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At All Costs: The Conversation Continues 

As parents, we are role models. If we feed these kids a glutton of materialism before and during the wedding, won’t most kids expect it after the wedding?
Readers from three countries break down their approach to making a wedding, sharing budgets, beliefs, and blunders

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fter our feature and follow-up about wedding costs, the feedback continued to pour in. It’s not just about the numbers: how you make a wedding touches on so many of your values.

Here, readers from three countries break down their approach to making a wedding, sharing budgets, beliefs, and blunders.

 

Name: T.M., Memphis*
Mother of: Kallah
Total Spent: $20,000

We made four weddings in two years, baruch Hashem. We kept it manageable, but there were different expectations based on where the other family was from.

We chose to make takanah weddings in the NJ area to keep costs down, especially because we were making multiple weddings in a short time frame. There were different expectations based on where the other family was from — we found that our Brooklyn mechutanim expected more of the typical chassan/kallah gifts while the out-of-towners said that whatever we could do was fine.

One mechutan felt that it was important that we buy the chassan a specific watch, which all his brothers had received. We hadn’t bought those for any of our other sons-in-law, but if something was important to the other side, we tried to make it happen. A wedding lasts for five hours; the many, many years we will be’ezras Hashem be family for are much more important.


Name: Rivky*, Lakewood
Mother of: Chassan
Total Spent: $35,000

We made a beautiful, baalebatish simchah without breaking the bank. Of course, having meachuatanim on the same page — with similar priorities and without additional expectations — is a brachah that helps keep the cost down for both sides.

Living in Lakewood gave me access to elegant halls at reasonable prices; you can make a takanah wedding in Lakewood in a beautiful venue with tasteful decor and menus. The chassan’s portion of such a wedding costs $15-18,000. We bought the kallah’s gifts as part of a package — a one-carat ring, a diamond bracelet, and a yichud room gift ($5,200).

I catered the aufruf ($2,500) and splurged on a party planner ($1,350) so I could be a “guest” at the aufruf and not have the onus of ordering and setting up. Even with using a high- end makeup artist ($500), renting beautiful gowns ($1,170 for four gowns), buying additional gifts for the kallah such as machzorim ($500) and leichter ($1.500), and then paying for shadchanus and chassan classes ($1,270), our total costs were only about $35,000.

Had our finances allowed for it, I would have considered a second photography crew; our time constraints meant that we didn’t have enough portrait time, and it would have been nice to have a second photographer to capture both the women and mens’ side. But there was nothing lacking in the simchah and leibedig dancing of the chassan and kallah, and that’s what we remember.


Name: Batya*, New Jersey
Mother of: Chassan
Total Spent: $20,000

Our oldest daughter from my husband’s first marriage just got married. We tried to keep the guest list down, which was challenging between my husband, his ex, the chassan’s family, and the chassan and kallah’s friends. Since it was an out-of-town wedding, a lot of people couldn’t or didn’t make the trip, which helped.

While the chassan’s family wasn’t able to contribute much to the costs of the wedding, we split the expenses with my husband’s ex-wife. Since this wedding was for my husband’s child, I let him take the lead and decide what was worth splurging on. We ended up upgrading the band and photographer. Since many people missed the wedding, we made a big local sheva brachos with lots of homemade food from local friends (everything was about cutting costs).

Baruch Hashem, I have a good relationship with my husband’s ex, and we’re generally on the same page about spending. We had some disagreements due to miscommunication, but we laugh about them now. It took time, but eventually we got into the habit of checking in with each other very often to avoid all those misunderstandings. I hope to marry off one of my biological kids soon, and I’m worried about what might crop up when I plan this with my ex-husband — I told my husband’s ex she’ll need to help me when the time comes!

At All Costs?

 

Name: R.G., Tom’s River
Mother of: Chassan
Total Spent: $95,000

Baruch Hashem, my husband’s company does well, and so we were able to make a beautiful wedding without borrowing. The wedding was beautiful but not extravagant; typical for our community.

Being chassidish, we split almost all costs, but since our mechutanim are not well-off, we splurged in the areas where we wanted more. My son wanted great music, for example, so we upgraded without asking the other side to chip in. We also spent extra on the smorgasbord and dessert because our guests were driving to Monsey. We live in a small community so we made the aufruf in our house and put up a minimal number of guests. It was beautiful!

I thank Hashem every day that we could make a simchah without overextending ourselves. We definitely do not take it for granted.

 

Name: Chani*, Dallas
Mother of: Kallah
Total Spent: $18,000

Making an out-of-town wedding required more leg work than the NYC “package” wedding we made in the past, but was beautiful, and in a unique venue. We could have spent more or even less, but we agreed on a budget beforehand, discussing what was important to the chassan and kallah as well as the families, and what they thought they could forgo.

