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.”

Throw a Party With a Purpose


“I’ll call your bet and raise you two,” the sequin-clad woman said.

“Go for it,” I said, only to see my winnings swept up moments later by a poker-faced dealer.

“You may have won this round,” I told my chip-hauling opponent. “But just wait until after the Motzi!”

Having one son rounding the final stretch of his bar mitzvah year and another warming up in the bullpen, I’ve been privy of late to many a post-game celebration that would have Moses rolling over in his grave: everything from casino get-ups that could rival Caesar’s Palace to midriff-baring Britney Spears clones (in her prepregnancy form) beckoning guests to the dance floor.

How did this happen? How did the guests who came to witness our child take part in a multimillennium-old Jewish tradition end up playing limbo draped in glow necklaces and feather boas? How did our resolve to remain focused on what really mattered evolve into a safari-themed ballroom and five cases of leopard-skin-print kippahs?

The answer is not difficult: We got lost. Lost in intense societal pressure to follow up our kid’s Judaic rite of passage with a killer party. Lost in a sea of products at the local bar mitzvah expo with no apparent link to the Jewish religion. Lost in our child’s insistence that she’s “only been looking forward to having a safari-themed bat mitzvah for her whole entire life!”

It’s not that glitz, glamour and secular themes at b’nai mitzvah are inherently problematic, like in the soon-to-be-released one-upsmanship film, “Keeping Up With the Steins,” but when they’re inadequately balanced with Jewish values we can be left with an empty shell of a party that undermines the entire point of these meaningful milestones.

“The way we choose to celebrate sends a message to our child,” said Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin, author of “Putting God on the Guest List: How to Reclaim the Spiritual Meaning of Your Child’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah” (Jewish Lights Publishing, 1998) “It’s not fair to leave our values at the front door.”

Here are some practical ways to help ensure the spiritual core of your child’s big day doesn’t melt away faster than the custom designed ice sculptures at the Kiddush luncheon:

At the Service

Include the whole mishpacha. Whether reading from the Torah or leading songs and prayers, when the whole gang gets involved, the experience becomes exponentially more meaningful.

“A bar or bat mitzvah should be a spiritual, passionate journey for the entire family,” said Rabbi Analia Bortz of Atlanta’s Congregation Or Hadash.

Link the generations. When my son’s bar mitzvah tallit was made, we had a piece of each grandfather’s tallit sewn in, so he was literally wrapped in the traditions of his forefathers as he read from the Torah.

Give them a lift. Praying and partying need not be mutually exclusive. Why not get the celebration started right away?

“Just as we lift the Torah, we lift the child,” said Rabbi Bortz, who gives b’nai mitzvah kids the option of being raised in a chair after reading from the Torah while congregants sing a hearty round of “Siman Tov, Mazel Tov.”

Share the spotlight. When Salkin’s son celebrated his big day recently, he symbolically shared his bar mitzvah with kids from New Orleans who were unable to celebrate their b’nai mitzvah due to Hurricane Katrina.

Shower them with sweetness. Celebrating the sweetness of the Torah by throwing candy (preferably the soft gummy kind) at the star of the show is a festive and fun tradition.

At the Party

Put tzedakah center stage. Rather than spending hundreds of dollars on throwaway centerpieces, build your tables’ focal points from donatable items. And you needn’t bail on your party theme to do so! My sports-obsessed son’s centerpieces were built from sporting goods and supplies that he later delivered to a camp for sick children.

Dinner, dancing and donating. Help your child pick a charitable cause of special interest to him or her — or one that incorporates the theme of your party — and set up a collection station at the big event. Guests at a safari bat mitzvah for example, might be asked to bring supplies for a local animal shelter or make a monetary contribution to the zoo.

Feed the human spirit. Becoming an adult in the eyes of the Jewish religion entails a social conscience. Salkin recommends that kids donate 3 percent of their bar or bat mitzvah money to MAZON-A Response to Jewish Hunger.

