March 19, 2020 / 3:43 PM / in 10 days

Just the two of us: Israeli couple ties knot to beat coronavirus blues

EIN HEMED NATIONAL PARK, Israel (Reuters) - The hall was nearly empty, the tables lay bare but for white linen covers. A masked man sprayed the floor with disinfectant while a lone saxophonist practiced his tunes.

Israeli couple Roni Ben-Ari and Yonatan Meushar, dance as they get married at Ein Hemed Forest Wedding Venue who are offering free, small scale weddings for young couples whose weddings cannot take place as planned due to restrictions imposed by the government to fight the coronavirus, in Ein Hemed, Israel March 18, 2020. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Welcome to Yonatan and Roni’s wedding.

The coronavirus outbreak has disrupted life for millions of people around the world, and weddings have been among the many casualties of lockdowns, self-isolation and official bans on large public gatherings.

But this Israeli couple were not going to let that get in the way of their big day.

In Israel’s Ein Hemed National Park, a short drive from Jerusalem, the bride and groom embraced, exchanged vows and danced cheek to cheek. The only difference was, there were barely any guests there to witness their nuptials.

“It is different than what we had imagined ... but it’s perfect, I think,” said bride Roni Ben-Ari, 26, turning to the groom and laughing.

“It’s a different and unique way (to get married),” added Yonatan Meushar, 36, also speaking in Hebrew. “But we are getting used to the situation.”

A handful of close relatives attended, and other “guests” participated virtually via the Zoom app.

As Israel moves closer to lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus, most events, including weddings and other celebrations, have been canceled.

So Itamar Yakutieli, manager of the Ein Hemed Forest Wedding Venue, launched a special service offering free, small-scale weddings for young couples whose weddings cannot take place as planned.

Ben-Ari and Meushar, from Kibbutz Kalya, a settlement near the Dead Sea in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, had planned to get married last Thursday but had to cancel after Israel limited indoor gatherings to 100 people the night before.

They had been expecting some 260 guests.

Then the couple heard about Yakutieli’s initiative.

“Our diary is empty, the dance floors are empty,” he told Reuters. “In order to fight the coronavirus epidemic we decided to launch a Jewish marriage ceremony operation which are broadcast online.”

Israel has reported 529 confirmed coronavirus cases. No fatalities from the related disease have been reported in Israel or in the Palestinian territories to date.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams; Writing by Mike Collett-White

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