I’m an RN and my husband works in kiruv; this was the third wedding we made. Below is the total breakdown of our wedding costs, which we split 50-50 with the chassan’s parents:

We hired a wedding planner ($1,000) just to take some of the pressure off of me and keep everything running smoothly the day of. We paid $8,000 for the venue and liquor, and $10,000 for catering. We paid $5,000 for the band but needed to spend another $450 on hotels and transportation (no local band!).We spent $3,000 on photography (we used a local non-Jewish photographer, who was much cheaper than a Jewish one we’d have had to bring in), $2,100 on sheitels, $450 on invitations and stamps, and $250 on bentshers.

We bought the chassan gifts —– a watch, talleiisim, tallis and tefillin bags, kittel, and a silver kiddush cup — for a total of $900. We also paid $1,000 in shadchanus.

My daughter found an absolutely stunning dress in a gemach in New York, which cost only $250, including alterations. We borrowed several gowns, but I paid for my gown (Macy’s!), younger son’s suits, and one daughter’s dress, which, believe it or not, came from Amazon and was extremely inexpensive. This was approximately $500 total. We had someone do hair and makeup, but we used two younger women just getting started and paid about $400 for me, the kallah, and one daughter.

We absolutely could have made this a less expensive wedding. In our case, the chassan and kallah didn’t care if they had a band, DJ, or even just an iPod with Jewish music. In the end, we had a five5-piece Jewish band we brought in from Chicago because, well, “expectations.” Liquor? My husband and I care not at all but every male under 30 seemed to have a strong opinion. We negotiated with the venue so instead of having an open bar, we could have a limited menu, which saved us thousands of dollars.

We used a very upscale florist who will give you a proposal based on what you want to spend. I went in and said, “This is the venue. I need a chuppah and a bouquet. We need to make the place look nice, but we don’t need flowers on every table or a crazy floral chuppah.” He came back with a proposal using votives, lights, silk flowering trees, and real flowers only for the bride’s bouquet for $3,000. It sounds crazy but it was stunning.

Compared to a NYC package, yes, the catering was pricey and I think this is where OOT families need to spend much more. We worked with the caterers to save money on things we didn’t care about (we served buffet style, for example) so we could spend elsewhere.

I’m lucky that I have creative friends and family, so we had a number of “Instagram hacks” to make up for things like not having centerpieces. The vort/l’chayim and sheva brachos were all in homes and made by family and friends, which is generally the norm in our community.

 

Name: Tova, Beachwood, Ohio
Mother of: Chassan
Total Spent: $20,000

I’ve married off four kids, baruch Hashem, and I firmly believe that if your children understand your economic standing they should be mature enough to understand your wedding budget. I did my research, set a budget of 20K, and we stuck with it!

I gave each of my five girls a budget of $250 per gown. I bought all the kallah’s jewelry—a bracelet, ring, and necklace—in the same store, so they gave me a good deal. It’s also worth remembering that the stone doesn’t need to be perfect; once it’s set in the ring you can’t tell. We did a takanah wedding hall with no upgrades. It was beautiful.

I’ve told my kids—Mrs. X didn’t get engaged with her 4-carat ring, she got it as a gift later on!

Name: Shimon*, Lakewood
Father of: Chassan
Total Spent: $50,000

We made a simple wedding, but we splurged on real flowers and a nice aufruf, which were important to the chassan. We also upgraded the music, but we not the photography/video. We’d do the same again.

Everyone rails against weddings, but the real spending is on everything else that goes into marrying off a child. Lakewood has set up many very successful packages for weddings—maybe we should be making packages for our other expenses.

Name: Judy Schwartz, Brooklyn
Mother of: Kallah
Total Spent: $100,000+

Everyone should spend according to their needs. It was my greatest pleasure and privilege to be able to make beautiful simchos for my children. Baruch Hashem, we worked very hard, scrimping and saving for years without splurging on vacations, lavish clothing, or Bugaboos, and we were able to give our children a wedding that to me was within the norm (albeit much more expensive than what your out-of-town readers spend).

I insisted on giving my daughter the custom-made, self-designed wedding gown ($5,000). It was money very well spent—she looked like a dream. Her dream come true. Her sheitels were $12,000, also money well spent; they should be good for a few years.

I wanted fresh flowers, but minimal. The photography had to be the top of the line, since that was so important to her. The menu I didn’t upgrade because that’s not important.

We believe in starting our couples with new furniture, or they’ll wait many years until they will have it. There’s nothing like waking up shanah rishonah to stunning furniture! We didn’t buy the most expensive but a normal chassan-kallah package; some furniture was from frum stores, some was IKEA.

Every family needs to do their best. I’ve been to all kinds of weddings. Nothing is written in stone. I know many people that spend within their means no matter what. To each their own.

