Marin woman overcomes obstacles to dream day

As with many modern couples, the years just seemed to fly by and we had never got married.

Introduced by mutual friends, Oded Schwartz and I met 13 years ago at the Golden Gate Bridge Walk, on the bridge's 50th anniversary. It wasn't that we didn't talk about marriage or that we were resisting it. What we wanted was to get married in Israel.

Although I'm not Orthodox now, I was raised in that tradition and I wanted an Orthodox wedding. What I didn't know was how difficult and time-consuming the process of getting married in Israel would be.

On Dec. 12, we were finally married in a beautiful ceremony at the Yeshiva Goren next to the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Getting there took three years.

Nobody can have an Orthodox wedding in Israel unless they can prove that they are Jewish, by Orthodox standards.

I began by trying to find out what I needed to do to get married in Jerusalem. Israeli relatives of my husband, who is from Petach Tikvah, told me that I needed a letter from an Orthodox rabbi in the Bay Area who would attest to the fact that I was indeed Jewish and that I had never been married. (Oded is a Kohen and could not marry a divorced woman.)

That threw me into quite a turmoil because I grew up in Cambridge, Mass., and my old synagogue there had been closed and turned into condominiums. This was the Orthodox synagogue where my parents and grandparents worshipped. Since my father, my uncles and their contemporaries were gone, there was no male who could vouch for me.

I was thwarted further because, although I attended services, I wasn't affiliated with a particular synagogue in the Bay Area. Most of the Orthodox rabbis here would not even meet with me because they did not know me.

I embarked on a quest to realize my dream. But how does a woman prove she is Jewish?

I called Rabbi Howard Zack of Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland, who referred me to Rabbi Eliezer Finkelman of Congregation Beth Israel in Berkeley. I want to thank both of these rabbis for giving me good advice.

On my own, I obtained the birth certificates of my sister, my mother and myself. Then I got my mother's and sister's marriage certificates, showing that an Orthodox rabbi officiated. I got articles about my old synagogue in Cambridge. I produced my family tree.

The rabbis recommended that I get three affidavits from observant Jewish men who had known me for long periods of time, attesting to the fact that I was Jewish and that I had never been married. I also went to Finkelman, who gave me a letter to submit to the rabbinate in Jerusalem. That was three years ago. I never heard from the rabbinate. We let the matter drop.

But in September, after my husband's mother died, he became more determined to marry in Israel. He found a rabbi — Yeshua Reich, who is his cousin.

Reich was from Efrat, which is a small town, so it was easier to push the paperwork through the town's rabbinical authorities.

After three years of waiting, I was able to get everything done in a few weeks. Copies of our passports and my husband's divorce papers including his get, or religious divorce, were faxed.

Was it worth the trouble? Yes.

Arriving at the Western Wall and walking up to the Yeshiva Goren, which overlooks the square, was magical.

We got married on a balcony outside and had a reception at Tony's Between the Arches Restaurant next door, in a cistern that dates back 2,000 years.

I wanted a traditional wedding and I got it. Why would anyone want to go to the trouble of having an Orthodox wedding ceremony in Israel? It was wonderful. I felt that I was honoring my parents, grandparents and all my ancestors by carrying on this tradition.

My advice to anyone who wants to get married in Israel is not to give up so easily.