Tzipi Polisar and her husband Matan Ziv decided to throw a frugal wedding to spare their guests the feeling they had to pay for their place settings, which is a common practice in Israel.

The rich rewards of frugal weddings

Tzipi Polisar and her husband could have held their wedding in an upscale wedding hall with catered food, but, like a growing number of young Israelis getting married for the first time, they opted instead for a frugal wedding.

“It was very important to us that our friends come to the wedding and enjoy themselves,” Polisar said, explaining that in Israel many couples use the money they receive as wedding gifts to pay for the event, and that guests feel obliged to cover the cost of their place setting.

“A lot of my friends are students,” said Polisar, who is in her 20s. “Every time they get invited to a wedding, they’re not excited because they know it will be expensive, and the closer a guest is to the bride and groom, the bigger the check. We wanted a celebration our friends and family would be happy attending.”

In contrast to the early decades of Israeli statehood, when food rationing and a socialist ethos meant that most weddings were very modest by Western standards, Israel’s higher standard of living, coupled with globalization, have spurred this generation of Israeli couples to throw much more sophisticated, formal weddings that typically start at $25,000 to $30,000 — a lot of money on an Israeli salary — and sometimes many times that amount.

Israeli weddings have become so expensive that various Hasidic sects have issued strict guidelines for the maximum amount a couple’s parents should spend on everything from the matchmaker to the band.

Now, a growing number of mainstream Israeli couples, like Polisar and her husband, Matan Ziv, are coming up with their own ways to throw a beautiful wedding on a very limited budget. 

In Polisar’s case, the bride told her guests there was no need to bring a gift but asked them to bring some food to the event. “It was a potluck wedding. Almost every one of our 180 guests brought food!” she said. “It was amazing.”

Ronit Peskin, administrator of the Frugal Israel Facebook group, noted that there always has been a “small minority” of couples who made less-expensive weddings than their peers. Now, however, “they’re more outspoken about it. My feeling is the more people talk about their affordable weddings, the more trendy it gets.”

Peskin said many couples, and especially those from English-speaking homes in Israel, want to celebrate the values they live by every day: “Frugality is green. It represents lack of wastefulness. Even those who can afford more may choose to spend less, for a variety of reasons.”

Polisar was able to save money by renting out a very basic event venue in her mother-in-law’s community. Her father-in-law, a rabbi, performed the wedding, her sisters made the desserts and a relative bought flowers from a florist and arranged the flowers herself.

Noa Hazony and her husband, Shimmy, also in their 20s, organized a potluck wedding on a synagogue balcony in a West Bank settlement, where events tend to be considerably less expensive. The balcony provided a stunning view of the desert. 

Like Polisar, Hazony said she has “a lot” of friends who question whether to go to weddings due to the associated costs. “I didn’t want my friends to think twice before coming. I made it very clear that I didn’t expect gifts,” she said. 

Hazony rented her wedding dress from a wedding gemach (a place that lends wedding gowns cheaply) and her mother’s friend, a seamstress, provided the tailoring as a wedding gift. Rather than buy flowers, the couple used potted plants they grew from seeds as centerpieces; a professional photographer who knew the couple photographed the ceremony as a wedding gift. The couple sent out invitations by e-mail.

“Music was the one thing we really wanted, so we hired a band for the [ceremony] and a DJ for the reception,” Hazony said. “We hired a wedding planner because arranging a pot luck wedding is a bit more complicated than a catered one.”

Hazony estimates she and Shimmy spent less than $8,000 for everything related to their nuptials.

Malki Ehrlich and her husband, Dan, said they “wanted a wedding we could easily afford to pay out of pocket because I can’t stand the crowd-funding wedding mentality in Israel, where you rely on your friends and family” to pay for the wedding costs.

Ehrlich, in her 30s, invited 70 guests, including children, to her wedding by the Mediterranean Sea.

“I wanted to get married next to the beach, so I approached a few restaurants and asked how much they would charge to rent out their place on a Friday afternoon. The place we chose was in Netanya. It was a beautiful venue and location.”

The summertime ceremony was held at noon and everyone went home by 5 p.m., in time for Shabbat.

Although Erlich kept the flowers to a minimum — with a view of the sea they seemed gratuitous — she  paid a chamber group to perform. She paid about $200 at a fancy dress shop for a $2,500 wedding dress that was custom-made for another bride who never wore it. Including her dress, Ehrlich’s wedding cost about $4,200.

Polisar, who is one of six children, and her husband, who is one of seven, said she is happy she chose to have a “community wedding.”

“We have other siblings who want to get married and didn’t like the idea of spending a fortune on only one day. Both our parents had the money to spend on a fancier wedding if we wanted one, but it was more important for us to save up to buy a home. It was definitely the right decision,” Polisar said. n

DIY chuppah: How to build your own in four easy steps

When you’re getting married, expenses add up quickly, and one expense that can be pretty hefty is the chuppah rental. Many venues don’t even offer a chuppah for rent, so you have to commission a florist or wedding planner to create one for you — which is even more expensive. 

But there’s good news: You can save money by building your own chuppah. The individual elements are very affordable, and it can be assembled in a matter of minutes. I’ve made this freestanding DIY chuppah for several wedding clients, and it’s easily customizable with flowers to accommodate your budget 

So, if you have the option to make it yourself, say, “I do.”

What you’ll need:

– 4 patio umbrella stands
– 4 wooden closet rods, 6 or 8 feet in length
– 4 small eye screws
– Piece of lace, 5 feet by 2 yards
– 4 sheer curtain panels
– White ribbon

1. Start with the base

2. Place the closet rods in the stands

3. Attach the canopy

4. Cover the posts

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With dresses and more, gemachs lend a hand in keeping down costs

The average wedding in America today costs more than $26,000, according to the website ” target=”_blank”> and search for “gemach.”

What’s in for weddings in 2017: A look at the trends coming down the aisle

Certain things never go out of style when it comes to weddings: the ring exchange, the Champagne toast, the first dance. But as in fashion, there are trends  that come and go.

We asked a dozen Los Angeles-based wedding planners and coordinators to look into their crystal balls and tell us what will be hot in 2017, from dress design to dessert. Here are some of their forecasts:


Wedding gowns will be a little more streamlined. That said, bows are back in gowns with a big, beautiful bow right on the derriere. Plunging necklines and backs are in. And some brides are departing from traditional white gowns and opting for blush colors or blues. 

Jackie Dumouchel Combs, Lotus & Lily


For more upscale invitations, debossing stands out — for example, debossed roses on white or cream cardstock. The effect is akin to sculpted paper. Other au courant choices: printed or etched Lucite (typically square or rectangular panels of clear or frosted Lucite) and, in keeping with the vogue for all things metallic, mirrored silver or gold acrylic invitations. 

Paula Gild Stern, Gilded Events

Wedding Party

Many weddings no longer include bridesmaids or groomsmen. When they do, strict rules no longer are enforced. Women are making their best guy friend their “bridesman.” Grooms are having their sister be their  “best woman.”

 — Lauryl Lane, Lauryl Lane Botanicals


Flower walls will continue to be in demand. Those are generally 8-by-10-foot hangings composed of hundreds of fresh blooms — though paper flowers are a modern alternative. They make a great backdrop for photos, especially for social media posts. Sometimes a sofa will be set in front of a flower wall so eight or 10 people can be in a shot with a beautiful background.   

— Jonathan Reeves, International Event Co.

People are going back to a woodsy feeling. Think wildflowers and moss, and birch-wrapped containers or natural wood or cork containers. Some couples are opting not to use cut flowers at all, preferring greener elements. Alternatives include succulents or fresh herbs (avoiding those with strong scents). The effect can still be romantic and interesting, especially if you add votive candles.

 — Randy Fuhrman, Randy Fuhrman Events


Some color schemes are moving darker. Think Dutch masters-inspired palettes like deep emerald and burgundy, or even black linens on tables. Also, mixed metals are happening right now — typically gold, but also silver, copper, rose gold and pewter for floral vessels, chargers, flatware, candle holders and place settings. This is best introduced in little touches. Otherwise, it can feel ostentatious. 

— Lauryl Lane

Gone are the days of a roomful of identical round tables. Instead, people are choosing a variety of table shapes, chairs and benches for a more interesting look.  Some couples are even using bar-height pub tables with stools. Those appeal to a younger generation and represent a move away from formality. 

— Sara Holland and Jenny Goodman, At Your Door Events

Personalization is in. A monogram of the bride and groom’s names in a beautiful font on the invitation will also be picked up throughout the party, on cocktail napkins and menus, for example, or an appliqué on the dance floor.  

— Jonathan Reeves


People want to express their love for their guests through food, so they are seeking out caterers who can deliver delicious “farm-to-table” cuisine. Often they are having it served family-style, which brings together people and encourages conversation. Hotels and ballrooms tend not to do family-style, but people are seeking out alternative places to get married, such as private homes, bars, even old barns. Then you can easily break away from the plated dinner. 

— Ashley Bryan, Mein Schatz Events


Drone video and photography will be in demand, especially for outdoor weddings, whether beachside, mountaintop or resort. Couples want to capture the drama of the setting. They want those swooping aerial shots incorporated into their wedding video. 

— Katherine Dimas, Promise Events

Clever hashtags are the rage to share photos on social media. Often, they are a play on the couple’s names with some other matrimonial word. The hashtag also can be printed on the wedding program and featured on custom signage, sometimes done by hand by a calligrapher.  

— Lauryl Lane 

Because couples want to spend more time with their guests, many are scheduling “first-look pictures” in advance of the ceremony. So instead of the couple seeing each other for the first time when walking down the aisle, they will do a session with the photographer before the guests arrive. 

— Sara Holland and Jenny Goodman


Different is in. People want to push boundaries and integrate their personalities and pasts into the celebration. One couple who loved musicals, for example, turned their vows into a musical number. Another couple very involved in their tango community is planning an Argentine tango-themed celebration. 

— Amy Greenberg, Amy Greenberg Events


Dessert stations, in addition to the wedding cake, are more appealing than plated desserts. They can offer interactive treats like chocolate bark or peanut brittle broken with a hammer by a server in front of the guests. Persian tea stations with fresh and dried fruits, nuts and pastries are also big. 

Serena Apfel, Let’s Party Events by Serena Apfel

A Jewish wedding, Indian-style

Cranberry-brown lines swirled around my hands and feet, my beloved’s name hidden discreetly in the henna tattooed on my finger. Exhausted, but not ready to sleep, I hugged my new husband close and marveled at what brought me to Mumbai to be married.

It all began at a Shabbat potluck dinner in Los Angeles, where I met my first Indian Jew, one of only 5,000 from Mumbai and part of the Bene Israel community of Jews. Two years and countless adventures later, Norman proposed and I said, “Yes.”

“Can’t we go to Vegas?” I asked. But a quick wedding in Sin City wouldn’t do. We were merging our worlds and traditions, and we wanted our wedding to reflect that. Ultimately, we decided to get married twice — in his home of Mumbai and Michigan, my native state.

We began by traveling to the Indian subcontinent, about a 24-hour journey from Los Angeles, and enjoying a Shabbat dinner at the home of Norman’s family. His mom lit candles, and his dad’s friend led Hebrew prayers over the wine and bread. As a Reform Jew, I grew up celebrating Shabbat dinner, but here I recognized only some words, not the tunes. 

Norman’s family speaks English, but often slips into Marathi, their native tongue, forcing him to act as translator, and leaving me feeling like an outsider. I leaned on him more than usual as he helped me navigate his world, even though this was his first wedding, too. 

The night before the Feb. 14 wedding was the Mehndi (or henna) ceremony, which in the Bene Israel community of Mumbai incorporates the Hindu tradition of henna tattoos with its own Malida ceremony, honoring the prophet Elijah and offering thanks before a happy celebration. To prepare for the ceremony, orange turmeric lotion was shmeered on my arms, legs and face by family to help my skin “glow.” Unsure how I’d react to their advances, his family members barely touched me with lotion; my uninhibited sisters made me much messier. 

Afterward, I showered and pulled on the green lehenga (skirt) and the decorated choli (bare-midriff top) of my new Indian outfit. Then I arranged the dupatta, a flowing, green-and-gold scarf, and secured the tikka jewel so it hung on my forehead. My anklets jingled with each step while bangles clattered on my wrists. 

Norman looked like my own prince, wearing purple pants, curled-up shoes and a long, sparkling, white-and-purple jacket. I focused on his face, his eyes, and let out the breath I wasn’t quite aware I had been holding. With him by my side, I felt like a princess in my exotic dress. 

