When Miriam Sushman and her then-fiancé, Owen, were planning a summer wedding, they searched for an outdoor venue that would reflect their love of nature.
“Israel is such a beautiful country, and I couldn’t imagine not getting married outdoors if the weather was nice. Also, we both love nature and enjoy hiking,” said Sushman, a photographer.
The couple ultimately opted for a garden wedding at Neot Kedumim, the biblical landscape reserve in Israel, located about halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Lovingly landscaped with indigenous plants mentioned in the bible, the venue “smelled nice,” Sushman said. “The place was beautiful.”
Years later, Sushman still remembers how donkeys brayed while she was under the chuppah (wedding canopy). She also remembers “some gunfire” from Israel soldiers doing military maneuvers in the distance. “I don’t know if that’s on the video,” she said.
Garden weddings, with their unique scents and sounds, are extremely popular in Israel, where rainfall generally doesn’t factor into the equation from May through September.
Thanks to an Ashkenazi custom that is now almost universal in Israel, the majority of Jewish couples hold their actual marriage ceremony outdoors, weather permitting.
Wedding planner Adi Porat, manager of Simcha Maker, says Israeli garden weddings can be magnificent, provided certain steps are taken.
Couples, especially if they’re from abroad, sometimes forget that Israel has a real winter, though not nearly as cold as the ones in the United States or Europe. And Eilat and the Dead Sea are relatively balmy in the winter, though insufferably hot in the summer.
“I would never advise a couple to have an outdoor wedding from the beginning of November till April without a ‘Plan B’ for an indoor space. That way, the chuppah can be outside, with standing heaters if necessary, and the reception can be indoors,” Porat said.
Having an indoor and outdoor option at the same venue is sometimes just as important during the summer months, when daytime temperatures hover between 90 and 100 degrees (and up to 110 in Eilat and the Dead Sea).
“I advise not starting the chuppah before 7 p.m. in the summer, because it’s boiling. A tent is a great idea, but it depends on the client and the weather. There are lovely clear ones today that allow you to see outside, to feel part of the garden.”
Porat suggests ordering food that is appropriate for the season: cold cucumber soup, ice cream and frozen drinks in the summer; hot soups and warm, filling food in the winter.
Like most places around the world, Israel has mosquitoes.
“Mosquitoes can ruin the event,” Porat said, “so a garden venue must spray for mosquitoes the day of the wedding, before the caterer starts arranging gear and plates outside. And make sure there will be coolers and fans, not only on the dance floor but where people will be sitting and eating.”
Riki Metz and her husband, Howard, learned the hard way that fans aren’t always sufficient.
“We got married in August at Kibbutz Tzora, near Beit Shemesh, and it turned out to be an incredibly hot day,” recalled Riki Metz, a holistic healer and jewelry maker.
Beit Shemesh means “house of the sun” in Hebrew, and is hotter and more humid than midtown Manhattan during a heat wave.
The wedding was so hot, Metz said, “that we have photos of a friend with his shirt plastered to his back. The kibbutz now has air-conditioning,” she noted.
Despite the heat, the Metzes have no regrets.
“We fell in love with the venue because it’s in a lovely location, is reasonably priced and is very, very pretty,” Metz said. “The chuppah was on a gentle hill and, unlike many wedding halls, there was lots of room for the guests to be seated.”
At most Israeli weddings, the majority of guests are expected to stand during the wedding ceremony.
Some of the loveliest garden weddings are at kibbutzim, Metz said, but she advised couples to visit the venue a couple of times before booking.
“You have to know where the garden is in relation to the cow shed. If the wind blows in the wrong direction, you’ve got a problem,” she said with a laugh.
Because some garden venues do not like to accept a wedding party of less than 200 guests, couples need to be creative, Porat said.
Hotels can be a good choice for a wedding party of almost any size. Most have beautifully designed outdoor spaces, whether they be gardens or patios. Upscale restaurants are another option. The eateries in the ancient port of Caesarea, for example, offer a sea view and garden access very close to archaeological ruins.
Regardless of where the event is held, it’s e it on a Sunday, Porat said, because Sunday is a workday in Israel and is less popular with locals.
Tracey Goldstein, who writes the Hatunot blog (hatunotblog.com), a resource for non-Hebrew-speaking couples, loves garden weddings “because there are so many natural things in the venues, you don’t need to add to the floral décor.”
Garden and other outdoor weddings can also have a Zionist feel to them, said Goldstein, who did event planning in New York before making aliyah.
“They’re reminiscent of the outdoor kibbutz life that flourished here during the early years of the state. What better way to experience this feeling?”
While outdoor weddings are the dream of many couples, Goldstein strongly suggests sticking to locations with indoor/outdoor spaces boasting amenities like indoor plumbing.
“In our minds it sounds great, but you must also think of your guests and whether they’ll mind walking in muddy grounds in their nice clothes. Rustic is cool, till you bring in the logistics,” Goldstein said.