Hire a party planner. When someone else is taking care of the nitty-gritty details it’s easier to stay focused on what’s really important.

Think futuristically. If during your planning process, you feel the need to snap yourself back into focus, picture your child years from now thinking back on her big day. Do you want her to remember a posh party that could have easily doubled as a Sweet 16 or a spiritual journey that paved the way toward a committed Jewish adulthood?

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1-800-Dreidel

Avoid an Oops in Shooting Your Video


Little Rachel takes her first steps — but your camcorder battery dies before you get the shot.

Your family reunion includes Grandma Shirley, whom you haven’t seen in 15 years and, frankly, may never see again. You interview her on video, but when you sit down later to watch it, the sound is so bad you can’t understand a single word.

At my brother’s bar mitzvah, a family member showed up late with the video equipment, set up the camera and forgot to push record.

Whether you’re trying to capture a wedding, b’nai mitzvah or 50th anniversary celebration, the day will come and go whether you’re ready for it or not. Unless you’re prepared, the opportunity to capture family history can easily slip through your fingers.

Losing such precious moments can be depressing. But with a little advance planning, attention to detail and some practice, you can shoot home videos your family will kvell about for years to come. Here are some tips:

1. Don’t forget to push record. Once you push “record,” confirm that you are recording. Every video camera features a recording indicator, typically located in the viewfinder or the view screen. As you get ready to focus on your subject, the first thing you should do is look in the viewfinder or on the screen and note whether the recording indicator is on.

2. Charge your batteries. This is one of the most common mistakes. The battery that came with your video camera will not last longer than one hour. In addition, after a few years, rechargeable batteries don’t hold their charge well. Even buy an extra battery pack or two, charge them and have them on hand in case your primary battery loses its charge.

3. Focus on sound. Bad sound is often the biggest killer of home videos. Are you only using the standard built-in microphone? Be conscious of its limited range. If you’re recording someone nearby, try to get as close to the person as possible. If you’re at a gala event and someone is using a microphone, try to get close to the electronic amplification speaker.

4. Stabilize your shot. All modern video camcorders have a stabilization option. Turning this option on will improve your shots tremendously. I require my professional videographers, who shoot everything from wedding videos to commercials, to turn this option on.

5. Use both hands. Shaky camera work can give friends and family headaches. Do not hold the camera in one hand, stretching your arm out in front of you. Instead, hold the camcorder with both hands, and hold the camera against your body. For even greater stabilization, lean your back against a wall.

6. Forget the zoom. Don’t use the zoom. Instead of constantly zooming in for closeups and then zooming out for wider shots, try holding the camera against your body, framing your shot like a still photograph. To get closer to the image, simply walk closer, using your body as a large stabilization weight. To get a wider shot, simply walk backward — but be careful.

7. Look in two places at once. This is a more advanced move. Learn to keep one eye watching your camcorder’s viewfinder or screen and the other eye looking outside the field of the screen to see what person or object may soon be coming into your frame. This allows you to anticipate and prepare your camera move.

8. Learn from your mistakes. Take some time out a few days before an event and shoot some practice footage. Spend a few minutes reviewing a short piece of it, and note how you could improve.

Also, don’t save the camera for special events. Keep practicing your video skills by recording everyday family moments. After all, you don’t want to be scrambling for footage 10 years from now, when you want to create a video montage of your child to show during a bar or bat mitzvah.

David Notowitz is owner of Notowitz Productions, a video production company that specializes in corporate videos, weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs. His Web site is

Kosher Stylin’


If we are what we eat, then at this moment I’m a big fat Gordo’s burrito with extra cheese. But I’m a veggie burrito because for the past several years, I’ve been cultivating my own brand of kosher. I like to call myself “kosher style.”

It’s a phrase that’s apt to confuse, so let me explain. No pork. No shellfish. No conscious mixing of meat and dairy. I’ll eat meat out, and though I pass on cheeseburgers at Barney’s, I wouldn’t ask Alice Waters to hold the butter in preparing my filet of beef ? la ficelle (assuming ficelle isn’t bacon). My theory: Unless I see dairy, it’s kosher enough.

