Andrea Ceaser clearly remembers the day, about a month ago, when she read that wedding dresses made in China were being delayed because of a virus that was spreading. Ceaser, the owner of Paper Works and Events, a company that produces invitations and promotional items, thought the main impact on her business would be a problem getting sweatshirts and sweatpants for bar and bat mitzvahs on time.
“I really saw it as a problem in China,” she recalled. “I never thought anything would happen here. I was mainly concerned about not getting materials.”
In rapid succession, the news came out about a patient with the virus from New Rochelle, social distancing regulations were issued and the RCBC told people to stay home. That’s when reality hit: First, the bar and bat mitzvahs were canceled. Then the nervous brides and grooms began to realize their carefully arranged plans were not going to happen.
Invitations were already out for March and April weddings. Ceaser began designing PDFs for her brides to send to their guests telling them the wedding was either off, postponed or that the date was changed. Some were rescheduled for October, with plans to insert a notice into the invitation telling guests they will be informed if the event has to be postponed again.
Brides with weddings booked for mid-May to June are still reluctant to cancel.
“There’s a major feeling of insecurity,” said Ceaser. “I have a bride with a May 18 wedding that is going ahead with the invitation, with an insert notifying guests that if it is canceled, we will let you know by email.”
Ceaser is working on a May wedding with event planner Penny Rabinowitz, who lived in Englewood before making aliyah but who still comes back to the U.S. to arrange events. Rabinowitz flew in for a planning session with vendors and left with details nailed down for a spectacular event. Except now the wedding has been postponed and Rabinowitz is nearing the end of a two-week home quarantine. They are supposed to meet with another bride but will now hold that conversation via a video call.
Most of Rabinowitz’s summer simchas have been canceled.
“They feel like they have no choice,” said Rabinowitz in a call from her quarantine. “Most of my clients are Anglos from America, Europe, South Africa and Australia. They can’t wait to find out what the situation will be in June. Everyone needs to know.” They will arrange a downsized event in their own countries, Rabinowitz said, or in the case of bar and bat mitzvahs, which aren’t as life changing, the parties will be postponed until normalcy returns.
Most of the couples in Israel Rabinowitz knows are going ahead with downsized weddings of 10 or fewer in their house or yard. “They are nice and intimate,” said Rabinowitz. A planner she knows just did a wedding with a creative solution for including everyone who was invited. There were supposed to be 300 guests. There were—but in rotating shifts of 10.
You may have seen one of the videos going around of weddings in Israel on street level, with families on their porches joining in.
“It’s very common here,” said Rabinowitz. “There’s one going on in my courtyard today.”
Ten close family members surround the chuppah, while quarantined people watch from their porches. The family has a festive meal somewhere with a mandated two-meter distance between people.
“The singing and dancing from porches are not planned; people just come out,” explained Rabinowitz. “In Israel, the whole atmosphere here is that it is such a small country––we’re all family. When someone gets married, everyone feels part of the family and their simcha. It brings out the best in people!”
Judy Davidovics of Englewood has an apartment in Rehovot, and shared a story that highlights the closeness neighbors feel in Israel. Her neighbor’s son was supposed to have his bar mitzvah on a Tuesday night at 7 p.m. but it was canceled. The residents have a WhatsApp group, and the family sent a post asking everyone to come out onto their porch at 7 p.m. on the night of the canceled bar mitzvah for a kumzitz that would include their son’s favorite song.
The family got dressed as though for the bar mitzvah, and sat down for a celebratory dinner at 6:30 p.m. They went onto the porch at 7 p.m. and saw all their neighbors doing the same. Someone called out the boy’s name and everyone wished him a hearty mazel tov. They sang the Hebrew version of Happy Birthday and then his favorite song.
“The videos of surprise and joy and excitement brought tears to my eyes,” said Davidovics, “even though I was thousands of miles away.”
Yael Saks of Bergenfield has shared a good portion of her things and her life with her twin brother. Her bat mitzvah was to be the one time she had the spotlight to herself. And then it was canceled.
“The whole family was supposed to come for Shabbos,” said Yael’s mother, Margi Saks. “My niece was supposed to land from Israel this morning. It’s disappointing to Yael that her cousin isn’t here.”
The party has been rescheduled to June 15. Saks said all her vendors were not only understanding but available. And then there’s another possibility, should the restrictions still be in place: a combination party next year for Yael’s bat mitzvah and her twin brother’s bar mitzvah. Not Yael’s favorite option, of course, but possible.
Saks unfortunately could not be at the aufruf and wedding of a good friend last weekend, which went on with only close family.
“We’re happy the children got married,” said Saks. “As a friend, I totally appreciated it and sent a present. It wasn’t the wedding of one’s dream, but I imagine it was beautiful in its own way.”
By Bracha Schwartz