Jonathan first saw Rachel (not their real names)at a spring picnic during Shavuot (Feast of Weeks) in 2001. It was a moment of starry eyes and chirping birds, and perhaps a chorale of angels. Then the starry moment came to a grinding halt when Rachel picked up a baby to cuddle.
“It’s not hers,” assured a friend of his when he inquired about the girl. Intrigued, Jonathan decided to introduce himself only to be let down again as Rachel explained she was returning to Canada in two days. She said she was planning to come back, though, and that was enough of an open door for Jonathan. He wouldn’t waste this time apart; he would take it as an opportunity to establish himself as the most romantic man she would ever meet.
It didn’t take long. Within a few months Rachel was back. Jonathan would meet with Rachel a total of seven times when he decided it was time to ask for her hand in marriage. They became engaged during Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles) and set their wedding date to just a few days before Passover.
Spring of 2002 arrived quickly, and Jonathan was full of anticipation, though the nation itself was in the midst of four years of suicide bombings and attacks which took more than 1000 Israeli lives. It was a challenging time for everyone because Israelis were determined to both be cautious and still not allow the threats to crush their spirit or change their way of life.
Israeli believers were uniquely at peace during this time, yet there were concerns. The attacks could happen anywhere and with the nature of bombs being full of nails and other sharp objects, even surviving an attack didn’t always mean your life would ever be the same. But believers were not afraid of death, and reports of believers leaving an area moments before a bomb exploded were not unheard of. The approach we had at the time was, we wouldn’t be foolhardy, but if we needed to go somewhere, we would pray and go with confidence.
From an early age, Jonathan stood out as a brilliant and talented charismatic prodigy. He began composing classical music as a small child, and as a teenager received invitations to play his flute before Israel’s prime ministers, president and Knesset members numerous times. At age 14 he was composing an opera, and at 15 he had already been a guest conductor in eight Israeli orchestras.
When it came to romance, Jonathan may just be in the top 1%. He would design everything for the wedding—from the décor to the music to the program. When I say he designed everything, I mean he had the décor custom made, produced the music himself timing every note to the steps the bride would take down the staircase and climaxed the scene with lighting and fireworks like a Hollywood movie.
He selected a restaurant for their spring wedding on a gorgeous site overlooking Jerusalem from the south on a hill—higher than the Mount of Olives—alongside a promenade that overlooks all of Jerusalem where the elites of the British military used to hang out before the State of Israel was born. Jonathan wanted the wedding there—outside.
Because of the rather isolated location, he had to receive special permission from security authorities. Undaunted, Jonathan procured permission from the landlord, the city and the police. To be sure, Jonathan and his family are people of deep faith, but they were also practical; so eight professional armed guards would be hired to guard the wedding.
Naturally, his guards prioritized security above all. To them there could be a terrorist behind every rock—on a good day. And with 60 attacks in the past year and a half, these were not good days. The head guard insisted he would have to be beside the bride as she walked down the aisle. Jonathan was dismayed. This would ruin the perfect imagery he wanted to create with the bride and the Temple Mount behind her at sunset. The guard insisted; it was exactly because the event was such an emotionally beautiful occasion, it could be a target like a Bar Mitzvah a few days before. Thankfully, they came to a compromise that allowed for the guard to be a few steps away—and out of range of the photographer.
The staircase and view of Jerusalem from the promenade
Plans and Adjustments
March arrived and friends and family flew in from Europe and America, ready for the wedding. Workers and volunteers came to help set up the extensive canopy the day before so there would be time the morning of the wedding to string up all the beautiful lights he had planned. The setup was so striking even residents from the nearby Arab villages sat with binoculars and watched the decorations go up.
Jonathan was driving on the other side of town when he was stopped by a roadblock of police who were checking every car for terrorists. When they asked for Jonathan’s ID, he identified himself as the groom going to the site of his wedding-to-be. The cop responded, “Oh! You’re the guy who’s going to get married on the promenade! Jonathan then realized that the Jerusalem police department had been briefed about his wedding as they searched for terrorists across the city.
They were calling it the “winter without—rain,” as the rainy season had been one of the driest on record. While that didn’t fare well for refilling the Sea of Galilee (Israel’s primary water source), it made for great outdoor spring weather.
It wasn’t until Tuesday, two days before the wedding, that Jonathan felt the first twinge that things might not work out like he had so painstakingly planned. The meteorologist made a surprise forecast: “Winter is (finally) coming—but for one day only! It looks like rain will be coming on Thursday.” Jonathan was disappointed, but not deterred. He found a special tarp that could cover the beautiful canopy he had designed and would keep his guests dry.
Wednesday morning was beautiful as they began the wedding setup. However, early in the afternoon, the forecaster came on with breaking news, “Tomorrow it will rain as predicted, but the storm will begin tonight with unusually fierce winds of over 100-kilometers an hour.” Jonathan’s friends were determined to stay through the night if needed to protect the decorations from the storm.
Wednesday night, as darkness fell on the city, the beautiful canopy so carefully designed and specially sewn to cover all the guests, began to rip away from its pegs. At midnight, the rains came. At least 60 guests, some who had flown in, were there, working with all their might in the rain, to hold the canopy down. They tied it with ropes and wire. But by 4 a.m., they gave up. They called Jonathan and said, “It’s no use. The canopy is gone.” Some of the volunteers had gone home to sleep for a few hours and came back to collect the tools they had used to create the canopy. But the tools had been stolen.
As Jonathan and Rachel watched their plans fall apart—literally—they held their peace. “God, you knew the date of our wedding. There has not been a drop of rain all winter, and certainly no storm like this all these three months? We don’t understand but we trust You are good.”
