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Wedding as Political Statement

Everyone hopes that their wedding will make a statement. But not in the same way that Olga Samosvatov and Nico Tarosyan’s wanted.

They tied the knot earlier this week at the Tel Aviv landmark Dizengoff Square, and their ceremony was a public polemic against Israel’s marriage laws. To them, the ceremony was the real thing, but according to Israeli law it meant nothing.

Both bride and groom are unable to marry in Israel under the law of the land. Israel, in its 60 years of statehood, has never overhauled its system for registering marriages, which it inherited from the Ottomans via the British. Only religious authorities — the Orthodox-controlled chief rabbinate, mosques and churches — have the power to solemnize marriages. This means that 350,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who had enough Jewish lineage to qualify for aliyah under the Law of Return but who are not Jewish according to Orthodox religious law, are unable to marry.

Samosvatov, 29, immigrated to Israel from Ukraine in 1995 with her Jewish mother. A secretary in a Tel Aviv law firm, she is able to prove that she is Jewish and would be entitled to marry in an Orthodox wedding. Tarosyan, 34, immigrated to Israel in 1995 from Moscow, Russia by himself. He served in the Israeli army and currently works as a computer technician. Although both his parents are Jewish, he cannot prove he is Jewish and is not entitled to marry in an Orthodox ceremony.

They came together on Monday under a chuppah in a ceremony put together with Havaya, a secular organization which is fighting for the state to recognize non-Orthodox marriage. Given the current rules, as they want the state to recognize them as husband and wife, they will travel abroad for a civil marriage there (though there are no civil unions in Israel, the state recognizes foreign civil marriages).

In a statement, the bride said she hopes that their very public ceremony will highlight the struggle of Israeli’s who can’t marry and help “to change the law in Israel so that people can have whatever type of Jewish wedding they want.”

The groom said: “In Russia we were hated because we were Jews and here in Israel we are discriminated against as Russians.”

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