But I also see selfish parents who spend on themselves, justifying that they worked hard for the money. To me, that’s not what life is about. Life is about having a family and starting our kids off on the right foot to the best of my ability.

We are very grateful to be able to do this. Our children are gems. They are worth every penny because they are what we live for.

I have never been on a cruise. I don’t go to hotels for Pesach. I’ve never been to Switzerland or Thailand or China. Nor do I want to go…seeing my children happy is the gift I give myself every day.

Name: Ephraim*, UK
Father of: Chassan
Total Spent: £13,900 (About $17,000)

It was important to us that we stick to our budget; this was our first wedding and we wanted to set a limit from the get-go!

We split the cost of the wedding itself—the hall, flowers, music, photographer, videographer—fifty-fifty with our mechutanim. Our share came to £8,000 (about $9,800).

Our mechutanim invited more guests than we were comfortable with, so we broke it down by having each side paying for the number of guests invited. (The ratio was 1:3) Since they have chassidish roots, they brought in a badchan, whom they paid for in full. We spent a further £4,900 (about $6,000) on clothes, sheva brachos, gifts, hair, makeup, etc.

I believe our expenses were slightly above typical — we could have had a combined chuppah and dinner in the same place, but our mechuteineste didn’t like the place and since their other two daughter had gotten married in a nicer hall, we didn’t think the kallah should miss out on what her sisters had had.

Name: Leah, Flatbush
Mother of: Kallah
Total Spent: $40,000

We’re a chinuch family and tried to balance spending as little as possible with making the kallah (and chassan!) feel dignified and special.

We made a takanah wedding in Lakewood even though we live in Brooklyn and most people I know didn’t make takanah weddings. Happens to be, the hall was so beautiful and they did such a magnificent job, it didn’t feel like a takanah wedding at all.

We splurged on the things that were important to the kallah. The biggest splurge was for a top makeup artist. Personally, I thought it was a waste of money, but my daughter felt differently. We cut back by getting a kallah gown from a gemach. I would have liked to save money and get second-hand furniture but my daughter wasn’t comfortable with that.

I worked hard to convey to my daughter that the wedding is just one night and it’s not worth investing more than the minimum in it; I’ve always tried to raise my children with the attitude that it’s unnecessary to keep up with the Schwartzes. To a degree I was successful, and my daughter’s expenses overall were far lower than those of her friends, but ultimately, in certain areas, peer pressure won out.

My goal was not to ruin the excellent relationship I had with my daughter over money. We cut wherever we could, but avoiding fights, tension, and bad feelings was a priority.

Name: Michelle*, Long Branch, NJ
Mother of: Kallah
Total Spent: About $45,000

As Syrian Jews we have a lot of different expenses than listed in your previous articles. We spend more on gifts for the couple but less on wigs and gowns. We live in an affluent community, yet our girls understand the benefits of getting their beautiful wedding gowns at a local gemach.

Prior to making this wedding we fell on hard times but Hashem sent us miracles. We were able to spend what we did without going into debt only because of Hashem’s blessings. We set up a “wedding bank account” and tried to stick to our budget (but we did slightly exceed it), and I kept a Google Docs spreadsheet.

We splurged on gifts for the chattan and we cut back by making a smaller vort in the house. We send what is called “swaney,” a sephardic custom where the boy’s family sends gifts to the kallah and the girl’s family sends to the chattan. This “swaney” is usually another party. Like anything else, this can be a big affair or a smaller one. We personally made a small intimate dinner with parents, grandparents, and siblings. The gifts we gave included machzorim, a chassan Shas, other sefarim, tallit, sterling wine cup, and a watch.

We got my daughter a gown from the local gemach. (Deal’s bridal gemach is a beautiful experience, and they make it really easy to find gorgeous gowns!). We did buy my teenage daughter a gown ($500) because we found that harder to find in the gemachs and it was important that she also feel special.

There’s a wide range of financial statuses in the Syrian community and the types of wedding that are made. Weddings can range from very over-the-top weddings to takanah weddings.We made a more modest wedding, which was typical for our circles. Also, our consueogros (Syrian for mechutanim) helped pay for the flowers, photographer, liquor and music.

Overall, I can’t think of anything I wish I’d done differently. Baruch Hashem, we were very grateful for the entire experience of marrying off our daughter. When Hashem sends a gift—whether it’s a special son-in-law or the money to make a wedding—we must appreciate it all and never stop thanking Him.

And that became our motto.

Name: Hanna Green, Far Rockaway
Mother of: Kallah
Total Spent: $21,000

My daughter married a long-term learner. We didn’t push her into kollel life—it was her decision—but we’re proud of her and help support her. I supported my own husband in kollel, but today in our circles, support is expected. Times have changed. Maybe it’s today’s economics. (How can barely educated young people support themselves?) Maybe it’s today’s parenting. (These kids know nothing — they aren’t capable of balancing a checkbook!) Agree or disagree, this is the program.

