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Thursday, December 08, 2022
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For me, any opportunity to be in Israel is a cause of great personal simcha. My desire to spend more time in Eretz Yisroel is strong; unfortunately it isn’t always matched by the financial means to realize those dreams.

A more universal simcha, of course, is the wedding of one’s child. The event is an unparalleled celebration of a major milestone in your child’s life and, in the case of two observant young Jewish adults making a home together, a doubly joyful sign of the success of the parents’ transmission of the mesorah to their children.

On a personal level, I don’t think I need to explain the intense emotional, spiritual and familial feelings that such an occasion can elicit. The situation is simply awe-inspiring.

Planning a wedding for your child in Israel, while you live in America, however, is not quite a simcha. Perhaps this is proof of the principle, cited in Mishna Moed Katan (8b), that it is not advisable to mix two simchas. (This is of course talking about two bona fide halachic simchas; my passion for visiting Israel, while familiar to many, is probably not what the Mishna had in mind.)

Rest assured that, when all was said and done, the wedding of our daughter Penina to Daniel Davis, a delightful young man originally from the U.K., on September 12 in Jerusalem was a pure delight (even if much of it went by in a blur of sheer joy, sweet tears, soaring hopes and parental pride). Yet there were vital differences from a wedding in the U.S., and valuable lessons that I believe are worth sharing, as I’m sure others will face a similar situation. So I’m pleased to offer the following observations.

It is quite stressful to plan a wedding from overseas.

When Penina and Daniel announced their engagement in early June, and told us of their intention to hold the shindig in Yerushalayim, I confess that I had mixed emotions. I was so impressed with their conviction that the launch of their married life had to take place where they planned to live their lives. At the same time, I sensed that we would be navigating unfamiliar territory, as all the weddings I had experienced were planned by at least one set of parents who lived in that country.

In our case, with Daniel’s folks living in the Bushey neighborhood of England and Fran and me living in Highland Park, New Jersey, we understood at the start that many of our family and friends in our respective countries would most likely not be able to attend the simcha. We also suspected that our roles in planning the occasion would be, by necessity, diminished.

What I didn’t fully grasp until weeks later was how much of the planning would fall on Penina’s shoulders. Thank God, Daniel started a new job in June, so he was understandably quite busy. While Penina was gradually building her own photography business, she had far more discretionary time, so much of the planning, researching, negotiating and booking of vendors and a venue fell to her. And that was a lot.

Daniel’s folks, Paul and Amanda; Fran and I; and the young couple coordinated the budget and major aspects of the simcha via weekly Zoom calls and an ongoing WhatsApp discussion. Daniel was active, attentive and supportive. But the nitty gritty details were often the bride’s domain and therefore fell more heavily on Penina.

A wedding planner helps.

Early on, my wife and I decided to help Penina by funding the hiring of a wedding planner in Israel. This wedding planner was a tremendous asset; she identified great service providers, read and negotiated contracts, requested and worked within our budget, and kept us all on a schedule to sequentially book vendors as needed. She had a wonderfully realistic and time-sensitive vision of what it takes to plan a wedding in roughly three months’ time. Quite simply, she helped us make it happen.

Yet as I mentioned above, it was Penina and Daniel who often had to meet vendors and choose among various options. They had to fit projected expenses within the budget and at times “sell” a decision to both sets of parents. They did so masterfully. Yet the constant time demands, and the challenges of adhering to a budget and meeting parental preferences. weighed heavily on them.

Dads don’t have much to do in the days beforehand. Moms, on the other hand …

In the three days before the wedding—we arrived a bit early, to help with last-minute stuff—my wife, Fran, accompanied Penina to pick up the wedding dress and pick up her sheitel, shared heirloom jewelry with her, helped set up the Shabbos Kallah lunch, went with her to the mikvah, and advised her on a ton of financial concerns. Abba did not have sufficient security clearance for any of these tasks.

I did get to assist in transporting the ketubah, the bride’s and bride’s mom’s wedding dresses, and the glass to be smashed, to the hotel by the wedding hall. It was a sensitive mission but, baruch Hashem, I pulled it off.

Many wedding vendors expect to be paid in cash, in shekels, at the simcha.

As an American, it strikes me as fundamentally “bad practice” to pay for any large service by cash, as there’s no paper trail. Yet as we learned from the wedding planner, the prevailing minhag in Israel is that wedding vendors expect to receive their payment—even when it’s thousands of shekels—in cash, on the day the service is provided.

This “pay today” mantra was not absolute; for instance, most vendors took deposits. And when the parents pushed for it, the wedding planner assisted us in making a few larger deposits or outright payments by wire transfer or credit card. But that still left a lot of folks expecting to receive cash payments the day of the wedding.

As Fran and I learned, it is no small task to gather the requisite amount of money in shekels in advance. You have the choice of traveling by plane with an obscene amount of shekels on your person that you ordered in advance from your local bank and/or running to an ATM each day after you land in Israel, while staying aware of daily withdrawal limits, to collect the necessary amount of cash. (We needed tens of thousands of shekels per set of parents.)

The night before the wedding, Fran and I sat in Paul and Amanda’s hotel room, counting stacks of shekels and placing them into 13 different marked envelopes. That was a whole lot of money that we carried around; it made me a little nervous.

***

Those are the major points I wanted to share. Now here are two minor ones, which need no elaboration.

Discussing the wedding is a good conversation starter with Israeli cab drivers. But no one offers “parents of the bride” discounts.

Make no mistake about it—if your now-married daughter or son plans to live in Israel, it will accentuate your own discussions about making aliyah.

***

Despite the unfamiliar challenges, all the worries and the varied logistical conundrums, when the wedding day got underway they all faded into the background. The event was an undiluted delight, exceeded my expectations, and will stand as one of the high points of my life.

We are now blessed with a charming son-in-law who treats our daughter with great care and affection, and a daughter who now beams with startling frequency. We also now have the most agreeable, kind, good humored and thoughtful machatunim—the kind of people we’d happily befriend even without shared ties.

And not only that—now we have a few added reasons to seek out the simcha of visiting Israel.

By Harry Glazer

 

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