One of the volunteers told me later that when the wind began to blow, some suggested that they rebuke the wind and command it to stop. But he said the Lord spoke to his heart and said, “There is more than one way to stop the wind. You can also stop it by moving the wedding to another location.”
Now it was noon, the day of the wedding, and they did not have a clue where the wedding could be held.
The new venue prepared in a matter of hours
Scrambling for a New Venue!
Aside from the issue of short notice (just hours!) all the hotels and event halls had already made their facilities kosher for the upcoming Passover Seder and would not accept any wedding to be held at this late hour. “What about the Jerusalem Convention Center?” Jonathan’s mother asked suddenly, as it had a number of halls for conference meetings of all sizes. The Convention Center said “Yes!”
As I (Shira) was praying at home in Tel Aviv, I received a call about mid-Thursday morning telling me there had been a change in the wedding plans. The wedding would begin in six hours, and they were in the midst of starting from scratch to prepare the hall for the wedding.
Two trucks full of outdoor lighting and a generator drove to the promenade only to see the wedding decorations in shambles. The trucks rushed back to Tel Aviv to bring indoor lights to decorate the new hall.
Ari and I had been invited to the wedding as we had been close friends ever since they immigrated to Israel, and Jonathan was like a son to Ari. So in the days leading up to the wedding, I myself was praying up a storm, although not a literal one! As I said, we never shied from going to places we needed to go, but we also prepared in prayer ahead of time. Now with four suicide terrorist attacks in the last seven days, and a bombing every few days in Jerusalem, I wanted the wedding covered in our prayers.
I had prayed for days, yet, on Thursday morning, the day of the wedding, I was feeling some unrest in my spirit and decided to cancel my morning appointments. I wanted to know that I had touched heaven before driving up to Jerusalem. I knew most of the attendees would be believers who would be praying. Three to four hundred people would be there. But I wanted the affirmation of the Holy Spirit in my own spirit.
The Moment it Happened
All morning the rain continued falling and the wind blowing. With the dreary weather and constant threat of terrorism in the air, Jerusalem looked dark and troubled. The streets were absolutely empty, with only a lone pedestrian here and there. Suddenly there was a terrible explosion.
The news reported that at 4:20 p.m. that afternoon, another suicide bomber had detonated himself in downtown Jerusalem, on King George Street. Jonathan’s bride heard the explosion from the downtown beauty salon. Three persons crossing the street were instantly killed.
We heard the news, but at 5:00 p.m. I got in my car, picked up Hannah, a family friend of Jonathan, and we drove to Jerusalem together. Hannah, who was not a believer, had been terrified for days about this wedding. Before we set off, I prayed together with Hannah for God’s protection and drove toward Jerusalem knowing everything was going to be all right. I knew it in my spirit, and I was thankful for the unique opportunity to present a bold testimony to a terrified Israeli during this season.
Jonathan and Rachel’s first dance
The wedding was gorgeous. The beautiful music (edited last minute to match the new venue), the décor, the ambiance—I had never experienced anything like it before. I remember thinking this compared with anything Hollywood could have produced! The gourmet dishes, the lights, the sound effects and even fireworks (outside the windows). The stunning experience all took place, of course, under the watch of eight armed guards, one with a ready machine gun.
The wedding was crowned with the passion of Jonathan and his bride’s very first kiss ever! It was electrifying as the guests looked on in wonder and then broke into cheers.
As we were enjoying the delicious catered meal, we were approached by a young man on the police force. We had known him since he was born as he came from a Messianic family that attended our congregation in the early days. He was now doing his military service on the police force in Jerusalem and had received several citations for excellence in the line of duty.
He said to me, “You know the suicide bomber that blew himself up this afternoon downtown?” “Yes,” I replied. “Well,” he said, “We were looking for him all morning. Arafat had arrested him after Israeli security had given the Palestinian Authority information that he was planning a suicide bombing in Israel. Then Arafat transferred him to a Ramallah jail, but on the way (guess what?) the terrorist escaped from Arafat’s men.” (The next day the newspapers confirmed this story.)
My police friend continued, “We looked for him all morning in the Talpiot residential area of Jerusalem, near the promenade, but we couldn’t find him …” I interrupted, “The promenade?” You mean where the wedding was supposed to be?” I asked the obvious, “Do you think that the terrorist could have been waiting to target the wedding?” “Possibly,” said my undramatic friend.
“But,” I questioned, “How would a terrorist have known there was going to be a wedding at the restaurant on the promenade?”
“Easy,” my policeman said. The succah (covering) and all the decorations outside had been put up the day before, and the Arab village right across the valley would have seen everything.”
“So you think maybe the terrorist hid waiting for the evening to come … but then when he saw the wind had blown down the covering and the decorations and no one came to repair the damages all afternoon, he finally decided that the wedding had been called off and took the bus downtown.”
My friend said, “What we do know is that today, in midafternoon, the terrorist boarded bus 19 at the promenade bus stop by the restaurant and exploded himself downtown a short time later.”
We know God’s ways are higher than ours. I’d heard of believers missing terrorist events because they accidentally slept in or suddenly felt nauseous and got off the bus one stop before it blew up.
God promises to be our shield in times of trouble. Sometimes He sends His angels to keep us in the midst of danger, and other times he blows down our tent and moves us to another place of safety. And though there are times when as believers we suffer significant tragedies, an attack on this wedding could’ve wiped out the fledgling core—the first fruits—of the Body of Messiah in Israel at the time. The stories of God’s protection over our lives in our decades in Israel are numerous. This wedding was just one example. Such was life being a part of the pioneering Messianic Jews of Israel!