New and improved: These upgraded wedding venues aim to add ‘wow’ to your vows

Some brides look for the hottest new places for their wedding ceremonies and receptions. Others are interested in staging their nuptials at L.A. mainstays. There are places, however, that offer the best of both worlds — locations that are definitively part of the local DNA, yet have undergone renovations or added new spaces that make them modern and more relevant than ever for today’s brides.

Skirball Cultural Center

The most recent addition to the area’s venerable venues is in the Sepulveda Pass at the Skirball Cultural Center. That’s where bride-to-be Danielle Cohn expects to be the first bride to marry at the Skirball’s ” target=”_blank”>, is just as enthusiastic about how the expansive, 17,500-square-foot event facility conceived by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie will expand ceremony and reception options. One of the most stunning features of the project is a fully retractable window-wall that gives a dramatic view of a cascading terraced garden, providing an Impressionistic mural-like feel. The entrance plaza, meanwhile, is accented with coral trees, enamel art panels and a monumental fountain. 

“The Skirball is deeply rooted in both Jewish tradition and the local Jewish community,” Delanoeye said. “We are proud of our history as a gathering place for Jewish families of diverse ancestries. Based on the way the concept of a chuppah has been built into the architecture [an effect achieved with arched ceiling appointments and tiered gardens in full view], for example, wedding ceremonies can take place indoors or outdoors.” 

Guerin Pavilion interior at dusk. Photo by Elon Schoenholz

The facilities also include a bridal suite, rooms that can be used as a private space for the groom and his groomsmen, a room for the yichud following the ceremony just for the newly wedded couple and a family room for gatherings of the immediate family. While there is one caveat — the 4,000-square-foot kitchen is not equipped for glatt kosher events — award-winning chef Sean Sheridan and his team are able to plan menus tailored to the tastes and preferences of the couple using kosher products or kosher-style service. 

“We really look at the total needs of the family and the extended community as well as the couple getting married,” Delanoeye added. 

The Skirball’s Herscher Hall and Guerin Pavilion accepts listings and bookings for up to 18 months in advance, though Delanoeye said that there is a greater demand for wedding bookings between the months of March and October. 

Sportsmen’s Lodge

Sure, the five-star prestige hotels dotting L.A. County have name recognition. But when it comes to historic name-dropping, it’s hard to top Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City, which opened in the 1880s and later evolved into a popular “rural” hangout for Hollywood legends such as Clark Gable, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Although Los Angeles’ urban sprawl has since spilled over into the San Fernando Valley, it is still a popular place for Hollywood productions, including the television series “Parks & Recreation.”

Throughout its history, Sportsmen’s Lodge Event Center (The Sportsmen’s Lodge has a country charm that makes it attractive for weddings. Photo courtesy of the Sportsmen’s Lodge

Meanwhile, the landscaping and country charm are still major selling points for Jewish couples, down to a gazebo that can be adapted into a chuppah on the north end of the property, said director of sales Angie Groves. 

“It is a unique venue in the Valley, as not too many other places in the area have lush ponds, waterfalls, bridges and century-old trees,” Groves said. “While we don’t have a kitchen, what makes Sportsmen’s Lodge appealing to the many Valley Jewish communities is that we do allow outside kosher catering. 

“While some families love the Hollywood history behind it, others come for one of our two unique ballrooms. We have the 9,550-square-foot Empire Ballroom that features a built-in stage and can accommodate up to 600 guests, while our Starlight Ballroom has windows on two sides of the ballroom that overlook our gardens. The spaces are certainly not the typical four-wall banquet room.”

Other features and amenities include portable dance floors, bars, high-tech audio/visual capabilities, individualized décor and assistance in booking all sorts of live entertainment. While the event page on their Web site promises, “We’ll help you plan an old-Hollywood soiree for the ages,” the staff is also sensitive to the needs and concerns specific to Jewish weddings. Weddings need to be booked up to 18 months in advance. 

The Olympic Collection

Although the Olympic Collection (The Olympic Collection has six ballrooms and a large, open-air terrace. Photo courtesy of the Olympic Collection

As a chuppah is traditionally connected to the outdoors, according to Morea, the large Regency Ballroom includes a garden terrace with a built-in gazebo that can be customized with florals and greenery. For the winter months, the ballroom includes a skylight at the top of a beautiful curved marble stage that opens fully to the sky. The smaller Atrium Ballroom, accommodating up to 150 people, features windows and sliding glass doors for clients desiring natural light during their events. 

The Olympic Collection’s executive chefs hail from Spain, France, Iran, Armenia and Central and South America, and can fully integrate the client couple’s desired culinary style with the dietary requirements of the family and guests. Behind the scenes Morea said there is a separate on-site kosher kitchen under supervision from the Rabbinical Council of California. 

The Olympic Collection accepts listings and bookings for up to 36 months in advance, and its staff of wedding planners can assist couples with the items necessary to fully customize their wedding and reception, including dance floors (with a mechitzah, or divider, if desired), bars, tables, chairs, custom linens, lounge furniture and specialty lighting and even the wedding cake itself.

Garden wedding in Israel

When Miriam Sushman and her then-fiancé, Owen, were planning a summer wedding, they searched for an outdoor venue that would reflect their love of nature. 

“Israel is such a beautiful country, and I couldn’t imagine not getting married outdoors if the weather was nice. Also, we both love nature and enjoy hiking,” said Sushman, a photographer.

The couple ultimately opted for a garden wedding at Neot Kedumim, the biblical landscape reserve in Israel, located about halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Lovingly landscaped with indigenous plants mentioned in the bible, the venue “smelled nice,” Sushman said. “The place was beautiful.”

Years later, Sushman still remembers how donkeys brayed while she was under the chuppah (wedding canopy). She also remembers “some gunfire” from Israel soldiers doing military maneuvers in the distance. “I don’t know if that’s on the video,” she said.

Garden weddings, with their unique scents and sounds, are extremely popular in Israel, where rainfall generally doesn’t factor into the equation from May through September.

Thanks to an Ashkenazi custom that is now almost universal in Israel, the majority of Jewish couples hold their actual marriage ceremony outdoors, weather permitting.

Wedding planner Adi Porat, manager of Simcha Maker, says Israeli garden weddings can be magnificent, provided certain steps are taken.

Couples, especially if they’re from abroad, sometimes forget that Israel has a real winter, though not nearly as cold as the ones in the United States or Europe. And Eilat and the Dead Sea are relatively balmy in the winter, though insufferably hot in the summer.

“I would never advise a couple to have an outdoor wedding from the beginning of November till April without a ‘Plan B’ for an indoor space. That way, the chuppah can be outside, with standing heaters if necessary, and the reception can be indoors,” Porat said.

Having an indoor and outdoor option at the same venue is sometimes just as important during the summer months, when daytime temperatures hover between 90 and 100 degrees (and up to 110 in Eilat and the Dead Sea).

“I advise not starting the chuppah before 7 p.m. in the summer, because it’s boiling. A tent is a great idea, but it depends on the client and the weather. There are lovely clear ones today that allow you to see outside, to feel part of the garden.”

Porat suggests ordering food that is appropriate for the season: cold cucumber soup, ice cream and frozen drinks in the summer; hot soups and warm, filling food in the winter.

Like most places around the world, Israel has mosquitoes.

“Mosquitoes can ruin the event,” Porat said, “so a garden venue must spray for mosquitoes the day of the wedding, before the caterer starts arranging gear and plates outside. And make sure there will be coolers and fans, not only on the dance floor but where people will be sitting and eating.”

Riki Metz and her husband, Howard, learned the hard way that fans aren’t always sufficient.

“We got married in August at Kibbutz Tzora, near Beit Shemesh, and it turned out to be an incredibly hot day,” recalled Riki Metz, a holistic healer and jewelry maker.

Beit Shemesh means “house of the sun” in Hebrew, and is hotter and more humid than midtown Manhattan during a heat wave.

The wedding was so hot, Metz said, “that we have photos of a friend with his shirt plastered to his back. The kibbutz now has air-conditioning,” she noted.

Despite the heat, the Metzes have no regrets.

“We fell in love with the venue because it’s in a lovely location, is reasonably priced and is very, very pretty,” Metz said. “The chuppah was on a gentle hill and, unlike many wedding halls, there was lots of room for the guests to be seated.”

At most Israeli weddings, the majority of guests are expected to stand during the wedding ceremony.

Some of the loveliest garden weddings are at kibbutzim, Metz said, but she advised couples to visit the venue a couple of times before booking.

“You have to know where the garden is in relation to the cow shed. If the wind blows in the wrong direction, you’ve got a problem,” she said with a laugh.

Because some garden venues do not like to accept a wedding party of less than 200 guests, couples need to be creative, Porat said.

Hotels can be a good choice for a wedding party of almost any size. Most have beautifully designed outdoor spaces, whether they be gardens or patios. Upscale restaurants are another option. The eateries in the ancient port of Caesarea, for example, offer a sea view and garden access very close to archaeological ruins. 

Regardless of where the event is held, it’s e it on a Sunday, Porat said, because Sunday is a workday in Israel and is less popular with locals.

Tracey Goldstein, who writes the Hatunot blog (, a resource for non-Hebrew-speaking couples, loves garden weddings “because there are so many natural things in the venues, you don’t need to add to the floral décor.”

Garden and other outdoor weddings can also have a Zionist feel to them, said Goldstein, who did event planning in New York before making aliyah.

“They’re reminiscent of the outdoor kibbutz life that flourished here during the early years of the state. What better way to experience this feeling?”

While outdoor weddings are the dream of many couples, Goldstein strongly suggests sticking to locations with indoor/outdoor spaces boasting amenities like indoor plumbing.

“In our minds it sounds great, but you must also think of your guests and whether they’ll mind walking in muddy grounds in their nice clothes. Rustic is cool, till you bring in the logistics,” Goldstein said.

