Gifts for the wedding party


Show your appreciation for members of the wedding party by giving them a token of your love and friendship. Whether it’s matching ties for all the groomsmen or rhinestone rings for the bridesmaids, small gifts are the perfect reminder of how they helped you celebrate your special day.

For bridesmaids:

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For groomsmen:

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An American wedding in Israel


In my excitement about getting engaged this past October, I printed out a monstrous wedding planning checklist, which detailed exactly what I should be doing and when — from nine months to the day of my wedding.

But as I read down the four-page list, the anxiety started to mount — many of the prescribed to-dos couldn’t be done because we’re getting married in Israel.

Under “Nine Months Prior to the Wedding,” the list included a reminder to make arrangements at local hotels for out-of-town guests. Except that in our case, the only out-of-towners are pretty much me, my fiance and my parents.

Israeli weddings, as I quickly discovered, are very different from American weddings. And planning the big day from a distance of 7,500 miles and 20 years — I moved to Los Angeles when I was six years old — has proved to be no small ke’ev rosh (headache).

The difficulties became apparent early on in the list. The fifth item on the wedding checklist, under “When you get engaged,” was “develop your budget.” Pretty basic. We’re calculating our budget in increasingly worthless dollars, but paying in shekels. As the dollar keeps plummeting on the world market, the price of each meal at our wedding, fixed in shekels, keeps rising. How many brides have to design wedding invitations while keeping their eye on the value of the dollar?!

Maybe the U.S. economy will perk up by September. Perhaps Americans will feel invigorated by the prospect of a new president as elections near. We can hope.

After the budget, we’re supposed to decide on the maid of honor, bridesmaids, best man, groomsmen, flower girl and ring bearer.

Israelis, who are much less ceremonial, don’t have all these fancy designations.

“People won’t understand why your American friends are all wearing the same dress,” my future mother-in-law informed me.

I didn’t care. Let them wonder, I thought. It’ll be a lesson in American culture. Besides, I grew up watching “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and “Father of the Bride,” and I always imagined my closest girlfriends in green bridesmaid dresses.

My fiance, David, cheerfully agreed to designate groomsmen to accompany my green-clad friends down the aisle (another ceremonial tradition not done in Israel — there, only the bride and groom walk down the aisle). However, despite showing them how lovely matching bridesmaids and groomsmen look on David’s Bridals’ Web site, we could not convince his three brothers to wear matching suits.

“No way!” his younger brother cried in protest. “I don’t want to look like everyone else. That’s embarrassing.”

We’re working on getting them to wear matching shirts at least. And only for the ceremony. Ties were out of the question. Israelis don’t do ties, even at the most formal occasions. It’s not unusual for them to show up to weddings in jeans. Seriously.

At the nine-month marker, which came and went long ago, we were supposed to finalize the guest list with addresses. Another huge challenge. With an estimated guest list of 500 — and that’s after David’s parents begrudgingly whittled down the list — the preferred method of disseminating invitations in Israel is by good old-fashioned hand delivery. No meticulous Excel spreadsheets for this wedding — which kind of saves us the time and trouble of gathering addresses — but it also makes it impossible to keep track of who received invitations. Boxes of the lacy crème-colored cards are sitting in Holon right now waiting to be distributed to a handful of designated deliverers on each side of our families. It’s the Israeli camel express.

Something, however, is missing from those smooth stamp-less envelopes: R.S.V.P. cards. That’s right. Israelis don’t R.S.V.P.

How do you know who’s coming? And how do you seat everyone?

Perplexed, I asked my fiance the same questions.

You don’t, was his blunt answer.

Before I could descend into panic, David assured me that there is a workable alternative in place in Israel. If 500 guests were invited, then it’s safe to assume that around 450 people will attend, so you pay for 450 place settings, and have 50 on reserve in case more people show up. If the tables on reserve fill up, you pay for them. If not, you don’t.

Oh, and to make sure all the paid-for tables are filled before anyone dares sit at the non-paid-for tables, you station a few forceful aunts at the door to corral people into empty seats. Sababa (great).

