Jun 24, 2022
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With divorce rates in the USA hovering around 50 percent, it is easy to become cynical about the institution of marriage. Yet in Israel, the Central Bureau of Statistics reports that in 2014 approximately 95 percent of all Israeli couples were married.

This is staggering in light of a 2013 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report which lists Israel as having the second highest rate of poverty, among the 34 member states of OECD.

“We are Biblically commanded to marry,” explained Rabbi Mendi Blau, Administrator of Colel Chabad, Israel’s oldest charity, to Breaking Israel News. “It is also a very strong Jewish value and commandment to build solid families as it says in Genesis 1:28, ‘Be fruitful and multiply’.”

However, with nearly a fourth of Israel’s population living below the poverty line, making even a simple wedding puts a large additional stress on already struggling families. In order to ease this challenge, Colel Chabad maintains two subsidized wedding halls in the heart of the Holy City of Jerusalem, called Gutnick and Hadar Halls. The branch behind this project, referred to as Keren Simchas Moshe, enables orphans, widows/widowers, poor brides and grooms and large families to have a beautiful wedding and start their new lives with dignity.

“I am the mother of nine children,” Yael Stein told Breaking Israel News. “Though both my husband and I work, we struggle to make ends meet. Thank God, my two oldest daughters both got married in Gutnick Hall. The weddings were beautiful. The food was delicious. And, the price was affordable. I don’t know how we would have done it without the help of Colel Chabad.”

Dates book up quickly for the subsidized halls. Orphans receive top priority. If a date remains open, other needy people can use the halls. “A standard Israeli wedding meal can cost from $30-$40 per person per meal,” noted Rabbi Blau to Breaking Israel News. “Colel Chabad subsidizes the Gutnick and Hadar Hall meals so that they cost about $12 a person. For extremely needy people, we even provide the meals for free.”

Though marrying is a Biblical commandment, there is an additional Biblical doctrine for guests to bring joy to a bride and groom. Colel Chabad subsidized weddings offer a package deal which includes a very inexpensive way to assure that all attendees have food and drink.

For people joining the wedding just to dance and entertain the new couple, only $1 per head is charged for a buffet table. For deeply impoverished people, even more is done. “Colel Chabad gifts the couple with $2,500 towards wedding expenses,” said Rabbi Blau.”With this sum, their wedding can practically be for free.”

Gutnick and Hadar Halls host 440 weddings a year. Last year, 201 orphans married in the halls in addition to widows and widowers, the poor and those with large families. “For those bereft of parents, we not only cover the entire wedding from soup to nuts, but we also give the newlyweds furniture, linens, dishes, pots and pans,” said Rabbi Blau.

Biblical law states that the High Priest who served in Jerusalem’s ancient Holy Temple had to be married. By doing so, he would provide a role model of moral excellence and completion for all to aspire to. The rabbis continue to explain that marriage is the basis for true happiness and brings God’s holy presence into one’s home.

By helping couples start their lives with a dignified yet affordable wedding, Colel Chabad is increasing God’s presence in the world.