I have plenty of friends who keep more strictly kosher than I do, but even some of them make exceptions — like bouillabaisse in France or lobster in Maine. I deviate when I’m the guest in someone’s home, and the options are slim — my rationale being that it’s better to not shame a host than to stick to my half-baked rules.

There are those who may cringe at my interpretation of Jewish dietary laws, but it’s not like I eat this way because the Bible tells me to. Nor do I see it as a mitzvah commanded by the God I’m not always sure I believe in. And it certainly isn’t because I grew up this way.

It began with a request from a Holocaust survivor who once advised, “Order kosher meals on airplanes, because the day you stop ordering them is the day they’ll stop making them.”

Forgoing regular airplane food was a sacrifice I could make.

I remember the first time a flight attendant called out, “Ravitz, kosher meal?” Heads of passengers whipped around to look at “the Jew,” and there I sat, donning my jeans, fleece and baseball cap, looking like any other 20-something American.

I didn’t want the attention, but when it came, I kind of liked it. That nasty little packet of excessively wrapped, overcooked — and yet simultaneously frozen — meat sparked conversation. People would ask me about my kosher meals: “I’ve always wondered what this is all about.”

I even got confessions: “You know, I recently found out my grandfather was Jewish.”

I felt like an ambassador for my people, called forth to enlighten flight passengers over stale rolls.

Soon I was changing the way I ate on the ground, pork products being the first to go. Then I struggled to relinquish shrimp, New England clam chowder, steamed mussels. California rolls were missed, until I found salvation in “imitation crab.” Then came the meat-and-dairy conundrum, which wasn’t that bad, barring the loss of chicken Caesar salads and my mom’s grilled bleu cheese steak. The mere thought of it still makes me drool.

At a crawfish boil I attended in Alabama this summer, people around me snapped off heads, slurping the prawns’ insides, while taking turns asking me questions.

“What, you don’t like this stuff?” “You allergic?” “What’s wrong with you?”

I stammered, embarrassed by the repeated calls of attention. “Well, you see, I sort of keep kosher.”

“What’s that?”

I blathered about split hooves and chewed cuds before someone interrupted, “But why do you keep kosher?”

I gave the best answer I could come up with: “Because it reminds me of who I am.”

In September, Sophia Café, a new kosher restaurant, opened on Solano Avenue in Albany, walking distance from my home. When I first spotted it, I was floored. How could a glatt kosher restaurant survive in a place like this? It’s not like the Bay Area is a bastion of religious observance.

I walked inside and got my answer.

There was the visitor from Los Angeles who said her son passed up going to Cal because kosher food was so hard to come by. There was the woman planning for observant houseguests from the East who will need places to eat. There was the father in an Orthodox family who kept thanking the owner for his restaurant’s presence.

The mashgiach, who oversees kosher practices in the kitchen, said it’s the only glatt kosher restaurant in the East Bay. He also said it wouldn’t survive on kosher eaters alone.

I have a feeling that a certain Holocaust survivor would have something to say about that. Lucky for me, the restaurant’s meat was served hot and without wrapping.

Jessica Ravitz completed her masters in journalism at UC Berkeley and currently is a staff writer at The Salt Lake Tribune. She can be reached at jessica_ravitz@yahoo.com.

Wonderousness of the First Time


A bar mitzvah is a time of becoming an adult. While my son was ready to proclaim, "Today I am a man," he also had to go through life with his voice changing and the wearing of braces for a perfect smile.

My first experience with this momentous occasion was after our son celebrated his first birthday. His grandfather, marveling at how bright he was, told everyone, "In 12 years we will have a bar mitzvah!"

It was an occasion he longed to see and, fortunately for all of us, he did.