Norman’s auntie then caked thick, brown henna paste onto my finger. A few days before, the artist had painted the intricate swirls and designs on my hands, arms, feet and lower legs, but this final finger-full of henna finished the process that some say marks the transition from girl to woman. 

Other rituals wishing abundant food, prosperity and good fortune followed — guests placed money in a plate in front of me, fed me sweet morsels, tossed rice over my shoulders, offered blessings and more. 

The next day at the wedding ceremony, as I walked down the aisle of the Orthodox synagogue wearing my white, traditional Western-style dress, Norman sang the psalm “Yonati Ziv” (My Beloved Is a Dove) in the traditional Bene Israel melody as generations of men had before him. 

When he stopped singing, I stopped walking. We finally met and I squeezed his hand, harder than I should have, but he never flinched. We didn’t circle each other as we would later during our American wedding, but together we stepped up to the bimah under the chuppah.

Norman and the cantor (there is no ordained rabbi in Mumbai) said more Hebrew prayers, but I grasped only bits and pieces. We drank funky grape juice that tasted fermented — Norman drank half and I had to finish it, with a big gulp. 

After placing a twisted gold band on my henna-covered index finger, Norman took the cloth-covered wine glass in his hand and — instead of stomping it — smashed it against a wooden box, breaking it on his first try. We signed the traditional ketubah, and then he fastened a gold necklace with black beads around my neck, another sign of a married woman in India. 

But we weren’t done yet. My dad placed Norman’s ring on his finger and took the now-signed ketubah. I attempted not to let my annoyance show at the outdated Orthodox tradition of the man buying his wife from her father. I wanted to embrace my husband’s native culture and its traditions, but I’m sure my sisters recognized my strained smile. I knew that our Michigan wedding would include more progressive wording that better represented our shared commitment. 

As the ceremony came to a close, we stood together in front of the Torahs, and Norman left a small donation in the open ark before stopping at the mezuzah on the way out. 

Outside, fireworks exploded, lighting up the sky, welcoming and celebrating us. We entered our reception, held outside at a school campus, in a blaze of glory as sparklers shot fire over our heads and confetti explosions rained down. 

After feeding the whole family wedding cake, we went up on stage. Norman’s grandfather’s sister’s daughter’s husband’s brother presented our biographies, and Norman and I each gave thank-you speeches. Norman choked up and almost couldn’t continue when he talked about all of his parents' support — despite all of the different customs that can make us seem far apart, we are both close to our families and that pulls us back together. 

We floated around the LED dance floor in an elegant waltz until the tempo changed. Norman jumped over to meet me and I rebounded to him, matching the new Bollywood beat. Celebrating his Indian roots and the culmination of several months of lessons, we surprised and impressed everyone with our Bollywood flair. People crowded the dance floor, moving to different music, including lifting us in chairs during an energetic horah

A procession followed and all 500 guests — small for an Indian wedding, but four times the number of people we expected to celebrate with in Michigan, where my family’s rabbi of 20 years would conduct the ceremony — came up to get pictures and congratulate us. Some tried to give us gifts, but we had to refuse them per Norman’s parents and the invitation: “No gifts or flowers, blessings only.”

I snuggled close to Norman on the way back to the hotel. We made it, despite my Vegas temptations and some snafus. We were married and finally alone together, able to bask in our love and in the knowledge that as we start our lives together — and continue to learn and accept each other and our unique cultures — we had a special bond and faith in each other that would bring it all together. 

And, of course, the adventure wasn’t really over. Less than two months later, we got married all over again in Michigan. 

Tami Tarnow, who is originally from Southfield, Mich., works for the Walt Disney Co. and lives with her Indian-Jewish husband in North Hollywood. 

Israeli city routinely refuses to register Ethiopians for marriage

Ethiopian-Israelis registering for marriage licenses in the central Israeli city of Petach Tikvah reportedly are routinely rejected and forced to register elsewhere.

At least 30 Ethiopian-Israeli couples have been denied marriage licenses in Petach Tikvah in the last nine months, Army Radio first reported Monday, when it interviewed an Ethiopian-Israeli woman identified as Shega, a Petach Tikvah resident who is scheduled to be married in April.

In a conversation last week with the registrar that was secretly recorded, Shega said that despite presenting the paperwork proving she had converted to Judaism, the registrar asked her to provide a letter from a rabbi attesting to the fact that she was a practicing Orthodox Jew. He then suggested the couple register in her groom-to-be’s home community.

“I don’t understand,” the woman told The Jerusalem Post later on Monday. “I presented the forms and approvals from the rabbinate of Jerusalem, and that’s not enough for the rabbi of Petach Tikvah, but approval from a rabbi of my ethnicity will satisfy him? They know that my wedding date is imminent, and in any event they are trying to make it difficult for me.

“Would a secular woman have received the same barrage of questions, or is it because of the color of my skin that I am subject to this embarrassing mask of questions?”

Platiel Eisenthal, the supervisor of the Petach Tikvah religious council, told The Jerusalem Post when asked about the questions, “What is permitted and required in every other city is also permitted and required in Petach Tikvah.” Eisenthal said the issue would be investigated.

Tzohar, an organization made up of religious Zionist rabbis who aim to bridge the gaps between religious and secular Jews in Israel, condemned the rejections.

“There is no way to excuse this disgraceful action aimed against dozens of couples who wanted nothing other than to register for marriage in their hometown,” the group said in a statement. “This is by no means the first time that this Rabbinate has acted in such a dismissive manner against couples who came to marry according to the local and halachic laws, and we have already seen numerous cases where the Petach Tikvah Rabbinate has rejected conversions performed by the Chief Rabbinate.”

How Jews by Choice do weddings

In every tribe and culture, a wedding is cause for a celebration. And all of those celebrations involve some degree of negotiation among the couple, their families, their cultures and their traditions to make the experience meaningful and powerful for everyone. 

Rabbi Adam Greenwald, director of the Miller Introduction to Judaism program at American Jewish University, said when it comes to Jewish nuptials, even born-Jews will have differences. Is one a secular Zionist and the other Modern Orthodox? Reform and Conservadox? The combinations seem endless. 

But, for Jews by Choice, there is the added wrinkle of following Jewish practice while making sure beloved non-Jewish family and friends feel included. 

When Jazmine Green, who went through the Miller program, and Jeremy Aluma started planning their Jewish wedding, Jazmine’s Catholic mother revealed that she had always dreamed of watching Jazmine’s father walk their daughter down the aisle. The Jewish practice of having both the bride’s parents walk her to the chuppah and remain there with the groom and his family throughout the ceremony was unfamiliar and she resisted it.

Greenwald, who each year officiates at the weddings of 15 to 20 couples in which one person is a Jew by Choice, often meets with non-Jewish families early in the preparation process to talk through these issues and answer questions. He recognizes that, for some parents, there is real sadness when a child chooses a different faith. 

“I try to honor those complex emotions and assure them I only want to help create a special, meaningful day for everyone,” he said. 

He suggests couples create booklets to explain Jewish terms for attendees who may not be familiar with them and that they make sure the officiating rabbi offers a few sentences of context before each stage of the wedding. These can range from a word about the Sheva Brachot, or Seven Blessings, to explaining to a Christian family that a traditional ketubah is written in Aramaic, the language spoken during the time of Jesus, as Rabbi Anne Brener, professor at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California, has done. 

Of course, the wedding itself is not a classroom. Jazmine and Jeremy Aluma kept their printed program informal and friendly with questions such as, “What’s up with the circling?” Their explanation of the ketubah concluded, “It also puts a monetary value on Jazmine’s head so she can hold it over Jeremy for the rest of their lives.” About the glass-smashing, they wrote, “If you’re a Jew, you know that as a people, we’ve overcome adversity and make up a thriving global community. Being torn apart encourages us to grow and gives us the opportunity to come back stronger and more resilient than before. We break a glass as a symbol of this natural process.” 

Des Khoury, another student of Greenwald’s, and Moshe Netter found a way to recognize many of their families’ traditions in their ceremony and afterward. They were married by Moshe’s father, Rabbi Perry Netter, who explained to the guests that the chuppah, which symbolized the house Des and Moshe were creating, was open on all sides to indicate that everyone was welcome. 

Des is a first-generation American. Her father is Lebanese-Egyptian and her mother Armenian; her family’s faith tradition is Catholic. Her wedding program included ways to express congratulations in Hebrew, English, French, Arabic and Armenian. And after the ceremony, Des and Moshe emerged from yichud, or their moment alone, to the horah, followed by an Armenian song and folk dance, and then an Arabic tune. By that time, she said, everyone was dancing. 

The material of the chuppah itself can be inclusive. Brener said she once officiated at a wedding beneath traditional Ecuadorian fabric brought to Los Angeles by the groom’s Catholic family. 

Music, explanations and words of welcome are nice, but when it comes to actual participation by non-Jews, every officiating rabbi will have his or her own halachic opinion. Because the marriage liturgy itself can be completed in about 10 minutes, many feel there’s room to add appropriate ritual. The mothers of Des and Moshe, for example, lit a unity candle under their children’s chuppah. 

Jessica Emerson McCormick, who was born into a Jewish family, researched clan tartans before her marriage to Patrick McCormick, whose Catholic family is Scotch-Irish. Jessica and her mother found a festive blue, red and yellow pattern, and had it woven into a length of cloth and made into a custom tallit for Patrick, as well as special kippot for him and his father to wear at the wedding. 

Along with that plaid tallit, Jessica and Patrick’s ceremony included several rabbi friends reading the traditional Seven Blessings in Hebrew, followed by members of Patrick’s family reading English translations. Both of Jessica’s children from a previous marriage were on the bimah, and her son wrote and read his own interpretation of the seventh blessing. 

Rabbi Susan Goldberg at Wilshire Boulevard Temple said having non-Jews read translations of the Sheva Brachot is “a nice way to include friends and family in the ceremony.”

Because all translation is a kind of interpretation, Greenwald said he also approves of participants riffing on the basic idea of a blessing to create something that especially speaks to the couple. He finds that the needs of the couple can get lost while they’re making sure everyone else is happy, and sees one of his jobs as helping them stay focused on what they need, how they can be kind and compassionate, but still have the wedding they desire. 

“The most important thing,” he said, “is that the couple under the chuppah have a powerful, meaningful experience of commitment.”

Because the wedding day marks a transition to what Jewish tradition sees as a new life, many rabbis encourage couples to go to the mikveh before the ceremony. Often for Jews by Choice, it’s their first visit since their conversion and a chance to reflect on how much has changed since then. 

It wasn’t clear at first that Patrick would choose to become Jewish. When he did decide, Jessica said, his family was supportive. Like the families of the other Jews by Choice interviewed for this article, his parents were happy that he had chosen to include religion in his life. 

Des, who said she spent years searching for a spiritual practice that felt right to her, also found her parents accepting. “To them, it’s all prayer and God. They’ve even started looking forward to invitations to Shabbat dinner.” 

Jazmine’s mother, too, witnessed her daughter’s spiritual seeking and was glad that she found a place that felt like home. In recognition of that, she even gave up her front-row seat and walked with her husband and daughter to take her place under the unfamiliar chuppah. 

The officiating rabbi, Ari Lucas of Temple Beth Am, spoke to Jazmine and Jeremy about coming together with the support of their community. He reminded the guests that they were there not just to witness. Together, this mix of family and friends, cultures, languages and traditions would help  — and go on helping — the couple begin their new life together.

Understanding marriage ceremony’s customs reveals hidden meanings

Years ago, long before I was ordained, I asked my friend Rabbi Larry Goldmark where he saw God. His response: “I see God when I marry a couple. The bride sees the groom; the groom sees the bride; but I see God standing in between them.” At the time, I thought it was a standard and hollow “rabbinic” answer, but years later, when I officiated my first wedding, I learned that no words were ever truer.

There is something truly divine about the wedding ceremony. A palpable feeling exists in the room — and especially under the chuppah — that is beyond words. But I have learned in counseling many couples that the experience of the ceremony is significantly deepened as the ritual becomes more fully understood, its hidden meanings revealed. 

What are some of those meanings? Why and how does this ceremony move us to the core of our souls? How should we prepare and what are the decisions that need to be made in order to make the wedding the most meaningful experience possible for the couple?