Brides reflect: the most important takeaways for wedding planning

On my wedding day last fall, I was very nervous. My husband and I planned our celebration, to be held in Chicago, entirely on our own and all the way from Boston. We were also combining a Russian-Jewish family with a Sabra-Israeli family, and members of each took long flights to the U.S. for the wedding.

Needless to say, there were cultural and logistical difficulties from the start. Add to that the typical “Murphy’s Law” of weddings (our rabbi’s computer broke on the day, deleting all the notes he made for our ceremony)—and it was a stressful prologue to the big day.

While the actual wedding was ultimately a happy occasion, looking back, there were things I wish I had known or done differently to ease my stress during the planning stages.

JointMedia News Service decided to collect advice from a few brides to save future ones unnecessary angst. Follow their advice, and aside from potential technological glitches, your wedding day should be stress-free and extra special.

Hire a wedding planner: it will save you money

“We used a wedding planner, which I would highly recommend to other brides if you find the right one for you,” said Amy Beth Green Sayegh, an actuary from Chicago, Ill., who got married in August of 2010. Using the planner turned out to be cheaper, Sayegh said, because she was well acquainted with the vendor packages in the area, and knew how to get the biggest bang for the buck.

Sayegh saw the value of a planner’s experience first hand when she decided to select a photographer on her own. At their reception, the photographer wasn’t cooperative. He later refused to deliver on a promised photo-book and lost some of their pictures.

Make your friends and family more than just spectators…

Nurit Friedberg, a social worker from Cincinnati, Ohio, got married in June of last year. She said it’s important to involve both families in the celebration. “We accomplished this by inviting both of our rabbis to co-officiate…They were able to give us great advice on how to incorporate special details in the ceremony, such as my husband’s Zaidy’s tallit or my great-grandmother’s candlesticks.” For Friedberg’s ceremony, her grandmother wove the chuppah, her aunt created the ketubah, and family friends were involved in other aspects, such as playing the music. “Everything was more meaningful because it was created by someone we love,” she said.

Yael Mazor-Garfinkle married her husband in July 2011 in Lawrence, Mass., and asked a close friend from cantorial school to officiate their wedding. “She took our vision for our ceremony and transformed it into a communal celebration.” The wedding processional was sung by the bride’s sister, the groom’s aunt, and the officiator, and was accompanied by the groom’s uncle on guitar. The couple also asked seven sets of loved ones to read personally written blessings.

… but be prepared for the ensuing difficulties

Still, sometimes incorporating different families into one celebration, and ultimately one life, can be difficult. Sayegh’s husband is Sephardic and a son of immigrant parents from Syria and Egypt. Initially her in-laws were worried about losing their son and it took time for everyone to establish a good relationship. “One thing my mother kept repeating, starting very early on in the process, was that weddings bring out the worst in people…be prepared for that,” she said.
Remember, your wedding day is about YOU and your beloved; make it a day you will love
Alexander Polatsky and Inna Yalovetskaya from Phoenix, Ariz., got married in May of 2010 in an Orthodox ceremony, despite the fact that their families were mostly secular. “It was so hard to plan an Orthodox ceremony with parents who were so not into it. They knew nothing about it, they’ve never even seen one,” Yalovetskaya said. The bride’s mother found the experience especially stressful and weird, and had a minor emotional breakdown before the ceremony.

“We had a difficult time picking a rabbi who would want to do an Orthodox ceremony but would understand that the people would not be Orthodox and that the entire party hereafter would be held at La Mirage, which is a non-Kosher restaurant,” Polatsky also said. They also struggled to find an affordable kosher caterer to supply food just for those guests who require it.

At the end of the ceremony, the bride’s mother relaxed and decided she actually liked the wedding. “Make the wedding that you want to have for yourself and the one you want to remember. It’s ok if it’s the wedding that everyone else wants as long as it’s the wedding that you want.” At the same time “try to be nice and accommodating as possible because it supposed to be for the whole family,” Yalovetskaya said.

At my own wedding, everything ultimately came together into the most beautiful day of our lives. The rabbi somehow ad-libbed a wonderful chuppah ceremony, my parents got over “losing” their only daughter and I married my best friend.

As Sayegh beautifully said, “it’s your life together that’s important, and the marriage, not the wedding day.”

Balancing family and friend requests not an easy task

Getting married is a balancing act. I never quite understood this until my guy proposed.

What’s the big deal in wedding planning? I always thought. You set a date, pick a place, settle on a band, choose a few of your favorite flowers and do a dinner and cake tasting. What’s difficult about that?

It’s not difficult. In fact, that part’s been rather fun. However, the part that I am complaining about is the negotiations between family and friends. Trying to please everyone is proving impossible.

Unlike most brides-to-be, I never really thought about getting married. Honestly, I thought I’d either never find the right guy, or I’d pull a Gloria Steinem and get married later in life. That said, I once thought if I ever found myself in a position to say, “I do,” then maybe we’d elope or have a destination wedding and/or maybe, just maybe, invite a few of our family and friends.

Well, my boyfriend-turned-fiancÃ(c) had other plans. He’d always imagined a big wedding. He comes from a sizable family. And my father, who’d been placed in an unusual role these last few years as my therapist — allowing me the opportunity to vent after and sometimes even during the worst dates imaginable — decided he wanted a celebratory send-off, although, this could be more for him than for me. Bottom line, we’re a very close father-daughter team. And I feel that this was very much my father’s dream wedding.

Weddings are supposed to be about the bride and groom right? But I want my parents, his parents, his siblings, my relatives and our friends on board and excited about sharing our special day. We were trying to do all that, but we had our tangles and snags along the way.

It wasn’t intended to be a black-and-white wedding, but because I asked my attendants to pick their own black gowns, my future mother-in-law figured it was a black-and-white wedding. I happen to like black and want to be a low-maintenance bride by not requiring my girlfriends to spend extra money on silly, colored dresses they’ll never wear in public ever again. Black seemed the easiest way to go.

My soon-to-be nieces — the two flower girls — would look good in black velvet, appropriate material for a winter wedding, I thought. My sisters-to-be couldn’t agree on the right style, a problem I had never considered until they started to disagree. What do I know about choosing a flower girl’s dress?

To be sure, it’s a difficult task finding black velvet in the middle of July. I suggested they hold off the search until fall, but they still were trying to outdo each other’s suggestion, and I was caught in the middle of the building fury.

When it came to choosing flowers, we interviewed eight florists and still had yet to sign a contract. My father arranged the initial meeting with a woman who will remain anonymous. The four of us (mom included) sat down, and right away, this woman announced she was the most expensive florist in town.

Well, thank goodness it wasn’t a meeting scheduled by me. My father’s eyes glossed over when he heard her regular floral budget. Basically, it was the GNP of a small country. Next!

Then a few girlfriends asked if they could bring a guest — other girlfriends or family members. According to wedding etiquette, guests are supposed to be friends of either the bride or groom. Of course, we’d include a long-term boyfriend, girlfriend and engaged couple, but did I have to invite my bridesmaid’s sister or my friend’s long-ago touring companion? The e-mail exchange was frantic.

Normally, couples choose bands based on either watching a live performance, friends’ suggestions or asking for DVDs of past weddings. In our case, both my guy and I heard a band play the year before and thought the group was perfect for our parent’s generation. My parents were the ones paying for the wedding, so they would need to be happy with the choice. This band also played some modern tunes.

We all set out on a Saturday night to hear the band play, and they were awful. I mean the worst sound ever. How could we not have noticed that? I guess vodka martinis make a difference.

Another band sounded great, but the leader lacked emcee skills and seemed to take 10-minute breaks between each set. Another Saturday night wasted.

My in-laws are wonderful, kind people. I lucked out there. And they offered to host the rehearsal dinner. But where?

Our idea was to choose a restaurant that reflects our personalities — maybe an ocean view or a view of the marina since we love the beach, sailing and scuba diving. But his parents are more traditional and chose an inland site.

In the scheme of things, it wasn’t so bad. They offered to host because they agreed with our union, and they like my family. It is important that everyone is happy, healthy and gets along with each other, right?

It would have been nice to have more input on the location venue, but oh well. What’s most important is that I found a good, caring, smart and sexy MOT (member of the Jewish tribe) with whom I’ll share my life. That and a dream honeymoon.

Dana Greene is a syndicated columnist in San Diego who writes about couples issues. She can be contacted at

Saying ‘I do’ when you’re not a size 2

It’s your big day, and you want to look beautiful. But can you feel beautiful in a world that thinks you’re too big?

The average-size woman in the United States is a 14, but you wouldn’t know it by today’s wafer-thin celebrities. Keira Knightley, Paris Hilton and Victoria Beckham flaunt their bony frames, compelling curvy women to second-guess their hourglass shapes. Despite the scrutiny given to stick-figure stars about health concerns, the road to negative body image and anorexia is paved with thin-spirational glamour girls.

Luckily, enough women are grounded in reality and confident in their curves that full-figured brides are cause for celebration — not starvation.

For most brides-to-be, the pursuit of the dress is the shopping spree of a lifetime. Full-figured women with confidence and self-esteem won’t allow Hollywood’s skeletal star system of skinny chic to compromise the thrill of finding the perfect gown.

“Not everyone is a size 2,” said Lila Mester, a store manager with David’s Bridal, where size is not an issue. “We accommodate everyone.”

Despite itsy-bitsy star sizes, designers are beginning to take notice that double digits are big business.

Chamein Canton, author of “Down That Aisle in Style! A Wedding Guide for Full-Figured Women,” said that designer Vera Wang is a good barometer of full-figured acceptance. “She was a litmus test for me, because for the longest time, she didn’t have anything, and then she went to a 14, and the next thing I know, she was going up to a 20,” Canton said.

Michael Shettel, head designer for Alfred Angelo, crafts bridal gowns with “real” figures in mind, incorporating flattering, contemporary silhouettes, such as A-lines, corseted styles, empire and dropped waists to enhance the bride’s most dazzling features.