While my husband and I are high-paid professionals, I can hardly understand how people can make these grandiose weddings, and then support their children for years on end. Am I missing something? It was not an agonizing decision to buck the trend. It was a practical reality that shot us right in the face: takanah wedding.

Neither the chassan nor kallah had any expectations. Maybe I’m a cynic, but if you’re going to live the kollel life, there needs to be sacrifice. I’m glad she married a boy with a family that shared the same views. (I do want to note that we paid for my daughter’s education in full so she and her husband were not saddled with any student debt. We could have spent $75,000+ dollars on a wedding, but we paid for her education instead.)

Since the chassan is from Lakewood, where there are many takanah wedding packages, we made the wedding there. There isn’t much to choose in a takanah wedding — it’s all part of the package — which saves a lot of time. We did feel bad making our rav and rebbetzin, as well as my mother-in-law, travel.

Another downside was that 75 percent of the friends we invited did not attend. All I could say to that is, “Oh, well.” To be honest, none of the people who opted out of joining our simchah were worth the extra 8-12 thousand dollars that it would have cost to make the wedding in Brooklyn. All my daughter’s friends, though, did show up—and isn’t that who the wedding is all about? The chassan’s side was a robust crowd, since most came from Lakewood. We gladly gave our extra seats to our mechatunim.

I can honestly say that my son-in-law had no expectations. We gave the kids our credit card (with no limit), they went to Macy’s, and they picked out an $800 watch. We did a basic chassan package, but since the kids were running off to Israel, we told the chassan we’d get the Shas when they return (or in Israel, if they stay there).

They got engaged right after the Three Weeks, when clothes were on sale, and we hunted bargains online and in the mall. We spent about $500 (for clothing she never wore again, since baruch Hashem she had a baby within the year).

We hosted the l’chaim/vort in our home ($1,000), buying kugel, cholent, candy, soda, and a big cake. Our wonderful neighbors sent platters of cakes and novelties.

I buy my own sheitels second hand, so it was no revelation that my daughter’s sheitels would be secondhand too. (We gave her a choice: cheap new ones, or fancy old ones.) I bought her two beautiful second-hand sheitels ($2000 total). My mother found a wedding dress her size in a thrift shop ($90). It was exquisite! My mother took it to a seamstress, and we got it cleaned ($150 total).

My girls’ dresses came from a gemach ($150), and I borrowed an evening dress from my sister-in-law. Any shoes and sheva brachos clothes we bought really were shoes and clothes we should have bought for Rosh Hashanah, but pushed off until the wedding. I didn’t get or expect any new jewelry. The wedding was a gift. Hashem answered our tefillos for our daughter to marry a good, solid, strong boy who’s a mensch.

All the girls had their hair and makeup done ($400), even my little girls. The wedding is a time for children to shine and feel the excitement. A little makeup will do that more for them than a violin and orchestra. I wanted my children to feel the wow of a chasunah; that was more important than wowing my guests.

I splurged on catering sheva brachos ($2000). Superwoman has to draw the line somewhere.

Even with all these cutbacks our side’s total was about $21,000 — $11,000 for the wedding itself.

I know some people are scrunching up their noses about second-hand sheitels and thrift shop wedding gowns. I think that’s short-sighted. When I read about people earning so much less than us, and making weddings that cost three to four times what we spent, my jaw hits the ground.

What exactly are people trying to prove? That their credit card bill is bigger than mine? Be my guest! That they can keep up with the lifestyles of the rich and famous? Just stop! We all know the truth—you aren’t that rich, and you aren’t that famous.

At the end of the day, what messages are you giving your children?

My family davens at the same shuls you do, and we send our children to the same schools you do. Our rabbis constantly teach us about mesirus nefesh that the “alte heim” had for Torah. As parents, we should show our kids that the choices made before the wedding need to parallel the choices that are made after the wedding. When “children” opt to live a kollel lifestyle, it’s a choice of abstinence, not excess—and making a low-key wedding is a good place to start this mentality.

As parents, we are role models. If we feed these kids a glutton of materialism before and during the wedding, won’t most kids expect it after the wedding?

Our couple is about to celebrate their third anniversary. With the money we saved on the wedding, we are watching their beautiful family grow in Torah and learning in Eretz Yisrael. Seriously, isn’t this all what we want for our children?

At All Costs? The Conversation Continues

Name: Malky*, Monsey
Mother of: Kallah
Total Spent: $60,800

This was my fourth wedding, so I already had my lists. Our wedding and sheva brachos were all very typical for our community, and we used the chasunah mall package.