Each ritualized part of the wedding plays a part in deepening the effect of the ceremony. Going through each part of the wedding is good not only for a couple about to be married, but for all of us who strive to deepen the moments of our lives. It is also important to recognize that all marriages are “interfaith” — no two people come to the marriage with the exact same relationship with God, and so each wedding ceremony must be personalized for the couple. Even the required traditional elements of Jewish weddings — the ketubah, exchange of rings and yichud — can have different traditions or variances that are reflective of the couple.

The ketubah

This is the beginning of the ritual. A concretized manifestation of a couple’s commitment, the action of executing this contract takes their love and locks it into the physical world. The traditional text is “legalese” — like a mortgage agreement making a new homeowner consciously aware of his or her commitment — but the ketubah also helps the couple understand at a deep psychological level that their love is now becoming physically manifest, and this union is actually real. It is the first step in truly knowing that they will be together forever. Although the traditional text is standard and is a contractual obligation, variations abound for the English aspect that can be reflective of the couple’s personality. The amount of accompanying art that is available for ketubot is astounding, often with subtle meanings in the symbols the artist includes. I make it a point to spend time with each couple as they pick their ketubah so that they understand the deeper meanings of the artwork; and many couples even have artists create a personalized piece just for their wedding, filled with images that are especially meaningful to them.

The chuppah

Although it is traditional to have the posts of the chuppah held by four friends, it has also become customary in many communities to have a free-standing structure. What is important is to realize that the chuppah is a recapitulation of the Garden of Eden, with the bride and groom being like Adam and Eve. It needs to be temporary, so that the couple always remember that everything in the physical world is temporary, but their love is eternal. It is the tallit hanging above them that reminds them that their love is truly divine, and it is a beautiful custom for it to be the tallit of the groom, with new tzitzit that have been tied by the bride. Many brides are scared that the knot-tying is too difficult, but there are many simple instructions, and it creates an even more sacred space when the tallit is an expression of their partnership.

The circling

As the couple enter the chuppah, often the bride circles the groom seven times. Seven is the number of “wholeness” (Shabbat); and the circling is a physical demonstration of the bride spiritually protecting the groom. In many egalitarian communities, it has become customary to demonstrate a mutual protection by the bride circling the groom three times, the groom circling her three times, and then the pair circling each other. 

The wine

Once under the chuppah, the couple drink their first of two glasses of wine under the chuppah: a symbol of partnership. God makes the grapes, but we make them into wine. We need God and vice versa, as the bride and groom need each other. I have found that it is a wonderful way to unify the families if the bride’s family gifts one Kiddush Cup for under the chuppah, and the groom’s family gifts the other. 

Vows and rings

Although vows are not a part of the traditional ceremony, many brides have grown up looking forward to saying, “I do.” The best time to do this is immediately before the exchange of rings. Whether the couple are asked the standard questions that are typically found in a secular or non-Jewish wedding, or they make statements that they have written, it can be a beautiful addition to the ceremony. A couple need to determine if this would serve them, or if they are fulfilled with the traditional ring exchange and words of “with this ring,” etc. The exchange of rings is another physical manifestation of their love — a love without beginning or end that has existed before they were even born.

The Seven Blessings

The Sheva Brachot (Seven Blessings), which all praise God and the sanctity of the relationship, are a wonderful time to really personalize the ceremony. There are multiple options. One is to have the rabbi say all 14 statements (seven in Hebrew and their English translations) or the couple could honor family or friends by having them recite some of these blessings. The key is to make sure that the participants know their time and words well in advance of the actual ceremony so that it is a smooth transition between parties. 

The couple can also choose to have the groom under the bride’s veil during this time; wrapped in the rabbi’s tallit; and even have their hands bound together with tefillin (a medieval custom). Any or all of these can be meaningful expressions of the personalized service, and it is important for the couple to make these decisions consciously. It is often an extremely powerful and memorable part of the ceremony for the couple to be blessed by friends and family while they are in their own “tent” under her veil and wrapped in the tallit.

Breaking the glass

There are many interpretations of the breaking of the glass, and often we are taught that it is to temper our joy with a remembrance of the destruction of the Temple. The interpretation that I most appreciate is that the breaking of the glass is an explosion of their love together as it explodes into the world. Grooms: Make sure that you hit the glass with the heel of your foot.There have been more cases than anyone wants to admit of a groom trying to break it with the ball of his foot and hurting himself.


One of the most underappreciated parts of the ceremony (in the less-observant world) is yichud. Immediately after the breaking of the glass, the couple are to go to a private chamber, with a shomer or guardian outside to make sure no one comes in. There, they feed and nurture each other. Some rabbis will say that a couple must make love at this time, but the reality is that just spending private intimate time together for a few moments is the culmination and realization of the ceremony. After months of planning, the wedding and reception go by so quickly, and these few moments are consistently some that couples remember forever. It is more important than most couples recognize initially, and richly beautiful as the couple realize that they are really married.

How to do each of these ritualistic parts of the ceremony is a choice that the couple make through multiple dialogues with their rabbi and each other as they prepare for the wedding. The discussions that arise as they decide each part start to help them really learn how to negotiate their partnership and, with the rabbi’s guidance, can become models on how to negotiate other dialogues in the future.

I always remind couples leading up to their ceremonies: This is your wedding. It needs to be a reflection of your love and commitment. By doing this ceremony, you are literally changing the world, so know fully what you are actually doing in each step. Know the meanings of what you do, and bring a consciousness and depth to the experience; not only will it be more meaningful for you, but in so doing, you will directly affect the lives of those you love who have come to celebrate this special day with you.

May we all be blessed to know the meanings and joys of the wedding ritual in every moment of our lives, and always remember that we are not only in partnership with our spouse, but that God is the glue that binds our love together.

Rabbi Michael Barclay is the spiritual leader of Temple Ner Simcha (, and the author of “Sacred Relationships: Biblical Wisdom for Deepening Our Lives Together.” He can be reached at

‘Trashing the dress’ is the unlikeliest trend in wedding photography

Many a bride has gone to great lengths to preserve her wedding dress in pristine condition. But others go the extra mile to destroy it the best they can.  

Welcome to the most unusual trend in wedding photography: Trash the dress.

Some of these brides smear their dresses with paint or mud, or jump into a pool or the ocean in their wedding gowns. Others, while still wearing their gowns, set them on fire, even pouring lighter fluid on the gown first in some cases to create a more spectacular image. Either way, this calls for fast action by the photographer to capture the moment — and by the groom to put out the fire before it spreads to the bride. 

Photographer Linda Kasian has yet to set a client on fire, but she has taken photos of couples who chose safer ways to trash their attire. 

“Two years ago, I started receiving requests from couples who asked me to take their wedding photos in the ‘trash-the-dress’ style,” Kasian said. “My clients … didn’t use their real wedding dresses, but bought a cheap, white wedding dress or one that looks like a wedding dress. We went to the beach and I gave them colored baby powder to throw on one another. They also got in the water and the whole shoot was so much fun.”

The Russian-born Kasian made aliyah with her family in 1990, when she was 15, and arrived in Los Angeles in 1999. She shoots weddings, bar mitzvahs and other events, and said she enjoys every minute of her work. “The wedding shoots can be very creative, and it’s fun working with the bride and groom on different ideas for the shots,” she said. For trash-the-dress shoots, “The most popular shots are in the water, the beach or the pool. The connection between the water and the dress, and the way the dress floats in the water, makes a very dramatic photo.”

Although Kasian’s clients have chosen to destroy substitute, less-costly dresses, many brides decide — in the name of art — to destroy their expensive wedding gowns. That’s how Natalie Bernstein, who got married a year ago, described her reasoning. 

“If I kept my wedding dress, it would be left in the closet forever, but with the photos that we took, it’s going to be hanging on our wall, and we would enjoy it. It’s very powerful and artistic. It’s not like any other wedding photos I see,” Bernstein said.

For her photo, Bernstein stood on a beach in her dress as it was set aflame. “My parents and in-laws thought [I was] crazy to do it,” she said, laughing. “They tried to persuade me not to do it, but when they saw the photos, they had to agree that they were amazing. Still, they couldn’t stop commenting that it’s $5,000 up in smoke.”

Most brides, however, are not willing to risk their lives for a great photo, no matter how amazing the picture might be. But they are willing to get dirty and cold, get splashed with paint or wine or mud, dive into a pool, or do whatever they can think of to make the photo interesting. 

When Tali and Eran Benita decided to have trash-the-dress photos taken in a swimming pool, Tali wore an affordable white dress rather than her actual gown. The $75 dress survived, and she still wears it. 

Eran and Tali Benita went under water in a swimming pool to get a great wedding photo. Photo courtesy of Eran and Tali Benita

“It’s in a great condition,” she said. “It was a great preparation for the big day for my husband, Eran, who hates taking photos. In the end, it was a fun day and we both enjoyed it.”

So, the next time you see a bride swimming in the ocean, walking through a forest or fixing a car with her white gown peppered with grease spots, don’t feel sorry for her or come to her rescue — she may simply be posing for one of her most memorable wedding photographs. 

When wedding traditions collide

Everyone has certain images they associate with a Jewish wedding: the chuppah, the horah, the breaking of the glass and, of course, large spreads of food. But certain elements can get complicated in a place like Los Angeles, one of America’s largest Jewish melting pots. 

Just look at Rabbi Tal Sessler, an Ashkenazic Jew who serves as senior rabbi at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel. He points out that the mix of diverse Jewish communities cannot help but lead to a different kind of intermarriage — between Ashkenazic and Sephardic individuals, for example — that he likes to call “inter-chuppah.” 

The impact on wedding ceremonies is inevitable as traditions meld, borrow from and are influenced by one another. For example, Sessler said: “One [practice] which is a distinctly Sephardic aspect of the chuppah ceremony is placing a tallit over both the chatan [groom] and the kallah [bride]. It has become increasingly popular in Ashkenazi-American circles. While it is not done in Israel, it is done in American Jewry outside Orthodoxy because people feel strongly about not making their ceremony asymmetrical or overly male-dominated.” 

Rabbi Menachem Weiss of Nessah Synagogue (a Persian congregation in Beverly Hills), who also is director of the Israel Center at Milken Community Schools, said different customs evolved naturally out of Jews living in different places throughout history. Ashkenazim were originally from France and Germany, while Sephardim were originally from Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East.

“The way they were acclimating to the society they lived in affected how they practiced Judaism, as Jewish communities were segregated geographically and the various communities did not connect with each other,” Weiss said.

Preserving wedding traditions from each spouse’s heritage, therefore, has become important not only as meaningful visual adornments for the ceremony but also as a means of following one’s family tree.

“If I were to trace my roots back and go through my family’s line — from Spain to Hungary and on to New York City — the various things we do are somehow shaped by where my ancestors lived,” Weiss said. “My spouse brought in Jewish customs shaped by where her family came from through the generations.”

Consider some differences: In the Ashkenazic tradition, the Shabbat when the groom is invited to be called up to the Torah takes place before the wedding and is called “aufruf,” (Yiddish for “calling up”). In Sephardic communities, the groom’s Shabbat takes place after the wedding. Other ceremonial religious traditions that differ include the bedeken (the groom handling the bride’s veil), with Askhenazi grooms veiling the bride before she walks down the aisle and Sephardic ones only unveiling the bride.

There are cultural differences, too.

“As I am Israeli and my wife is American, we noticed there are cultural nuances that come into play that don’t relate directly to customs, but [to] cultural norms from that country,” Sessler said. “American and Jewish Ashkenazis have smaller weddings in terms of the numbers of guests, while Sephardic and Israeli families stage larger weddings.”

The mood of the service can also vary among groups — in the way the betrothed couple walks down the aisle, for example. In Ashkenazi tradition, only the bride and groom go down the aisle, whereas in Persian ceremonies, the entire family participates, and they sing and dance. 

Shimmy Lautman, a Valley-based wedding photographer, is Ashkenazic but will be marrying a Sephardic woman this summer.

“One thing her family is doing, which I was not previously exposed to in my upbringing, is a pre-wedding henna party,” he said. “Another trend I am seeing within my work is [an update of] the bedeken custom. In ceremonies I have covered where an Ashkenazi groom marries his Sephardic bride, he will meet her halfway and do the veiling there, rather than put the veil on before the ceremony.”

It’s all part of making the ceremony reflect the unique personalities and traditions of each couple, he said.

“From my standpoint, it makes a wedding a lot more interesting socially and visually when various Jewish customs from different cultures are included,” Lautman said. “As essential elements of a Jewish ceremony are not going away, they way people interpret them will keep those traditions evolving.”

