Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

2 Shevat 5765 - January 12, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Everything You Might Want to Know About Arranging a Chasunah in Eretz Yisroel

By E. Berri

The first night of founding a Jewish home is packed with alarming expenses. "I can live with that," some say. "After all, you only get married once in a lifetime."

But most of us, for whom money does not grow on trees, hope to spend as little as possible on that one memorable evening.

As much as we would like to be modest and lower the demands set by social convention, we will still have to part with thousands of dollars for the long-anticipated five or six hours of rejoicing.

We set out to survey the average cost of the hall, catering, the orchestra, the photographer and the flowers in the wild realm of the events market. We looked for ways to cut corners and reduce expenses and most of all, how much it should cost us in total. The research was carried out in the fall of 5765- 2004.

We did not include the cost of preparing the kallah for the big night, with all that entails (makeup, if any, and clothing), clothing and hairstyling for the family members and all the other "little" expenses that the immediate family members encounter along the way.

"Every parent who is about to marry off a child focuses primarily on the major costs of building the physical home," says one mother in the process of marrying off her fourth daughter. "They forget that they need to dedicate a substantial gemach loan for the evening's expenses. We were always happy HaKodosh Boruch Hu brought us to this moment and we wanted everyone to rejoice with us, but the somewhat sacrilegious question is unavoidable: Isn't there a way to save more on expenses? Why must one spend so much money on one evening that lasts a few hours?"

Whoever has suggestions on how to lower the expenses that just keep mushrooming, raise your voice and shout them out. Everyone wants to hear. (Some valuable suggestions were published in the "Home and Family" section recently.)

The Big Blow: The Hall

The biggest chunk of the evening's expenses is swallowed up by the wedding hall. The costs of the wedding skyrocket to the point where it seems the red carpet spread out to the bride's chair could be made out of greenbacks. Add in the cost of food and you can cover the walls with bills, too. Still, we must note, as difficult as the expenses are for those in Israel, the costs for comparable simchas in chutz la'aretz are three to five times as much.

The question of how much the hall and food cost comes to, resembles the question of how much the apartment costs. No set figure, even rounded to the thousands, can be given. Hall prices vary and the price of the meal itself rises and falls according to the food used.

In addition to the per-plate cost of the hall and the cost of the hall itself if that is not bundled in to the per-plate cost, are the supplementary expenses. For example many halls ask for a separate sum to cover security. The waiters will expect a tip of NIS 40-70 each, depending on the hall. Customarily the parents of the bride and groom give the money in a closed envelope at the end of the affair to the head waiter or the person in charge of the kitchen or catering. Hall owners typically stress that they do not get involved in the matter of gratuity, which is left up to the customer's discretion and spirit of generosity.

But beware. Several sets of parents who held weddings in various halls in Bnei Brak and even in Jerusalem turned our attention to the issue of the envelopes. Rav A., who recently held a wedding for his son, says he gave the head waiter a closed envelope containing NIS 300 in cash, assuming the money would be divided up among the waiters, yet as it turns out the head waiter just tucked the envelope into his own pocket and his co-workers never saw a single shekel.

When making arrangements with the wedding hall or catering company about the menu it is important to get down to detail and to ask what is included in the price per person. Sometimes they offer a light smorgasbord before the chuppah, the arch of flowers above the kallah's chair, flowers on the tables, a special bouquet on the kallah's table, a large challah for the chosson, a large cake for the kallah, etc. If included in the base price, these bonuses can save hundreds of shekels.

Many parents take certain things for granted or assure themselves "the hall always throws it in." To avoid last- minute surprises that come up when it's too late to improvise, make sure everything is settled in advance. It is also important to stress to those in charge of the food to ensure it is fresh and well-cooked. Customers say that when they insisted on these points and even mentioned them repeatedly, the quality of the food was higher.

And what's a wedding without a snack bar at the end, during the dancing? Let it be plain and simple, but light refreshments for friends and neighbors who just pop in to say mazel tov cannot be overlooked. Catering company Of Simchas (which says it uses only BaDaTz food but does not have any supervision) told us not to order the same refreshments for men and women. For the men, add cholent to the kugel and cakes. For the women quiches and casseroles and decorative fruit dishes are more common.