“We focus on fit and structure in the gowns to provide support and comfort to brides of all sizes,” Shettel said. “No matter what size or shape her body, a bride deserves to wear the most stunning wedding dress she can find.”

The bridal business is beginning to acknowledge all body types, and more shops are carrying realistic-sized gowns and in-store samples. Mester of David’s Bridal has heard full-figured brides complain about stores with small-size samples, preventing some women from gauging how the style will look on them. One woman said to Mester: “Here I can zip up!”

Regardless of size, be prepared: The numbers lie. “If you’re a 10 in pants, you’ll be a 12 or 14 in gowns,” Mester said. “It goes up about two sizes in bridal shops.”

Designer Liz Claiborne has actually changed her sizes. “If it was a size 4, she’s changed it to a size 6,” Mester said. “We’re so hung up on the number. I tell people, don’t look at the number, it’s cut differently.”

Canton knows the numbers game. “It’s amazing,” she said, “but when you throw the numbers out and dress for your body shape, a new world of stylish fashion opportunities and confidence opens right up. Embrace it.”

Today’s full-figured bride harks back to the glamour of Hollywood’s golden era. In the days of Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield and Elizabeth Taylor, the ideal woman was a shapely siren. But the sexiness of Sophia Loren segued to the Twiggy trend in the late 1960s. At the same time, the big couture movement began and top designers started catering to small sizes. Eventually, people began to idealize tiny 2s and slim 6s.

Now the pendulum is swinging back in bridal designs. “We have a lot of smaller indie companies … that are really accommodating full-sized people,” Mester said. “Look at Michael Kors. He added two sizes to his line two or three years ago, 12 and 14. BCBG did the same thing.”

Although women are faced with images of thin brides in magazines, Canton assures full-figured brides, “Relax and enjoy being engaged and planning your wedding. Unless you’re going into an arranged marriage and your betrothed has never seen you before, he loves you just the way you are. Revel in it.”

Paula Ganzi Licata is a regular contributor to The New York Times, Newsday and national bridal magazines. She lives and writes in New York City.

Flower choices can make your simcha a blooming success

You may not wear white for your wedding or hold your ceremony in a synagogue, but chances are you’ll incorporate flowers into your day somehow, whether it’s with an extravagant bouquet or a simple hair accessory. Here’s what to consider when choosing your blooms:

First Things First
Don’t even think about visiting a florist until you’ve chosen what both you and your bridesmaids will be wearing for the ceremony. Your gown style and the colors of your bridesmaids’ dresses will help your florist get a sense of your personal style and enable her to create bouquets and arrangements that will enhance, rather than detract, from the main event — you.
Collect magazine photos of images you like and don’t like, and show them to your wedding/floral consultant, said Jennifer McGarigle, owner of FloralArt in Venice. She’ll be able to help translate your personal style into the visual and experiential vision you have for your wedding.

Color Clues
We’ve come a long way from traditional white wedding bouquets. Nowadays, anything goes, from bright orange to deep red to dramatic purple. Monochromatic or tone-on-tone combinations are a big trend right now, McGarigle said. (Think pale pink hydrangeas paired with deeper pink roses and bright pink asters.)
“Purple is a big hit … but be careful how you use it,” she said. “It works best when there are bleeding shades of purple — from lavender, to purple, to violet. Use crisp white, soft gray or celery green as a contrasting accent.”
Remember that color can come from more than just the flowers themselves. Incorporate accent colors with ribbon or beaded wire in your bouquet and with vases and tablecloths for your table arrangements.
“My favorite combination right now is monochromatic white with antique gold and beige or chocolate brown accents,” McGarigle said. “The gold can come from either the fabric of the containers or linens, like a gold matte satin cloth.”

Let’s Get Practical
Choose flowers carefully if you or other members of your party are prone to allergies, said Judith Sherven, co-author of “The Smart Couple’s Guide to the Wedding of Your Dreams” (New World Library, 2005). Gardenias and some lilies, for example, are very pungent and can cause headaches or other symptoms, even for your guests, she said.
You’ll also want to be sure that your blooms will hold up for the duration of your event and be easy to transport if you’ll be reusing ceremony arrangements for the reception (a great way to save money). Sharing your wedding day itinerary with your florist will help her in guiding your floral choices.

Money Matters
Be up-front with your florist about your budget, McGarigle said, and always get a proposal that itemizes and describes each area of décor. If you’re on a budget, prioritize, she said. “Choose the areas you do and do them well.”
If you have your heart set on pricier flowers, like orchids or calla lilies but can’t afford to use them in large quantities, think in terms of simple, elegant arrangements, Sherven said. Use your most expensive flowers in your hair and bouquet (where they’ll be front and center in photos and during the ceremony) and less costly blooms for site decoration. You can also use potted plants and flowers from friends’ gardens to expand on your use of florist arrangements, she said.

Style and Shape
“The biggest trends in flowers right now are modern but not minimalist arrangements,” McGarigle said, “meaning the lines of floral decor are clean and streamlined but lush in color, texture and abundance.
“Mix vases and other containers in varying shapes and sizes for a more eclectic, interesting look,” she said, “but create unity with common shapes, whether round or square. A centerpiece grouping, for example, could combine vases of varying heights in round and cylindrical shapes. For flower combinations, three- to five-bloom variations that complement one another make for cleaner looking arrangements with impact.”

Be Size Wise With the Bouquet
Don’t get stuck carting a bouquet that’s heavy or awkward. It may not seem unwieldy at first, but keep in mind that you’ll be holding it for the duration of your ceremony and through all your pictures. Keep both your body shape and dress style in mind when choosing your blossoms. The three main types of bridal bouquets are:

  • Round posy — either hand-tied (stems are bound and tied with ribbon) or wired (stems are removed to eliminate bulk). Hand-tied bouquets are versatile and work well with all types of dresses. Wired posies make for lighter bouquets and are a good choice for petite-size brides.
  • Trailing/shower. Elongated bouquets like cascades/showers (which resemble waterfalls) and trailing bouquets (which are full at the top, then taper to form a tail at the bottom) are good choices for fuller skirts and/or taller brides.
  • Overarm. Long-stemmed flowers (roses, orchids or calla lilies are popular choices) are tied with a ribbon and held along the inner crook of your elbow. This style suits a modern, slim dress and draws attention to an ornamented bodice.

Peak timing
Choosing in-season blooms will keep prices down, as will steering clear of red roses if you’ll be tying the knot close to Valentine’s Day.

Location, Location
Try to avoid competing with your environment, whether it’s indoors or out. Small bouquets can seem insignificant in large spaces, and extravagant blooms ostentatious for intimate backyard gatherings. Also take note of the floor and wall colors, and the type of decorations already on site. You may be able to save money by making use of in-house plants and archways.

Make It Meaningful
Many flowers have meanings associated with them, for example:

Rose: love, beauty.
Sunflowe: adoration.
Gardenia: joy.
Orchid: delicate beauty.
Lily of the valley: happiness.
Sweet pea: lasting pleasure.
Peony: bashfulness.
Stephanotis: marital happiness.

But what really matters is choosing flowers you love. You can also pick blossoms based on those that have meant something to you and your fiancé as a couple — pink roses for the first bouquet he gave you or lilacs for the bush in your friend’s backyard where he proposed.

The bottom line? “Surround yourself with flowers that bring you pleasure and joy,” Sherven said. They’ll set the tone for your wedding and be a constant reminder of your blossoming love.

Jenny Stamos writes about health, nutrition, psychology, work, money and love for magazines such as Self, Shape, Glamour, Women’s Health, Prevention and Woman’s Day.

Married . . . at last!

I got married for the first time at 50. The groom was 51. Yes, we are both Jewish. We met online.

I am tall, thin, blonde, green-eyed, and have a little turned-up nose. My
father-in-law’s first comment, across the Thanksgiving table, was, “Doesn’t she look like a shiksa?”

My husband is an inch shorter than I am and round. He is also handsome, smart, funny and very logical. But I married him because he is a good person and I love him very much.

I decided when I was about 46 that I really wanted to get married. The question became where to meet men who really wanted to get married, too. I decided to try online dating. I had already done everything else.

It was not love at first sight. It was interest. It was let’s see what will happen. We both had dated enough to know the difference between passion and real caring.

It took three years, but we did it. The short version:

We met in November of 2000. The cats and I moved in with him in 2001, and I gave him an ultimatum. We got engaged in June of 2002 and were planning to marry in December 2002, although I had yet to see a ring.

Thirteen weeks before the wedding, he fell and shattered his shoulder. We postponed the wedding. I told him he had until my birthday, in August, to do the ring, or it was over. This was it.

It took him eight months, but he did it. Three days before my birthday, he took me to dinner, and proposed a second time, this time with ring in hand.

This was August 2003, and we were going to get married August 2004. We would have a year to arrange the wedding. That was the plan. The next month, my then-91-year-old mother fell and wound up in the hospital, so the wedding was moved up to December.

I had three months to plan the wedding. I was crazed, to say the least. It turned out that my little, humble then-83-year-old aunt knew the owner of a hotel, which shall remain nameless, kayn ayin hora, poo poo. It was a fabulous hotel, famous for its weddings. We had a place. Then we had a date, invitations, a dress, a menu, a klezmer band and a dance band, and a lot of tuxedos.

In addition to planning a wedding in three months, a full-time job, I was also working and taking a class. How I did it, I don’t know. But I was almost there. We divided the wedding planning, sort of. My husband chose all the food and liquor. I handled the cake and flowers, the logistics of the day, the arrangements for out-of-towners, the rehearsal dinner, the auf ruf and half of the visitor packets. (My husband did the maps and the sites of interest.)

The day finally arrived. Hair and make-up call, 6 a.m. Both my husband and I have backgrounds in the entertainment industry, but this was the biggest production either of us had to pull off. He had produced and directed theater, and I had produced and directed reality TV. But this was something else.