One issue that can come up in an inter-chuppah wedding is how the ceremony will “sound” to the family guests on both sides. Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, director of the Sephardic Educational Center, an international educational and cultural organization with a campus in the Old City of Jerusalem, said that while the songs’ and prayers’ meanings are generally the same, Sephardic variations are more flowery and embellished than Ashkenazic versions.

“The basic wedding layout is the same … but will it play to the audience is what people should consider,” Bouskila said. “If a couple is looking to integrate different traditions, they should consider what the ceremony will sound like.”

If a song or prayer is sung in a Sephardic style, one could direct Ashkenazi guests to read the text and follow along. Couples also can alternate the style in which songs are performed during the course of the ceremony.

“People are finding clever ways to keep different traditions alive, because it is so important to have the traditions of all sides expressed,” Bouskila said. 

Weiss acknowledged that couples will pick and choose what speaks to them and theorized that as younger couples tend to be less dogmatic, there will be more leeway and compromise when deciding which customs to carry forth.

“In today’s times, we’re all living together, our children are going to school together, going to shul and falling in love with one another,” he said. “We have a reintegration going on, mending those segments of the community that were previously divided into Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Persian and others. It is my hope for the future that there will be a time where there will be a complete reintegration of the Jewish people under one title, ‘Israel.’”

A dress to impress…after the wedding

You spent serious time and money picking out the right wedding dress, taking great care to ensure the perfect look. With that kind of commitment, it would be a shame to allow those investments to waste away after the big day, disappearing into the fashion graveyard of a dry cleaner’s box or the back of your closet. 

Instead, you can find many ways to say “I do” to recycling, repurposing, reselling or even donating that dress to someone else for their own special day.

Redress for success

One way to pass on the love — and recoup some of your costs — is to resell your wedding dress. While eBay and Craigslist are two familiar options, Tradesy (” target=”_blank”>, plays up the green aspects of wedding dress resale and rentals, noting how a dress will see many ceremonies rather than take up space. The site’s interface allows former brides and brides-to-be to specify their favorite designers, dress silhouette, size and retail price to match the right dress to a new owner.

The ultimate wedding (or prom) gift

For those who don’t care about getting anything in return for their dress other than a “thank you” and a warm feeling (and maybe a tax write-off), there are numerous ways to donate wedding attire to women and girls in need.

Brides Against Breast Cancer (” target=”_blank”>, which has several chapters across the U.S., including Los Angeles, encourages brides to donate their dresses to couples facing terminal illness and serious life-changing circumstances, who are granted “wish” weddings and vow renewals. The group’s partner organization, Brides for a Cause (” target=”_blank”> will gladly accept wedding and bridesmaids dresses. And the Los Angeles-based nonprofit startup All Good Things Inc. (” target=”_blank”> built their business on changing the way women think of their “one-time dresses,” including wedding and bridesmaids gowns, in a similar way to Chagoury.

The sisters transform the fabric from dresses into useful items such as baby blankets, pillows, throw blankets, picture frames and more. Their website allows brides to have a hand in the design process of the new item with forms and photo galleries that provide inspiration on how the fabrics from their dress can take on a new life.

Summer camp love

Every summer for the last three years, staffer Naomi Elman, 23, and her fiance, Mitch Gelfand, 29, have stood on the stage at Camp Alonim in Simi Valley, exchanged rings and said their I-do’s. “Every session at camp there’s a carnival, and at every carnival there’s a fake marriage booth,” Elman explained. “So we’ve gotten married five times on that stage already — three the summer we met, and one every summer thereafter.” 

Naomi Elman and Mitch Gelfand getting practice-married at the marriage booth set up every summer at Camp Alonim. Photo by Tracie Karasik.

Next spring, the couple will go for a sixth try, but this one will be significantly more official: Leo Baeck Temple’s Rabbi Ken Chasen will officiate, and the rings will be made of something a little more durable than plastic. 

Getting married at Alonim has been Elman’s plan as long as she can remember. “Luckily, the groom agreed,” she said. Elman even asked Chasen to officiate when she was 16 — a few years before Gelfand rejoined the summer staff after a hiatus and caught her eye during their orientation.

Camp romances are a hallmark of the American summer. The setting is usually beautiful and idyllic, and with a limited pool of people in constant contact, connections forged are intense and intimate. Not all of these romances last — Gelfand and Elman are both veterans of prior relationships that had succumbed to real-world pressures after the summer’s end — but when they do, the happy couple has a ready-made wedding venue.

The marriage booth at Alonim also played a role in Sara and Hyim Brandes’ 2001 engagement as well — or that was the plan, anyway. Hyim’s idea to get down on one knee with a real ring at the booth was dashed when he discovered that Sara’s coveted time off was scheduled during the festival, and her plan was to be anywhere but in the middle of her campers. Luckily, there was an easy plan B: He offered to accompany her on a hike, and proposed on the ascent.

“I think camp couples get married all over the place,” Sara said. But she and Hyim chose Alonim because of its role in their history as a couple as well as for their families, both of whom have strong ties to the camp. “That we chose to get married there just speaks to the centrality of the place in both of our families’ lives,” Sara said. 

During the ceremony, their rabbi talked about how “this place was created for just this union, just this moment,” she said. “We had that feeling, that it was appropriate in that it was a culmination.”

The camp romance is short-lived much more often than it turns out to be long term: The bonds forged in unusual circumstances and close proximity have trouble adjusting to the strain, distance and business of life in the outside world. But the relationships that do last are often the most resilient ones — and on their wedding day, many couples are thrilled to return to the fantasyland where they first fell in love. 

David Ross and Lauren Schmidt, for instance, said they considered other venues “for about two seconds,” according to Schmidt, before deciding on Camp Ramah in Ojai, where they had met briefly as staffers in 1992. The couple ran into each other again and again over the years, eventually connecting at a different camp, Camp Young Judea near Austin, Texas, nearly a decade later.

“Camp Ramah has always been a foremost source of my identity, my spirituality and my commitment to Judaism. What better place to share this passion than [at Ramah,] with my future bride, our family and friends?” Ross asked.  

One of the biggest threats to the camp romance is simply age — not many people end up married to the object of their tween affections, after all. Not so for Eric and Alexandra Spitz. They met at Camp JCA Shalom in 1993 as 12- and 13-year-olds, respectively, and were each other’s camp crushes — and eventually shared their first kiss. It took another 13 years before they reconnected, but when they did, the chemistry of those early summers was still very much alive. They started planning to get married on their second date. 

When they did, there was no question that the couple would marry at JCA Shalom in Malibu. They also incorporated a few fun camp traditions into the wedding, Alexandra said: “On Shabbat at camp, we would write ‘Shabbat-O-Grams’ to our friends. I found one from Eric from when we were in camp that was signed, ‘I love you.’ We framed it and displayed it with our guest book.” 

There were other festive camp touches as well: “Our tables were numbered as cabins, and each person’s place card was attached to a mini s’mores kit that could be roasted with the lanterns placed on each table. Our favors were flashlights, so everyone could return safely to their cars at the end of the night in the pitch-blackness of camp,” Alexandra said. 

The best of all, though, is when weddings beget more of their kind, as was the case when Rena Kates met her husband Max at the Los Angeles wedding of her cousin, Samantha, to Mike Auerbach in 2009. Mike and Samantha had met at Ramah; Max and Rena, being two years apart, had never had the opportunity to connect at camp. Not so this time. 

“Max saw Rena hanging out with [her brother] Ethan, and casually asked Ethan who she was. Ethan said, ‘Oh, that’s my sister Rena’ and moved on to another topic. But Max didn’t forget!” the couple wrote in an email.

Three years later, Max’s day-long proposal involved printouts of emails he had sent Rena over the course of their relationship, a tour of their favorite places — which, of course, included Ramah — a slice of strawberry shortcake and the joyful blessings of family and friends. When it came to venues, the Kateses agree with Ross and Schmidt: “It was a no-brainer,” Rena said. “What other place has gorgeous mountain views, a special place in our hearts and can accommodate 400 people?”

Photographers share their favorite weddings photos

For a newly married couple, the wedding day itself can be a blur. The nerves, the excitement, the rush of a life-changing celebration. That’s why the ever-present, artistic eye of the photographer becomes so important in capturing memories of the occasion.

To see what makes a great picture, we asked two veteran Los Angeles-area photographers to choose some of their favorite Jewish wedding images. David Miller of David Miller Studios ( and Shimmy Lautman of Shimmy Photography of Encino ( responded with images that convey love and beauty — both in classic and unconventional ways. For couples preparing for a wedding — and the photo album that’s sure to follow — these pictures offer inspiration. For the rest of us, well, they sure are nice to look at. 

Miriam Veffer (photo at top)

“I sensed a certain conviction in the bride knowing that this was a special day. I sensed her happiness, even as she remains rather serious.”

Advice for after the vows

Before most couples get married, they don’t know what to expect. They’re excited and scared, but ready to make one of their biggest life decisions: forming a union with the one they love. Local rabbis from all different backgrounds and denominations shared their best marital advice for partners about to make the leap. From the day of the wedding ceremony to day-to-day married life, here are their thoughts on how two people can make it work.

Two people, one soul

Rabbi Avi Rabin, who leads Chabad of West Hills and has been married for nine years, said Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism, teaches that when people are born, they have only half a soul. 

“When you get married, you’re marrying the other half of your soul. You’re not complete until then,” he said. “It’s not you and your wife [as individuals]. Marriage is something that is greater than both of you. If you see problems in your spouse you need to work through, you have that problem. If she sees a problem in you, it’s because she also has it. You are the same person and the same soul, and you need to work through your problems together.” 

Seek outside help

Rabbi Nick Renner, assistant rabbi at Kehillat Israel, a Reconstructionist congregation in Pacific Palisades, said couples shouldn’t hesitate to reach out for advice from an expert. 

“One thing that’s really worthwhile is having some kind of premarital counseling, either with a religious leader or with a family specialist. That kind of experience can be really valuable for couples,” he said. “It’ll help you communicate and learn from each other, and make it easier in the future to make that call [for counseling] if you’ve been in the process before.” 

Don’t expect perfection

Your spouse is going to be flawed, and those shortcomings might never go away. Before you walk down the aisle, keep that in mind, said Rabbi Laura Geller of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. 

“I learned an important counseling tool from the [late] visionary Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi,” the Reform rabbi said. “In a premarital meeting, he turned to the groom and asked, ‘Is there anything about your fiancee that you can’t stand?’ The groom looked uncomfortable, hemmed and hawed, and finally answered, ‘Well, yes.’ Then he turned to the bride and asked the same question. She, a tad miffed from her beloved’s response, answered, ‘Well, I guess so.’ Then he said: ‘Whatever it is, it will never change. You have to choose each other knowing that some things will never change.’ I ask the same question with each couple. It leads to an important conversation about expectations.” 

Don’t compromise

Rabbi Nicole Guzik works at the Conservative synagogue Temple Sinai in Westwood with her husband of five years, Rabbi Erez Sherman. She said the best marriage advice she ever received was from Rabbi Bill Lebeau at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, indicating that a relationship shouldn’t be viewed as a series of compromises. 

“In a compromise, you always have to give up something,” she remembers him saying. “The definition of compromise is to allow for concessions, and as soon as you feel as if you’ve lost something, the issue between the couple becomes much larger than it usually is in the first place. Instead, as a couple, look for synthesis. Synthesis is coming up with an idea together and working as a family to solve a problem.”

Guzik said many couples come to her afraid of losing their identity and ideals, but it doesn’t have to be that way: “I explain that marriage doesn’t have to take those away. Rather, marriage can be a journey using our individual experiences to create and grow together.” 

Give up your ego

Sometimes, disputes can go in circles and never seem to end. To stop the cycle of fighting, Rabbi Elchanan Shoff of LINK East shul in Pico-Robertson believes one partner should take the blame, even if he or she is right (and knows it). 

“When you really weren’t wrong, to take the blame is a tremendous thing,” Shoff said. “It does a couple of things. It says, ‘I value you more than my pride, and I’m prepared to say I was wrong.’ If the other person is half decent, it’s going to sink in. He or she will say, ‘What, am I a brat? My partner wasn’t wrong.’ This is the easiest way to diffuse a disagreement.” 

The Orthodox rabbi said it’s natural to want to engage in an argument because humans feel the need to defend themselves. However, he said, “You have to say that ‘I’m going to sacrifice that ego for the sake of my marriage.’ It can ensure that fights are extremely rare.” 

Make time for each other

People have busy lives. In between taking care of kids, going to work and running errands, they might not have any time left to pay attention to their partners. This is a mistake, according to Rabbi Spike Anderson from Stephen S. Wise Temple, a Reform synagogue in Bel Air.

