“Event Planner” may be a somewhat misleading title.
Of course I’m the one hustling behind the scenes making sure what you see is your beautiful, shiny, magical celebration, and that you remain blissfully unaware that the florist was late, that I had to stitch up a seam on a bridesmaid’s dress, or that the tables were not set up according to the original plan. I am there to take care of it all so it’s not even on your radar and you can enjoy your day.
I can see how you would think that that’s the biggest part of what I do. However, if I were to add a secondary job title I think it would be “culture melder.” People come to me from all over the world to join together in Israel to celebrate their marriage and I am the one who bridges the cultural gaps between two spouses-to-be, two families, and even between children and their parents.
Mix and match as you like, I have seen it all: South American and Dutch, Israeli and American, Cuban and Moroccan, Russian and Japanese, Australian and Canadian, just for starters. As we know, in this day and age the culture from your country of origin is hardly the only determining factor. Very often the level and style of Jewish observance of the bride and groom reflect very little on how they each grew up. I have planned Modern Orthodox weddings, Chassidish, weddings when one (or both) are converts, baal teshuvas, and combinations of them all, so you can imagine that this is where things can get complicated when it comes to communicating between two families.
Often I work with a couple who lives here in Israel and their parents live abroad. It is important for me, as well as for the bride and groom, that their parents feel like the hosts of their children’s wedding.
What does that mean exactly? I make sure to explain the importance of respecting everyone’s culture and I make sure everyone is comfortable – including their guests. But as an event planner, or culture melder, this means knowing the right questions to ask. The bride and groom may consider themselves “Israeli” despite growing up somewhere else, they frequently identify with a lot of Israeli customs and culture that are quite literally foreign to their parents. They may take certain customs for granted, having attended literally hundreds of weddings in Israel, not even realizing that their parents are coming with a wholly different set of expectations.
This is where balance comes in. It is important for the wedding to reflect the couple, and it is equally important for the wedding to reflect their parents and families so it can truly be a representation of where they came from, and where they want to go in the future.
At weddings there are various emotional triggers like music, food and traditions which can all elicit a visceral reaction- often quite unexpectedly! Music can remind the father of the bride of childhood celebrations. A certain dessert can evoke a tear or two if it reminds the mother of the groom of her mother that has passed. These small nods to your family of origin is what makes them feel they are an important part of the celebration. The absence of a family tradition can cause unnecessary sadness and stress. I ensure that no one’s needs overshadow anyone else’s and creating events where everyone feels heard. A trusted person outside the family can often make all the difference in the world in keeping the harmony.
I don’t keep my methods a secret, so here are a few real life examples of how I make this work:
I’ve encountered families with differences in religious backgrounds between the parents and the couple-to-be, when the couple’s current observance and connection with Jewish tradition is much stronger than what they learned at home. I make sure that the parents of the bride and groom feel completely in the loop and are included in every step so that by the time the wedding comes around everyone is as emotionally and psychologically prepared as they can be. It’s common (and lovely!) to provide programs for wedding guests, yet, it is vital that I get that information to the couple’s parents well in advance, answering questions and addressing concerns.
Getting the combination just right of balancing varying cultures and meshing the traditions requires a delicate hand. Several months ago I planned a wedding using the groom’s customs at the chuppah ceremony, while the bride’s country of origin showed up in full force through the music and color scheme. Since the couple were both living in Israel for a few years prior, there was plenty of Israeli music and food to make sure this event reflected all of the facets of the couple.
Another couple who I can easily say did not fit into any “box” wanted to create something that was accepted by Jewish law, while at the same time felt true to their own values and completely something of their own. I introduced them to a Rabbi who was more than happy to help and he arranged for them to both sign the ketuba, allowed the bride to break a plate when the groom broke the glass, and both recited something meaningful to each other under the chuppah. It was a truly personalized ceremony that made the couple feel empowered.
Lifecycle events are a celebration of a special moment in time. We come together as a community to send a bar/ bat mitzvah or a newlywed couple onto the next chapter with support and love. As powerful as that is, it becomes even more so if we acknowledge and celebrate not only what they what they are about to embark upon, but what – and who – they come from. And this complicated, diverse, delicate, full-of-family-dynamics, sometimes stressful, and always an emotional aspect of planning as an event is the often-overlooked, at times challenging, but always the most rewarding role as “event planner.”