I was drugged out of my mind the morning of the wedding. Not serious drugs, but Advil combined with terror can have a mind-numbing effect.

I had only my maid of honor, my cousin Patty, in the suite with me as I got ready. The ketubah signing was done privately with the rabbi in a separate room with only my two attendants and the two male witnesses present. It was beautiful.

It was getting scarier and scarier. Patty and I retired to the bridal suite to await the final call. The hotel’s coordinator lined everyone up, then called up to the room. They were ready for me.

Patty and I took the elevator down. We stepped out. I looked back at the mirrored elevator doors as they were closing on 50 years of being single. I looked at myself and affirmed, “I’m doing this.”

I just wanted to get through the chuppah. I got into line, at the end, next to my then 84-year-old father. This was a dream. This was unreal.

The music started and the bridal procession began. The coordinator was counting the beats. The aisle was 80 feet long. My father and I had rehearsed this, but there was no need. He was a natural. The music changed. I heard, “Now,” and I said to my Dad, “Right foot.”

Talk about a deer in headlights. I saw my cousin Jenny smiling. She stood up first, and everyone followed suit. All these people were standing up for me! I was the bride!

The ceremony was great, I thought. I loved the rabbi’s words of wisdom, although I had to watch the video about four times to remember what he said.

It was an awesome wedding, filled with Jewish rituals — the hora, the chair dance, the brachot over wine and bread. Then, after the first course, the mezinka, the dance honoring the mother upon the marriage of the last child. I am an only child, my husband, the last of four. His mother was deceased. We danced around our three parents, unbelieving that their “old” children were finally married.

In case you are wondering, married life is great. It is not a sitcom, it is not a romantic comedy — it is real life. Whatever you were before, you bring to marriage. Marriage is not a date — you see each other in the morning, someone takes out the trash, and you pay the bills.

But you do it together. At last.

Mierel Verbit is a writer and teacher who lives with her husband and cat in Santa Monica. She can be reached at

What did you say your name was?

After the ceremony and after the reception, when all the guests have gone and the tables are cleared, there you are: Mr. and Mrs.

The next morning, the groom wakes up with his name intact. However, the bride wakes up with a different identity.

Every few days during the wedding planning process, I had a different obsession. A few days after the proposal, it was setting the right date. As plans moved along, the focus shifted to location, invitations, food, etc. And then, about a week before the wedding, it was the name change.

I had no problem with starting the day as a “Ms.” and ending it a “Mrs.”; I looked forward to it. But, while Woldoff is a very nice surname, I’d become a little apprehensive about changing my name.

Maybe it was all the work involved. I just wanted to enjoy married life after the wedding. But no, I had to plan on conquering yet another checklist: driver’s license, passport, Social Security card, credit cards, etc.

It wasn’t such an issue changing my name when I first married in my early 20s. I’d never had a business card with my maiden name, much less multiple e-mail addresses or a byline showing up on Google search results. I’ve had long-lost friends find me through the Internet because they knew that one characteristic — my name. It’s almost as if a part of me is being erased or like I’m going into some witness protection program.

But what are the options?

Some people choose to hyphenate, but I didn’t want to do that; since Namm wasn’t my maiden name, it would have been like carting along baggage from my previous marriage. Plus, there’s the issue of having a name that’s different from your children’s, which can get confusing (not to mention the possibility of giving your grandchildren a multihyphenated name).

Some couples share their last name — the wife adds on the husband’s name and the husband adds his wife’s so they have a dual last name that includes both. But again, that wouldn’t have worked in my case because I didn’t want to retain my previous husband’s name — I kept it after our divorce only because I didn’t want to go through the trouble of changing it again.

Sometimes people just combine their names to make up a new name, but being founders of a family name sounds like too much responsibility, and we’d lose a connection to the past.

That’ll also be very confusing for future genealogists trying to research family roots.

While about 90 percent of American women assume their husband’s surname, there are still a vocal few who perceive it as “archaic,” which I discovered when I came across one community blog,

Father of the Bride: No Job, Just Smile

Recently, I told some friends that I was going to accompany my younger daughter while she tried on wedding dresses. Their reactions were as follows:

From the women: “How very sweet”; “How lovely to bond with your daughter”; “I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.”

From the men: “Bring your checkbook.”

This is not going to be a rant about how difficult it is for men to deal with weddings — their own or someone else’s. (In fact my daughter paid for her own dress and, with her fiancé, is also paying for the wedding.) My role was to stand by, look as though I knew what I was doing, and contribute my considered judgment on how she looked in the dresses she was trying on. Not being an utter fool, I restricted my comments to an occasional “lovely” with a few “beautifuls” added for variety.

Face it friends, when it comes to weddings, men are about as essential as a third leg. This is true during the premarital stages and the wedding itself. (After the wedding it’s another story, but this is a family newspaper.)

We generally stand around, amazed at the enormity of effort that goes into its preparation and then, at the event itself, we walk down the aisle looking like penguins and stand under the chuppah unnoticed while everyone gazes in awe and admiration at the bride. If it weren’t for the fact that the law requires two for a wedding, we could just as well stay home and watch the Wedding Channel.

Viewing the preparations for my daughter’s wedding (never mind that it is scheduled for next November), I am in awe at the breadth and intensity of the action. I can recall three sites that were officially chosen and then rejected. Latest word is that it is set for the chapel of her alma mater, Brandeis University. The bride has informed me of the principal reason for this. Apparently the chapel has a glass wall, which catches the sun at a certain hour of the afternoon so that the wedding pair is silhouetted against the sky. I am not making this up.

When last I heard, the guest list was being kept to 125, a goodly number of whom will fly in from California, where she was born and lived until we moved to Rhode Island. Others will be arriving from Seattle, St. Louis, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

The dresses for the bridesmaids have already been selected, the canopy has been chosen and the rabbi has been alerted. Enough non-Jews will be present so that my wife will write a booklet explaining to them what they are watching. It will probably contain no reference to the fact that this is an all-woman production.

My role consists of saying the aforementioned “lovelys” and “beautifuls,” as well as a plentiful number of “yes, dears.”

Clayton, the other half of the duo-to-be, has only to utter one “I do,” an important responsibility, granted, but one I’m sure he can handle. His role has been even smaller than mine; he didn’t even get to watch the dress selection. Truth is, he is probably quite happy with this arrangement; call me a sexist pig if you will, but women seem genetically wired for this sort of activity while men are more interested in what takes place after the last grain of rice has been thrown. (Oops, sorry. I forgot. Family newspaper.)

The mother of the bride has been content with offering advice when requested. As a practicing historian, her interest in weddings as a genre is limited to the marital customs of the Incas and the Aztecs, most of which would probably be illegal in California. The stepfather of the groom lives in Washington state and has, thankfully, been most circumspect in his queries about what to expect when the day arrives. I doubt whether he will be surprised at anything that transpires. As a former Marine, he knows when to duck and weddings provide many opportunities for the men involved in them to practice their avoidance skills.

Which is pretty much what I am about at the moment. Frankly, I’m not anticipating the wedding as much as the aftermath, because in a year or two I expect that the products of this union will begin to emerge, among them I trust, at least one baby boy. Eventually he will develop a liking for the important things in life: baseball, TV, “EverQuest” and girls. When he does, you know whom he will turn to for advice and counsel. And the best part is that when he finds the right girl and is ready to marry, never, ever, will he ask me if the shoes he has picked match the socks he will be wearing at his wedding.

For this let us all give thanks and say, amen.

Yehuda Lev, former associate editor of The Jewish Journal, now makes his home in Providence, R.I. His business card reads “Journalist Emeritus.”


Expert Tips Crack the Dress Code

Many wedding guests are often are as concerned as the bride and her attendants about what they will wear.

Once upon a time, there were golden rules of wedding attire: Don’t wear white — it upstages the bride; and don’t wear black — too funereal. It was often a reliable pastel dress and matching pumps hanging in the closet, waiting patiently for the wedding du jour.

Today, one can never go wrong with basic black. But what to do when it comes to a formal affair?

Even though dress codes have become somewhat relaxed, there are still some guidelines that savvy brides and grooms might consider including on their invitations if their wedding is a formal event. Guests are usually grateful for this considerate gesture, especially in an age where “anything goes” when it comes to attire.

To avoid any confusion, Bridal consultant Sue Winner encourages her clients to put some type of dress code description on invitations.

“Some clients are concerned that if they don’t put something [about appropriate dress] on the invitation, people will come in jeans and sport coats. We’ve become a very casual society,” said Winner, who has been in business for 21 years — and has more than 600 weddings under her veil.

Here’s a helpful dress code lexicon from “Town & Country Elegant Weddings” (Hearst Books, $60):

Black Tie

This means that women are to wear evening dresses (short or long) and, technically, men should wear traditional tuxedos. Yet, Winner said, it is not a commandment. She said men can certainly wear a dark suit — navy, black or charcoal gray would be acceptable.

The notation said, “please don’t show up in jeans and a sport coat,” Winner said. “Guests won’t be turned away, but they’ll be uncomfortable in the room.”

And for the women, etiquette expert Letitia Baldrige, the former White House social secretary to Jacqueline Kennedy, advice columnist and author of several books, declares: “Pantsuits are not proper.”

Black Tie, Long Gown

This is not a common edict, but found occasionally — and Winner believes it’s redundant. Some couples find that this gives guests more clarification when the occasion is very dressy. Joan Rivers, for example, used this specific dress code on the invitations to her daughter Melissa’s fancy New York wedding because she felt dress was important to the overall effect of the event. (Take note: Perfect attire does not the perfect marriage make. Melissa’s 1998 marriage to John Endicott ended in divorce five years later.)

Black-Tie Optional

A bewildering dress directive for many guests, this option is considered by many etiquette experts to be very confusing.

“It’s the worst phrase in the English language,” Baldrige said.

Winner said that while common usage sometimes “makes things work, technically it is not correct. Black-tie optional is really a business term,” used, for example, when company officials might be hosting a dinner in honor of its retiring president, yet would not expect all company employees in attendance to rent a tuxedo.

