Shadia: How it's done at a Jewish-Persian wedding

I crashed a Jewish wedding.

OK, I was invited.

But as a visitor from another religion, I had the same giddy sense of discovery that I might have had if I'd slipped in undetected.

The experience was new for me on two levels. I had neither been to a Jewish or Persian ceremony — two things I've always wanted to experience.

Culturally, Persian and Egyptian weddings are not too different, but I've always wanted to go to one. Islam doesn't dictate how a wedding is celebrated, so it usually depends on the culture and the family. Middle Eastern weddings are celebratory, warm and go on for hours, sometimes days.

So when my friend Meesh invited me to go with her to a Jewish-Persian wedding, I said: "OMG! Yes, of course! I've been waiting for this."

True to our Middle Eastern nature, we got all decked out. We stayed at the hotel where the wedding was held in Pasadena, and by 7 p.m. (yes, that's about when our kind of weddings start), we were ready to have fun, meet new people, dance and people-watch.

On our way down, Meesh said there's a formula to Persian weddings. I looked at her a bit perplexed.

There's always sushi at the cocktail hour, she said.

Unlike in American weddings, the cocktail hour began before the ceremony and also went on briefly before the reception.

There were many well-dressed people (it's a Middle Eastern thing). Then Meesh pointed to a woman whom she suspected was an Orthodox Jew. Meesh told me that she thought she was wearing a wig to cover her hair instead of a scarf.

I set out to investigate (I was discreet), and yes, it was a wig. A nice wig.

What's interesting about that is so many people think Muslim women are the only ones who cover their hair. But that's not the case. Some Christian and Jewish women do as well, even if you don't know it.

Back to the wedding.

Instead of bridesmaids and groomsmen walking down the aisle before the bride, there was an all-white runway where the closest family members of the bride and groom walked down one by one, dancing to upbeat and happy Persian music to an audience who cheered and clapped for them.

I want a runway at my wedding when I get married, for sure.

The parents of the groom walked down, followed by the groom, who seemed happy to be getting married (shocking).

Then came the moment that brought tears to my eyes: The bride walked down on her own to meet her parents at the end of the runway. She embraced her mother, then her father. Her husband-to-be then took a few steps to meet her and kissed her hand.

The ceremony was Jewish-Persian-style and the rabbi, who officiated with the help of his son, switched from Farsi to Hebrew to English with ease.

The bride's and groom's parents and closest family members stood under and near the Chuppah — the canopy under which the bride and groom stand — with them as the rabbi officiated the wedding.

The reception didn't start until about 10 p.m., and for the first half, the music mix was Western and Persian.

While on a dance break, some guy from our table started making conversation. He took Meesh's left hand, looked at the lines on her palm and told her she's going to get married and have three kids.

He then took my hand, told me some stuff, then said I'll have two kids. How random. I want five.

I asked him what the lines in his hands say. He said that he's going to meet his girl at this wedding.

Smooth, I said, with a loud laugh.

Instead of rice, we threw flower petals on the bride and groom to the Persian song that said "Gol Beriz rooh aroosoh damad," which means "throw flowers on the bride and groom." That was my favorite part of the entire wedding. I want that at my wedding, too.

And that's how the Middle Easterners do it, people.

MONA SHADIA is a reporter for the Huntington Beach Independent. An Egyptian American, she was born and raised in Cairo and now lives in Orange County. Her column includes various questions and issues facing Muslims in America. Follow her on Twitter @MonaShadia.

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