November 16, 2018

My DIY Jewish wedding

I got married this past summer. The wedding ceremony was beautiful, heartfelt and touching. The reception featured delicious food, great music, dancing and celebrating. The day reflected our personal style and tastes perfectly. 

And, miraculously, it didn’t put us in debt. 

If you’ve ever planned a wedding, you know just how hard this can be. American weddings are a $60 billion-a-year industry, according to the market-research firm IBISWorld. And Rabbi Susan Goldberg signs the ketubah created by the groom’s brother.

Food: We turned to our friends who own an incredible Mediterranean restaurant in Atwater Village called Dune. They laid out an enormous spread of falafel, hummus, pita, grilled veggies and mouthwatering focaccia sandwiches made with pickled beets, feta cheese and hard-boiled eggs, and our guests helped themselves. Another friend prepared giant salads, and a friend who manages a gourmet-food import company laid out a spread of artisan cheeses, charcuterie, olives and fruit to snack on before the ceremony. We also pre-mixed a couple of signature cocktails, which we served out of glass dispensers, next to buckets of ice-cold India pale ale and bottles of wine.

Guests enjoy dinner and music after the backyard wedding ceremony.

Cakes: A close friend of ours is a wonderful cook and loves to bake. She created some sample cakes for us and they were all so delicious; we couldn’t choose one. So she made three: pistachio with rosewater buttercream, lemon with lavender icing, and red velvet. She topped them with fresh flowers, and after we smashed the first slice in each other’s faces, my new wife and I served up platefuls to our delighted guests.

Flowers: Rather than hiring a florist, Amanda and some friends visited the Los Angeles Flower Market when it opened at 6 a.m. on the day before the wedding. They returned with buckets filled with red, orange and yellow ranunculus blossoms, purple globe amaranth pompons, green chrysanthemums, golden yellow brush-shaped celosia and silver-green eucalyptus leaves. They fashioned them into stunning table centerpieces, boutonnieres and flower crowns using floral wire and tape.

Flower centerpieces were made by friends of the bride and groom.

Miscellaneous: Luckily for us, the garden already looked beautiful, so we didn’t have to do much to it. We rented tables and chairs and a giant piece of artificial turf for a dance floor. We bought fabric from the Fashion District and cut it into table runners. We gathered some childhood photos and displayed them using string and miniature clothespins. We set up a Moleskine notebook for people to write messages to us. For wedding favors, we didn’t want to give people kitschy souvenirs that would just take up space in their homes. So we baked a big batch of vegan banana bread granola and scooped it into small white muslin pouches, each hand-stamped using an ink stamp of two daffodils, one leaning against the other.

Because I work at a radio station, I was able to get a good deal on a photographer and a DJ, and I borrowed an iPad stand from the office and set up a photo booth. We projected a looping supercut of film dance scenes onto our friends’ movie screen as a backdrop. Our host also had a smoke machine and a glittering gold disco ball, which added to the dance party ambience. We did hire someone to help with washing dishes, refilling the drink containers, and other chores so we could focus on having fun.

The bride and groom share their first dance — to Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend.”

If this seems like a long list of details, that’s pretty much what planning a wedding is: a never-ending checklist. In the end, we threw a memorable party, and our guests had a great time. That’s all you can hope for in a wedding, and we demonstrated that it can be done well on a tight budget.

We are lucky to have friends and family who are talented at things such as baking, floral arrangement and graphic design, and who own a restaurant and could cater our wedding. But if you think about it, you probably also have friends whose skills you can tap to make your wedding more personal and, yes, more affordable. They’ll feel honored to be included in your special day, and their gift to you will be that much more meaningful.