When Will Bernstein’s only daughter, Marjolaine, asked for a video to be included in the online invitation for her upcoming bat mitzvah in 2012, he was surprised to discover that there were no services providing that option.
So he made one.
The result is Mitzvites, an online invitation service for b’nai mitzvah that officially started Jan. 1. It offers more than 60 invitation templates, along with free “save the dates,” RSVP tracking, and video and photo capabilities.
“The world is moving online, and there’s nothing specific that addresses the tradition and importance of the bar and bat mitzvah,” he said. “It’s too special and too important an event, and it requires someone who understands the culture and traditions that are required to put this together.”
Bernstein, 45, of Northridge said the online service is the only one specifically geared toward b’nai mitzvah. He has worked in the digital agency business, which designs, develops and markets websites for its clients, for more than 15 years. For the last two years, he has been in marketing and sales for ZeroLag, a website hosting company that hosts Mitzvites. Bernstein and Jess Wall launched Interactive Talent Network, an Internet-based talent casting service company. Wall is in charge of the day-to-day operations for Mitzvites.
To help resolve his daughter’s predicament, Bernstein called Wall, 49, to create an invitation with an embedded video. The duo put together a style guide inspired by Judaic artwork, jewelry and clothing while searching for a designer. They eventually found software engineer Cimaron Shanahan.
During development, Bernstein had three core requirements for Mitzvites (mitzvites.com): It had to “feel Jewish” and appropriate for the occasion, the design had to be “amazing” because of the importance of the event, and it had to be easy to use.
“I knew I had to do something custom,” Bernstein said. “We’re the only invitation service that I know of that supports video. We know that the other leading online invitation services do not offer video and are not specialized for Jewish events, either.”
Additionally, Wall and Bernstein decided to establish a helpline manned by Wall.
“My generation, Gen X people, are not digital natives, and they’re the ones mainly doing this for their kids.” Bernstein said. “You could literally create your invitation within 10 to 15 minutes, tops.”
The response from recipients was overwhelming, with more than 300 registered users, he said. The company had a soft opening in September as a test run before it officially opened for business.
Liz Gabor from White Plains, N.Y., discovered Mitzvites in November while doing a Google search for online invitations for her son, Jesse. While working on sending out three different invitations for different events for the occasion, she took advantage of the helpline.
“The whole thing is stressful, and I enjoyed speaking with Jess [Wall],” Liz said. “It made it easy. Jess was very nice, and nothing was ever a problem or too much to ask.”
Chatsworth resident Tony Lopez, a friend of Bernstein’s, used Mitzvites for his son Zachary in March and included the video montage normally reserved for the bar mitzvah.
“My wife’s family is Orthodox, and they said it’s unbelievable,” Lopez said. “In the Orthodox community, they don’t use stuff like this, and they enjoyed it.”
Mitzvites sends users an email summary of all the RSVPs and tells them whether recipients have opened the invitation.
“We sent them out to Canada, Israel and all over the U.S. I didn’t have to keep a list of who was coming,” Lopez said. “It made it easy.”
According to Bernstein, the RSVP tracker is one of the unique aspects of Mitzvites that most impresses customers.
Bernstein has plans to expand the business to include wedding invitations and also introduce a charitable donation of $18 to the Jewish National Fund in the name of each new user.
“Eighteen is symbolic of the Jewish tradition of life,” Bernstein said. “We have fun with it. [The number] 18 is in our help line, and our first registered user had 18 in the time stamp. It’s a running theme for us.”
Mitzvites has no advertising on the website and charges users $249. It offers more than its free competitors, Berstein said, and costs less than paper invitations. Bernstein said the company currently depends on Google searches and word-of-mouth recommendations.
“I never had a doubt that this service would be successful,” he said. “It’s really, truly needed. Other online invitations out there aren’t taking into consideration how important a day it is. We want to represent it in the best possible way.”