As the years progressed, each year he would remind Bobby. Each time there were similar remarks followed by, "I know, Papa. Only six more years!"

While his grandfather often went over the prayers with him and his grandmother was in awe of how tall he was growing, my concerns were more about planning the event. We had been to a few bar mitzvahs during the year and everyone seemed to be similar. I guessed one copied another.

When the date was set, everything came into focus. He really will become a bar mitzvah. How exciting the whole year became. Bobby knew his prayers and haftarah very well. No one was concerned about that. He began to work on his sermon and master that, too.

Our synagogue does not allow music during Shabbat, so this had to be our plan: After Friday night services we had the regular pareve desserts — since most who keep kosher have a meat meal on Friday night and could not have dairy afterward — fresh fruits and lots of pick-up desserts, which worked very well.

We had invited my parents’ friends and my in-laws’ friends, plus all of our relatives. In addition, there were our friends, plus our children’s friends. We were hoping for 100, but stopped counting as the response cards surpassed that number.

Two days before, I followed Bobby and his Papa to shul, where my father bought Bobby a tallit. On the bimah, before his lesson was to start, I was fortunate to be able to take pictures of Daddy as he unfolded the tallit and showed Bobby how to say the prayer and wear it. Since we could not take photos on Shabbat, I instead look back on this time with fond memories.

Because we had hired a fabulous caterer, I was not worried. The florist was also terrific. Friday night came and went and we were very proud. We were to have a quiet Shabbat lunch after services and since we can play music after Shabbat ends, following the evening service there would be a big celebration.

Saturday morning is a long service. As we sat in the second row, always reserved for the family, we were so proud of our little man. He chanted with great confidence. The aliyot went by very well. When it was time for his haftarah, he started beautifully. Somewhere in the middle, he paused and cleared his throat.

While he seemed to be searching for the next note, I was worried because his wonderful teacher, our cantor, did not jump in to help. Finally, he cleared his throat again and continued without a hitch. I felt so bad for him. There was too much for him to do, I whispered to his dad. He reassured me that all would be fine.

The rest of the service was wonderful. Soon we were down in the sisterhood hall, enjoying the compliments from everyone on the services, and the beautifully served food. Some time later, I asked him if he hesitated because he was nervous or because he forgot the words.

Bobby laughed and leaned over.

"The reason I paused," he told me, "is because I swallowed one of my rubber bands. Darn braces!"


Joan G Friedman, lives in Reading, Penn., and can be reached at joan@friedman.net.

B’nai Mitzvah Planning Guide


At Birth

When the child is born, start saving! It’s not a bad idea to start two savings accounts; one for college and one for the bar or bat mitzvah.

One to three years ahead

  • Set the date.

  • Set a budget.

  • Reserve the synagogue.

  • Reserve the hall for additional receptions.

  • Arrange for caterer, party planner and band or DJ.

  • Buy a loose-leaf binder or start a filing system on index cards.

Ten to 12 months ahead

  • Begin b’nai mitzvah lessons.

  • (Continue to) attend weekly Shabbat services as a family.

  • Arrange for photographer and videographer.

  • Book hotel accommodations and investigate transportation for out-of-town guests.

Six months ahead

  • Plan colors and theme.

  • Arrange for florist and make guest list.

Four to five months ahead

  • Order invitations and thank-you notes, imprinted napkins and personalized party favors.

  • Shop for clothing and shoes.

  • Purchase a tallit and tefillin, if applicable.

  • Choose a calligrapher.

Three months ahead

  • Plan Sunday brunch, if applicable.

  • Order printed yarmulkes.

Two months ahead

  • Meet with photographer and videographer.

  • Meet with florist and/or decorations coordinator.

  • Mail out-of-town invitations.

Six weeks ahead

  • Order tuxedos.

  • Take care of clothing alterations.

  • Order wine for Kiddush.

  • Mail in-town invitations.

Four weeks ahead

  • Prepare speech.

  • Finalize reservations and transportation.

  • Meet with caterer.