“There has to be a certain amount of proactive mindfulness that goes into a couple spending real quality time with each other,” he said. “They have to make each other a priority, no matter what.”

Anderson said that by celebrating Shabbat, a couple could focus on each other at least one day a week: “It’s an out-of-the-box way of taking time out from the hamster wheel we all run on to spend that sacred time with each other.” 

Write love letters

In preparation for a wedding, Temple Akiba’s Rabbi Zach Shapiro asks both partners to write each other letters that say why they love one another. 

“I also ask them specific questions beyond, ‘How did you meet?’ ” he said. “For example, ‘What was/is it about [your fiance] that made you want to ask him on a second date?’ ”

Shapiro, whose Reform congregation is in Culver City, said he asks this of couples because the letter helps them put into words what they feel. “It’s so important to have a written document that they can read to one another throughout their lives,” he said. 

Look for the feeling behind your partner’s words

Arguments between couples can get nasty because each knows the other’s faults — and what words will hurt the most. When fighting, both parties have to focus on the feeling behind the words to determine what’s really going on, explained Rabbi Eliyahu Fink of the Pacific Jewish Center in Venice, who has been married for 12 years. 

“Every conversation has two parts to it: There’s the part where you hear the words and the part where you say the words,” he said. “But every conversation also has the thing that’s not being said. This is the feeling that is contributing to the words being said. It’s very easy to get distracted by the actual words and argue them or discuss them. There is always something that’s much deeper, which is what the conversation should be about. 

“Take a moment before responding to anything you hear or disagree with or might react to, and think about the feeling that the person might have,” the Orthodox rabbi said. “Try to validate those feelings instead of getting caught up in an argument about things that made them say that.”

Only marry ‘The One’

When Rabbi Judith HaLevy from the Reconstructionist Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue first meets with engaged couples, she sits them down on her couch. 

“I look at my couch when I talk to them, because it says everything I want to know about the couple. Sometimes they sit at different ends of the couch or they won’t leave each other alone while I’m talking to them,” she said. “I can tell by the body language how difficult a marriage is going to be, and I point it out. If you can’t sit together and discuss your wedding, I ask, ‘What are we doing here?’ ” 

The day of the wedding, HaLevy stresses that the bedeken (veiling) ceremony is extremely important. 

“I tell them that when they lift the veil, they need to ask themselves whether the other person is ‘The One,’ ” she said. “I tell them to look their partner in the eye and say ‘I love you.’ At that point, they always cry. I say afterwards that they can fix their makeup.” 

Special day for special needs

“Do you want to start or should I?” asked Shlomo Meyers, the more brazen of the two. His bashful wife, Danielle, gave him the go-ahead. 

“Why is it always me?” he laughed, but continued without hesitation. “We met two years ago, at camp in Pennsylvania.”

Typical to Orthodox relationships, it was a matchmaker who coordinated the meeting between the two. Today, more than four months after their wedding, Danielle and Shlomo are your typical 20-something Orthodox couple living in the Pico-Robertson area. She wears a head-wrap, and he wears a yarmulke

What separates them is the fact that they both have Down syndrome.

Historically, individuals with the genetic, chromosomal condition have been discouraged from pursuing romantic relationships. However, ETTA, a nonprofit that provides a wide spectrum of services for Jewish adults with special needs locally and offers direct support to the Meyerses, takes a different stance. 

“We support individuals to their fullest potential, and for those individuals who are prepared for marriage, we think it’s a wonderful idea,” said Michael Held, executive director of the ETTA Center in Los Angeles.

Both Shlomo and Danielle are assisted by ETTA life coaches who help them with day-to-day tasks that include household chores (such as cooking and cleaning), money management and appointment scheduling. 

“We have each other to help out, but of course we have to have somebody with us for some certain things — and I can’t say I don’t need it — but things I don’t need help with, I can get the help with my wife or my family,” Shlomo said.

Jason Druyan, an ETTA life coach who works with the couple, said he wants the newlyweds to be self-sufficient, so he doesn’t smother them with assistance. Instead, he helps them when absolutely necessary. 

“It takes a few minutes longer, but it’s better for them,” he explained.

Danielle and Shlomo are surrounded by support, whether it comes from ETTA, Danielle’s parents (who live two blocks away) or their local shuls (Aish HaTorah and Young Israel of Century City).

And both have jobs in the Jewish community, Shlomo as a physical education assistant at Maimonides Academy and Danielle as a preschool aide at Yeshiva Aharon Yaakov Ohr Eliyahu Academy. Both worked last year at ETTA’s summer day camp for Jewish teens and young adults with special needs, and Danielle — a certified Zumba instructor — hopes to teach classes at ETTA facilities in the near future.

When Shlomo first saw Danielle, he remembers thinking she looked like an angel.

“To me, she looked like a princess too,” he said. “When she was coming up, I was like, ‘Oh my God, is that for me?’ It turns out, it was.” 

After they met at camp in Pennsylvania, they returned to their respective cities — Chicago for him and Los Angeles for her. They dated for two years before sealing the deal. 

“I have to live far, far away from my own family,” Shlomo said. “It is hard to move away from your family. It’s bittersweet.” 

But maintaining a long-distance relationship was difficult for the two of them, who were constantly calling each other. While working at a school in Chicago, Shlomo was on the phone with Danielle when he heard an announcement over the intercom indicating he was needed in the office. 

“And then I thought, ‘Hello? I’m on the phone!’ ”

Eventually, he realized he had to take their relationship to the next level. As for his eventual proposal, Danielle had no idea it was coming. Last October, during the weekend of her grandfather’s second bar mitzvah, Shlomo finally popped the question.

“My parents took me to this park and that’s where Shlomo met me and he asked me to walk with him,” Danielle said. “I sat on a bench, and then he sang me a song out of nowhere!” 

The song — written by Shlomo — was called, “That’s My Girl Danielle.”

Eight months later, they were married at the Warner Center Marriott Woodland Hills, surrounded by hundreds of friends and family members. It was a hot June day, but they both agreed it was the best day of their lives.

When asked what makes Shlomo a good husband, Danielle responded, “Just being there for me when I need it.” 

Shlomo had high praise for his wife and married life, as well: “She’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said. “I know there is someone who tries to understand me. And she’s doing the best she can. Neither of us can do more than try.”

Just months into marriage, they’re already getting the hang of things. They even had some advice for others looking for love.

“Find someone fun to be with,” Danielle said. 

When asked for another tip, she paused for a couple of moments, and then Shlomo jumped in. 

“Should I try to help you out?” he asked. “Sometimes it’s hard to figure out things alone. That’s why I think we have each other — to help out.” 

Inclusion and intermarriage

“Do you officiate at interfaith marriages?” 

It’s a common question for many rabbis in our day, especially when the intermarriage rate is reported to be more than 50 percent (70 percent if you don’t count Orthodox Jews). My answer — like all things Jewish — is complicated, and my journey to the answer takes a little explaining. Please indulge me!

In the first eight years of my rabbinate after being ordained a Reform rabbi by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1997, I believed I was bound by a mission to preserve the future of Judaism through requiring Jewish-Jewish partnerships. And so I officiated exclusively at marriages between two Jews. (While the Reform movement had no official stance on officiation, it was strong in its voice promoting Jewish-Jewish marriages.) 

Three conversations changed my position. The first interaction happened over the phone when a gentleman called asking if I would officiate at a private commitment ceremony in the hospital. His same-gender partner of 30 years was dying from complications of HIV. 

The man who called was a committed Jew. His partner was not Jewish and didn’t adhere to any religion — other than the Jewish rituals practiced in their home. Tears erupted from my soul as I explained that I don’t officiate unless both partners are Jewish. The man thanked me, and we ended our discussion.

My answer has haunted me ever since, and I wish I could turn back the clock. Here was a couple who wanted a Jewish ritual — it wasn’t about their future; it was about their present — and I said “no.” In many ways, this article is my public teshuvah, or repentance (as I didn’t even write down his name, I had no way of contacting him again). 

The second conversation occurred when I was teaching Introduction to Judaism through the Union for Reform Judaism. One of our students asked, “Why is it that so many rabbis won’t officiate at interfaith marriages, but the congregations welcome us with open arms?” 

His question pierced my intellect. I was about to open my mouth with a knee-jerk response, but I couldn’t. After all, he was right. What message does it give when congregations embrace while rabbis don’t?

The third conversation was with a colleague. We realized that if we say “no,” there’s a church down the street that will say “yes.”

I then thought about the paradigms of Shammai and Hillel, two leading rabbis from the first century BCE, with regard to outreach. In the Talmud (Shabbat 31), a gentile wanted to convert to Judaism so long as a rabbi could teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot. Shammai was insulted and pushed him away. But Hillel embraced him, saying, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the entire Torah. All the rest is commentary. Now go and learn.”

It’s not only the wisdom of Hillel’s words that are deep. It’s also his willingness to open the door. In our day, too many take the Shammai approach, but our continuity can’t afford to be so exclusive that we shut out those who can offer light.

And so, a transition began in my own approach to outreach, conversion, inclusion and marriage.

Here’s where it gets interesting. To this day, I do not officiate at interfaith weddings. But I do officiate at Jewish weddings where one partner might not be Jewish. 

What does this mean? Interfaith means two faiths coming together, both being represented in the marriage ceremony. My weddings, however, are Jewish. Every ritual, every prayer, every observance is Jewish. There is no weaving in of texts or traditions from other faiths.

Each couple becomes a member of our synagogue, Temple Akiba in Culver City, as I believe we are here as an ongoing home for their marriage, and I am not just a rabbi for their wedding. By joining the temple, the couple is committing themselves to supporting Jewish institutions.

I meet with couples multiple times in the months prior to the ceremony. In addition to preparing the wedding service, we talk about Jewish life and dreams for the future. We address children and the challenges that can arise when making religious choices. We explore the role of grandparents and other extended family. We acknowledge that some expectations we have today will inevitably emerge in ways we hardly expect. And we unfold the blessings of the present.

Our conversations reveal incredible phenomena. As the officiant for a wedding in Visalia, located in the agricultural San Joaquin Valley, I met a couple who came to me via my friend Rabbi Jason Rodich, who had served as a student rabbi there many years ago. When talking with the couple, I learned that the groom had one Jewish-by-birth parent and one parent who had converted. The bride had no Jewish parents. 

This couple, from a part of the world where Judaism is so rare …  this couple, who under Rabbi Shammai would be shown the door to the exit … this couple wanted to have a Jewish wedding and live in a Jewish home. We could have lost them many times over, but they now are nurturing the light that gives Judaism its soul.

One of my favorite weddings occurred a couple of years ago between a Jewish man and a Korean-American woman. The woman asked if her grandmother (who spoke broken English) could offer an appropriate reading. “So long as it’s not from another faith tradition, fine!” I responded. 

When the time came, grandma came to the microphone. As she began to speak, her reading sounded somewhat familiar. I quickly realized she was reciting the seventh blessing of the Sheva Brachot … in Hebrew! She had transliterated it into Korean!

Over these past eight years, since I broadened my officiation practices, my couples have taken their Jewish roles very seriously. They are members of the Jewish community, and they send their kids to Jewish religious schools and Jewish camps. They participate in Israel advocacy and Holocaust observances. They take part in social justice programs. 

Do all couples do all of this? Of course not. But most couples do some of this, and my goal is to keep the door open wide to them, to embrace them with all my soul, to nurture a Jewish now and — through them — to create a brighter Jewish future. 

Re-imagining and recycling traditional wedding objects

Artists and creative newlyweds are finding new ways to make the trappings and ceremonial elements of Jewish weddings their own — and then to have these mementos live on and remain useful long after the actual ceremony.

The evidence? Broken shards of glass turned into art, chuppahs repurposed and more.

Cigall Goldman, founder and CEO of, a Jewish event-planning site in New York, said there are opposing influences on couples approaching their wedding.

“There are only so many trends with the ceremony, since it’s based on traditions and rituals that go way back,” Goldman told the Journal. But, she continued, “Modern Jewish couples want the wedding to be a reflection of the couple.” 

One place to start is with the chuppah. The centerpiece of any Jewish wedding, it has gone from a traditional tallit to a statement piece, with personalized themes, colors and creative touches. 

Today, the rustic-chic theme is popular, with an “organic, earthy vibe” with perhaps a grape vine or birch poles providing an all-natural feel, said Goldman, who in April led a webinar on nationwide Jewish wedding trends. “A more modern chuppah with a sleek, rectangular design has gained popularity too.”

