Invites: Snail or E-mail?

My bat mitzvah invitation had bright purple embossed text on a hot- pink card with my name enlarged in decorative script at the top and daisies adorning the bottom.

Twenty-plus years later, I remember eagerly waiting for my friends to receive the invitations and running home weeks later to check the mailbox for the return of the RSVP envelopes. Secured in a scrapbook, the invitation is a treasured memento.

Today, a rising trend in simcha invites is changing — for some — the run to the mailbox has become a dash for the e-mail inbox and the card stock mementos are now computer printouts. No longer for holiday parties and happy hours only, electronic invitations are becoming an acceptable way to announce major lifecycle events, including b’nai mitzvah celebrations and weddings.

When Jason Horowitz, a marketing executive in New York, and his partner, Carl, were planning their wedding, electronic invitations became the solution for one major concern: They were short on time.

With more than 200 invitations to send, the couple didn’t want to sacrifice style for haste. Paperless Post, a Web site launched by a 20-something brother-and-sister team in 2008, was the perfect answer.

Paperless Post invitations are sent by e-mail (or through a social networking site, such as Facebook or Twitter) with an image of an envelope appearing on screen. The invitation itself can be designed with the assistance of graphic designers or selected from existing templates. 

Premium invitations are paid for by purchasing “coins” — the smallest package of 25 costs $5. A premium invite costs one to five coins, with additional charges for an envelope, logo and more.

Margery Klausner, an attorney in Southfield, Mich., used an electronic invitation as a follow-up to the paper invitation for her son Nathan’s bar mitzvah. Klausner used the image of the paper invitation for the electronic version.

While all local guests and family members received both the paper and electronic invitations, she exclusively sent electronic invitations to guests whom she “wanted to include but wasn’t 100 percent sure that they could come, like those [living] in Israel.”

One of the main advantages to using the electronic invitations was the quick arrival of the responses, Klausner said. Two hours after hitting the send button on her computer, “I received 57 RSVPs,” she said. Additionally, Klausner was able to track the guests who didn’t open the e-mail and contact them directly to find out if there was a problem.

Since Paperless Post launched, co-founder James Hirschfeld said, more than 10,000 b’nai mitzvah and 40,000 wedding invitations have been sent over the site.

Calligraphers and engravers shouldn’t worry too much, however. Traditional paper invitations are still very much in vogue, according to Wendy Katzen, a Washington-area event planner. 

For Melissa Kanter, the paper invitations for the upcoming b’not mitzvah of her twin daughters, Emily and Rachel, will “set the tone for the affair.”

“It’s an accessory, like the bracelet to the outfit. It pulls the whole thing together,” said Kanter, an occupational therapist in Short Hills, N.J.

The invitation will reflect the personalities of her daughters, said Kanter, who worked with a graphic designer. The RSVPs will be with a response card — not directed to an e-mail address — and she’ll create a special postage stamp for the invitations and cards. After the affair, the invitation will be framed in a shadow box and used to make gifts for the girls: jewelry boxes and pillows.

“I’d rather have the tradition” of a paper invitation, Kanter said. “It will be a keepsake that I’ll put in their baby book.”

Katzen says that in planning a lifecycle event, it’s important to keep in mind that guest lists are often multigenerational and you want to take care not to insult anyone.

“There are still [people] who think a BlackBerry is a fruit,” she said. “You want to keep those guests in the loop, too.”

That wasn’t an issue for Horowitz — even his guests in their 80s had e-mail addresses.

Days before the wedding, he sent a message through the site clarifying the start time of the ceremony. The flexibility of an electronic invitation made it much easier, he said, “Otherwise I would have had to make a hundred phone calls.”

With a guest list of more than 1,500, Rabbi Batya Steinlauf — whose husband, Gil, is the rabbi at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington — also went the electronic route for her son Noah’s bar mitzvah. The entire congregation was invited to the bar mitzvah and subsequent Kiddush lunch. 

“Can you imagine sending out 1,500 paper invitations?” Steinlauf asked. “It saved a fortune and saved many trees. There’s no question — I can’t imagine another way to have done this.”