I wish things were cheaper, but I can’t say that we got anything unnecessary, except for the dining room furniture. My daughter took only the table and chairs from the chasunah mall; the dining room in her rental is too small for the six-door china closet/bookcase we got her. I hope that when she moves into her home, she’ll be able to enjoy it.

I’m not sure parents really need to buy their children all of this furniture, but this is the minhag hamakom, it’s how our parents married us off. I’m grateful that we were able to set our children up with everything they need. If I could cut expenses, it wouldn’t be on the things that the couple will enjoy in the long run (sheitels, furniture, gifts), but on the actual simchah, which is over in a week.

I feel like everything we bought was money well spent. Yes, it was expensive. Yes, we had to borrow from our kehillah (which has a wedding plan in place). But yes, it was very worthwhile.

Name: Debbie*, Yerushalayim
Mother of: Kallah
Total Spent: $10,000

We spent $10,000 on our daughter’s wedding; it’s much less expensive to make a simchah in Israel. Our wedding was very typical for our community. Our wedding in the US may have been fancier, but marrying off our kids here in Yerushalyim is truly special. And the simchah’s not the wedding itself — it’s in celebrating our daughter finding her bashert.

Name: Gitty Heimlich, Boro Park
Mother of: Kallah
Total Spent: $35,000

I’m not the type that cares what’s the norm in my circles, I do what works for me and my family.

I did listen to my daughter, the kallah, and take her opinion into account. This daughter loves nicer things and flowers so we matched up with the person making a chasunah the night before us in the same hall and ordered flowers together, splitting the cost. (so we paid 25% of the cost, since both of us were splitting all expenses with our mechutanim). The result was a win-win! I spent less than I had in the past and got much nicer flowers.

I got the kallah gown from a gemach ($150) and altered and cleaned it for an additional $750. Still a metziah!

These costs were for the night itself only — they don’t include tenaim, engagement gifts, or Shabbos sheva brachos.

Name: Rikki, England
Mother of: Kallah
Total Spent: £13,750 (about $18,000)

We didn’t set financial goals, per se, because our family already spends wisely and sensibly. We didn’t splurge, but our wedding was very typical for our community.

This was our first wedding, and right after the engagement, my husband announced that we wouldn’t be spending thousands on custom sheitels. We were fortunate enough to buy two sheitels for less than £1000 ($1,200) total.

Our daughter understands the value of every pound and was determined to not feed money into overpriced simchah vendors. For example, she couldn’t understand why people charge an exorbitant amount to have their sheitel done up for the wedding. Why does it cost three times the price to put curls in a kallah’s sheitel than to put curls in someone else’s sheitel? (We didn’t.)

There’s a local organization that supplies you with towels, bedding, plates, cutlery, kitchen appliances, and cookware for a set price of £200 ($245).

My one regret was buying one of those really expensive dresses for the engagement; I think we could have spent less and she’d have looked just as beautiful.

I don’t want it to sound like the simchah was low-class. The kallah and her sisters looked gorgeous, and the weather was stunning. Every single guest felt a part of it. Without an undercurrent of competition or a sense of ostentation, there was a great feeling of happiness.

Name: Gabriella Asnes, Brooklyn
We paid for our own wedding
Total Spent: $25,000

My husband and I paid for the vast majority of our wedding. Over three years later, we think back fondly on the beautiful wedding that was simple by most standards but ultimately a reflection of us.

We knew we didn’t want an extravagant wedding, but we also didn’t go into this with an exact budget. We did splurge on the food, Food is very important to us and our families. (We’re both chozer b’teshuvah. His family is Russian and my family is Sefardi.) We went with the classic Russian/Israeli style table that is literally piled high with delicious amazing food.

Funnily, enough, I’m a vegan and my husband is a pescatarian, so the majority of the food couldn’t be eaten by us. (How many couples actually get to eat their own wedding food anyway?) We wanted out guests to have the best experience so we really went all out.

We saved on decor. We had zero flowers! My husband built our chuppah using leftover materials from his family’s window and glass business, and he and a few friends decorated it. (We repurposed it to build our seforim bookcase.) I purchased around 300 succulent plants for table décor, they doubled as party favors, and made some more table décor myself.

I bought my dress on Zappos, borrowed a veil, and had a friend do my makeup for a very fair price. Another friend, a top DJ, gave us a very good deal on the music.

We saw Yad Hashem throughout the process. Our wedding was truly a reflection of us and what we stand for.

Name: Elky*, Flatbush
Mother of: Daughter
Total Spent: $65,000

We’re a regular middle class family; we have eight kids, my husband and I are both working. We didn’t have a specific budget in mind; our attitude was, “Let’s try to do what we have to.” Somehow, Hashem helped us pay for everything without going into debt! My parents also helped us a little, which was a nice bonus.