  • Make welcome gifts for out-of-town guests.

  • Arrange aliyot.

  • Send honorary gift to synagogue.

  • Meet with rabbi.

  • Make seating charts for reception (and dinner).

Two weeks ahead

  • Give final count to caterer.

  • Check with florist.

  • Meet with rabbi.

  • Order cake, cookies and pastries for Friday night oneg Shabbat.

A few days ahead

  • Have rehearsal and take bimah photographs.

  • Make copies of speeches, room and table layouts, and give them to a friend to hold for you.

Special day

  • Enjoy your simcha!

Functional Seating to Avoid Teen Chaos


It had been perfectly planned. For my brother’s bar mitzvah reception, each member of our family was responsible for sitting with and entertaining a particular constituency. Eric had his friends and younger cousins. My parents had the adults. And I, the older sister, had everyone else.

That’s where the seating plans started to get a little complicated.

In the mania known as planning for a bar mitzvah party, no detail is too small, no nuance too insignificant to overlook. So, when my parents and I realized we had a minor ordeal at hand, we naturally begged the question: "How do we seat the older teens?"

The answer was not immediately apparent. Old enough to have finished their own treks on the bar mitzvah circuit, members of this group, comprising mostly cousins and family friends, might believe themselves too old for the kids’ table and probably would not be thrilled if seated with Mom and Dad and other adult guests.

For others now faced with the same conundrum my parents and I dealt with a year ago, I consulted with some party planning experts well-versed in the ways of the b’nai mitzvah seating arrangement.

I was hopeful that Lisa Iannuzzi, property sales leader of the Bethesda Marriott Suites, who’s "planned too many bar mitzvahs to count" would offer me a Ten Commandments of seating, some kind of seating doctrine those in her field follow religiously.

Much to my chagrin, no such thing exists, according to Iannuzzi, who says there "really are no set rules" for the hosts planning a seating arrangement. "It really just depends on what they feel will be most comfortable for the guests," she said.

That said, she does offer some advice.

Iannuzzi, with 22 years of hospitality experience, classifies b’nai mitzvah guests into four groups: kids, mitzvah kids, young adults and adults.

The mitzvah kids, who are the middle school and Hebrew school friends of the b’nai mitzvah, are typically seated at a U- or E-shaped table arrangement. Younger kids may or may not be seated with the mitzvah group, depending on their level of maturity, and those younger than 8 are often seated with their parents.

For young adults, a popular option for seating is a table near the mitzvah kids’ table and also in close proximity to the dance floor.

If there aren’t enough young adults attending to have a table solely for them, the host has a couple of options. The few young adults can be seated with their respective parents or seated together in a section of the mitzvah kids’ table. Iannuzzi generally advises against the later, however. "Most of the time, the young adults don’t want to sit with the mitzvah kids," she said.

The relationship of the young adults to the b’nai mitzvah can also factor in their seating, she noted. If there are only a handful of young adults, but most are cousins of the b’nai mitzvah, then a table for cousins, seating both kids and young adults, can be created.

Cara Weiss, owner and special event planner for Save the Date, a Potomac, Md., party-planning company, also had some seating advice when I spoke with her recently.

Weiss’ seven years of experience includes planning more than 200 events, of which most are b’nai mitzvah celebrations, including those where ‘NSYNC and Dave Matthews performed.

Like Iannuzzi, she notes that the kids’ table — "mitzvah kids" in her terminology — is usually a series of long tables in a geometric shape, although round tables for the kids are gaining popularity.

Also popular is the practice of using favors — chocolate bars, snow globes, etc. — as place markings for the kids. Young adults should get these as well, she advises, even if a young adult is seated with his parents.

Other than giving them favors, young adults should generally be treated like adults: adult meals, an adult round table, an adult centerpiece, she said.

If necessary, however, 14- and 15-year-old guests can probably be seated at the kids’ table without taking offense.