As do most people who take the word optional to mean they don’t have to wear black tie. Those few who do dress up often feel out of place, making for a very mixed-up (and mixed-dress) crowd.

Creative Tie

Another distressing dress code according to Baldrige.

“An affair should either be black tie or not,” she said. “If it is not, you need say nothing at all.”

However, one fashion designer, John Anthony, believes that an invitation stating creative tie signifies that the hosts want the guests to be more thoughtful and lavish in considering their attire. It might mean a patterned cummerbund for the man and a frock that’s something other than the usual little black dress for a woman.

Casual or Island Chic

One bride planning a beach wedding put “island chic” on her invitations, said Winner. For other less formal celebrations, like some bar and bat mitzvah parties, hosts have indicated everything from “No Jeans, No Jackets” to a simple “casual chic.”

When in doubt about attire, Winner has a simple solution: “If you really don’t know, call the bride or the host and ask what they have in mind.”

Sharon Mosely of Copley News Service contributed to this story.

Attending to Gifts

Your wedding party is an entourage of childhood friends, college roommates, siblings and other close family members. Most have been by your side, contributing their time, energy and love throughout the entire wedding planning process. So, when the big event is about to happen, how best can brides and grooms offer their thanks?

As one would when shopping for any gift, it’s best to keep each individual in mind, choosing imaginative and stylish gifts that come from the heart, say bridal advisers at

Are traditional gifts the way to go?

“Brides can give the bridesmaids something to wear on the wedding day such as a necklace or earrings,” said Kathleen Murray, weddings editor at The Knot. “For the guys, a wine set, Swiss Army knife and golf kits are great traditional ideas.”

Looking for something a little trendier?

Owen Halpern, co-owner of OwenLawrence, an Atlanta boutique, prides himself on offering shoppers items they won’t see in every other shop.

For bridal attendant gifts he suggests a crystal bedside carafe, Italian crystal clocks by Arnolfo Di Cambio or beautifully boxed Italian vodka shot glasses by Salviati — all gift items that are as special as the occasion they mark.

He also said people are “loving” gift items called Elton Rocks, made out of colored, scented resin — “sort of an alternative to potpourri.” (According to Halpern, Elton John allowed his name to be used on the product because a portion of the proceeds are donated to his AIDS foundation.)

Halpern indulges OwenLawrence shoppers with champagne or signature bellinis, offered “only in crystal with linen napkins — no paper or plastic,” to help everyone enjoy “the finer things in life.”

“It’s a stressful time. Brides and grooms can relax and enjoy the shopping experience,” Halpern said.

Anything monogrammed is also popular for attendant gifts.

“Monogramming anything from jewelry to flasks to sandals for a beach wedding is hot right now,” Murray said.

While fountain pens may have become the joke of traditional bar mitzvah gifting, pens are popular as gifts for grooms’ attendants.

“We’ve sold everything form Mont Blanc, Cross and Watermans to Parker and Cartier. Generally we engrave initials of the groomsmen. It’s a small gift, but it’s a valued one,” said Steve Light of Artlite.

No matter how much appreciation you might want to lavish upon your bridal attendants, the sheer quantity can tally a daunting price tag. Be sure to ask yourself how much you plan — and can afford — to spend.

Murray normally advises bridal couples to spend what they can, but on average it’s usually $75 per person. The best man and matron or maid of honor should get something a little more lavish.

Yet, if a tight budget is cramping your style, there are great ways to get by.

Inexpensive gifts for bridesmaids can include an engraved silver photo frame or compact mirror, nice jewelry or beautiful candles.

For groomsmen, engraved pewter beer steins, silver pocketknives or cigar holders are usually low-priced.

Murray says it’s all about being a smart shopper.

“Inexpensive gifts are really just being able to find a great buy,” she said. “The bride may find a bracelet worth thousands of dollars, but if they look harder, they can find one for a lot less.”

Of course, if you decide to splurge on the wedding party, the options are endless. “The Knot Complete Guide to Weddings in the Real World” offers ideas ranging from remote control cars for guys, a certificate for an acclaimed restaurant or spa certificates to tickets to a game or play, silk pajamas, beauty baskets or cigars.

For bridesmaids, Murray says classes are always a popular item.

“Cooking, wine tasting, photography classes are all great options,” she said. “Again, base your decision upon each bridesmaid’s specific interest. For groomsmen, look into golf or ski lessons or even a bottle or case of wine from a great vineyard.”

Still stuck on what to get? Consider using your own talents. Artists can create drawings, paintings or pottery, while musicians can create a CD of their own music.

“If a couple does not feel they have such talents, or do not have time to make their gifts, they can have gift baskets created that are personalized to each attendants’ tastes and interests,” Murray said.

Laura Vogltanz of Copley News Service contributed to this article.

Don’t Get Tongue Tied With Your Toast

Chances are, someday you’ll be called on to raise a glass and offer a toast, probably at a lifecycle event like a wedding or bar mitzvah. Will you be ready? Will you remember the main points you wanted to make? Or will you end up with glass in hand and foot in mouth?

The toast is primarily a way to say thank you and offer good wishes — thank you to guests for coming, to hosts for inviting you, to celebrants for including you among their friends and to offer best wishes for the future. If you’re smart, you’ll think about what you’re going to say well in advance, before partying and high spirits have lessened your ability to think fast and intelligently. Jotted notes and a little practice will help avoid panic when your big moment arrives.

Helene Popowski, a party-planning consultant, counsels her wedding clients to keep toasts short and sweet — and hopefully warm and heartfelt.

“I suggest a maximum of two toasts, one from the father of the bride and one, if you want it, from the best man. I tell the father of the bride that he is speaking for everyone. He should welcome them, praise the wonderful job his wife did in organizing the occasion, tell his daughter how beautiful and radiant she looks, and welcome his new son into the family,” she said.

When it comes to the best man, she suggests that long stories about the couple’s childhood and romance be reserved for the rehearsal dinner.

“The wedding is no place for crude humor and lengthy speeches,” Popowski added.

Perhaps the best strategy when it comes to delivering a toast is to play it safe. One’s thoughts should be well-prepared, simple and brief — without information of a personal or intimate nature that might embarrass the honorees, their families or their guests.

Other tips to remember:

• Be sincere. Your own thoughts, in your own words, caring and loving, will be remembered more than a slick limerick. After all, you were chosen to make a toast because of your closeness to the honorees. Of all people, you should be able to be complimentary and affectionate on their big day.

• Connect with your subjects. If it’s a bride and groom, make eye contact. If it’s their parents, find them in the crowd and acknowledge them. If it’s a bar or bat mitzvah child, keep the words on his or her level … and no off-color comments ever.

• Keep it noncontroversial. No sex, politics or religion. This isn’t Hannity and Colmes, but a tribute to a happy occasion.

• Be upbeat. Be serious if you must, in briefly mentioning a recently departed parent or close friend, but don’t dwell on sadness or how unhappy you are to lose your best friend to a new bride.

• Always be positive. So what if you can’t stand her groom. Be gracious and remember the old saying, “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.” This is not the time to talk about old escapades or unfilled expectations.

• Don’t be pompous or self-absorbed. It’s their day, nobody wants to hear your long-winded musings on the meaning of life.

• Be sober, at least somewhat. A drunken blather is no compliment to anyone. Toasts are to be sipped, not chugged. And remember to raise your glass to the honorees before sipping yourself.

• Be gently funny if it fits your personality, but not raucous. And never, ever use hurtful humor to make people laugh. Calling the bride by the groom’s old girlfriend’s name is not apt to endear you to either of them. And vulgar language, lewd references and bathroom humor are always out of place at festive occasions, unless you’re proposing a toast at a bachelor party, and maybe even then. Just remember not to say anything you wouldn’t want your own mother to hear coming out of your mouth.

What to do if you’re really uncomfortable speaking in public? Other than practicing ahead of time, you have a few options: Read something by someone else, a Bible passage, a Shakespearean sonnet or the couple’s favorite love poem. Make it very short and sweet: L’Chaim! (to life). Or write out your short toast and read it. Don’t try to speak extemporaneously if you’re nervous. Don’t try to speak at all if you’re drunk. If you’re really, really bad with words, you can ask a friend for help, or try the Internet, where a number of Web sites will gladly write a toast for you, for a fee, of course.

When it comes to weddings, traditionally the best man offers the first toast. It’s considered polite for everyone in the room to stop drinking and hold their glasses in anticipation of the toast. At a formal wedding, the bride and groom should not toast themselves, but rather allow their guests to offer the toasts.

Sometimes the bride’s father makes the first toast, acknowledging the bride and groom. The groom then replies with his own toast. But whatever order you decide upon, just remember to let the toasts be short and sweet, honoring the occasion and those gathered to help celebrate the joy of the day.

Get Married Without Disowning Your Mom

Welcome to tonight’s main event, bride-to-be vs. mother of the bride. These two lightweight champions are battling it out for the hostess title. Ladies, take your corners. Have a clean fight, a fair fight and no hitting below the garter belt.

Many a wedding have lead to knockout, throw-down arguments between mother and daughter. Should it be black tie or California casual? Meat or fish? DJ or band? Should there be fewer guests at a lavish wedding or more guests at a bare-bones one? And why should cousin Sally, who the bride hasn’t seen since her sweet 16, get an invite over a co-worker? Planning for this happy occasion shouldn’t involve constant bickering and hurt feelings. But brides envision their wedding one way, and mothers envision it another way. Mothers threaten to boycott the wedding, and daughters threaten to elope. But wedding preparations don’t have to take down family relationships.

Rachel Zients had a bad experience during the planning of her bat mitzvah, and after she got engaged to Jay Schinderman, the 30-something television writer-producer initially worried about the possibility of a rerun.

Brides don’t want to feel trapped by their parents’ opinions, and parents just want to be part of this special occasion. But is it possible to effectively balance expectations when planning a wedding?