Karina Rabin, owner of Happy Chuppah of Orange County, said, “Lately, birch is extremely popular because it’s natural. Flowers are also popular — roses, hydrangea, peonies. We also include crystals as an added decoration, and they’re complimentary, so they’re good if someone’s on a budget. A lot of fabric is also popular, chiffon fabric in white or ivory. People like to make a statement and go all out.”

After the wedding ceremony, couples often find a new purpose for their chuppah, which represents the home they are building together. Goldman said it could be used for decor at the reception or set up over the sweetheart table for the just-marrieds. 

Its uses can go far beyond the wedding day, too.

“People often purchase the top, which is the actual chuppah, and use the fabric for a baby naming or a bris,” Rabin said. “They decorate a table and cover it with the chuppah as the linen and put pictures on the table of family members who have passed away. Couples also pass on the chuppah to their children for their wedding; that happens a lot.”

When it comes to the traditional marriage contract, the ketubah, papercut versions have become very popular, according to Andrew Fish of Gallery Judaica in Los Angeles. 

“Papercut ketubot are our biggest sellers,” he said. “Two artists in particular, Danny Azoulay and Enya Keshet, have created amazing selections of exquisite, meticulously detailed designs, which are cut by laser. We think that one reason these pieces have become so widespread is that the majority of them offer a stunning way to display your wedding vows while maintaining a neutral color. This way, if you change your decor, you don’t have to worry about color matching.”

Keshet, who lives in Israel and also offers custom-made ketubot that are hand-painted, said in an email that she offers both a traditional text and alternative options that she composed herself: “The ‘Pledge of Love,’ which leans on tradition and stresses the long-term mutual responsibilities, and the ‘Vision of the House,’ which sets the house as a metaphor to marriage … special versions of the vows are adapted to same-sex weddings and even to interfaith ones.”

The traditional broken wedding glass, once stomped on and forgotten, can now live on as a part of anything from a Kiddush cup to a picture frame. In its new form, the couple can keep the glass pieces to remind them of their special day. Fay Miller of Los Angeles conceived the idea of reusing the broken glass pieces some 20 years ago, crafting unique designs including the pieces through her company, Shardz.

“I came up with the idea at the wedding of my husband’s cousin’s daughter. He said no one does anything with the broken glass, and I said, ‘We should.’ That began a journey of apprenticeship at my studio with another glass artist. I built my own furnace and piped it except for the electrical. I learned how to work with high-temperature cement. I think that’s not bad for an old Jewish lady,” she said. 

“Working with the broken glass puts me in touch with the joy and ritual they represent. … I feel I’m a part of so many Jewish lives, and I’m honored they choose me to preserve such important memories.”

Other well-known artists, such as Gary Rosenthal of Maryland, have been inspired by the practice. Rosenthal said the mezuzah he makes for broken wedding glasses is his most popular item with couples.

“You lift up the top of the mezuzah and put the shards in front, and then you have it in your home as a permanent memento,” he said.

Rosenthal integrates shards with other Jewish ritual objects as well, such as Kiddush cups and menorahs. He also creates picture frames, heart-shaped pieces and other designs. 

“They’re like little treasure boxes,” he said.

Today, long after the Jewish wedding ceremony has ended, artists like Rosenthal help the promises a married couple have made to each other on their wedding day live on — and live on in style.

‘HoneyBook’ takes a leap forward in event planning technology

Naama Alon planned her wedding during a stressful academic year at Tel Aviv’s Shenkar College of Engineering and Design. Soon after the nuptials, but before finishing her degree in graphic design and interactive media, she and her new husband, Oz, birthed a startup that would soon make waves in the United States.

Their interactive website, HoneyBook (, whose name is derived from “honeymoon” and “booking,” is a technological hub for professional event planners and the contractors they hire — where brides- and grooms-to-be (or other customers coordinating a multipronged operation) can comfortably manage all facets of their event from any web-enabled device.

The idea arose from a school project that Alon was assigned, involving the production of a radio show. She used her recent wedding as the theme of the broadcast, airing some of the audio portion of the event, such as speeches made in honor of the couple.

This, among other things, caused her to recognize her limited ability to aggregate all the material from the wedding — pictures, video footage, music and mementos — and make it accessible not only to herself, but to the guests who had attended as well.

“Facebook just wasn’t a sufficient venue for all that,” she said. The website has offices in Tel Aviv and Silicon Valley.

Her husband, who took an active role in the wedding plans based on eight years of experience planning events for 1,000-plus people at his production company, said they were “struck by the huge gap in the market between existing technology and the kind of product we would have benefited from.”

He explained, “All event planners, photographers, florists, DJs, caterers and everybody else connected to a wedding — including the bride and groom — have smartphones. So the coordination process shouldn’t be so complicated and clumsy.”

And yet, he said, “We found ourselves collecting and signing countless contracts, managing emails and phone calls from upward of 15 vendors, and worst of all, writing paper checks. … More than two decades after the birth of the modern Internet and at a time where all of our vendors already owned a smartphone, we were still dealing with hard copies, checks and the dreaded Excel spreadsheet.”

HoneyBook was the couple’s way to get the wedding business up to speed technologically, from the “before” to the “after.” The tools on the site provide a graphically aesthetic cyberhome for memorabilia, coupled with a cyber-
office for booking and contracting with vendors. 

So far, HoneyBook is restricted to event planners in the United States, where the market is ripe for this product. The plan is to go global in the future.

Setting up shop in the United States wasn’t even part of the original plan. “It hurt us to make the move,” she said. “On the one hand, we love Israel desperately. On the other, we knew that our $100 billion target market was not in Israel.”

HoneyBook’s investors — the accelerator UpWest Labs (a U.S.-based program exclusively serving Israeli entrepreneurs) and venture capitalist/angel Bobby Lent — encouraged and enabled the team to build the business in America first, with the goal of expanding it to the rest of the globe.

The event-planning industry in the U.S. is massive, and HoneyBook sought to fill an immediate and widespread need. Many Israelis are beginning to adopt American event habits, so the founders hope that by the time HoneyBook is fully established and profitable, it will slide right into the Israeli market.

“In order to create a site that suits the needs of the U.S. event-planning market, we had to be on the ground in the U.S., living and learning and meeting with people, to find out how best to accommodate them,” she said. “What excites me the most is the endless business opportunity and the acquired knowledge from some of the world’s most talented entrepreneurs and product innovators.”

She also emphasized the importance of having the technological research and development operation remain in Tel Aviv.

“Israeli (research and development) is the best in the world,” said Dror Shimoni, co-founder and chief technology officer of HoneyBook, who heads the development team in Israel. “And our technology is unmatched.”

Her ultimate goal is “to take that amazing technology and create a high-quality product for professionals and a user-friendly one for regular people to maneuver.”

So, while the current focus of HoneyBook is event planning, its technology eventually could be employed for any endeavor, such as home renovations, that requires coordination among many different sub-contractors.

This was an innovation that Alon did not have at her fingertips when papers and final exams made planning her own wedding a stressful experience. Her next anniversary bash, however — even alongside the couple’s grueling business schedule — ought to be a piece of cybercake.

Beauty of the Dead Sea makes a stunning wedding destination

Finding a truly unique wedding destination can be difficult. There are countless special wedding venues scattered around the world, but few offer the distinctive beauty and amenities of the Dead Sea, the lowest place on Earth. 

Although Ein Bokek, the Dead Sea’s hotel and tourism district, is less than a two-hour drive from Jerusalem (it’s possible to charter a bus to transport guests to and from the wedding the same day), some couples turn their Dead Sea weddings into a family adventure and spa vacation for a weekend or longer. 

Thanks to its warm climate, the Dead Sea is a sought-after wedding destination from midautumn to midspring, but definitely not in the summer, when the temperatures average 100 degrees or higher. It almost never rains, virtually ensuring that an outdoor wedding won’t be rained out.  

The area offers many additional sights for guests to enjoy, too. Must-see attractions include the hilltop fortress of Masada; the Qumran caves, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered; and the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, with its hiking trails. 

Israeli wedding planner Nikki Fenton ( said that for couples with family coming from overseas, a Dead Sea wedding is like a destination within a destination. Before planning such a wedding, she added, couples need to sound out their guests. 

“The guests need to know that, if they’re in a hotel in the center of the country, they’ll need to pack up their things and move to a new location for a couple of days,” unless they want to pay for their first hotel while they’re away, or are staying in an apartment and can keep their belongings there. “If you can make it appealing and exciting and not a hassle, you can be on to a great thing,” Fenton said. 

At the Dead Sea, the sense of adventure can easily outweigh any drawbacks, provided everyone is on board and knows what to expect. As with any destination wedding, the couple should inform guests of their options, starting with the range of accommodations (especially price-wise), and activities related to and not related to the wedding.   

Many couples who marry at the Dead Sea do so at one of the area’s hotels, which offer not only a stunning wedding venue but also everything one needs for a spa holiday, starting with a buoyant swim in the sea (and, often, pools with Dead Sea water) and do-it-yourself mud treatments.  

The hotels also offer a wide variety of spa treatments, many with Dead Sea products, at prices below what comparable treatments cost in the United States. Some hotels offer a free treatment with an overnight stay, and large parties should request a discount on treatments for all their guests. Guests who choose to stay at nearby guesthouses or youth hostels have the option of buying a spa day-pass.   

Given the logistical challenges, couples wishing to marry at the Dead Sea should seriously consider utilizing the services of an event planner who can arrange everything, from the cuisine to who will officiate. 

Event planner Natalie Abraham, whose company, Dreamcatcher (, plans weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs throughout Israel, said some of the most interesting Dead Sea-area weddings take place in nature spots. 

Abraham once organized an intimate, offbeat wedding at Metsoke Dragot, a hostel with very basic accommodations — including tents — located on a cliff 65 feet above sea level, about four miles from the sea.

“It was a very small wedding, mostly for the couple’s friends. The chuppah was on the cliff, and the view of the sea and the desert was breathtaking. They got married just before sunset, and the colors — oranges and yellows and blues — were gorgeous.”   

What the venue lacked in luxury, it made up for in atmosphere, Abraham said. 

“The Dead Sea region has a very strong healing element. This force just overtakes you, and it’s very powerful.” 

Give the unforgettable gift

A wedding is more than the union of two people in love. For those in the community who join in the celebration, it’s a chance to give the perfect gift. Finding that, however, can pose a challenge to even the most experienced guest. Here are some suggestions for go-to gifts, many of them from those who make it their business to attend these celebrations.

Something Traditional

Julie Pryor, owner of Pryor Events, a wedding and events coordination company located in West Los Angeles, says a mezuzah is a gift that the newlyweds can enjoy no matter how many they receive. So don’t worry if another guest gives one, too.

“Each room should have a mezuzah, so even if the couple already have a mezuzah by their front door, they will welcome your gift to hang in other doorways,” she said.

Something Green

David Jacobson, a wedding photographer from Studio City, believes that money — the old standby — is the most practical wedding gift one can give, but you don’t have to just write a check.

“A lot of couples these days have honeymoon registries where you pay for parts of their trip, like a meal at a nice restaurant or the cost of one night at a nice hotel,” Jacobson said. “The money helps them do something they really want to do but can’t necessarily afford after the costs of a wedding.”

Something Sentimental

Hen Marciano, a recently engaged law school graduate from Studio City, says that the best gift she’s ever given someone was one that had over a decade of nostalgia built into it.

“My friend gave me this Minnie and Mickey Mouse gag gift when we were younger,” she said. “I kept it, and 11 years later, when that same friend got married, I gave Minnie and Mickey back as the wedding present.”

Something Practical

Terri Doria, of Be A Guest Events in Moorpark, recommends useful household items for a secular Jewish wedding, especially for couples who are just starting to build a home. One of the most well-received gifts she has given was a set of plush bath towels monogrammed with the couple’s initials.

Something Homemade

Matthew Freese, a local behavioral therapist and part-time wedding photographer, thinks that the best gift to give is one that’s homemade.

“I like to bring a painting or a nicely framed photo print to a wedding,” said Freese, for whom painting and photography are passions. “If I’m invited, it means I know the people well, and want to give them something unique and meaningful.”

Editorial Cartoon: Cutting the cake

Israeli weddings

Over-the-top nuptials an Israeli specialty

Born into a poor Moroccan immigrant family that settled in the development town of Dimona, Yardena Ovadia always dreamed of giving her daughter a fairy-tale wedding.