If unsure where to seat a specific young adult, Weiss said to keep this rule of thumb in mind: Adjustments in seating can usually be made at the party. "You want your guests to be comfortable," she said. "If they want to move, you move them."

An extra person or two can usually be seated at a round table if necessary, depending on the size of the chairs.

Above all, say Iannuzzi and Weiss, remember that a good seating plan is an important element in a successful party.

And even seating young adults is possible, with the right advice and some advance planning.

Thinking Ahead


My attorney, Irwin Goldring, is a wise man. Never pushy, never alarming. Fifty years in estate planning, you learn something about people.

"Hey, for me this is just a questionnaire," he tells me. "For you, it’s something more."

I’ll say. Irwin has sent me two legal forms stating when and who can act on my behalf, if need be. All I have to do is make choices, name names. I call these "thinking ahead" forms, a way of facing now what I might not later on. Five times he tells me, "May these forms never be needed."

Still, even hypothetically, it’s not so simple. How do I feel about life-sustaining technology? At what point, if ever, would food and water be a form of futile prolonging of life?

And what about hope? For loved ones, does it ever end? But would I want them to wait forever? Under what circumstances would I stop hoping to be "healed" and desire only kindness and care?

"I want to live my life with dignity and for my loved ones to have pleasant memories of my final days," reads the form called "advanced health care directive." Yes, indeed.

It’s not lung cancer, or at least not cancer alone, which gives these matters their urgency. It’s living. You’d think that as a middle-aged woman, I’d have faced it before: life’s a crapshoot. But reading Irwin’s forms, I try to imagine the potential decisions my legal designees might have to make on my behalf, and my heart is filled with gratitude, well in advance. May their judgment never be needed.

Can we talk about death? It sure is asking a lot. It’s easier to discuss sex, or money, or God — all famous sources of argument, disagreement and despair, but whose province lies squarely in life.

My husband, whose 15th yarhzeit I mark this week, denied the possibility of death, even from his hospital room. Never once uttered the word. Macho, maybe. Self-contained, perhaps. Fearful, certainly.

He continued to practice law from his bedside briefcase, between bouts of heart failure. He made out a will for his personal property. But he protested all the way. The subject was depressing, he said. It implied a lack of confidence in his immortality.

Now it’s my turn. My husband’s choice is not mine. I have my motives for talking about death here and now.

First, maybe I can be like the biblical Isaac, who grabs hold of his terrors of dying, prematurely blesses his sons and then lives a good, long time. Isaac knew that one way to get beyond anxiety is to deal with it.

Second, I want you, dear readers, to talk to each other about the Big D.

We are living in such a high-tech age, in which confusion over end-of-life issues grows by the day. Ignoring the challenge does not help. Yet vulnerability keeps us silent. Facing end-of-life issues, we know exactly how little we know.

These forms are important insurance against fate. The ancients feared death, as the Psalmist writes, "on that day his plans come to nothing." But we moderns rightly fear death in the midst of life. We cannot solve this by denial, and must be ready with surrogates to protect us against life on a tube.

For Jews across the denominational spectrum, the spiritual challenge can become intense. What is God’s will? Have I a right to prolong or shorten life by providing an antibiotic or refusing a respirator? Where there is no right and wrong, an open heart and clear thinking can go a long way.

I am sitting in the park with my friend, Dr. Ken Leeds. For 10 years, Leeds was on a Cedars-Sinai bioethics committee, applying Jewish values to end-of-life issues.

"Where things go wrong," Leeds tells me, "is when people don’t talk to each other. If there’s a disagreement in understanding what the patient wants, it leads to trouble." In the absence of agreement, the doctor is often put in the middle, opting to maintain life against the patient’s desire. It can turn ugly.

None of us should be alone in these difficult decisions. End the death taboo. Do not expect to have all the answers at once, but do get started. Get your forms in order. Talk to a rabbi. Talk to your children. Start the conversation. Discussion brings light.

And may your plans, once resolved, never be needed.