Zients and her mother, Eileen Douglas Israel, decided to try.

“It was a goal of mine to have harmony during my wedding planning,” Zients said. “The most important thing my mother did was recognize that I was an organized, working woman who didn’t need her to do everything, but who appreciated the things she did do.”

Israel gave her daughter the freedom to plan her wedding the way she wanted to. In return, Zients called on her mother when she really needed her.

Since she lived in Santa Monica, Zients enlisted her mother and future mother-in-law to help scout locations in New York. The mothers explored numerous hotels and banquet halls and reported their findings back to Zients in Los Angeles. When Zients flew to New York, she had the luxury of only focusing her attention on a few likely venues. By assigning this task to the mothers, Zients received real help rather than empty advice.

After the wedding was set for the Metropolitan Club, Zients planned other elements of the ceremony on her own: the flowers, the music, the dress. Her mother supported most of her choices.

But the two butted heads on the processional music. Zients felt that getting married was like starting down a yellow brick road, so she wanted to walk down the aisle to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Her mother wasn’t on board at first.

“My mom thought it was untraditional, but it just seemed right to me,” Zients said. “I took a step back and listened to her, but decided it was important to me.”

While a bride should remain open to hearing her mother’s opinions, a mother also needs to know when to trust her daughter’s taste. Such balance is key in harmonious wedding planning.

In the end, Zients went ahead and used the song. After the ceremony, her mother confessed that the music worked.

Unlike the mother-daughter affair of the Zients-Schinderman wedding, Robyn Lazarus enlisted the help of her entire family. Additional help can also bring with it additional problems, so it’s important for family to share ideas but not make demands.

Lazarus’ parents, Alan and Janet Fink, and her sister, Missy Fink, attended meetings with everyone from the caterer to the wedding coordinator. There were moments of conflict during the planning of Lazarus’ wedding and the family didn’t always agree, but they did try to keep things in perspective.

“The wedding was really about what Robyn wanted, we just helped her get there,” Janet Fink said.

While most brides-to-be turn to their mothers for help, Lazarus said it was her father who had very distinct ideas about the flowers, the lighting, the tables and the food.

“He knew what he wanted my wedding to be like; he wanted everything to be top-notch,” she said.

Parents and siblings should suggest a location or recommend a vendor, but not insist on one. That way, they voice their opinion and communicate their view without imposing it on the bride.

“I wanted to make sure I was making the best choices and I appreciated my family’s thoughts and input,” said Lazarus, who teaches second grade in Simi Valley.

While some brides might have felt suffocated by such heavy family involvement, Lazarus said it worked for her.

“Having my whole family contribute to the planning process made my wedding even more special,” said Lazarus, who married her husband Mike at the Century City Park Hyatt earlier this year.

It’s important for brides to remember that while it is their wedding day, it’s also a family event, and parents want to feel like they’re a part of it — especially if they’re picking up the bill. Lazarus found that all of her family’s guidance helped reduce — rather than increase — her wedding stress.

“My family is always involved, so I think their role in planning my wedding just mirrors the relationship and family dynamic that we have,” Lazarus said.

It’s easy for a bride-to-be and her parents to squabble over guest lists, seating charts and napkin rings. And it’s common to think that the wrong name cards could ruin a wedding and that a less-than-perfect guestbook means disaster. But if both sides can remember that this day is not just about the wedding and the reception, but about the start of a marriage and an event that is truly a family affair, these fights can be kept to a minimum.

Rachel Zients remembered a particularly snowy Manhattan day when she was running through a jam-packed schedule of location callbacks with her mother. In between bustling and price checking, Zients received unexpected words of wisdom.

“One of the location managers said, ‘This is what you should remember, this is what you should take with you. This moment of running around New York City with your mom,'” she said. “She was right, this was a really special time for me and my mom.”

Steps Toward Sanity

So the big day is months away, but the arguing has already begun. Looking to put an end to all the bickering with your folks? Andrea Ross, event manager at the Chicago Marriott Downtown on the Magnificent Mile, has helped countless couples and their families plan gorgeous weddings. She offers up the following practical tips and insider secrets for brides-to-be:

• Be Honest With Your Mother: If you have a vision or want something specific, tell her. If she makes a suggestion that you don’t like, tell her.

• Get Organized: If your mother makes a suggestion, write it down. If she brings you an article, accept it. Keep these items in a folder and tell her when you plan to work on that specific wedding item. For example, if she cuts out pictures of cakes, tell her you’re putting them in your cake file, but don’t plan on making that decision until two months prior to the wedding. This way, she won’t bug you — er … ask you — about it everyday, but feels like you’re taking her suggestions seriously.

• Agree to Disagree: Your mom is going to hate some of your ideas, and you’re going to dislike some of hers. Just because you love each other doesn’t mean you’ll love all of each other’s ideas.

• Share the Details: In order to avoid confrontations with your mother, give out as much information as possible. Neither you nor your mother want to be contacted by Great-Aunt Ethel who wants to know what the activities for the weekend are, where she can make room reservations and if there’s a Sunday brunch. Set up a Web site, send out an e-mail or mail your guests an itinerary. You may even want to appoint a sibling or maid-of-honor to be the point person to answer guests’ questions. This will help reduce friction between you and your mother.

• Have a Family Meeting: Include both the parents of the bride and the parents of the groom. Lay everything out: who is paying for what, who is planning what and how everyone envisions the day. This discussion will help set parameters like the number of guests each side will invite, the total budget for the reception, who will conduct the ceremony and who should sit where. Conduct this meeting in a public place, like a restaurant, so no one will raise his or her voice.

• Don’t forget that a wedding is about the union of two people. It should be fun and as least stressful as possible. — CD


Wedding Bell Oops!

Last time I saw Barry, he was dressed as an egg at a Purim party, so I was excited to run into him last month at a birthday party.

This time, for better or worse, he was wearing pants.

“Barry, what’s up? I haven’t seen you in forever. How’s life? How’s work? Ohmygosh, how was your wedding?”

“The wedding? Yeah, um, that whole wedding thing didn’t happen exactly the way I thought it would. Mostly because it didn’t happen at all. She called it off three weeks before the ceremony.”

Doctors at Cedars-Sinai are still trying to remove my high heel from my mouth.

I should have known better than to ask. I should have learned from Greg. Or Shannon. Or the nine — yes nine — other people I know who have called off their weddings. I should get them together to start a support group or form a minyan. Canceling a wedding has become that common these days. Just because a couple gets engaged, doesn’t mean that they’ll get married. It just means they’ve registered at Macy’s.

It no longer surprises me when couples don’t make it to the chuppah on time. Or at all. Which is why I keep the tags on my new cocktail dress and write “save the date” in pencil. I don’t run to reserve a hotel room in the “Rosen-Levy” block or pound the pavement for a “plus guest.” It would be rude for me to bring a date to the big event when the groom no longer has one. And yes, it always seems to be the groom who stands alone and the woman who says, “I don’t.” I mentioned this runaway-bride phenomenon to my current guy, Scott, over dinner at Denny’s last week.

“That’s because guys think about marriage a lot more than women do — we’re the ones who have to ask,” he explained. “And we don’t ask ’til we’re absolutely sure. Do you know how hard it is for a guy to pop the question? Do you know how long it takes for us to think we might possibly be ready to even start thinking about it?”

I’m beginning to get some idea.

Scott’s right, though. We’re talking about men — they spend a month choosing who to draft onto their fantasy football team. So they’re going to do a lot of soul searching and thinking — and drinking — before they decide whom they want to marry. Then they have to get up the courage to do a little thing called propose. All the girl has to do is say yes.

And we always do.

‘Cuz every girl wants to be a bride. Maybe that’s the problem. Girls fantasize about their wedding, not their marriage. I doubt my friends know if they’re wearing their hair up or down for their first week as a Mrs., but they know where every tress will be on the big day. They’re not cruising the newsstand for InStyle Marriage, but they wait by the mailbox for Modern Bride.

That’s why when some girls realize there’s life after honeymoon, that wedding gets canceled faster than a new fall sitcom dud.

Dating, proposal, shiny ring, big dress, bigger hair, saying “I do.” That’s the order. That’s how it’s supposed to happen. That’s the flow chart. So girls go with the flow. But you can’t go with the flow when a relationship gets this serious, ladies. Preseason dating is over.

Perhaps it’s just too easy for a woman to change her mind after she’s said yes. Maybe we should be required to back up our answer with a contract or a guarantee. Maybe a pinky swear. Or the bride should put her money where her heart is. Reception halls ask for a nonrefundable deposit — why shouldn’t the groom?

I’ve never been engaged, so I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to walk in a bride’s Vera Wang shoes. I don’t know how people who aren’t right for each other continue dating to the point of engagement. I don’t know if they failed to recognize their doubts or just chose to ignore them. I don’t know how much it hurts to call off a wedding. I don’t know when saying “I do” became so last season.

I do know it’s a troubling pattern, though, especially because it’s affecting my love life.

Canceled weddings are not good for us ladies-in-waiting. The worst thing about this broken engagement trend, besides the $50 I waste on each engagement gift, is the single-man snowball effect.

When a guy gets dumped by his fiance, his friends start to doubt their own relationships. The more guys entertain these doubts, the longer they wait to propose. The longer guys wait, the fewer girls who are getting engaged. What I’m saying is: It’s my friend Barry’s ex-fiance’s fault that I’m still single.

Actually, that’s not what I’m saying — it’s not entirely about me. A woman should not wed a man she doesn’t want to marry. That would be wrong. But a woman should only get engaged to a man she does want to marry.

Let’s start with the very word: engagement. It means commitment. It implies true love. There should be no take-backs. He didn’t give you his letterman’s jacket, his fraternity pin or a mix tape. He gave you a diamond engagement ring. He gave you his heart.

Call me a hopeless romantic, but I truly believe an accepted proposal should lead to a puffy white veil, Shevah Brachot, a broken glass and a lifetime together.

