Elizabetha Komkov, 27, and Valentine Boldovskiy, 29, met in 2004 as students at a Sunday school run by the Jewish Agency in St. Petersburg. Soon after, they each moved to Israel with their families and then later rediscovered each other on Facebook and would occasionally be in touch. About five years ago, they began to chat almost every day — they decided to meet, and from that moment have rarely separated.
If this were a standard newspaper article about a wedding celebration, that tale of their romance — plus her elegant white dress from Kleinfeld’s and the magnificent setting in Temple Emanu-El’s historic sanctuary on Sunday, Dec. 3 — would be the main story.
But what makes them newsworthy is that this Israeli couple is getting married in New York because they can’t get married in Israel. There is no civil marriage in Israel, and the only marriages recognized by the State are those performed by Orthodox rabbis.
Komkov and Boldovskiy and two other couples are getting married in a triple ceremony — the first ever at Temple Emanu-El — officiated by Reform and Conservative rabbis, in an effort initiated by the Israel Religious Action Center. One couple, who are lesbians, would not be able to have a wedding recognized by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, and the other couple choose not to marry in Israel as they reject the Rabbinate’s control.
“These three couples want to get married Jewishly with a rabbi of their choice, in an environment that is Jewish; they want to be recognized in Israel,” Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, told The Jewish Week.
“If the Rabbanut thought that to deny us the Kotel deal limited our desire to fight their monopoly, they have made a mistake,” she said, referring to the Israeli government’s June decision to suspend an agreement with a coalition of liberal and Conservative organizations to expand and upgrade an egalitarian prayer space at the Wall.
“Now North American Jews are more open to hearing how that monopoly affects life choices in Israel.
“We say to you North Americans, this is your place to help us — for you in New York to make a statement that Israel is a joint project, the collective historical project of our time.”
In an email exchange, Komkov explained that her mother’s mother was a child of a Jewish family who suffered under Stalin — she was given to a non-Jewish family in order to save her life. As Komkov had no documentation to prove her grandmother’s and mother’s Jewish roots, she underwent conversion. But she says she doesn’t consider herself orthodox. “I don’t want to lie about it. I converted to Judaism in the Reform movement, so I’m still not a Jew for the Chief Rabbinate.”
After her conversion, Komkov, who is now studying at the Technion and working at the Apple premium reseller store, and Boldovskiy, who also studies at the Technion and works at Intel as an electrical engineer, wanted to have a traditional Jewish marriage ceremony. (They had a civil ceremony in Prague.) They are both members of Shirat Hayam, a Reform congregation in Haifa.
“We live in Israel, we love this country; in the future we want to raise our children here, and if there will be no changes, our children will be in the exact same situation.”
They and the other couples agreed to come to New York — and be married by rabbis in front of a crowd expected to number more than 1,500 — to make a statement. She says that they are trying to draw attention to the problem not only for themselves but for many people in Israel.
“And we will have a great story about our big Jewish wedding to tell through the generations of our family.”
Ten violinists will walk down the long aisles before the three couples. Each couple will stand under a chuppah, with two rabbis as officiants. Each chose its own ketubah text. The traditional Sheva Brachot, or Seven Blessings, will be chanted by Cantor Mo Glassman of Temple Emanu-El.
The officiating rabbis include Rabbi Davidson of Temple Emanu-El as well as Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl of Central Synagogue, Rabbi Peter J. Rubenstein of the 92nd Street Y, Rabbi Noa Sattah, director of the Israel Religious Action Center, and Conservative leaders Rabbi Rachel Ain of Sutton Place Synagogue and Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove of Park Avenue Synagogue. Hoffman will speak, and more than 30 other rabbis are expected to join for the final blessings.
“Israel’s governing coalition must recognize that issues of religious and civil liberties are of utmost importance not just to non-Orthodox diaspora Jewry but to non-Orthodox and secular Israelis as well,” Rabbi Davidson said.
He continued: “As long as the influence of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox political parties on that coalition confers undo power on the Rabbanut, and the Rabbanut ignores the fundamental promises of religious freedom and equality ensured by the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, Israel’s government runs the risk of further alienating the largest community of diaspora Jews and many of its own citizens.”
Another of the brides, Gali Geberovich, 29, told The Jewish Week in a telephone conversation that she and Alon Sela, 30, could have gotten married in Israel but chose not to. They met in 2010, after their army service when both were working at Kibbutz Yahel in a program combining work and Torah study.
Their first reason, she said, is a more symbolic one. “We are both feminists, we’re both really respectful in an equal relationship. It doesn’t make sense for us to have a ceremony that doesn’t represent our values and beliefs. The idea that my partner for life will buy me is not relevant or connected to our relationship or our life.
“The other reason is more political. We don’t want to use our privilege while there are couples who can’t get married.”
She added, “We have a really Jewish life here in Tel Aviv. We go to synagogue. We wanted a Jewish ceremony. We didn’t want an Orthodox Jewish ceremony.”
Geberovich is currently studying for her master’s degree in Jewish education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and works for the Reform movement as the director of young adult programming. Sela is an analyst in the capital market in the field of high-tech and renewable energy. They are members of the Reform community — Kehillat “Tlamim” in Tel Aviv, where they live.
The third pair, Ori Berwald Shaer and Alona Livneh, are a lesbian couple, who met at their best friends’ wedding. They are both active in Israel’s LGBTQ community, and identify with the values of Reform Judaism.
Gady Levy, executive director of the Streicker Center, is a Jewish educator-turned-wedding planner for this event. He secured dress donations from Kleinfeld’s, flowers, musicians and more. Levy, who was born in Israel, says that his marriage to his husband was at New York’s City Hall. “I would have loved to have gotten married in Israel.”
“The bottom line,” Levy said, “is the issue of equal rights. And, how do we make a statement that starts to facilitate change?”
On Friday, Dec. 1 at 6 p.m., the Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center will host Human Rights Shabbat, featuring Knesset member Stav Shaffir of the Zionist Camp party, who chairs the social justice caucus. The evening is a twist on the celebratory Shabbat Kallah, before the wedding, with a multi-tiered wedding cake, created by the Israeli-born New York cake maestro Ron Ben-Israel.
To RSVP to the wedding on Dec. 3 at 11 a.m., Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center, 1 E. 65th St., visit emanuelstreickernyc.org/.