Others do so because of an aversion to getting married under the Haredi-dominated Chief Rabbinate, which has a monopoly on legal Jewish weddings in the country. A recent study found that about a third of Jewish Israelis who got married abroad could have qualified to be wed in Israel, but chose not to.
But the entire enterprise was something of a surprise to Wertheimer, who documented the day for her 535,000 followers on Instagram.
“He suggests to me in a taxi: ‘What do you say we’ll get married?’ I didn’t get it … here in the taxi?! Like this and without prior preparation?!?!!” she wrote. In fact, Zamir — whom Wertheimer called “the most romantic man in the world” — had worked with Moses and the designer Vera Wang to produce a two-piece gown for Wertheimer, and the couple, along with their toddler daughter Asia, a social media star, were soon in front of Adams exchanging vows. They emerged onto the library’s wide steps alongside Bryant Park for photographs.
“A dreamy day, a dreamy couple, a dreamy ceremony and love reigns!” wrote Moses, who said her job had been to conscript Wang, one of the most well-known wedding dress designers, to make a bespoke gown for Wertheimer with just two days’ notice.
The wedding is a splashy capstone for an eventful two years in New York City for the couple. Zamir moved ahead of Wertheimer in 2021 after being appointed to the consul general role, Israel’s top diplomatic position in the city with the biggest Jewish population, by the short-lived centrist government that had unseated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Wertheimer, a model and actress, joined him with Asia several months later.
Their time in New York overlapped with the pandemic; the death of Wertheimer’s father, one of Israel’s most prominent businessmen, of cancer at age 70; and Netanyahu’s return to power. Although Zamir’s appointment was for a three-year term, he was summoned to Israel after criticizing the proposed judicial reforms of Netanyahu’s right-wing government and resigned in protest soon after. Wertheimer had just appeared in a Tel Aviv fashion show and protest, carrying an oversized plane ticket showing a return flight from New York to Israel.
In recent months, the pair has embraced spring in New York City, with Wertheimer chronicling their adventures in New York, including frequent meals out with Israeli and American friends. (The pair decided to stay to finish out Asia’s preschool year.) She wrote recently that she had fallen in love with New York after initially being apprehensive.
“I did not understand New York. Winter here was so harsh. There’s no sun, there are no friends, there is no family,” she wrote in Hebrew. But then, she went on, “As soon as the end began, I lifted my head and realized that this city is actually really amazing.”