Everything we did was considered pretty normal for Flatbush standards. Not high end but not very simple. We went to Lakewood for gowns, since it was a bit cheaper there, but did get the kallah’s gown in Brooklyn. I took top-name people for hair and makeup; it was important to me that we look our best, and I felt it was worth a few dollars more.

My second daughter married into a family that was a bit more comfortable, so we gave our mechutanim what we’d paid for our first wedding at a more standard hall, and they made used it on a nicer hall. Other than that, we tried to keep everything as similar as possible for both girls, since they got married within 15 months of each other. They each moved to Eretz Yisrael after their chasunah so we didn’t have to buy furniture—but we did pay for their plane tickets.

Name: M.S., Skver
Mother of: Kallah
Total Spent: $63,000

I was brought up in a home where my parents focused on shalom. My father always said that he married off 13 kids, bli ayin hara, and never had any disagreements with any mechutanim. He kept an escrow fund of “shulem gelt.

“A chasunah costs $40,000,” he’d say. “Let me make it $44,000 and stay on good terms.”

I’ve followed his path. I know my budget and I try to stay within it — but shalom comes first. And the couple are the ones who benefit.

For one of my weddings, our mechutanim hired a much more expensive shpieler, singer, and badchan than we’d had at our previous weddings. I didn’t say a word. So it was $1,000 more than we paid before? Ta-da! We have the shalom fund envelope, no problem.

I’m also a big believer in negotiation. Having a shalom fund doesn’t mean I always give in. If the other side asks for something out of the norm or completely out of my budget, that’s when I’ll negotiate and say something like, “Normally we don’t spend on such things, but I can see it means a lot to you. We can pay up to this amount.”

I think part of negotiation means not insisting that we do things the way we did by our other children. We’re working with different people, how can we stick to the same things? It doesn’t have to be even, life is not even, life is fair.

I won’t ask my mechutanim to upgrade — when one of my daughters wanted a bouquet of real flowers while the hall offers fake flowers, I paid it myself. Same for when my son wanted a nicer singer and music by the chuppah.

We never ask the other side to give because we gave — they give what they can and so do we. Being a good parent doesn’t depend on how much money you give; it’s the relationship you build.

Never involve your kids in these discussions or discuss what your mechutanim gave or how much they should have given. Respect your mechutanim! They’re your children’s in-laws. Help them live beautifully for years to come.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 694)

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    Fransesca Zuckerman

    There has been much discussion about extravagant weddings, and whether or not it’s anyone else’s business what someone else spends on a wedding. It’s clear, though, that extravagant weddings raise the bar.
    But what concerns me the most is not raising the bar, or becoming part of a more materialistic society. As someone who’s spent years working in seminaries, I am shaken by the number of mothers who declared they spent more on makeup, clothing, or gowns “because it’s important for the kallah to feel beautiful.”
    I certainly agree that a kallah should feel beautiful, but I’m so worried about the actual message she ends up getting if looking beautiful requires hundreds or thousands of dollars. “Listen sweetheart, the face Hashem gave you is oookaay, but it is going to take A LOT for you to be beautiful.” Why not try out the feel of “You are so beautiful, any gown will make you shine!” or “Any makeup artist can make a face like yours look gorgeous!”?
    These mothers all so clearly want to make their daughters feel good, but I’m afraid that they’re taking away the last shreds of self-esteem she may have. Mothers hope a girl hears the message that she deserves the best. That may come across by investing in her furniture (or not: it may just make her feel entitled) but that same approach, when applied to her appearance, may give her the message that she doesn’t measure up.
    I know all of these mothers just want their daughters to feel beautiful on this special day, so that they can carry that confidence into married life. But many of these girls will look back at their wedding day, and say “What a shame; I’ll never be that beautiful again….”


