By Larry Gordon

There’s never too much simcha to revel in. In fact, there were recent wedding celebrations that we would have liked to attend, but other weddings on those very same nights just made it impossible in terms of time and distance.

The full-fledged weddings recently were additionally joyful in the aftermath of the challenges of arranging weddings (and bar mitzvahs) during that agonizing COVID ordeal.

No one declared an end to the way we lived with COVID for two years, but several things happened that nudged the pandemic from center stage. From a medical perspective, the issue that is never mentioned by our national healthcare officials is herd immunity and how that works. The issue is that when herd immunity occurs, it does so gradually, and there is no money to be made from that fact, so why mention it?

For a while, the world was on a COVID-variant rollercoaster, never knowing if the newest version of the virus was going to be stronger or weaker than the version that preceded it and whether the vaccine would be effective in neutralizing the symptoms and the potential damage the virus could do in some people. But our young people needed or wanted to get married on the dates originally planned, and while some of the more popular venues had to shut down by law, that didn’t stop too many people or families from going forward.

We received at least one invitation to a wedding during this period that did not list where the wedding was being held. Instead, guests would receive a phone call or a text message with the address of the hall or location where the wedding would be held.

We went to at least two weddings in New Jersey—not in Lakewood, but places closer to New York, not too far from the George Washington Bridge.

Apparently, I later learned, the various townships and villages that dot the New Jersey landscape, with their own mayors and other officials and in many cases their own police force, were able to craft or at least enforce COVID policies in their own ways.

Even though New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy saw eye to eye with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, it seemed that Murphy’s approach was less intense or crusade-like than Cuomo’s. The New York governor had to fence with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio whose policies on COVID were significantly off the wall.

We went to a few weddings in Brooklyn during this period, and if I recall correctly these places were officially closed. The other day I was watching President Biden’s press secretary respond to a question about the record number of migrants that have crossed the border from Mexico into the United States. As part of her response she said to the reporter, “Our policy is that the border is closed.”

That answer, even though last month more illegal immigrants crossed into the U.S. from Mexico than any previous month, reminded me of those two weddings in Brooklyn that were well-populated, with a full orchestra, photographers clicking away, a sushi bar, plenty to drink, and so on. Officially, these places were closed too, just like the border.

If you were standing outdoors in front of these wedding halls, the place was dark, the metal gates were shuttered, and there was no one around. To get inside to join the wedding party you had to go to the back gate of the hall, and the sign that you were in the right place was that there were two big garbage dumpsters and one or two people in a woolen ski cap and down jacket (it was January).

They were out there on the street, and if we made eye contact it was understood in one quick glance that we were looking for them and they were looking out for us.

This particular venue was on a main street, so I suppose it was a little challenging for the management of the facility. One of the other Brooklyn weddings was a hall on a dark side street, which also required that we swing around to a back entrance and go through a metal side door and down a narrow metal staircase; under normal circumstances, you would never imagine having your guests enter like that.

If you believe that this approach was wrong and even dangerous, you’re not wrong. But at the same time, to an extent we were being misled for purposes of political expediency. Most of the attendees wore surgical face masks and a maximum effort was made to socially distance.

Then there were the outdoor weddings from beginning to end that were very nice and unique. It was common to overhear people saying how nice and attractive these small, intimate weddings were. We wondered: was this going to be a new movement, charting a new direction for our weddings? It would be an extreme departure from tradition, or at least habit.

The caterers and even orchestra leaders were not too pleased, though the photographers were mostly unaffected by the change. At one point during the spring and summer of 2020 there was no such thing as a frum wedding being postponed or canceled, though it may have happened in a minimal number of instances.

People planned on getting married on a certain date, and one way or another it was going to take place.

It seems that of all the areas with flexible rules and regulations, where most weddings could proceed without interruption or delay, Lakewood was the place. As a result, that was exactly where many of weddings during that time period were held.

The makeshift, small wedding approach did not last once the usual venues were allowed to open. Our traditional wedding halls have quickly rebounded, and the demand to schedule simchas is, baruch Hashem, at an all-time high.

The fact is that you still hear about some people who came down with COVID after a particularly large wedding. So there are two important things to note about that. One is that you need to be mindful that COVID is now endemic and in all likelihood here to stay for a while. It’s not wise to make believe that it doesn’t exist anymore, as it very much does. But thankfully, it seems to have weakened somewhat. Most importantly, our simchas are back; may they continue to proliferate. Mazal tov. 

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