On the matter of the leftover food in the serving dishes and uneaten portions in the kitchen, one should ask the hall or catering company owners to wrap them up. Ezer Mitzion branches in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak will be happy to receive them. Other chessed organizations, primarily in Bnei Brak, also pick up unused food from event halls. And what could be a more apt way to top off the simchah than a mitzvah?

Flowers: A Petal is Worth Its Weight in Gold

"Real or not?" Every budding kallah understands the question right away. Flowers, particularly real flowers, constitute a blooming addition to your wedding budget. Nobody can deny their importance, and the bridal bouquet is an integral part of the wedding accessories package.

"Ninety-nine percent of the orders I receive for bridal bouquets are for real bouquets," says floral designer Mrs. Ettie Mualem of Jerusalem's Sanhedria neighborhood. "I prepare silk flower arrangements primarily for gemachim, where the bouquets last in order to get passed on from one kallah to the next."

On the other hand, floral designer Mrs. Dorit Motza of the Gush Dan area, makes an estimate of 70 percent. "But without a doubt, the majority of orders are for real bouquets," she concurs.

According to the prevailing custom — whose origins nobody can trace — the bridal bouquet is provided by the mother-in- law. It is also accepted practice that the kallah is the one to select the type of flowers and the arrangement, "because if money is already being spent on flowers the mothers-in-law want the brides to be happy," explain the floral designers. After all, every shvigger wants to get off to a good start with her daughter-in-law.

According to floral arrangers, brides know exactly what they want after seeing a friend with just the right bouquet or choosing from a folder the florist shows them. Some want original designs they conceive themselves with a certain symmetry to them, but the majority are satisfied with the popular round form. The colors are also varied based on all the splendor of nature that the Borei Olom placed in the botanical world. "Some brides and halls look like a walking garden," says Ettie Mualem. "Brides want not only white and green to dominate their hand bouquet and wreath, but other colors as well, such as pink, purple, burgundy, etc.

"As a general rule, I suggest taht short brides carry a round bouquet and for tall brides I recommend an elongated bouquet," says Mrs. Mualem, sharing a tip. "And some like a natural bunch of flowers tied together with elegant simplicity."

The most common flowers for bridal bouquets are calla lilies and tulips, which are considered regal and fine, as befits the occasion. But HaKodosh Boruch Hu made His world in such a way that calla lilies and tulips grow only in the winter. Some kallahs say in jest they would like to get married in Adar during the peak of the flower season. But if you are scheduled to get married in the summer or fall you will probably be offered bouquets with roses and white lilies, which many people (it's all a matter of taste) contend do not fall short of calla lilies and tulips. Be aware that adding in a few orchids will double the price of the average bouquet.

"If the day of the wedding were decided according to flower- picking times, I would recommend Wednesday and Thursday," notes Mrs. Mualem. "On those days a large selection of the freshest flowers in the peak of bloom arrive at the market. These flowers will last longer, of course, if they are to be used at a later time. But if you were fated in Heaven to wed on a Tuesday, do not fret," she says reassuringly, "for your floral designer is sure to use sufficiently fresh flowers that nobody will be able to tell that they were picked almost a week earlier."

Hall of Flowers

Floral designers have plenty of work on their hands, and not just arranging bridal bouquets. The majority of the work focuses on the wedding hall on the day of the wedding. The cost of the flowers used to decorate the hall is usually split evenly between the parents of the bride and groom.

"There are halls that employ their own flower arrangers," says Mrs. Motza, "and require the host of the event use their designer's services. But in most cases, at the chareidi halls one can bring in flowers from the outside."

The task of flower arranging is complex and time-consuming. Mrs. Mualem describes arriving at the hall in the morning with all of her equipment, the flowers, the sponge bases, etc., and sets at her craft, continuing until late in the afternoon. Then the designer wets the sponges with ample water and the hall is ready to be photographed. Nowadays, symmetry is coming into vogue. The arch is straight like a carved gateway. The standard arch consists of five bouquets which the kallah takes for her Sheva Brochos and uses to decorate the tables.

Many halls place a vase with a flower on every table. Those who want to see a flower arrangement on every table will of course have to pay more. As an addition to the flower budget, some parents are not content with the elaborate wedding cake adorning the central table and order a bouquet for that table that spills down to the floor.

