Weddings in the Town Square: Young Russian Israelis Protest the Religious Control of Marriage in Tel-Aviv

Anna Prashizky & Larissa Remennick

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Prashizky, A. & Remennick, L. (1). Weddings in the Town Square: Young Russian Israelis Protest the Religious Control of Marriage in Tel-Aviv. City & Community, 15(1), 44–63.

activism , citizenship , festival , Fishka , immigrant , Israel , Jewish , marriage , orthodox , performance , protest , Russia , Tel-Aviv , wedding

The article discusses alternative wedding ceremonies staged in urban spaces as a statement of protest among immigrant couples that cannot marry in rabbinical courts, because they are not recognized as Jews. These public weddings are organized and sponsored by the Fishka association of young Israeli adults of Russian origin. Our field-work at Fishka included participant observation of its various events during 2013–2014, as well as in-depth interviews with the key informants, promotional materials, and video recordings of their public wedding ceremonies held in the streets of Tel-Aviv in 2009–2011. Embedded in the social history of the city and framed in the concepts of urban diversity and the politics of belonging, our ethnographic data juxtapose “Russian” street weddings with other public festivals sponsored by Fishka and other protest actions by minority groups. Alternative, civil weddings emerge as a form of active and critical citizenship among young Russian immigrants, seeking solidarity of other Israelis in the joint effort to reform the status quo and enable civil alternatives to Orthodox marriage. The active political stance and cultural activism of Fishka members challenge native Israelis’ monopoly on communal public space; young immigrants are thus carving a place for themselves in the iconic sites of the city’s public cultural sphere.

Main finding
The Russian weddings project combines performance, entertainment, and politics to create feelings of solidarity and attract crowds on the street with its cultural and festival character. One goal is to reaffirm active and critical citizenship of Russian 1.5ers, the young generation of Russian-Jewish immigrants who moved to Israel during the 1990s. Through their open weddings, members of the 1.5ers association Fishka occupy public space, often in iconic cultural areas of the city, challenging the monopoly on space held by native Israeli citizens and resisting Israeli marital laws for couples not recognized as Jews. The initial town weddings that were studied inspired dozens of similar public events in the following years put on by young Russian Israelis and others who cannot participate in the Orthodox ceremony.

Description of method used in the article
Participant observations of Fishka’s activities and events from 2013–2014 were conducted involving fieldwork with the project leaders, staff, and patrons. Twenty-three in- depth interviews were conducted in Hebrew and Russian with key informants. Video recordings of their public events and promotional materials were also used in this research. This article focuses mainly on ten of these interviews that were relevant for Fishka’s wedding events. The street weddings took place in 2009–2011.

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