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    Your serial Yardsticks was an excellent portrayal of real life in our community and extremely well-written. The subsequent tête-à-tête detailing varied wedding expenses and obligations has generated much discussion among my younger daughters.
    Conducting an informal poll, I’ve found that even post-Covid-19, things haven’t changed all that much — girls still dream about really beautiful weddings. We all want the very best for our daughters, and we focus our time, energy, and money on making beautiful chasunahs. Your magazine has featured some pretty big numbers — from $24,000 for flowers to a singer brought in to the tune (pun intended) of $16,000 — all for one night. But the overemphasis on all of these pichifkes can be very costly — in many ways.
    The most important thing that a mother can do for her children is to put as much time and money as possible into giving them the gift of a great kallah teacher. Seems to me to be a better investment than flowers that last barely 24 hours.
    We are facing a crisis and it may not be just the escalating costs of making a chasunah. Our children are suffering. Our relationships are suffering. All the money spent on beautiful gowns, sheitels, and music cannot save a marriage that has gone south. The rate of divorce and unhappy marriages in our world has unfortunately never been higher. There is one way to combat this.
    Let me start by telling you what a kallah teacher does. We develop a relationship with your daughter, spending many hours getting to know her so that she’ll feel comfortable getting in touch after her chasunah when needed. We teach her the halachos but focus on hashkafa. We teach her how to connect to her spouse, how to develop common interests, how to have healthy disputes, how to become best friends and truly connect.
    I have a wise friend who sends her boys to a chassan teacher before the wedding and continues through the first year of marriage at a cost of $150 per session. Money very well-spent! That’s netzach — not the band, not the flowers, not the sheitel.
    As a kallah teacher, I get to know some of the most wonderful mothers as I teach their daughters, but it never fails to amaze me that there are some mothers I never speak to. The girls arrange the kallah teacher themselves, and the mother never even calls to say hello. I’m sure this same mother is calling the caterer, the dressmaker, the florist, and the hall, but the most important part of the preparation gets put to the side.
    There have been so many incredible kallah teachers over the years who’ve stopped teaching kallahs and took other jobs because kallah classes didn’t pay enough for them to support their families. Compared to the other expenses on the list, kallah classes are the biggest bargain around!
    We need to start prioritizing our relationships because we can all appreciate the joy that a close connection can bring. Believe me, the flowers can always come later.


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      SL

      You’re right when you says relationships are suffering and that a good kallah teacher is a must. But in the past, I’ve also heard the idea floated of pre- and post-marriage counseling. It never took off, probably because of the stigma attached. (Our kids are all perfect, right?) Still, I think it should be revisited. Imagine if young couples could have that guidance at the start of their marriage. How many long-term conflicts could be avoided? How many spouses could learn effective communication? Learn to foster deep and meaningful connections?
      You also commented in surprise about the mothers who are never in touch with you throughout the entire time you’re teaching their daughters. Maybe they’re respecting their daughter’s boundaries. Maybe some girls prefer to handle things on their own. It doesn’t mean there’s any less love or caring. There’s more than one right way.


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      Gitel Moses, Baltimore

      Are chosson/kallah teachers necessary? Of course. I’m just not sure they should be the ones serving as therapists. When did this become a business too? I’ve got a novel idea: Let’s invest in ourselves. Let’s invest in our spouses and our marriages and our children. Let’s see if we can teach our children about healthy marriages by showing them our own. Let’s empower them by teaching them about commitment. A marriage is a promise. Let’s keep it. Let’s talk about the importance of time, effort, caring and sharing. And if and when issues arise that need addressing, let’s find competent rabbis and qualified therapists who can help them navigate some bumps in the road with professional help.


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        C.F.

        Mrs Moses, you asked a rhetorical question, “Are chassan/kallah teachers necessary?” to which your response was “Of course.” Why? For thousands of years Jewish mothers have taught the halachos of marriage to their daughters themselves. Why, in the age when Jewish women are more learned than ever before in history, are we sending our kallahs to strangers to be taught before marriage? As far as teaching relationship building, what is a kallah teacher going to teach a girl that she hasn’t already learned by watching her parents’ model for 20 years? And if the parents were bad examples, how is the kallah teacher going to undo that damage in 10–12 sessions? As you stated, this should be left to professional therapists who have to answer to supervisors while the kallah teacher does not. There is simply no oversight and no supervision in this industry.
        I am sure I am not the only person who can fill a book with stories of relationships damaged and lives ruined by the well-intentioned advice of “top” kallah teachers. I firmly believe that we need to rethink the whole system.


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          Yitty Bisk

          C.F. – You’re right that for thousands of years the mesorah has gone from mother to daughter. Bais Yaakov also did not exist. But most mothers today aren’t ready to homeschool their daughters (as we’ve learned these past few months). And thousands of years in galus have unfortunately left a negative impact on Klal Yisrael, specifically in these areas.
          You’re correct that kallah teachers are not therapists. They are “first responders” who are trained to pick up issues and refer them to the appropriate address. Just like an EMT knows whether to refer a client to a doctor or rush him to an emergency room, a competent kallah teacher has a contact list of rabbanim, doctors, and various therapists as well as a support system of professionals and other teachers with many years of experience.
          And as F.S., another letter writer noted, newlywed couples absolutely do need a support system after marriage even more than before! It is imperative that their relationship develop during shanah rishonah (which, by the way is not just the first year, rather the first stage of marriage) in order to not have to repeat that stage seven to ten years later, this time in the marriage therapist’s office. I’m wondering why you have not called your kallah teacher? My guess is that she would be glad you reached out and happy to help. There are other venues out there as well.
          Marriage mentoring has been around for over 15 years. It’s time for the Orthodox community at large, and couples in particular, to embrace the idea and make it a “given” to connect with a mentor.
          Mrs. Michelle Fruchter has recently created a wonderful venue for women like you called “Marriage Buddies” where a newlywed is matched up with an older and wiser mentor. You can reach her at marriagebuddies613@gmail.com.
          Wishing you and all newlyweds much hatzlachah.