A millionaire who made a fortune doing business in New Guinea, Ovadia spent almost $2 million on the Venetian-themed wedding, which featured close to 200 flower girls and boys, a river-front setting designed to look like a canal in Venice, and—of course—gondoliers.

Asked by an Israeli news show why she decided to splurge on such a grandiose wedding, Ovadia replied, “My daughter was getting married. That doesn’t happen every day!”

As the number of rich Israelis has grown in recent years, so, too, has the number of lavish weddings taking place in Israel.

“Last year was the year of huge weddings,” says Nikki Fenton, an Israel-based wedding planner. Yitzhak Tshuva, a self-made billionaire, spent nearly $2 million on his son’s extravagant wedding. Some 1,700 guests, nearly all of them rich and famous, including family friend Paul Anka, traveled to the Ben Shemen Forest, where, according to a Ha’aretz business columnist, “large stages were erected … around which gigantic hideous artificial flowers were placed. There was enough lighting to set the city of Ramat Gan aglow.”

“The Tshuva wedding took over the entire Ben Shemen Forest. It had four events, each with a different theme. It was absolutely on another level of crazy,” Fenton added.

Even that sum was paltry compared to the $5.2 million extravaganza billionaire Michael Cherney, an Uzbekistan-born aluminum magnate, threw for his daughter. It took 200 workers working 24 hours a day to prepare the indoor venue, which was the size of a football field or two. Guests who flew to Israel from all over the world, many in private jets, received engraved Czech crystal key chains as party favors. Specially made Italian textiles and magnificent crystal chandeliers were hung throughout the hall, and even the bathroom floors were carpeted for the event. A 36-member orchestra serenaded the couple.

Just as the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton lasted several days, so, too, do some Israeli wedding and even bar mitzvah celebrations.

Naomi Schwartz, the events manager at the venerable King David Hotel in Jerusalem, said wealthy families from abroad—the United States and especially France, Belgium and Brazil—sometimes book half of the hotel’s rooms, including all the suites, for four or five nights.

“It means starting celebrations on Thursday with a henna party and continuing with a very fancy private Friday night dinner and then lunch, often around the pool or in a tent, replete with carpets and draperies, in the garden.”

If the group is large, Schwartz said, the hotel creates a tented synagogue in its parking lot.

Often, the chuppah is placed on the hotel’s semi-circular terrace overlooking the beautiful garden, pool area, and the walls of the Old City. Paul Newman dines on this terrace in the movie Exodus.

While the King David’s vast garden has enough flowers to please any bride, one couple asked the hotel to import two planeloads’ worth of flowers for their special day.

Schwartz said the hotel does whatever it can to please its clients. Within reason.

“This past summer we had an amazing wedding,” she said, noting that the family, which was French, booked 100 of the hotel’s 240 rooms.  

“It was a nonstop celebration. A rich barbecue around the pool, a private breakfast on the terraces, and a menu geared toward the French Moroccan grandparents.”

Yaniv Hiumi, the assistant general-manager of the Dan Accadia Hotel in Herzliya, said his seaside hotel has hosted weddings of up to 800 people.

“They took 100 of our 209 rooms and the wedding was around the pool. At midnight, the guests went to the ballroom, where a well-known Israeli singer entertained until 3 a.m.”

Hiumi said the Dan Accadia is popular with both Israeli and foreign families. He added that all of the hotel’s simchas are at the highest standard.

“We don’t have regular and premium rates, and that’s the reason we don’t host a large number of weddings. But the weddings we do host are on a very high level,” Hiumi said.

While religious families, especially from abroad, often opt for Jerusalem-based venues that afford a view of the Old City, both religious and secular couples are drawn to ocean-front properties like the Accadia, which also has a vast garden. Aquariums are a popular centerpiece, because they reinforce the sand-and-sea atmosphere.   

One recent Accadia wedding boasted eight “open kitchens”—large outdoor work stations where chefs prepared a stunning assortment of food.

Fenton, who plans wedding both in Israel and England, believes Israel provides more options, as well as better value, for upscale weddings.

“The high-end Israeli market is really a level above what you see in London. What you can do here stretches far beyond what you can do in Europe or the U.S.,” Fenton said.

Thanks to “almost guaranteed weather” between April and November, when virtually no rain falls, “you can do a big fancy production outdoors,” whether in an Israeli vineyard or the desert.

In addition to being a lot more affordable (an elegant wedding at the Accadia can cost $150 per person), “menuwise, there’s more on offer here,” Fenton said. “There’s a lot more variety and caterers here are more flexible than kosher caterers abroad.”

And then there’s what Fenton calls Israel’s intangible “wow” factor.

“When you throw a wedding in an unusual location, the guests don’t know what to expect,” the wedding planner said, conjuring up images of circus tents and Arabian nights.

“The spectacle is heightened,” Fenton said of the adventure, “and people are amazed.”

Cost-conscious weddings back in style

Lavish weddings featuring guest lists upward of 500 people were seemingly de rigueur in Southern California’s Iranian-Jewish community just five years ago. But the growth of six-figure simchas strained middle-class families, leading some couples to either call off a wedding or divorce a few months after getting married.

Religious leaders rallied around the issue, and now a growing number of Iranian-Jewish couples and their parents are curtailing the sky’s-the-limit spending of the past.

Whether it is live entertainment, kosher catering, décor and design, flower arrangements, or photography and videography, wedding vendors say that families are embracing cost-conscious budgeting. Today’s young couples are also more hands-on when it comes to planning, and the vendors say they are actively sharing insights to ensure that families don’t get shortchanged on quality as they seek out better deals.

“L.A.‘s Persian-Jewish community is very savvy, and they demand the very best for their weddings,” said Alen Nazarian, founder and musical director of the popular Kasha Ensemble and the band Vibe. “It is really critical for couples to choose vendors that can work well together to make things work smoothly on the day of the wedding and allow for everyone to have an incredible experience.”

Entertainment is an important factor in most Iranian-Jewish weddings. The costs range from $1,500 to $30,000 depending on whether a DJ, live band or a popular Iranian singer is hired for the event.

Nazarian, an Iranian-Armenian musician, said couples should watch videos of the band they’re considering or take note of the band’s performance as they attend other people’s weddings.

“Check to see whether the band has a vast repertoire of music that they play,” he said. “Also check if you can hear each and every single musical instrument played clearly at the venue or if they are using prerecorded computer-generated music, and make sure the band has a proper accompaniment of the music with the vocals.”

Nazarian said he encourages his clients to coordinate different aspects of the wedding closely with his band to create the most memorable experience.

“You should coordinate your floor plan to make sure the bars are situated close to the band, because most times when your guests are drinking near the music they will bring their energy to the dance floor and have a
more pleasurable experience,” Nazarian said.

With the average number of guests for an Iranian-Jewish wedding in Southern California ranging from 250 to 500 people, the cost for kosher catering alone can often vary from $10,000 on the low end to more than $50,000.

David Javaheri, owner of Pico-Robertson-based Sason Catering and Nana Catering, says his younger clients are increasingly tough on negotiating price. 

“What I really love about the Persian-Jewish community is that they truly appreciate great food and amazing design and presentation of food,” he said. “Despite the fact that they negotiate hard on the pricing, they still want the best, and that has been positive for us because it has made my catering businesses push for excellence.”

However, Javaheri says that cutting corners on food can backfire as a budget strategy. 

“Couples have to realize that while they may get a lower price for food at their wedding, at the same time that caterer may be cutting down on the quality of food, or offering a poor presentation of the food, or hiring employees who are not certified to properly handle food that meets the health code regulations,” Javaheri said.

Another area where couples should splurge a little is wedding invitations, said Ferial Senehi, the Iranian-Jewish owner of Beverly Hills-based Invitations By Ferial.

“No special occasion is complete without the appropriate introduction,” Senehi said. “I believe that for a wedding or any other event, everything from the envelopes to the response cards, colors and fonts used are very important because they make a special impression on every guest for the tone of the wedding.”

To accommodate the large number of guests, Iranian-Jewish couples are increasingly turning away from hotels and looking to banquet halls at local Iranian synagogues as a wedding venue. Locations such as the Iranian American Jewish Federation’s synagogue Temple Beth El in West Hollywood, the Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills and the Eretz Cultural Center in Tarzana are less costly than local hotels, saving anywhere from $7,000 to $15,000 in venue costs.

Capturing the special day with photos and video is a must, and photographers who work with the Iranian-Jewish community are offering cost-friendly package deals.

“Every couple is different when it comes to their desires and budgets — so most photographers are now providing packages that can fit how much the couple wants to spend,” said Vahik Rostamian, owner of Vahik Photography in Glendale.

Rostamian says he likes to share the intricate details of the costs involved, time required for editing photos and video as well as important facts regarding the quality of finished products he offers in order to develop long-term relationships with his clients.

“You really have to ask around about your photographer from other couples and get referrals,” Rostamian said. “Some photographers will quote you a price that may seem lower — but they may not share the fact that they will be using a lower grade of printing for the photos that may not retain its colors for as long, or they may not tell you that you should incorporate certain special lighting in your ballroom to enhance the quality of your wedding video.”

Despite some couples’ tight budgets, many vendors working with the local Iranian-Jewish community say they are willing to work with what resources are made available to them because they realize the importance of weddings to their clients.

“For me, the biggest compliment is having clients who are happy with the décor or lighting even though the budget they gave me was very tight,” said Hovik Mehrabian, owner of North Hollywood’s L.A. Event & Design, which provides lighting, décor, table settings, chairs, wall coverings and dance floors.

Even after attending to numerous details just prior to the start of each wedding, Mehrabian says the right vendor will stay behind to ensure a smooth ceremony and celebration.

“By and large, couples getting married are really unaware of all the small details that I go through to make their venue look incredible for that day,” he said. “A good wedding vendor should stick around after his work is completed, even for the ceremony in case something should go wrong for whatever reason. Clients remember things that I’ve done to help them out when something did go wrong.”

For more tips from vendors handling Iranian-Jewish weddings, visit Karmel Melamed’s blog.

The bachelor party grows up

There are many things that come to mind when the words “bachelor” and “party” are said in the same breath, and often the sum of this equation is not pretty.  Despite Hollywood’s depiction of this rite of passage as a final gasp of protracted adolescence (from the Tom Hanks camp classic “Bachelor Party” to the “Hangover” movies), there are men who are not interested in acting silly (or worse) for its own sake.

A variety of event planners are targeting grooms who want the time-honored tradition of transition into another stage of manhood to be, well, more mature. And men are increasingly opting for theme parties and weekend retreats, with activities that can be enriching rather than embarrassing.

Companies offer weekends built around fishing, formula auto-racing, dude ranches and culinary education where wine, beer and spirits are put to more sophisticated, refined use. In England, event company StagWeb even offers a getaway built around a James Bond theme.

As bachelor weekends and weeks are picking up steam, services like CruiseWise have sprung up that allow for maximum bonding with minimum planning. 

Steve Davis, co-founder of CruiseWise, says that while his clients don’t see marriage as the end of fun or a loss of freedom, that doesn’t mean they want to skip a celebration with their friends.

They have witnessed a “trend away from ‘traditional’ bachelor parties for some time now,” he said. “While there will always be 20-somethings who want to do the traditional movie-style bachelor party, there are many more who would call that a nightmare, not a celebration.”

Obvious benefits of all-inclusive cruising include no need for a cab or designated driver, mix-and-match activity menus and easily customized itineraries to accommodate the different personalities that make up the groom’s entourage.

Thanks to the newly opened Beverly Hills flagship of Art of Shaving, grooms without the luxury of time can still put together a pre-wedding day celebration that is all about luxury, pampering and putting one’s best face forward.

Amber Loose, the store’s general manager, notes the location and the concept are particularly popular for older grooms as well as businessmen whose lifestyle may not allow getaways aside from the honeymoon. However, thanks to the distinctive ambience (mansion library/den-meets-men’s spa), the Art of Shaving alternative promises something more grown-up than a night in Vegas and more memorable than a steakhouse dinner.

“We don’t call it a bachelor party,” Loose said. “We see it as more of a sophisticated, pre-wedding gathering that’s particularly appealing to anybody who has outgrown strip clubs and pub crawls.”

When a gathering is booked with Art of Shaving, Loose says, she closes off the store to the public so guests have undisturbed access to eight barber chairs for shaves and haircuts, plus two manicure/pedicure stations.

“Brides, meanwhile, have the luxury of knowing their men are literally in good hands and will look fantastic on the big day,” Loose said.