So when that special someone — the right someone, not the maybe someone — proposes, I’ll say yes, and I’ll mean it.

Final answer.

Because I know that when a guy does get down on one knee, he’s not asking “Will you wedding me?”

Carin Davis is a freelance writer and can be reached at

Create a Bridal Look That’s Made for You

The ornately beaded gown spent decades wrapped in a sheet from the time grandma was a bride until her granddaughter walked down the aisle.

Both brides were beautiful and the dress was a focal point each time, thanks to the loving restoration work by dressmaker Camila Sigelmann, who made it possible for Amee Huppin Sherer to be married in Grandma Marian Huppin’s 1925 wedding gown.

It took Sigelmann about 40 hours and a lot of luck to find beads to match the originals, to repair and reinforce the gown, to make some modifications and to create a matching head piece.

“It was a real honor for me to work on the dress,” Sigelmann said. “I understood that not only was I working on a dress for a very important occasion but that it had a lot of family history. That gives the project a whole other dimension.”

Sigelmann, who teaches apparel design at Seattle Central Community College, has run her own dressmaking business for about six years. She is one of a number of seamstresses across the country who restore antique wedding dresses and create new, custom gowns for brides. Amee found her in the Yellow Pages.

It is a special and honorable profession for the dressmakers who have the opportunity to participate in some of the most joyous moments of family life. They speak of their work with pride and enthusiasm.

Victoria’s Bridal has been in the business for more than 20 years, making everything from contemporary to traditional gowns to theme weddings.

Choosing to have a custom-made wedding dress is more a matter of style and personal service than of price, said Denise Mahmood, store manager of designer Victoria Glenn’s shop Mahmood. She said formal gowns from Victoria’s start at $1,000 and tea length dresses start at $600. Prices vary considerably, however, based on fabric and style. The cost of a custom-made gown includes fittings and alterations, which can cost up to $200 extra when buying a manufactured dress.

Another dressmaker, Laure Rancich-Flem, cautions brides not to look at custom-made gowns as a way to save money.

“If someone comes to me and has found a dress in a magazine … I cannot make it cheaper,” Rancich-Flem said, unless the bride wants to make changes in the dress such as using satin instead of silk.

The dressmaker said the best reason to call a seamstress is because you want a special gown tailored to your body and your taste.

“If you’re going to do custom work it’s usually because you cannot find what you want in ready-to-wear. Maybe you don’t want a traditional gown, or you’re hard to fit … or you just want something very untraditional in fabrics, colors or styling,” Rancich-Flem said.

She recommended trying on some manufactured gowns and looking at bridal magazines before deciding to talk to a dressmaker. A trip to a bridal store will give a woman a chance find out what dress details she likes and what looks good on her.

All three women agreed on suggestions about how to find a custom dressmaker. The first thing to do is ask for recommendations from friends who have had custom gowns made or who have hired a seamstress to create other clothing. Brides without personal recommendations can ask at a fabric store for a list of dressmakers who specialize in bridal gowns.

The next step is to call some dressmakers, talk to them about their experience and see some of their work. This process should start about six months before the wedding.

Mahmood said brides should ask a dressmaker how long she has been in business, how many dresses she averages a month, if she’s overloaded with work and if there are other seamstresses working for her on contract. Ask to see the dressmaker’s portfolio book and some actual dresses she made and request a list of references.

Rancich-Flem said that once you and a dressmaker have talked about the details of your actual project, you should request a bid, including creation and design time and materials cost.

Sigelmann said the dressmaker and the bride, and possibly her mother, need to be able to forge a good personal relationship because they may be working together for up to six months.

Her clients tend to be working women and mature brides who have clear ideas about wanting something a little different in a wedding dress.

The dressmaker found the Huppin gown an interesting challenge; it was also an emotionally and intellectually intriguing project.

“It was a very special dress,” Sigelmann said. “I found myself wondering what her grandma was like and how did she feel when she wore the dress.”

Donna Gordon Blankinship is a freelance writer living in Seattle.

Flowers Make the Wedding Bloom

Flowers are often a big part of anyone’s wedding day, from the bouquets the bride and her attendants carry to the chuppah decorations and the table centerpieces at the reception hall. Many times the flowers are what the guests remember about the wedding (unless a minor disaster strikes). Deciding which flowers to use for what arrangements, though, can be a dizzying experience, thanks to the availability of different types and colors of flowers at all times of the year.

Choosing Flowers

“Using flowers that are in season will help keep the costs down,” says Chris Kuhlman of Tioga Gardens in Owego, N.Y. “Many flowers are in season all the time, as flowers come from all over world.” Some, he said, are very expensive regardless of the time of year, such as lily of the valley and calla lilies, because flowers like that are not used as much, so the supply and demand cost is higher.

Florist Pat Van Tuyl said, “What seems to be popular these days are the Asiatic lilies, the Oriental lilies, the Stargazer lilies, which are pink, and the Alstroeneria lilies, which come in yellows, lavenders, whites, pinks and reds,” he said. “Roses are still real popular too.”

Good choices for spring weddings, Kuhlman said, include tulips, irises, daffodils and other bulb flowers. In the summer and early fall, though, those aren’t such good choices, even thought they may still be available, because the quality won’t be as good, and those flowers can’t handle the heat as well.

For mothers’, grandmothers’ and aunts’ corsages, sweetheart roses, cymbidium orchids and gardenias are still popular, although Van Tuyl notes that the last are often delicate, turning brown if brushed against.


Using similar-looking flowers throughout the wedding ties everything together, Scott MacLennan, of MacLennan’s Flowers, noted. “We coordinate the flowers with the bridesmaids’ dresses and the bride’s bouquet, and carry that through to the reception,” he said.

Kuhlman thinks there should be some coordination between the flowers used in the ceremony and the reception. For example, the bridal bouquet and synagogue flowers may use softer or fewer colors, while at the reception the colors go brighter, he says. “Going from an afternoon ceremony to an evening reception might also include a different look for the flowers.”

Some brides do ask for pew decorations, MacLennan notes, “depending on how elaborate the wedding is and the finances, who’s paying for it.” Flower arrangements for the wedding can cost $100 to $3,000, again “depending on whether 50 people are coming and the reception’s at the Legion Hall, or if 300 guests will be attending the reception at the country club,” he said.

Another thing Van Tuyl sees is a move away from table centerpieces at the receptions. “They were hard to hold conversations around,” he said. Instead, there is now a new container which has a large base and a center-holder that puts the flowers up 32-36 inches, enabling conversation to flow more freely at the tables.

Floral Wedding Themes

A lot of times, Kuhlman said, “We do a theme all in one color. White can be a very striking color visually, and we do the bouquets and decorations with some greenery” for a splash of color. For instance, “a New Year’s theme could be done all in silver with accents,” he says.

Basically, the theme depends on what mood the bride wants to create — classic and subtle or a little wild, Kuhlman says. “If they want a taste of glitz we can do that, and it can be fun. Often, though, we do something elegant, not so bright or glitzy. All weddings have some look, for instance, Victorian or more modern, or even tropical, which can be dramatic and bold.

“Sometimes,” Kuhlman continued, “we’ve done harvest themes in the fall. That look can be very gorgeous, with fruits put in with the flowers in the centerpieces.”

Bridesmaids’ Bouquets and More

If a bride wants her bridesmaids’ dresses to match their bouquets, Kuhlman stated that he needs to see the color of the dress. “Often there needs to be some contrast,” he said. “If it’s subtle, we can do shades of flowers similar to the dress. But if you have a little contrast the flowers show up better in the pictures.”

The attendants’ bouquets really should complement, rather than match, their dresses, Van Tuyl states. “Brides come in and try to match the flowers to the dresses, but then they won’t show up well in photos,” he said. “For instance, if the dress is blue, then maybe a few blue flowers could be used mixed in with pinks and whites, which will look much better.”

The Bride’s Bouquet

Many brides these days are having two bridal bouquets made, one to walk with and keep for themselves and the other to throw.

“We’ve been doing toss bouquets for a long time,” Kuhlman said. “Usually the toss bouquet is a miniature version of the main one. The bouquets do keep for a while, and now flowers can be preserved through freeze-drying. People can go to Precious Petals for that. Some flowers freeze-dry better than others, though,” he warned.

Van Tuyl said he will often include a free, smaller throw bouquet for the wedding, as many brides today want to keep their bouquets and have them freeze-dried.

The Consultation

MacLennan said the first consultation could take up to an hour and should be three to six months ahead of the wedding date, “after the dresses are chosen and a color picked.” There might be a few other times where the flower order is fine-tuned, based on the number of attendants, the number of tables at the reception and how many people have RSVPed. “Sometimes the bride will call with a question or we’ll call her with a question, and then the answer needs to be researched,” he said.

For consulting on the flower arrangements to be used in any wedding, Van Tuyl said he needed at least three weeks’ notice, although more time is welcome.

“For instance, if the wedding is in October, they should come in during July or August, which provides plenty of time. If they want gardenias, calla lilies and others, I need three weeks to special order the flowers. It usually only takes [about] an hour to discuss the wedding orders,” he noted, adding that he does have a book with photographs of different arrangements for couples to look through for inspiration.

Overall, the choice of flowers comes down to what the bride wants, what her tastes are, what colors she likes and what look she wants to create, Kuhlman said. “I need to meet with the bride, the parents and the groom to find out what they like.”

Chinese Box

So there’s a fairy-tale wedding: a thousand guests in a flower-filled ballroom, a dozen violins playing Mozart, a grainy-voiced singer belting out an old Persian love song. The bride is 20 years old and ravishing, of course, but she’s also blessed with charm and charisma, the kind of exuberance that turns heads and drags stares behind her. She’s been breaking hearts since she was 14 years old and walked into a cousin’s wedding in a frilly white dress and a wide lace headband. Now she dances on stage, next to the singer with the forlorn music, and the crystal beads on her wedding gown glow like fireflies in the dark.

