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An American wedding in Israel

by Dikla Kadosh

June 12, 2008 | 2:33 pm

In my excitement about getting engaged this past October, I printed out a monstrous wedding planning checklist, which detailed exactly what I should be doing and when -- from nine months to the day of my wedding.

But as I read down the four-page list, the anxiety started to mount -- many of the prescribed to-dos couldn't be done because we're getting married in Israel.

Under "Nine Months Prior to the Wedding," the list included a reminder to make arrangements at local hotels for out-of-town guests. Except that in our case, the only out-of-towners are pretty much me, my fiance and my parents.

Israeli weddings, as I quickly discovered, are very different from American weddings. And planning the big day from a distance of 7,500 miles and 20 years -- I moved to Los Angeles when I was six years old -- has proved to be no small ke'ev rosh (headache).

The difficulties became apparent early on in the list. The fifth item on the wedding checklist, under "When you get engaged," was "develop your budget." Pretty basic. We're calculating our budget in increasingly worthless dollars, but paying in shekels. As the dollar keeps plummeting on the world market, the price of each meal at our wedding, fixed in shekels, keeps rising. How many brides have to design wedding invitations while keeping their eye on the value of the dollar?!

Maybe the U.S. economy will perk up by September. Perhaps Americans will feel invigorated by the prospect of a new president as elections near. We can hope.

After the budget, we're supposed to decide on the maid of honor, bridesmaids, best man, groomsmen, flower girl and ring bearer.

Israelis, who are much less ceremonial, don't have all these fancy designations.

"People won't understand why your American friends are all wearing the same dress," my future mother-in-law informed me.

I didn't care. Let them wonder, I thought. It'll be a lesson in American culture. Besides, I grew up watching "My Best Friend's Wedding" and "Father of the Bride," and I always imagined my closest girlfriends in green bridesmaid dresses.

My fiance, David, cheerfully agreed to designate groomsmen to accompany my green-clad friends down the aisle (another ceremonial tradition not done in Israel -- there, only the bride and groom walk down the aisle). However, despite showing them how lovely matching bridesmaids and groomsmen look on David's Bridals' Web site, we could not convince his three brothers to wear matching suits.

"No way!" his younger brother cried in protest. "I don't want to look like everyone else. That's embarrassing."

We're working on getting them to wear matching shirts at least. And only for the ceremony. Ties were out of the question. Israelis don't do ties, even at the most formal occasions. It's not unusual for them to show up to weddings in jeans. Seriously.

At the nine-month marker, which came and went long ago, we were supposed to finalize the guest list with addresses. Another huge challenge. With an estimated guest list of 500 -- and that's after David's parents begrudgingly whittled down the list -- the preferred method of disseminating invitations in Israel is by good old-fashioned hand delivery. No meticulous Excel spreadsheets for this wedding -- which kind of saves us the time and trouble of gathering addresses -- but it also makes it impossible to keep track of who received invitations. Boxes of the lacy crème-colored cards are sitting in Holon right now waiting to be distributed to a handful of designated deliverers on each side of our families. It's the Israeli camel express.

Something, however, is missing from those smooth stamp-less envelopes: R.S.V.P. cards. That's right. Israelis don't R.S.V.P.

How do you know who's coming? And how do you seat everyone?

Perplexed, I asked my fiance the same questions.

You don't, was his blunt answer.

Before I could descend into panic, David assured me that there is a workable alternative in place in Israel. If 500 guests were invited, then it's safe to assume that around 450 people will attend, so you pay for 450 place settings, and have 50 on reserve in case more people show up. If the tables on reserve fill up, you pay for them. If not, you don't.

Oh, and to make sure all the paid-for tables are filled before anyone dares sit at the non-paid-for tables, you station a few forceful aunts at the door to corral people into empty seats. Sababa (great).

Six months prior to the wedding (back in April), we were supposed to look into marriage license requirements. Israel does not recognize marriages unless they are performed by certified Orthodox rabbis and according to the standards of the Rabbinate, so we went to the central religious authority while we were in Israel in March for my sister's wedding. After hours of waiting in line, we were given a list of errands to run before we could even start a file at the Rabbinate. Three months later, we're still struggling to figure out how and what we need to do. I'm so frazzled by it that I don't even want to go into details.

Skip to four months before the wedding, which is right about now: update budget. Hmmm, let's see where the dollar is today.

Next, confirm transportation for wedding day. Limousines are unheard of in Israel, so we'll just have to decorate a nice sedan with big bows. Hopefully we can get a rental car without scratches. Car rental companies in Israel don't charge customers for scratches because it's nearly impossible to keep a car pristine on Israel's crazed roads.

Make appointment with florist to finalize centerpieces -- flowers are so ridiculously expensive and the variety so limited in Israel that centerpieces tend to be creative alternatives: candles, bamboo shoots, fake tree branches, lamps. The only thing blooming at our wedding will be my (modest) bouquet.

Make appointment with photographer/videographer to go over everything -- considering we're thousands of miles away, the only meeting we'll be having with our moment-capturing crew will be 14 days before the wedding, when we arrive in Israel. The same week we'll be going over the playlist with the DJ, taste-testing our menu, picking out wedding rings, meeting our officiant, visiting family, waiting in line at the Rabbinate, choosing a bouquet, doing a test run of my hair and makeup, picking up my bridesmaids from the airport and wishing the whole damn thing were over already!But wait, we've only reached Page 2 of the wedding checklist.

Yes, everyone already knows, whether they've been through it themselves or witnessed the frenzy from afar, that planning a wedding is a monumental task. And doing it from such a distance, with myriad cultural differences to boot, is doubly demanding.

But, as the list from yoursimchasource.com wisely reminds you at the very end, "Do not forget the most important reason you made all these plans -- you are about to start the first day of the rest of your life with the person you love."

Cheesy, yes, but true.

What do you expect, irony? This is a wedding story, after all.

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