The Orchestra: Take another Loan and Start Dancing

The orchestra, which is a big factor in the festive spirit at the wedding, constitutes the second largest expense. While parents and educators are pleased to see that the types of wedding music are returning to "the good ol' days," says R' Chaim Bennet, the fees paid are not as modest as they once were.

"Today `Ki Atoh Hu Melech' and `Tehei Hasho'oh Hazos' get played at weddings rather than short-lived hits," he reports. This is going to cost you hundreds of dollars per hour. Band leaders, who refused to grant interviews, warn against impresarios who serve as middlemen between orchestra and chosson. "In the past, young men would ask bands for $30-$50 for providing them with an evening's work. Over time prices climbed up to $150. But chassonim and families are unaware they are paying a finder's fee. The cost falls on the customer.

"The macher gets the chosson excited about his services, saying, `You'll get free amplification at the chuppah, free internal recording,' but in reality nothing is for free. If we are asked to give a discount we try to give it. But as soon as a third party looking to make $100-$150 comes between us and the customer, what's left to discount? It's best to contact the orchestra directly and ask them for the best price they can offer."

The Photographer: A Picture (Wedding) is Worth a Thousand Words (Dollars)

The conductor of the wedding is not found on the bandstand. That's an optical illusion. He is found wandering among the guests and is supposed to immortalize the wedding night for the generations to come, providing photographic evidence that the event took place.

Ever since the days of the grainy, black-and-white portraits produced with elaborate ceremony in the photographer's shop/lab, we have leaped forward to the studio and hundreds of pictures to capture the typical wedding.

"Until a few years ago families would ask for five hours of shooting at a wedding," says veteran photographer Mr. Yaakov Golan. "Today almost all photographers suggest a `package deal' of no less than six hours." Not only has the shooting time increased, but the background for the pre-wedding pictures has also changed.

"We used to go out to film the family members at the kallah's home before going to the hall," he recalls, "but today this is almost unheard of. This [change] is based on demands made by the photographers because we had to schlepp around expensive studio equipment including a lot of accessories, climbing narrow staircases in Mattersdorf all the way up to the sixth floor without an elevator. Then we would have to try to get control over an enormous number of family members, bli ayin hora, crowded into a small living room. Moisheleh got all tangled among the cables and Areleh inspected the equipment. It was impossible to take quality pictures under these circumstances, which was a real pity."

The most professional attention the family receives is during the "studio" portraits usually done before the wedding, where the highest quality pictures are taken. The photographer brings a simple backdrop and a few props, and the family pose with them and with the chosson and kallah for pictures. These are known as "studio" pictures because they are posed against formal backgrounds.

"In the studio the photographer has various techniques and abilities at his disposal to produce pictures better than at the time of the wedding," says Golan. "And it's impossible to succeed with them at home, just like in the wide-open hall. But there are kallahs who insist on being photographed at home without all of the relatives, or for example with a hand on the mezuzoh saying a prayer before leaving and setting out to build a new home.

"The preliminary photos are taken in the hall, alone over the course of an hour or two," says Shimon Brachya, a Bnei Brak photographer in the business for 20 years. "Every minute is crucial on the big day — certainly for the parents, but for me as well. On more than one occasion I have been asked to arrive at a certain time but they are not ready yet. If the family arranged to come to the hall at a set time and the kallah arrives late, the time is added to her bill. Studio pictures should be taken in calm and serenity, without pressure. In the end they come out the nicest pictures of the whole wedding."

"The time set aside for the preliminary photos is very important," says Golan. "for we also take advantage of it to get to know the close relatives. We get to know that Avreimeleh is the kallah's oldest nephew and that the children running around in front of her are the chosson's brothers and sisters. This allows us to focus on them during the seudah and the dancing. There is no greater gaffe for a photographer than to leave out the beloved grandfather or the brother — and to discover the omission only when the albums are presented during the Sheva Brochos."

Set aside time for the preliminary photos. Generally, photography takes an hour or more. The first 20 minutes are devoted to the kallah alone, followed by 20 minutes for her family members and then 20 minutes for the chosson's family members. The set time increases when the family already has several married children or a large number of nieces and nephews and wants to capture all of them on film. During the course of the six hours, some 400 pictures are taken, an average of 60-70 per hour.

