Engaged couples planning their weddings have to consider health as well as elegance. Personalized masks, bottles of hand sanitizer and gloves are the new party favors. Seating is no longer a function of which relatives aren’t speaking to each other and who wants to be next to their best friend. You have to know how many guests you are allowed to invite and how to keep them socially distant. And there’s a bigger question: You would like to invite the maximum number allowed, but should you?
Wedding planners are devising creative approaches to planning safe smachot. Barbara Listhaus is a psychologist, wedding consultant and the kosher events coordinator for The Legacy Castle, a wedding venue in Pompton Plains, New Jersey with three large ballrooms and two outdoor areas for the chuppah and reception with tenting available. She was recently asked to assist with a wedding in which there were immediate family members who had health concerns. She suggested that the small group could be divided into three: immediate family including the grandparents in one area and extended family in another and the couple’s friends in a third. The bride and groom were able to spend time with each group of guests, and exposure was minimized.
At a wedding in Livingston, where she lives, the chuppah was held in the backyard and the guests sat in small groups on all four sides. After the ceremony, the guests went to a second venue where there were separate tents for dancing and meals.
There was no seating for meals at another wedding she attended. Food-to-go was handed out to the guests by the caterer just prior to sheva brachot. There were boxes filled with brisket, mashed potatoes and all the fixings to take home. The wedding lasted two and a half hours instead of the usual five or six.
Listhaus suggests that family and friends involved in planning a wedding use ‘shtick’ to keep guests socially distanced and happy.
“Traditional parachutes, arches, jump ropes and hula hoops can be used in creative ways to help maintain distance,” Listhaus said. “Guests can bring noisemakers, bubbles, confetti or petals to shower the couple with love from a distance.”
She has advised hosts to give guests battery operated or hand held fans to keep cool at outdoor venues.
Enhancing the simcha of the bride and groom is the real task of the wedding guest.
“Guests should remember that the bride and groom and their parents have gone through a difficult process of cutting guest lists and renegotiating their lifelong dreams for the simcha. Don’t judge them or any of the guests, including those who decide it is safer to stay home,” said Listhaus.
Listhaus advises guests who choose to attend a wedding to participate in the simcha as fully as possible.
“Ordinarily, you can get lost in the crowd. But with a small group, it’s important to be engaged throughout the time you’re there and focus on the couple and the immediate family,” she said. “When there are only 50 people at a wedding, 10 shouldn’t be on the side socializing. Dance, and share in the simcha, even if you choose to do so from a distance.”
When Eli Lunzer and Yosefa Heber held their backyard wedding in Englewood, all the logistics were planned with both safety and simcha in mind. The couple had masks custom made with their names and the date to hand out, and custom labels put on jars of Purell hand sanitizer. Chairs at the chuppah were placed far apart, and there were just a few at each table for the meal. The menu was carefully planned with the caterer to include only dishes that worked well for outside dining so they didn’t spoil and were good at room temperature. Menu items included different kinds of fish and salads, and grilled steak and hamburgers. The food was presented on a buffet table but portioned out by servers so no one else touched the food.
Lunzer said they tried to think of everything to make the simcha as safe as possible, “but ultimately it was up to the guests to take any extra precautions that made them feel comfortable on their level. All invited guests were told about the set up and given the opportunity to attend only if they felt comfortable—they were encouraged not to attend if they felt even the slightest inkling of discomfort. There were people who wouldn’t sit at tables to keep their distance. Everyone stayed healthy and nobody got sick. Staying safe in these times is a function of people who are there regardless of how much you do.”
Dr. Nancy Simpkins has a large internal medicine practice in Livingston and is also a medical consultant to the state of New Jersey. In blogs and television appearances, she discourages people from holding large weddings now, even though the numbers allowed have risen. “I am privy to information and data that shows all large events should be discouraged,” she said. “Weddings are considered superspreaders.” A superspreader is a contagious person who infects many others.
What people have been doing that is legitimate, she said, is to have 50 people outside, socially distant by nuclear family living under the same roof wearing masks, sitting at the same table with food brought to the table. There should be no mingling, but that’s virtually impossible when the bride and groom visit each table. She said she gave permission to her daughter to attend an engagement party as it would be just her and her husband at a table.
“Big weddings are going to prohibit us from safely opening schools,” she said. “If you want your children educated in the fall, hold off on these events. You can’t have it both ways. You have to do what is ethically correct and what follows science until we have a vaccine. If someone wants to get married, have immediate family only or postpone the wedding. That’s the advice I’m giving to my own synagogue.”
By Bracha Schwartz