Six months prior to the wedding (back in April), we were supposed to look into marriage license requirements. Israel does not recognize marriages unless they are performed by certified Orthodox rabbis and according to the standards of the Rabbinate, so we went to the central religious authority while we were in Israel in March for my sister’s wedding. After hours of waiting in line, we were given a list of errands to run before we could even start a file at the Rabbinate. Three months later, we’re still struggling to figure out how and what we need to do. I’m so frazzled by it that I don’t even want to go into details.

Skip to four months before the wedding, which is right about now: update budget. Hmmm, let’s see where the dollar is today.

Next, confirm transportation for wedding day. Limousines are unheard of in Israel, so we’ll just have to decorate a nice sedan with big bows. Hopefully we can get a rental car without scratches. Car rental companies in Israel don’t charge customers for scratches because it’s nearly impossible to keep a car pristine on Israel’s crazed roads.

Make appointment with florist to finalize centerpieces — flowers are so ridiculously expensive and the variety so limited in Israel that centerpieces tend to be creative alternatives: candles, bamboo shoots, fake tree branches, lamps. The only thing blooming at our wedding will be my (modest) bouquet.

Make appointment with photographer/videographer to go over everything — considering we’re thousands of miles away, the only meeting we’ll be having with our moment-capturing crew will be 14 days before the wedding, when we arrive in Israel. The same week we’ll be going over the playlist with the DJ, taste-testing our menu, picking out wedding rings, meeting our officiant, visiting family, waiting in line at the Rabbinate, choosing a bouquet, doing a test run of my hair and makeup, picking up my bridesmaids from the airport and wishing the whole damn thing were over already!

In Sickness and in Taffeta


As a woman prepares to say "I do," her friends prepare to stand by her side in purple puffy dresses and lavender dyed shoes. In sickness and in health, in velour and in taffeta, in chartreuse and in lemon. As her bridesmaids, they will participate in a tradition that may be as old as Judaism itself.

There are several theories behind the inclusion of bridesmaids in a Jewish wedding ceremony. According to halacha, the ketubah must be signed by two witnesses, both observant males over the age of 13 who are unrelated to the couple. These witnesses, often close friends of the groom, may then go on to act as groomsmen during the wedding ceremony. In time, women also brought their own attendants, or bridesmaids, to stand by their side under the chuppah. In today’s more liberal weddings, bridesmaids may also act as official witnesses.

It is also believed the angels Michael and Gabriel attended the wedding of Adam and Eve as royal escorts or shoshvinim. In that tradition, a bride and groom each choose two shoshvinim to act as their left and right hands during the wedding ceremony and throughout their marriage. Today, bridesmaids carry on that shoshvinim tradition, spiritually and emotionally escorting the bride through every stage of the wedding process.

A bride looks to her right-hand woman often during the prewedding months.

"My bridesmaid, Morgan, was so thoughtful and so selfless and really put herself out," said newlywed Rachel Hoisman, who married husband, Danny, on Aug. 26 at Sephardic Temple Tiffereth Israel. "She really took the time to think about what I was going through during all the planning."

Tovah Reiss, who will marry fiancé Scott Kramer on Nov. 22, found her eight bridesmaids to be invaluable during her engagement.

"They threw me the most wonderful shower and bachelorette party, all of my out-of-town bridesmaids flew to L.A. to help out at least once this year," she said, "and they just keep calling to check in and ask what they can do."

Reiss’ sister-in-law designed the shawls the bridesmaids will wear under the chuppah next week, and along with Reiss’ sister, designed Kramer and Reiss’ ketubah.

"With everything my bridesmaids have done for me, I can honestly say I feel like I have been treated like a queen," Reiss said.

