In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Umm al-Fahm residents Riham and Anas Aghbariya decided not to have the ostentatious wedding they’d hoped for when they were engaged last year.
“We planned a big wedding for more than a year, with lots of people who would join us…But because of coronavirus, we decided to do something more special,” Riham told Army Radio.
Rather than hold a massive and potentially infectious wedding party, Riham, a medical intern on her way to becoming a doctor, and Anas, a computer programmer, donated everything they would have spent on their marital celebration to charity, adding up to around 450 bags of non-perishable food.
“To avoid infection, we decided to do as small a celebration as possible. All the money which we had budgeted for our big wedding, we used for bags with non-perishable food for those who are struggling,” Anas said.
בשיא תקופת החתונות הלא חוקיות: ריהאם ואנאס אגבאריה מאום אל-פאחם החליטו לוותר על האירוע שתכננו במשך שנה, ולהמיר את סעודת המצווה לסלי מזון לנזקקים. זוג מגניב, מוזמנים להאזין: https://t.co/YuIDATz3Y8 pic.twitter.com/vJ7f63FekS
— ישי שנרב (@IshayShnerb) October 26, 2020
Health officials have largely blamed weddings as the main vector for the spread of coronavirus in Arab Israeli communities. The second wave among Israeli Arabs largely coincided with the late summer wedding season; at the wave’s peak, around 30% of Israel’s active cases had been identified in the Arab sector.
With the lockdown, as well as calls by local leaders to boycott weddings, the number of weddings dropped dramatically. But after weeks of tight restrictions, municipalities and local organizations now say that they are running out of resources to contain the nuptials.
On Monday night, Israel Police broke up two Arab weddings — one in Qalanswa and the other in Rahat — and fined the organizers of both events. Although 500 attended the Rahat wedding, only two fines were issued to participants, according to Israel Police.
“We’ve had six weddings in the last few days,” lamented Kafr Qasim Popular Committee director Sayed Abd al-Wahid Issa to the popular Israeli Arab news site Panet on Wednesday.
Arab Israelis are far from the only ones in Israel having mass gatherings. Widespread violations of coronavirus restrictions were reported among Ultra-Orthodox Jews during the Jewish holidays, and protesters against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regularly gather by the tens of thousands near his official residence in Jerusalem. Israel Police also broke up a wedding in the Jewish town of Ahiezer on Monday night.
Riham and Anas told Army Radio that they understood that large weddings were an important cultural and social event for their community. But in the midst of a resurgent pandemic in Arab cities and towns, they urged young couples to avoid gatherings that could infect their loved ones.
“Enough with the enormous parties, anyway. It’s a huge waste of money and food, much of which is thrown away. We can begin our new lives together happily in a simple ceremony with immediate family,” Riham said.