Art of Shaving’s party planning service include customized wine and beverage services, hors d’oeuvres, music of choice and a photographer to capture the transformational magic. If bosses and co-workers are going to be a part of the wedding party, this kind of gathering will be sure to make a lasting positive impression.

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Art of Shaving in Beverly Hills offers a sophisticated alternative to the raucous bachelor party.

Although popular variations on the sports weekends include baseball fantasy camps, golf resorts and camping, a fitness retreat week can both enlighten and entertain, according to Omari Bernard, one of the lead coaches at Playa del Rey’s Live-In Fitness Enterprise (LIFE).

“When you think about it, getting drunk, behaving badly and feeling awful the next day is not how you want to start the next major chapter of your life,” he said. “However, this experience goes beyond just shaping up so you look great in your tux.”

LIFE emphasizes the team aspect of fitness and coaching. All activities, which integrate a variety of favorite sports (such as hikes, boxing, martial arts and basketball), involve team-building exercises that will help the groom and those closest to him with interpersonal relationships and challenges. 

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A Live-In Fitness Enterprise coach trains one-on-one with a client.

The groom, family and friends also learn good eating and exercise habits that can keep married life, and life in general, exciting and active, Bernard says.

“Everything we do is quantitative, and when the party leaves after a week, they don’t just take away a better body and some workouts to do at home. The groom brings practical information on staying healthy and fit into his marriage,” Bernard said.

What’s the best way to sum up the new wave of groomsman’s gatherings? Party on, but do it with intelligence and self-respect.

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.”

Alternative religious weddings allowed to continue

An organization of Modern Orthodox rabbis that performs alternative religious wedding ceremonies for non-religious couples can continue to register the couples.

The Tzohar organization can register the married couples in the community of Shoham, where the head of the organization serves as chief rabbi, while a new bill proposed to loosen restrictions on where marriages can be registered works its way through the system, the organization said Thursday.

Weddings currently must be registered with the municipal rabbinate where one member of the couple lives. Tzohar had been registering couples with one of two municipal rabbinates headed by members of the organization, in Shoham and Gush Etzion, in contravention of the law. Under Thursday’s agreement, the organization can continue to register the couples.

A Jewish couple must have a religious ceremony in Israel in order to be recognized as married. Many travel abroad to marry in secular ceremonies.

Tzohar helped to involve couples and their families in the ceremony, marrying about 3,000 couples a year free of charge.

The Kadima Party has initiated a bill that would cancel regional marriage registrations, according to Ynet. Religious Services Minister Ya’akov Margi of the haredi Orthodox Shas party told Ynet he does not object to the bill’s proposal.

“This new regulation will improve Tzohar’s ability to increase its success of assisting secular couples to marry in full compliance with both halachaj and the laws of the State of Israel,” said Rabbi David Stav, who heads Tzohar. “We therefore thank Minister Margi for re-evaluating this issue and making the necessary decision, which will benefit many thousands of Jewish couples in the years ahead.”

“This should be viewed as a major victory for Jewish values and Israeli democracy, and we hope that it will be the beginning of continued progress in healing the divide in society and preserving the Jewish character of the State of Israel.”

Margi told Ynet that he was not trying to shut down Tzohar but was trying to fix flaws in the wedding registration system, which is under investigation by the state comptroller.

Lawmakers slam end of aternative religious wedding project

Israeli lawmakers from diverse parties slammed the decision of the religious services minister to prevent an organization of Modern Orthodox rabbis from performing religious wedding ceremonies for non-religious couples

The Tzohar organization said Tuesday that the religious services minister, Ya’akov Margi, a member of the haredi Orthodox Shas Party, told Tzohar that it would no longer be allowed to register couples with the ministry as married, effectively shutting down a service that has been marrying 3,000 couples a year free of charge.

A Jewish couple must have a religious ceremony in Israel in order to be recognized as married. Many travel abroad to marry in secular ceremonies.

Tzohar helped to involve couples and their families in the ceremony.

“Tzohar is demanding that the minister violate the law, which states that you can open a marriage file only when one member of the couple is a resident of that place,” Nissim Alkasalsi, an adviser to Margi, told Haaretz.

Weddings must be registered with the municipal rabbinate where one member of the couple lives. Tzohar had been registering couples with one of two municipal rabbinates headed by members of the organization, in Shoham and Gush Etzion.

Critics ranged from Shlomo Molla of the Kadima Party to Tzipi Hotovely of the Likud Party.

Hotovely has reportedly created a bill that would allow any rabbi whose ordination is recognized by the Rabbinate to perform wedding ceremonies, regardless of where they live, the right wing Israel National News service reported. , Hotovely also reportedly has she plans to bring up the issue of Tzohar weddings in the Knesset’s Committee for the Status of Women.

The Religious Services Ministry is ending the practice by limiting the total number of marriage certificates that each of those ministries can provide in a year to 200.

Weddings: Focus on fitness

From reality TV shows to ads for bridal boot camps, it’s no secret that many women want to slim down for their wedding.

But the average bride-to-be endures months of parties, tastings and never-ending to-do lists leading up to her big day – and it can be a daunting feat to try to drop pounds and keep them off.

But with enough time and the right attitude, says Leslie Maltz, owner of the Topham Street Gym in Reseda, most women can achieve their goals of looking their best when they walk down the aisle.

“Brides want to drop dress sizes,” she said, adding that her average bridal client hopes to lose between 20 and 25 pounds before the big day. “And if they are really focused, it’s doable.”

The first thing that women should keep in mind, said Maltz, who also runs a boot camp in the Valley, is not to wait until the last minute to start eating right and exercising.

“I’ve had people contact me 10 days from the wedding,” she said. “They wanted me to give them a magic pill that makes their body transform.”

Instead, she advises the affianced to begin any weight-loss program at least 12 weeks in advance.

“Twelve weeks out from the wedding is perfect, because it gets you really excited, and it gets you on a plan that is doable,” she said. “It also gives you more motivation, and you know that after 12 weeks, there is an end.”

Once a time frame for getting in shape has been established, personal trainer Doug Rice, who developed the program Bridalicious Boot Camp in Beverly Hills and now runs it out of Dallas, Texas, suggests enlisting the help of a friend for support and encouragement.

Rice, who also has a top-selling bridal workout DVD on leading wedding Web site, came up with the idea of having a loved one or member of the wedding party bear witness to the bride’s weight-loss goals.

“I have them sign a Fitubah,” said Rice, who is Jewish. “It’s a contract that the bride makes with herself and her bridal body buddy, who holds her accountable.”

The contract begins: “I, _____, of sound mind but currently not a sound enough body, enter into this fitness contract with myself.”

If a Fitubah isn’t part of your workout plan, though, Maltz still suggests involving someone else in your get-fit plan — like the person to whom you’re about to commit the rest of your life.

“Grooms also want to look good, although it’s generally just for their honeymoon night,” she said. “They want to lose their gut, build up their chest and tone up their arms.”

Working out together, she says, can increase both partners’ motivation, and each can keep the other on track during the busy months leading up to the wedding.

When it comes to specific exercises for those about to don a bridal gown, many women want to target the areas that will show most prominently in photos and that will be visible in strapless gowns: the back, the arms and the shoulders.

To accomplish this, Maltz and Rice agree that the best bet is interval training, which alternates between short bursts of high-intensity cardio and rests, or slower intervals of movement, and resistance training using dumbbells or even the body’s own weight.

Maltz tasks her brides with working out at least three days a week, for an hour at a time, at maximum output.

And while the upper body might be the main focus of a bride’s critical eye, the rest of her figure shouldn’t go unattended to, adds Rice.

“Most brides are going to go to a beach for the honeymoon, and don’t forget about the wedding night,” he said. “You want everything to be toned and looking awesome.”

But even the most disciplined bride-to-be can’t escape the months before the wedding without the inevitable parties, alcohol and food sampling.

To get through the social obligations without undoing all her efforts at the gym, Rice suggests keeping drinking to a minimum — but not eliminating it altogether.

“When you are a bride, there is a lot of social drinking,” he said. “Just limit yourself to a couple of drinks.”

And, he adds, for brides who have the overwhelming urge to let loose, pick one party a month at which to do so. Other than that, he says, “You have to keep your mind focused on your goals.”

When faced with tasting sample menus, cakes and appetizers for the big day, Maltz reminds those who might be prone to overdoing it, there’s a reason it’s called a tasting.

“The truth of the matter is, if you’re just tasting one or two bites, it’s not a problem,” she said. “But it’s when you eat something and you like it and eat the whole thing” that the damage is done.

“Keep the tasting to a taste,” she said.

By the time most brides’ weddings roll around, Maltz notes, if all went according to plan, there’s no reason they can’t lose anywhere from 10 to 25 pounds within three or four months. 

And, for Rice, it’s satisfying to know that he was able to help worried brides feel beautiful on such an important day.

“As I like to say, I take them from kvetching to fetching.”

Extravagant Jewish celebrations — Have we gone too far?

A wedding that costs $100,000? A bar mitzvah that costs $20,000? When did extravagance and luxury become such primary Jewish values? I can’t remember the last simcha (Jewish celebration) I attended at which there were not tremendous amounts of wasted food, overly expensive napkins and bands large enough for a royal banquet.

Shockingly, the funding for these weddings (as well as bar/bat mitzvahs, and brit milahs) does not always come from savings accounts; rather, families frequently take out large loans in order to afford keeping up with the Jewish communal norms. Stories have been told that some families take out loans up to $100,000 to cover weddings that at times cost as much as $150,000 to $300,000. Is this what a committed Jewish life necessitates?

Histapkut bamuat (being content with less) is a core Jewish value, and Ben Zoma taught that a wealthy individual is one who is content with one’s lot (Pirkei Avot 4:1).

Rav Bachya Ibn Pakuda, an 11th century Spanish philosopher, shared this view and taught that a lifestyle of materialism and overindulgence leads one away from God. Furthermore, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 29b) teaches that one is not to appear publicly in a way that flaunts his or her wealth, as this lifestyle not only leads to arrogance, but also can shame others and lead them to covet.

Throughout various time periods, the Jewish community embraced sumptuary laws (laws limiting personal expenses on religious grounds). As a way of showing “deference to the poor” (Moed Kattan 27), even the richest people were to be buried plainly so as not to shame the poor, and on certain festive days, girls, especially those from wealthy families, were to wear borrowed clothes so as not to shame those who did not have.

In the early 18th century, the community of Furth prohibited the serving of coffee and tea because they were expensive. They limited the number of musicians at celebrations, as well as how long they could play. At other times, rabbis ruled that only fish, not meat, could be served at festive occasions.

Attempts to limit overly extravagant celebrations have been made in 21st century America as well. In 2001, the Agudah issued “Guidelines for Financial Realism and Modesty in Our Weddings,” and for a few years thereafter, ultra-Orthodox rabbis issued simcha guidelines (“wedding takkanos”) that canceled the vort (pre-wedding celebration), limited wedding guests to 400, the smorgasbord to the basics, the meal to three courses, the band to five musicians, and the flowers and chuppah decorations to $1,800. The Satmar, Skver and Belz Chasidim have also followed suit and issued wedding takkanos.

These takkanos indicate that the madness of overly extravagant celebrations has gotten out of hand.

Every simcha sets a new communal standard, and rabbis should be counseling families in the virtues of modesty and moderation as their congregants plan their celebrations. Family members and friends should remind loved ones what is most important when planning a major life event; it should be a time of spiritual reflection creating an ambience of love by bringing together sacred community and not be merely an opportunity to outdo “the Cohens.”

Instead of inciting competition and animosity, we should strive for more creative and holy celebrations that foster inclusiveness and community building.

Money is tight today, especially for those committed to living an observant Jewish life. A 2005 study estimated that synagogue membership averages more than $1,000 per year, and in large cities it can easily be two to three times that. A Jewish family with only three children could spend more than $100,000 a year on day school, camp, synagogue and kosher food. Prices are going up and not all can meet these demands.

A wedding, birth, funeral and the like are all opportunities for great spiritual and ethical possibilities and are a time for families to engage in financial introspection (cheshbon ha’kis).

Some argue that people have the right to enjoy their wealth and spend it as they please. While it is true that they have the secular right to do as they wish with their wealth, it is clear that excessively lavish simchot are at odds with core values of the Jewish tradition. Those who are concerned with the trend of expressing love through consumerism should consider alternative models of celebration, shifting the focus of Jewish life-cycle celebrations from materialism and extravagance to a more spiritual and ethical approach.