The burning question is why isn't the photographer a woman? Golan agrees that soon the day will come when female photographers will handle the studio shots. "It all depends on public demand of course. I already see groundbreakers asking to be photographed by a woman rather than a man. If the public continues to demand it, like female photographers during the dancing, the photographers will arrive only for the photos during the chuppah and not before for the studios."

"If the parents request a female photographer during the dancing at the wedding, I prefer to bring a photographer I know," says Brachya, "and the baal simchah pays her directly." There were cases in which customers brought their own female photographer. Her pictures are placed in my albums, of course, and I was not pleased with the quality of the photography. My reputation gets ruined and as a professional I have to preserve the reputation I acquired through hard work and sweat.

"I work with a lab that is more expensive than regular labs," says Brachya. "Oftentimes less expensive film processing labs contact me and ask me to come develop wedding pictures, offering outstanding terms. But I'm not willing to compromise on quality for a couple of shekels."

On average, photographers take 400 shots, including the studio photographs, the chuppah, spontaneous shots throughout the wedding and the family portraits at the end. Many photographers do not offer packages of less than 350 photos. Of course requests for additional photos are always welcome.

"I always shoot more pictures at the wedding than the number requested and I allow the families to choose," says Brachya. "On more than one occasion customers get upset when they discover that I shot more than the number agreed upon, and start to complain. I explain to them that it was better that I shot more than the set number, even if it means that wedding pictures sit in my storeroom. The important thing is that the customers can choose and don't complain that I took too few pictures. A wedding cannot be played over again.

"After the customers receive the pictures they can choose which ones they want — but not less than the number originally settled on, of course. They also receive a disk containing all of the photos, including the pictures not selected."

Some photographers, like Brachya, are willing to provide the customers with all of the pictures taken, including those that did not get developed. It's worth inquiring in advance.

Savings Tip

Halls that want to save you money suggest you calculate the exact number of guests who will sit down for the meal and order fewer sit-down servings and more food at the bar. Large families may want to consider personal invitations to the chuppah and seudah and a separate invitation to the dancing for everyone else.

Hall and Catering Prices

We called numerous Jerusalem and Bnei Brak halls that are fully booked, but all of them insisted on an interview and quoting prices only off the record. Prices vary according to the time of year (Adar and Av cost the most, Cheshvan the least). Some halls provide only the hall itself, where others provide the catering as well or offer it as an option.

The only company to cooperate with us was Of Simchas, which hosts weddings at Maxim Palace (Armonot) in Jerusalem at a price of $12.50 per guest. (Of Simchas is a chareidi person who buys food from a BaDaTz Eida Chareidis supplier, but has not supervision himself.)

The rest are as follows:

* Price for hall only: Ranging from $2,500 for a relatively small wedding hall to $5,000 for a large hall;

* Price at an attractive hall including average catering: $16- $20 per plate for 400 guests, where the price of the hall is bundled into the per-plate price;

* Catering: Of Simchas — $6.80 per plate, minimum 450 guests. Other catering companies — $7-$12 per plate or more;

* Price for 400 snack bar servings: Of Simchas — $2.00- $2.20 per person. Others: $2.50-$5.00.

* Security: NIS 200 per guard. Generally at least two are needed.

* Tips: NIS 200-400, depending on the number of guests served and the caliber of the hall.

Band Prices

* R' Chaim Bennet's band: Starting at $1,300 without a special singer.

Based on information provided anonymously by four other bands we found the following:

* Average 4-man band, including singer: $1,200-$1,600;

* 5- or 6-man band with a singer: $1,700-$2,200;

* Singer/keyboardist: $600 for a beginner, $1,000-$1,100 for an experienced professional with special equipment;

* Drummer and two singers (minhag Yerushalayim): starting at $700 (Kletzkin);

* Every additional hour after the standard four hours of playing time: $100-$200.

Music Savings Tips

"There have been reductions in orders for full ensembles," says R' Avreimi Roth, singer and band leader, who offers his services as a keyboardist or as part of a full band ensemble, based on request. "People order a three- or four-piece band and want it to sound like a seven-piece band.

"In other cases people opt for a keyboardist/singer rather than a band. It should be noted that a one-man band with sophisticated, high-quality equipment can sound just as nice and festive as a full ensemble.

"Those who try to save money but insist on having three people appear on the stage hire a novice band at $800-$1,000, but it invariably sounds like an $800-band. It knows how to make noise. We cannot compete with this but it is appropriate only for someone who couldn't care less about the quality of the music and is happy as long as there is some band playing."

