Snail mail or e-mail: How will your next invitation be sent?

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

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

Today, however, a rising trend in simcha invites may be changing the run to the mailbox into a dash for the e-mail inbox and the card stock mementos into computer printouts.

No longer for holiday parties and happy hours only, electronic invitations are becoming an acceptable way for some to announce major lifecycle events, including b’nai mitzvah celebrations and weddings.

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

With more than 200 invitations to send, the couple didn’t want to sacrifice style for haste.

Paperless Post, a Web site launched by a 20-something brother-and-sister team in 2008, was the perfect answer, said Horowitz, 41.

“The wedding was very much planned last minute, but we still wanted to give guests 30 days to RSVP,” he said. Horowitz added that using electronic invitations “saved money and it’s environmentally friendly.”

Paperless Post invitations are sent by e-mail (or through a social networking site such as Facebook or Twitter) with an image of an envelope appearing on screen. The guest’s name can be written on the outside of the envelope in a typeset of your choice, and the inside can include a lining to give the computer image a paper look.

The invitation itself can be designed with the assistance of graphic designers or selected from existing templates.

Having received similar invitations from friends for less-formal occasions, Horowitz said, “I loved the concept and thought the aesthetics were much better than Evite.”

Unlike Evite, Paperless Post invitations are not free, but there are also no pop-up ads. 

Margery Klausner, an attorney in Southfield, Mich., used an electronic invitation as a follow-up to the paper invitation for her son Nathan’s June bar mitzvah. Klausner, 41, used the image of the paper invitation for the electronic version.

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

Dealing with different postage rates and delivery time, she said, was another factor in opting for an electronic invitation.

One of the main advantages to using the electronic invitations was the quick arrival of the responses, Klausner said.

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

“It was beyond awesome,” she said. “It’s really impressive.”

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

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

She said that of the dozen or so weddings and b’nai mitzvah celebrations she plans for clients each year, “not one” has opted for an electronic invitation.

For Melissa Kanter, 49, the paper invitations for the December b’not mitzvah of her twin daughters, Emily and Rachel, will “set the tone for the affair.”

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

The invitation will reflect the personalities of her daughters, said Kanter, who worked with a graphic designer. 

The RSVPs will be with a response card — not directed to an e-mail address — and she’ll create a special postage stamp for the invitations and cards. 

After the affair, the invitation will be framed in a shadow box and used to make gifts for the girls — jewelry boxes and pillows.

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

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

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

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

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

With a guest list of more than 1,500, Rabbi Batya Steinlauf, 48, also went the electronic route for son Noah’s bar mitzvah last December after it was suggested by another mother.

“It was brilliant and made it possible,” said Steinlauf, whose husband, Gil, is the rabbi at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington.

The entire congregation was invited to the bar mitzvah and subsequent Kiddush lunch. 

The Steinlaufs also went the electronic route for a separate Friday-night dinner for family members and a party on Saturday evening for children.

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

What happens to a Hebrew-School dropout?

My 11-year-old son, Ari, is now a Hebrew-school dropout.

I am aware that that’s the name of a comedy act and a line of T-shirts. But, for me, the phrase is not a punch line, but a punch in the gut.

I imagine my response was just like parents whose kids drop out of high school: disbelief, sadness and helplessness followed quickly by a healthy dose of Jewish guilt. “Where did I go wrong?” “What did I do to cause him to reject my contribution to his heritage?”

I realize the situations aren’t exactly comparable. My son, Ari, won’t face difficulties getting into college or landing a good job—at least as a result of this decision. He won’t be walking the streets of New York stopping strangers and saying, “Dude, can you spare a kippah so I can cover my head in synagogue?” On the flip side, there’s no GED equivalent for the bar mitzvah (though an adult bar mitzvah is an option).

My goals for the after-school Hebrew-school program were modest: I knew he wouldn’t become a Judaic scholar, conversant in Jewish history or fluent in Hebrew. I just hoped he’d have fun being Jewish, make a couple of friends in the tribe, and possibly gain enough of a sense of Judaism that he could accept it—or reject it—with some knowledge base.

I suppose I could force Ari to go to Hebrew school. But I worry that it would backfire, that he would end up resenting his Jewish heritage.

When I was growing up, my household changed when my mother married her second husband. My mother was agnostic, her new hubby Orthodox, which made for an interesting combination. The family that had been only loosely affiliated with Judaism started to keep kosher and attend synagogue weekly. And my sister and I ended up at a Jewish high school. I felt like I was being force-fed Judaism as a result of my mother’s second marriage—and it gave me heartburn.

