|Public Marriage Protests the Orthodox Rabbinical Monopoly|
|Written by Ruby Ong|
Pavel Kogan married Ina Ziskind in Tel Aviv's Gan Hashmal last week on Tu B'Av, the traditional Jewish equivalent of Valentine's Day. Organized by NIF grantees Havaya – Israel Wedding, and Fishka Club, a social club for Russian-speaking new immigrants, the pluralist Jewish wedding ceremony protested the Orthodox monopoly on legal marriage, which denies more than 300,000 Israelis who are not halachically Jewish the right to marry within the country.
Most are immigrants from the former Soviet Union, like Ziskind, 36, who emigrated from St. Petersburg in 2003. "The situation in Israel is very ironic,” said Ziskind. “My grandparents survived the Holocaust and Stalinism, and I suffered anti-Semitism in Russia. I worked as a journalist for a Russian TV station, and they told me to my face that I could not appear on the screen because I looked Jewish. Now in Israel I'm told that I'm not Jewish."
Ziskind is not recognized by Israel's Orthodox rabbinate as Jewish because although three of her four grandparents were Jewish, her mother's mother was not.
Kogan, 37, who immigrated to Israel from Moscow in 1990, is Jewish according to halacha and is entitled to marry in Israel, although not to Ziskind. He is infuriated by the situation, perhaps because their nine-month-old daughter Nia is also not recognized as Jewish. He said, "We feel humiliated, the way blacks must have felt in the US before the civil rights movement, when they were told to sit at the back of the bus."
Among the hundreds of guests at the public wedding were relatives, friends and social change activists, as well as NIF Executive Director Rachel Liel, who presented the couple with a gift on behalf of NIF and recited one of the seven blessings. She also presented the couple with well-wishes from participants in a New Generation event in New York celebrating the freedom to marry.
The couple met in 2008 on a blind date and has been living together for several years. They are both software engineers and recently set up a startup business from their home in Jaffa.
Kogan and Ziskind decided to hold the public wedding after seeing an ad on Facebook looking for a couple to get married on Tu B'Av as a public protest against the lack of civil marriage in Israel.
Kogan said, "The wedding really suited us. We feel that the situation will only change if people take to the streets and demand change, and this wedding gave us an opportunity to make a public impact and hopefully improve Israel and make it a more democratic, equal and pluralistic society."Their wedding is not recognized by the Israeli government. In contrast to most couples in their situation, they will not travel abroad for a civil ceremony, which would compel Israeli authorities to recognize them as husband and wife. "We will wait until the law changes here," said Kogan.