But reductions in spending seem to have passed over the people whom veteran Jerusalem drummer R' Dovid Kletzkin knows. He is disappointed taht more modesty has not taken hold in the orchestra market. "Based on my experience in the field," he says, "I can tell you that those who simply charge more gain a reputation and are considered superior. I offer an option of a drummer with one singer at $100 less, but people don't get this. Avreichim in debt pay for a band with a reputation because of social convention, but this is not justified. They think that in order to find favor with the young couple and the guests it's worth going another $3- 400 into debt."

Photography Savings Tips

The recession was a disaster for photography says photographer Yaakov Golan, "and therefore various groups of Chassidim came out with restrictions. What the recession and the restrictions didn't do, young photographers entering the business did, bringing prices down 30-40 percent, which translates into $300 less on photography costs. Some people are pleased with the young photographers, others aren't." It may be worth looking into.

In contrast to the prices mentioned in the main article, some beginning photographers charge only $600 and even less for 350 pictures. "I think the pictures I turn out are nice enough," says one low-priced photographer who has not yet established himself and asked to remain anonymous. "Because of the recession, many parents made due with good pictures and did not care if the photographer hasn't yet purchased all of the expensive equipment. It would be a pity for them to spend another couple hundred dollars they don't have to obtain pictures that may look sharper, by a photographer of greater repute."

Most parents send the negatives to regular film processing shops for reprints rather than ordering them through the photographer. But Brachya recommends ordering just a dozen reprints to evaluate the quality of the processing before placing a large order.

Photography Prices

* Photographers charge $60-$100 per hour with a minimum of 350 pictures

* At smaller events they charge $2 per picture for up to 250 pictures. If you take more at the end, the price goes down to $1 per picture for more than 350 pictures.

* Brachya's standard fee for a six-hour event is $750 and $70 for every additional hour. This price includes a disc with a musical presentation and an elegant wooden album as a gift

* Golan suggests noting the full range of market prices. The price for a wedding photography package comes to $600-$1,000 including lighting assistant, female photographer for the women's section during the dancing and studio photos. The couple receives a decorative album and a disc containing all of the wedding pictures.

* The cost of bringing in a female photographer varies from NIS 300-400. Some photographers ask for an additional fee for the female photographer while others prefer the customer makes an arrangement with her independently

Flower Savings Tips

Although the bridal bouquet is a must, the rest of the flowers leave room for cutting costs. Some halls provide an "arch" or "gate" made of artificial flowers. It is always worth asking the hall owner if he has something to offer. Floral designer Dorit Motza says gemachim lend artificial flowers at low prices. "There are women who bought a gate, permanent of course, and rent it out from one wedding to the next," she adds.

"People think twice and decide to do without," says designer Ettie Mualem. "Table arrangements, for example, which are not essential. And if they do order them, they order something simple, like a vase with one or two flowers at about five shekels each. The vases are usually set on the women's side alone."

"Because of the recession," says Mrs. Motza, "instead of an elaborate gate twining over the chair with a column of flowers leading to the bride's chair, many parents are satisfied with a gate and two stands of flowers to the right and left."

Flower Prices

* Bridal bouquet: small with short-stemmed flowers — NIS 120 ($27.50), large NIS 150 ($34.50)

* Bouquet set in sponge base: NIS 180 ($40) — Mualem

* Gate and two columns of silk flowers: NIS 500 ($115) — Motza

* Gate and two columns of real flowers: NIS 1,600 ($370)

* Arch of artificial flowers: NIS 300 ($70) — gemachim

* Rounded arches cost NIS 550-700 ($125-$160), straight arches cost NIS 900 ($200), every column costs NIS 250 ($230) — Mualem

* Special table flower arrangement: NIS 50-150 ($12-$36) per bouquet — Motza

* Standard table arrangement: NIS 25 ($6) — Mualem

* Flower wristband: NIS 10 ($4.50) — Mualem

* Bouquet spilling from the bride's table to the floor: NIS 120 ($30) — Mualem

* Artificial bridal bouquets are available at gemachim for NIS 50-70 ($12-$16) and sometimes even for free. If you are interested in artificial flowers conduct a phone survey in your area.


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