Jewish Journal

Israeli Planners to the Rescue

by Michele Chabin, Contributing writer

Posted on May. 18, 2010 at 11:33 pm

The bride and groom, in their 20s, ordered a wedding cake adorned with their image, but unbeknownst to them it arrived on their wedding day featuring an image of an elderly couple with the words, “Mazal tov Bubbe and Zeide on your 60th Wedding Anniversary.”

Had their wedding planner, Shani Falik-Roth, not caught the mistake in time, the guests would have been slicing into grandma and grandpa.

“When I called the bakery they said, ‘What’s the big deal, it tastes the same,’ ” Falik-Roth recalled, still irked by the conversation. “After a lot of yelling, they finally agreed to find the other cake and deliver it to the wedding.”

Things like this happen more often than one might think, said Falik-Roth, one of a growing number of event planners in Israel. The electricity fails, the wrong flowers are delivered, ketubbahs are mislaid, and it’s up to the planner to set things right.

The majority of Israeli couples still tackle their weddings on their own, taking advantage of their uncle’s wedding hall and their second cousin’s catering services. But the list of event planners is growing rapidly, according to local bridal magazines and people in the industry.

“The irony is that business, which was beyond good until a few months ago, is down somewhat because of the recession, but there are more event planners in Israel than ever,” Falik-Roth said.

Most Israeli planners cater to one of two groups: very wealthy native Israelis, and foreigners who decide, for whatever reason, to tie the knot in Israel. The latter include Israel-based yeshiva students, immigrants whose parents reside abroad, and Zionistic couples — especially Europeans — who find it almost as easy and considerably less expensive to marry in Israel than at home.

Especially when there’s an overseas component, “having a planner is a source of comfort,” said Susan Barth, project coordinator of a popular wedding guide produced by the Givat Sharett Chesed Committee, Simcha Gemach.

Judy Bernstein, owner of Judy Events, sees herself as an intermediary between her English-speaking clients and Israeli wedding manners.

“There is the language barrier and Israelis don’t have that American mentality that the customer is always right,” Bernstein explained.

“People here have a much more relaxed attitude about punctuality and seating arrangements [often there aren’t any], and Israeli guests don’t often R.S.V.P.”

Relaxed is good only to a point, Bernstein said, recalling the time dozens of yeshiva boys who were invited for the dancing and light refreshments toward the end of the wedding arrived in time for the chuppah.

“We couldn’t kick them out, so we opened up four extra tables. We set up as fast as we could but the food wasn’t ready. It took a lot of engineering but it worked,” Bernstein said.

The guests aren’t the only ones with time-management issues.

“Sometimes the bride and groom linger in the yichud room [where they retreat following the chuppah] for 45 or 50 minutes and the guests are hungry and aggravated. You don’t want the couple to make their grand entrance just as the main course is being served because the guests will get up to dance and won’t have a chance to eat. Someone has to coordinate,” Bernstein, a former caterer, said.

The food almost didn’t arrive at a wedding recently planned by Danny Marx, a native Israeli whose clientele is divided between foreigners and Israelis.

“The couple was British, and it was an expensive wedding at the Tower of David in Jerusalem,” Marx recalled. “The wedding was to begin at 6 p.m., and the catering truck was stopped by the police at the entrance to the city. We were in the Old City and I almost ordered bagelach [akin to soft pretzels] from the vendor outside” for the pre-chuppah reception. “Fortunately, the caterer, one of the best, arrived and set up in 15 minutes.”

Like Falik-Roth and Bernstein, Nikki Fenton, owner of Nikki Fenton Weddings, is also a native English speaker with a large clientele from overseas.

“I’m British and know what an Anglo couple from overseas wants in an Israel-based wedding. They may not observe Shabbat but they still want the tradition: the bedeken [veiling of the bride before the ceremony], the chuppah, the yichud room. An Israeli wedding planner probably won’t understand this.”

In addition to the wedding itself, Fenton helps families navigate the pre-wedding process by opening up a file with the Orthodox Rabbinate, the only recognized Jewish religious authority in Israel.

“If the family wants to bring a rabbi from overseas we can arrange this or suggest an English-speaking rabbi who is registered with the Rabbinate.”

The goal, Fenton said, “is to leave the family with as few responsibilities as possible. I do the chasing and the calling; they do the tastings and the fun things.”

“The bride dreams of her wedding day from the time she is a little girl and she wants everything to be perfect,” Falik-Roth said. “She doesn’t want to deal with any surprises, especially negative ones.

While every good wedding planner arrives at the hall with sewing and first aid kits, not every family wants to be fussed over.

Falik-Roth recalled how the mother of a bride cut her finger during the tenayim (the official engagement ceremony) but refused to allow her to tend to the cut because the bedeken was about to begin.

As the mother lifted her daughter’s veil the cut bled and the veil was ruined.

In another instance a young and energetic bride was in the middle of dancing “and she raised her arms a little too high and the whole top ripped,” said Falik-Roth. “I offered to stitch it up but she said, ‘I will not let something so superficial ruin my day.’ She had a great attitude.”

Susannah Kintish, a 25-year-old lawyer living in London and one of Fenton’s recent clients, believes that wedding planners are a must when the couple is arriving from abroad.

“We live in London but chose to marry in Israel because we have family here and were brought up to love Israel,” Kintish explained from London. “But it’s extremely difficult to plan a wedding long-distance.”

The wedding planner “took all the difficult logistical decisions and left us the good, easier decisions. She [was the go-between] with the Israeli suppliers and took us to venues we would never have found on our own.

“She introduced us to a rabbi, opened a file for us at the Rabbinate,” Kintish said, “and worked way above the call of duty.”

The wedding was held on a Tel Aviv beach. “It was absolutely gorgeous,” Kintish said.

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