The groom has class and pedigree. He’s smart and kind and, yes, so in love with the girl on stage he can’t stop smiling at his own good fortune for meeting her. For years he’s been the target of young girls’ desire and their mothers’ designs.

"Look at him," a woman says the night of his wedding. "Green eyes and more money than God."

So there’s a fairy-tale wedding, and the bride wakes up to a sky full of sunlight and laughter and the promise of everlasting joy. In the old country, where luck was believed to be contagious, she would have been the woman asked to grind sugar cones over the chuppah held above other brides’ heads, the one grandmothers touched hoping her luck would rub off on them, that mothers held up as an example of success and good fortune.

In the old country, luck was a light reflecting off some women’s foreheads: you were born with it, or you were doomed to what was called a "dark forehead."

But in America, luck is a many-faceted creature. It’s like those lacquered Chinese boxes that hide many other, smaller ones inside them.

Each day after her fairy-tale wedding to the green-eyed prince, the girl with the beaming forehead opens one box and reaches in to seek its treasure. She finds good friends and a devoted family, an ever-widening horizon, a daughter as smart and beautiful as her parents. She finds other children, other kinds of success. Then she finds a son.

He has the most striking pair of eyes anyone has ever seen, a face that is impossible to turn away from, severe disabilities that will mark him for life.

The girl with the beaming forehead stares into the little box in her hand and wonders at the forces in the universe that have brought her this gift. Her little boy is smart enough to know and understand everything that goes on around him, alert enough to engage the attention of anyone he chooses. But he can’t walk and can’t put his thoughts to words and he even has trouble, when he likes a red flower his mother has put in his hand, closing his fingers around the stem.

The girl with the beaming forehead could close the box and store it away out of sight. Or she could run with it — to the safety of her home, where many a woman has been known to endure misfortune and loss. She takes a moment to catch her breath. Then she nestles the box in her hands and brings it out into the light: see what this day has brought to me, she tells the world. Watch what I can do with this kind of luck.

She puts her little son in a stroller and takes him to a school at UCLA where they’ll teach him to speak through a computer and communicate through painting. When the school runs out of money to keep teaching him, she gathers her friends, the other moms at the school, and raises money beyond anyone’s expectations. When he’s too old for this school and she can’t find another like it, she gathers her friends again and this time builds a school. Day after day she opens the little shiny boxes hidden in the darkness of larger ones and reaches in to find her fortune.

In the years since the little boy with the stunning eyes is born to his fairy-tale parents, many a tragedy and much good fortune will occur in the lives of everyone who knows them. Still the girl with the Chinese boxes manages to remain the great source of inspiration to them all. This is my life, she says without fear or shame or even the slightest indication that she may bend. These are my children.

I don’t know what this girl, and other mothers like her, would have done in the old country. I can’t imagine they would have acted differently, that they would have been more afraid, weaker, less capable than they are here. We are, if nothing else, a resilient people. We have lived with more "dark foreheads" than we should have, and we have come through it, if not unscathed, then certainly not defeated.

I don’t know what they might have done in another place, but every year when they pull their friends together and spearhead another effort on behalf of the little boys and girls who can’t hold flowers in their fists, every time they inspire hundreds of mothers with healthy children to drop their own daily concerns and lend a hand to long-established American institutions still in need of aid, every time I see the light they cast into the lives of friends and strangers who have crossed paths with them and their children, I think that it was luck — the other children’s, their mothers’, the institutions’ that have benefited from her strength — it was their luck that brought these mothers from the old country and into the new one.

Maybe each one of us is a little Chinese box nestled within the course of others’ destinies.

The Enrichment Foundation for Handicapped Children, a California nonprofit corporation, was founded by a group of concerned parents dedicated to improving the lives of handicapped children and their families. For more information, call (310) 470-1972.

Relationships with God

When John and I married, our invitation featured a verse from this week’s Haftorah (Isaiah 61:10-63:9): Yasis alayich Elochayich kimsos chatan al kalah, rendered freely as “Come join in the sanctification of our joy”; literally, “As a bridegroom rejoices in a bride, so your God will rejoice in you” (Isaiah 62:5). This verse became a favorite years ago when its daring, electric comparison hit me: Human love provides the standard for God’s love of the Jewish people. Instead of urging human lovers toward heaven, we Jews cannot imagine any-thing more deeply, joy-ously loving than what committed human part-ners feel for each other. We envision God learning love from human lovers.

Whether God is the bridegroom or the bride, I invite you to pause and summon a feeling of being loved in that way by God. Holding this feeling close offers an important preparation for the High Holy Days, which always follow upon this haf-tarah. Experiencing ourselves as God’s partner in a marriage-like covenantal relationship can provide the stamina and courage to acknowledge sins without being devastated in the process. Of course, we also address God as “Avinu Mal-keinu,” invoking parental protection and nurturing. But I for one do better with a model of spiritual caring that leaves me in an adult role and that stresses intimacy, even passion. So there we are, God and I, encountering one another one-on-one in a manner that parallels my marriage.

Apart from closeness to God, we all exist within our own skins, each with thoughts and feelings that no other person understands or even knows about. Yet if we are fortunate, we also live enmeshed in relationship – within concen-tric circles of connection and of meaning. The union of two may expand to include children or others, so that we fit within a household and an extended family. We belong to profes-sional networks and are American citizens or residents; depending on our degree of involvement, we draw strength and meaning from those identifications.

Belonging to the Jewish people is like being a member of the American Bar Associa-tion, the Goldberg family or the United States. But there are also differences – differences that make our identities as Jews more pervasive, more endur-ingly meaningful and better capable of providing an overall framework for our lives. We rejoice, learn and are sustained within a circle that is larger than our family, more holistic than our profession, and more concretely embedded than our nation. Being Jewish trans-cends time and space, stretching the boundaries of our individu-al lives and rendering us, in some sense, eternal.

“You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your God – your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, each person of Israel, your children, your wives [husbands], even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water-drawer – to enter into the covenant of the Lord your God… I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here this day.”

So begins Parshat Nitzavim, the first of this week’s double portion. Written thousands of years ago, it reaches across the centuries to grab us in Septem-ber 2000 in Southern California. It speaks to me – whom good fortune has embedded within a loving marriage and family, university and rabbinic net-works, and democratic civic structures – inviting me into the grand, eternal circle of Jewish life. Grand and eternal, yes; but also charged with the intimacy, immediacy and joy experienced by Isaiah’s bride and groom. Torah and haftarah, Jewish people and Adonai – these join to sustain and enlarge me as I move towards Rosh Hashanah. May you, I, our people and all the world be inscribed for a good New Year.

Susan Laemmle is dean of religious life at the University of Southern California.

The Meaning of Marriage

Late spring in Los Angeles: cool, foggy mornings, with sun breaking through around midday. The strawberries are sweet and luscious; the gardens are full of roses. It’s the season of simchas. Our calendars are crowded with graduations and family parties, but most of all with weddings.

The cascading flowers, the gowns and tuxes, the delectable spread on the buffet tables are only a frame for the most beautiful sight at any wedding: the faces of the bride and groom under the chuppah, or at unguarded moments when they think nobody is watching. You notice the way they look at each other and the way they hold hands and the way they dance together — caught up, for those moments, in a magic circle where nobody else exists.

They speak to each other under the marriage canopy, voices breaking with emotion, promising love and friendship, respect and understanding. They sign their names to promises so vast and deep, they would make you tremble if you really thought about them — but the bride and groom are not thinking at that moment, not thinking at all. They are in a fever of joy; they can hardly breathe; they are caught up in the magic circle.

It is all over in a few minutes: the cups of wine, the ancient Hebrew words of commitment, the rings, the blessings, the sound of shattering glass. But something profound has changed in those moments. A covenant is sealed; two people are set apart for one another.

It’s a long way from the chuppah to the fifth chapter of Numbers, where the Torah takes us in this season of roses and romance. It’s grim reading material for wedding guests, and even more so for a bride and groom.

For this week’s portion takes us to the heart of a troubled marriage. There is an irate husband, wild with suspicion; a wife who may or may not be guilty of adultery; a public ordeal designed to bring to light the truth. The suspected adulteress is tested by being forced to drink the “bitter waters” — water mixed with dust from the floor; water in which the priest has dissolved divine curses written on a scroll. The ritual may be primitive, disturbing, even misogynistic to our eyes. But in its time, it provided a sacred, orderly structure to resolve the crisis, and to manage the explosive emotions evoked when marital trust has been compromised: jealousy, rage, humiliation, a sense of betrayal, grief, the murderous desire for revenge.

Asks one commentator: Why does the Torah permit the Name of God to be dissolved in water during this ritual? And he answers: God’s Name does not really disappear. For whenever peace is restored between husband and wife, the Holy One is present.

And maybe it does make sense to read Naso in the midst of the wedding season. For it reminds us that what matters is not the poetic promises we utter under the chuppah, but the prosaic reality of living up to them in marriage. We get a devastating glimpse of how bitter it can be to lack faith in our partner, how hard it is to forgive and make peace. We’re asked to contemplate what it might mean to have God present in our relationship.

On their wedding day, two people set themselves apart for one another, hands joined inside a magic circle — breathless, tearful, in a fever of joy. And God is in the center of the marriage when it’s many years later and the covenant still stands; when the vast, deep promises have somehow been fulfilled, for one partner lies in a hospital bed, too frail to walk or to get dressed anymore, and the other one is still there; and they’re still holding hands.

“Mistress, know yourself,” says Rosalind in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.” “Down on your knees, and thank heaven, fasting, for a good man’s love.”

Blessed is the Holy One, who comes into our lives through the love of a good man or woman; who gives us a taste of eternity in the steadiness of our beloved; who teaches us faith and constancy and forgiveness through the covenant of marriage.

Rabbi Janet R. Marder is director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Pacific Southwest Council. This summer, she will become Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth Am, Los Altos Hills, Calif.