As she should be. Jewish tradition likens the bride and groom to a king and queen, and it is both an honor and an obligation to treat the couple like royalty. During the kabbalat panim, or precermony reception, the bride is seated in a "throne," surrounded by her bridesmaids, as the guests greet her with praise. During the ceremony, the procession of identically dressed women who precede the bride down the aisle is reminiscent of a royal entourage arriving ahead of their royalty’s grand entrance. During the reception, the bridesmaids are called upon like court jesters to entertain the newlyweds. According to the Talmud, whoever gladdens the chatan (groom) and kallah (bride) is "as if he rebuilt one of the ruins of Jerusalem." At many Orthodox wedding parties, bridesmaids bring "shtick" like elaborate masks and flower leis; they perform songs, jokes, skits and even magic tricks. Some bridesmaids fulfill this mitzvah by simply ensuring that the bride is having fun.

"My bridesmaids came up and danced for me, and with me," said Hoisman, 33, whose Orthodox wedding entailed separate gender dancing. "All the dancing and celebrating with my friends — it was really great."

While the bridesmaids try to treat their bride like a queen, today’s brides try to treat their friends like more than ladies-in-waiting.

"I want to avoid being Bridezilla," said Marni Feenberg, who will be wed at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills in June. "I asked my friends to be my bridesmaids because I want them next to me, that’s what’s important."

According to Bridesmaid101.Com, bridesmaids’ duties have grown to include scouting wedding locations, addressing invitations, ordering favors, shopping for the wedding dress, planning a bridal shower and a bachelorette party. On the wedding day, the bridesmaids should assist the bride with her dress, makeup and hair, seat guests, provide moral support and bring an emergency kit with bobby pins, contact solution and needles and thread. But calendar and financial challenges have led women to scale back on these nuptial demands.

"Once upon a time, bridesmaids did bring the emergency bobby pins, they were involved in all the planning, but today women are really busy with their own jobs and lives, so you just hope they remember to show up at the rehearsal," said Hollywood Hills resident Hoisman, whose six bridesmaids helped with a bachelorette party, but not with picking flowers, selecting a wedding dress or making party favors.

Being a bridesmaid often comes with a hefty price tag. Showers and bachelorette parties, shower gifts and wedding gifts, travel, hotel, dress, shoes, makeup and hair sessions — being a bridesmaid is a costly commitment. To help lower the costs, brides are starting to ease their bridesmaid expectations.

The attendants may still appear like a matching royal entourage, but their dresses are both affordable and practical. Hoisman’s bridesmaids wore Nicole Miller blush pink silk skirts and cream-colored twin sets.

"After the wedding, the girls could shorten the skirt and wear it to a cocktail party or even shul," said Hoisman, who owns her own real estate development company.

Reiss’ bridesmaids bought matching dresses, but could select their own shoes.

"They all have different money situations. One of my friends will probably buy a $500 pair of Jimmy Choos while another will spend less than $50," said Reiss, 24, who hired two Mac makeup artists to work with the women on the wedding day. "They can wear their hair however they want and their makeup is my treat," Reiss said.

Feenberg, a manager with Fox Music, decided to give her five bridesmaids an even bigger break.

"My bridesmaids can pick their own dresses, it can be something they have in their closet or something new, as long as it’s long and black," said Feenberg, a Woodland Hills resident. "After being a bridesmaid four times and buying dresses I’ll never wear again, I didn’t want my friends to have to bear that same kind of expense."

In fact, these brides are the ones spending money. As a token of their appreciation for their friends’ support, both Reiss and Hoisman bought their bridesmaids jewelry. Hoisman’s bridesmaids received tourmaline stud earrings from Saks Fifth Avenue, and Reiss’ will receive sterling silver necklaces from Tiffany’s. So the brides are now giving their bridesmaids the royal treatment.

And so it seems the Jewish bridesmaid is becoming less about tasks, duties and matching nail polish and more about friendship. These brides truly appreciate the friends who stand by their side, not just at a shower, during a dress fitting or under the chuppah, but at all times.

"All of my bridesmaids are very special people in my life, and it was important to have them as a part of my wedding," Hoisman said.

Like Michael and Gabriel, Reiss’ bridesmaids are her cherished royal escorts.

"My bridesmaids are my closest, nearest and dearest best friends," said Reiss, who is the first of her friends to get married. "They’re my college roommates, my oldest childhood friend, my overnight-camp friend, my sister and my sister-in-law. And I couldn’t imagine them not being there every step of the way."

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