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Psssst ...What Are They Doing Now?

Barbara Bensoussan

The badeken, the chuppah, the spirited separate dancing — all the beloved and familiar aspects of a frum wedding, can look bizarre to an outsider. How can we make all our guests — non-frum or non-Jewish relatives, neighbors, and colleagues included — comfortable at our weddings?

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

 Julie Salamon, a non-religious Jewish writer, had herself been married under a chuppah. But when, in the course of researching a book on Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn, she found herself invited to her first Boro Park wedding she had no clue what to expect. In the finished product, Hospital, she recounts that she hastily fired off an e-mail to Jo Ann Baldwin, the Italian-American administrator who had proposed the book, to ask about the protocol for frum weddings.

Jo Ann, a more experienced Boro Park wedding attendee, began by dispensing the wise advice not to show up at six o’clock, just because that was the time specified in the invitation. She had once made the mistake of showing up “on time” for a wedding, only to find herself alone with her husband and the caterer for over an hour.

Julie also wanted to know what to do about a wedding gift; in the non-Jewish world, brides often register their gift preferences with department stores, and it’s less common to give money. When she politely queried, “Are they registered?” Jo Ann answered, “You just gave me a big laugh! Registered ... I just give money in a card. [But] you just met these people ... If you have time to run out and get a gift you can do that. Who doesn’t need a vase?”

Last but not least came the eternal question: what should I wear? Jo Ann made sure to advise Ms. Salamon that, despite 90-degree temperatures of that week, she should be careful to keep her arms covered and not wear pants. She herself had purchased what she clearly thought of as a stodgy old-lady dress just for such occasions.

Today many people print, “Kindly dress in accordance with Orthodox Jewish tradition” on their invitations, but some guests may need a little discreet elaboration on what that actually means. Of course, the hosting family may also need to keep their expectations realistic; cousin Milly from Hicksville isn’t likely to buy herself a sheitel just to fit in.

Ironically, Jew-by-birth Julie Salamon had to turn to a non-Jewish associate to prep her for her first Orthodox wedding. But usually the job of prepping the uninitiated — be it deciphering the invitation or explaining the proceedings — falls squarely on the shoulders of the baalei simchah. Sara Lea L., a warm-hearted soul who has Orthodox, non-Orthodox, and non-Jewish colleagues couldn’t imagine not including all her coworkers when she married off her children, but she was determined that nobody should feel lost or overwhelmed by the strange surroundings. To that end, she spent considerable time before the wedding giving her colleagues informal, coffee-break crash courses in Jewish wedding basics. At the wedding itself, she assigned a “minder” to accompany each guest who might be in need of explanations, or simply a friendly person to sit with.

Sara Lea also took care to prep her mother’s home attendant, who knew the family well, but had no idea what to expect at a wedding. “I made sure to help her feel an important part of the simchah, and in return, she went out and bought herself a church suit with a fur collar for the occasion,” Sara Lea says. “In the middle of June, no less!” The reaction of her “outsiders” was overwhelmingly positive. “They had a blast,” she reports. “They thought it was the world’s most interesting evening!”


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