Planning a wedding: delays, details, diplomacy

By Pearl Salkin, Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer

Planning a child’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebration can be a rough roller coaster ride that requires a lot of antacid pills and a truckload of patience. But that terrific and somewhat terrifying experience is just basic training for the real test of marking a huge milestone, your child’s wedding.

The countdown clock starts clicking when the bling is placed on the bride-to-be’s finger. The challenge to get what the couple wants and not bust the budget begins.

And while you successfully pulled many rabbits out of your hat for your daughter to have the Bat Mitzvah bash of her dreams, repeating the feat on a grander scale will take diplomacy, dedication to getting things done in a timely manner and a vow not to drown in the details.
Paving a smooth path for your child’s walk to the chupah is quite the task, especially for parents of the bride. In many ways, it’s double the trouble.

There are two primary people to please, with twice the number of friends and relations to put on the guest list, feed and seat in an area that they will find agreeable.

Although I’ve attended dozens of weddings, been a member of the bridal party and planned my own march down the aisle many years ago, I had no idea how hard being a Jewish mother of the bride in the 21st century would be.

As a person with an insatiable appetite for consumer justice, I’ve been known to send back many underdone appetizers and overcooked entrées to restaurant kitchens.

A bargain hunter practically from birth, looking over prospective menus and price lists last year resulted in suffering a serious case of sticker shock that was tough for me to overcome.

Daunting delays
Though we had lots of time — 14 months — to plan and prepare for Ellen‘s wedding, a new delay in checking off items on the to-do list popped up daily.

Whether it was getting a hard copy of the corrections and clarifications of the contract with the caterer or obtaining confirmation of the music playlist from the DJ/band, everything seemed to move in slow motion.

Even obtaining the cake topper — a couple of white porcelain doves — became an international bird hunt. While they were readily available online at the start of the planning process in the winter, procrastination caused by my hopes to get them at the lowest price possible almost proved to be catastrophic in the summer.

Apparently, there was a problem at the factory in Asia that lasted for months and every vendor I could find gave a delivery date that was after the wedding. Luckily, I was finally able to outbid other buyers on an auction site and received it with three weeks to spare.

Drowning in details
Planning my 1973 wedding involved going to a bridal fair and visiting synagogues, catering halls and retail shops. Looking at live flowers, feeling the raised lettering on sample invitations and tasting the chopped liver made everything real and relatively simple. Sure, there were some catalogs to peruse.

But knowing what the budget was and seeing what was available within the given cost constraints limited the range of options and kept me on course.

Today, the world is at our fingertips when trying to find a wonderful cake design for a local baker to recreate. Locating the perfect silk petals for the flower girl’s basket is just a few clicks and a PayPal payment away.

With billions of possibilities vying for our approval, the Internet is both a blessing and a bastion of confusion.

Since my daughter’s wedding was on a riverboat, it was no surprise that we would need to supply our own chupah. No big deal. Right? Wrong! This most basic building block of a Jewish wedding became my obsession during the summer of 2010.

Ellen decided she wanted to use French flower buckets to anchor the four poles (borrowed from the groom’s synagogue) that would support the canopy. I found the exact ones she had in mind at a local craft store and took them home.

What followed was weeks of frustrating experiments and a wish that I could kidnap Bill Nye The Science Guy and get him to solve a physics mystery that made me batty.

The metal buckets had narrow bottoms which flared out at the top. Although I tried every trick imaginable to get the poles to stand up straight, even the lightest canopy fabric was more than enough to cause the buckets full of rocks or sand to tip over.

After I switched to lighter poles, bamboo garden stakes, I was sure that change would solve the problem. It didn’t. And it looked droopy and depressing.

Finally, after countless combinations of pole possibilities, fill material and canopy cloth, I convinced Ellen that the fancy French buckets had to go. They were replaced by plastic pails with sufficiently wide bottoms and tops, and looked great after being artfully disguised and decorated with some craft store miracle makers.

Diplomacy rules
The most delicate part of the whole wedding process is getting the two families together. In some cases, the bride and her parents run the whole show, and the groom and his family just take their assigned roles and places.

However, in the vast majority of Jewish weddings that I have been associated with, the groom’s family has lots to say and much sway in the proceedings.

Getting the groom’s family to reveal the number of people on their guest list was difficult.
While everyone knew the space limitations on the riverboat where the wedding was to take place, numerous reassurances without specific numbers of adults, children and babies were all that I received for many months.

I kept my cool and carried on. When the totals were finally tabulated and released, I had to trim my own list and cut out many out-of-town cousins.

Few would have made the trip anyway. Since I don’t like to receive an invitation that appears to be just a fishing expedition for a gift, I can live with that.

One honor that is up for grabs at a Jewish wedding is the challah blessing. There are several senior members of my family and my husband’s who would have appreciated the opportunity to get the party started.

We decided to give this honor to the groom’s family and scored many diplomatic points.
The groom’s great uncle, Norman, was thrilled to be selected. He had recited the challah blessing at the wedding of Leben’s parents and was so pleased to do the same for their son.

While each of the most difficult days before a wedding seems to go on forever, the big day finally arrives and is over in a flash.

I must admit that I worried about too many little things along the way, and acting sooner in some instances could have staved off a lot of stress.

But a compliment that my husband and I received from one of the groomsmen just before the march down the aisle was just what we needed. “You two really clean up nicely and know how to throw a party.”

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