Of course, the effort backfired the minute I moved out of my mother’s house. While I retained a strong sense of Jewish identity, you would never know it if you watched my behavior when I was in college and my early 20s. I avoided synagogue and any Jewish event where my grandparents weren’t in attendance. I ate on Yom Kippur, a traditional fast day, and enjoyed sandwiches during Passover, the week when most Jews eschew leavening. In my late 20s, I married a non-Jew and did not ask him to even consider converting. Although I did warn him that any kids I might have—purely theoretical, mind you—would be Jewish.

My sister has stayed away from all things Jewish. To the best of my knowledge, she hasn’t set foot in a synagogue in the past decade, aside from my daughter’s bat mitzvah. This year, when I invited her to our very low-key seder, she told me it was “too Jewish” for her and her non-Jewish husband.

Eventually, in my 30s, I came back to the fold, drop by drop. I added elements as the whim struck, taking a deli-line approach; I picked what was fun or meaningful. I ventured back to synagogue on the High Holy Days, then branched into very occasional Friday night services. My then-husband and I took a trip to Israel and upon our return, he began—of his own accord—the process of converting to Judaism. And once we had children, the process accelerated. The kids thought challah was yummy, so we started to eat it every Friday night. I liked the notion of celebrating freedom, so we had seders at Passover. Of course, we did it in our own style, sitting on the living room floor with bowls of leavening-free chili in our laps. 

Then my daughter, who has always identified herself strongly as Jewish, learned the Sabbath prayers at Tot Shabbat and asked that we say them—and provide grape juice—every Friday night. She’s still at it—and now lights the candles for Ari and me every Friday night.

Do I worry too much about Ari and Hebrew school? My daughter says yes; it is his life, she avers. I don’t disagree. It is his life—but I am his mom.

I want to send him into the world with a well-stocked box of life tools. That includes certain skills, such as the ability to tie shoes, use a pair of scissors, design and prepare an assortment of nutritious meals, balance a checkbook and, these days, safely traverse the Internet. It includes some basic habits, such as twice-daily tooth brushing, regular use of “please” and “thank you,” and proper tipping. I also want my children, my son, to have certain psychological tools, such as confidence, hobbies, a sense of humor, an ability to find joy in life—and a sense of who he is and where he comes from. I worry that Ari won’t have a clear sense of who he is and where he comes from as a Jew. It’s as though he’s missing the Phillips-head screwdriver in his toolbox.

What we do, the little steps that we take—or don’t take—every day contribute to our identity. Is Ari denying who he is? After all, renouncing religions is much simpler than “passing” for a different race; it is eminently doable and sadly common.

I’m not giving up on Ari. He will continue to have challah and grape juice every Friday night—and to watch his older sister light the candles. He will continue to celebrate freedom on Passover, throw sponges at the rabbi at the Purim carnival and seek forgiveness around the High Holy Days.

I know my kids are getting mixed messages about being Jewish since their father and I divorced. In my home, we celebrate the holidays, march in the Israel Day parade and generally identify ourselves as Hebes.

My kids say that they are often asked, “Are you half-Jewish?” I know that choosing Judaism means, at least to some extent, picking Mom over Dad—a position neither child (nor I, on most days) relishes.

Judaism is a journey, and everyone takes an individual path. My daughter is taking what seems like a pretty straight line thus far, sticking to the major highways. I took my own spiral approach to identifying as a Jew, pulling away and then cycling back. And Ari will take his own path, though I do worry that he’s wandered off into a field for a nap.

The good news is that he asked to attend the synagogue’s Purim carnival this year—and then put in a plug for a chocolate seder, negotiating the details with his acne-phobic older sister. I am hopeful that this means Ari will wake up from his Hebrew-school nap, grab his well-stocked toolbox, and make a life for himself that includes the joy and pride of being Jewish.

Beth Leibson is a New York-based writer and editor, and author of the book “I’m Too Young to Have Breast Cancer” (Lifeline, 2004).

For the Kids

Sukkot is a holiday when we are commanded to be happy. We feel cleansed and joyful after Yom Kippur is over and now it is time to party!

Here is a tasty sukkah.

You will need:

1. 3 halves of Graham Crackers

(two pieces broken into halves).

2. Smooth/Creamy peanut butter.

3. Small thin pretzel sticks.

4. Fruit-shaped cereal or candy.

5. Popsicle stick/plastic knife (optional)

Paper or foam plate to build on.


Build a three-sided sukkah by “gluing” the edges of three graham crackers together with peanut butter. The crackers should be in a “U” shape. Make sure they are at a 90-degree angle from each other.

Dip fruit-shaped cereal in the peanut butter and gently stick onto inside and outside walls.

Make a roof by spreading peanut butter on the pretzels, laying them across the crackers and then sticking cereal on top of the pretzels.

The Sukkot Quiz

1. A sukkah is

a. A strong house

b. A temporary dwelling

c. Russian for “sugar”

2. For a sukkah roof, we use

a. Transparent plastic sheeting

b. Wooden shingles

c. Branches

3. We make sure there are gaps

in the sukkah roof

a. So that we can see the stars

b. Because it is less expensive

c. To keep it cool inside the sukkah

4. The fruit included in the

four species is:

a. Watermelon

b. Etrog

c. Lemon

Send your answers in for your Baskin-Robbins gift certificate!

Around the Orange

It’s a couple of hours before the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) quarterly Orange County Jewish-Latino roundtable group and Joyce Greenspan is worried.

“I don’t have a clue what’s going to happen tonight,” says the ADL’s Orange County director. “Usually, we have a dinner, but it’s a different format this time. I’m just afraid that not many people will show up.”

Her fears are unfounded; by the time the roundtable’s scheduled 6:30 p.m. start time rolls around, the Santa Ana Police Department’s Community Room is teeming with talk of Mexico and Israel by members of Orange County’s Latino and Jewish communities. Some of the people present belong to civic organizations like the League of United Latin American Citizens and the American Jewish Committee; others are citizens eager to learn more about each other’s culture. Conversations about the Sephardic heritage of Mexico (both old and new) serve as starting points for conversations among former strangers. One man tells Johanna Rose that a Latino friend of his recently married a Jewish woman. “I bet you the reception lasted forever,” says Rose with a laugh. “Both of those cultures know how to party!”

Once the evening’s program begins, though, the pleasantries quickly fade. A representative of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee presents a video called, “Arafat: In His Own Words.”

The formerly friendly banter turns into tense conversation, with the Jewish members of the roundtable adamantly maintaining that Arafat has no credibility, while Latino participants ask who could possibly represent the Palestinian people besides Arafat.

To an outsider, the heated arguments would appear to be further proof of a growing animosity between the communities, except that by the end of the discussion, nearly everyone is on a first-name basis, and afterward, they go back to the casual banter.

Such is the purpose of the roundtable, says Greenspan, who has moderated the roundtables since their inception six years ago. “Our roundtable is a great opportunity for Jews and Latinos in Orange County to inform each other of problems that each face in a friendly environment, where issues that might be uncomfortable to speak about in public can be discussed openly,” she says.

“This didn’t happen after one meeting. It’s like any good relationship; it grew slowly and deeply,” she adds.

The Jewish-Latino roundtable originated as a joint effort of the ADL and Los Amigos of Orange County (a Latino grass-roots organization) so that the communities could better understand each other. Polarizing issues pertinent to both communities, such as immigration and the Middle East have been discussed over the years with no bitterness other than lively disputes. The roundtable also serves as a focal point for both communities to better understand each other’s culture.

“I remember one time I went to a Los Amigos meeting to invite them to a Jewish-Latino Passover seder event,” Greenspan says, “and I was surprised when someone asked, ‘What’s a seder?’ Now many Latinos and Jews know about it and want to participate largely because of the roundtable.”

But the Jewish-Latino roundtable is not just a sharing of food and debate; action is an integral part of the group. When the Anaheim Union High School District tried to sue Mexico for $50 million in 1999 for the cost of educating the children of illegal immigrants, Latino leaders enlisted the help of the ADL, which immediately came out against the proposal as tantamount to a legislative hate crime.

Similarly, the Latino participants of the roundtable wrote many letters of condolence and support to the victims of the Northridge JCC tragedy that same year.

Such mutual support is important to people like Eleazar Elizondo, a Santa Ana resident who “came on my own as a civic-minded person.” Elizondo notes that meetings like these are important for both communities, especially as they begin to assert themselves in the traditionally conservative and white county.

“The Jewish community in Orange County has largely been transparent, while the Latinos have yet to truly find their voice,” Elizondo says. “Meetings like this bode well for the future of the county. Diversity of both thought and culture is good for all of us.”

Bridging both communities is Bruno Ledwin, an Argentine Jew who lives in Dana Point. Ledwin — whose calm comments served as a respite from the sometime rancorous dialogue — feels an extra urgency to see that events like these continue. “Belonging to both cultures, it’s especially important to me that both communities communicate,” he says. Echoing Elizondo’s thoughts, Ledwin also views such events as a common ground from which both groups can further assert themselves in Orange County. “Jews and Latinos have great qualities from which both can learn from each other. We’re two very important communities in the county.”