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          Sara Spero

          I have been following the debate about the need for chassan/kallah teachers with much interest. The response that “this has been something that had always been handled in the past by parents” left me a bit confused.
          Full disclosure: I do not clean and kasher my own chicken, liver, and meat; I have been known to purchase a sliced bread in the store or even a challah or two on a frenzied (or not so frenzied) Friday; and I do not boil the unpasteurized milk that used to be delivered to our front porch in a giant wine jug so that my father could drink chalav Yisrael.
          My European mother — a student of Frau Schenirer’s Shabbos Bnos groups and a graduate of Radim, Plaszow, and Buchenwald — did all of those things, yet had no problem entrusting the sacred mission of teaching me the responsibilities of the sanctity of Jewish life to Mrs. Sisty Glustein, who was my kallah teacher in Cleveland about a hundred years ago. This did not mean that my mother abdicated her responsibilities of parenthood — and neither did I, when it came time, do the same for our daughter, whose kallah teacher was Mrs. Neche Moerman. Providing healthy mentors and teachers who continue to encourage and inspire our children, is what sharing parental obligations is all about.
          It really does take a village….


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          N. R.

          I would like to add my voice to that of C.F. questioning why we have outsourced the teaching of our daughters to kallah teachers. I couldn’t agree with you more— so much so that when my third daughter got married, I taught her myself.
          When my third daughter got engaged, her two married sisters, who’d learned with two different “top” kallah teachers,
          encouraged me to teach her myself. They each felt that it would have been much better for them to have been
          taught by their mother, who knew them so well and whom they trust. Neither of them had felt the need— or the comfort level — to consult with their kallah teachers after they were married. They said they preferred to consult with me on appropriate issues, with their rav on issues pertaining to halachah or marriage, or a doctor when the subject was clearly medical.
          After discussing it at length with our rav, who encouraged me, I very successfully taught my daughter. The experience was beneficial all around. I intend to give my next several daughters this option when their turn comes, b’shaah tovah.
          If we toilet train our children, teach them about growing up, and guide them in personal and halachic matters, as all
          Yiddishe mammas have in the past, why do we delegate this most important job of all? Perhaps kallah teachers can shift their teaching experience and broader knowledge of the subject matter toward empowering mothers to take back their rightful place in this area.


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            Mrs. Chani Tanenbaum

            I’ve been following the unfolding debate about whether Klal Yisrael’s kallahs should be prepared for their chasunahs by their own mothers or “outsourced” to qualified kallah teachers. While I feel that this is a long overdue conversation, I worry that in framing it as a tug-of-war between parties vying for control, the real issues at play are being entirely overlooked.
            As a mother of daughters and a kallah teacher, I relate fiercely to each side of this dialogue. It is arguably true that nobody can know or love a child more deeply than her mother; that this mesorah is “toras imecha” in its purest form; and that the natural connection between parent and child can best create the ideal conditions for its transmission. It is also true that many mothers feel inadequate to the task, and that many daughters, for a range of reasons, feel uncomfortable with the idea of learning this Torah with their own mothers.
            In conducting a workshop I run for mothers entitled “Talking to Our Children about Sensitive Topics,” the most frequently expressed sentiment I encounter is “I want to do this, but I don’t know how!”
            As a community, we’ve managed to communicate certain messages to our children relating to the relationship between males and females. We have conveyed the vital message that we need to shield and protect our eyes and neshamos from the rampant pritzus that surrounds us. We’ve conveyed the never-been-truer message that Hollywood has distorted and perverted this aspect of human experience and that its portrayals have no place in the minds of pure, striving bnos Yisrael. In more recent times, we’ve even managed to convey important messages about personal safety.
            But somehow, I feel we haven’t managed to convey the “mafli laasos” part of this equation; the healthy, normal, Torahdig approach to marriage, based on HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s design of human beings and the mitzvos He gave them. I wonder how many parents realize that saying nothing at all also sends a very distinct message, loud and clear. This is about a deep understanding that is transmitted in countless age-appropriate and tzniusdig ways, spoken and unspoken, as a child matures and develops, then intensifies as he or she approaches marriage.
            Often one of the greatest challenges a kallah teacher faces is the “unlearning” that is necessary in order for her to proceed with the beautiful Torah-true messages she is prepared to impart.
            I would humbly suggest that teaching the black-and-white halachos is hardly the primary responsibility of a kallah teacher today; any reasonably bright individual could probably learn the halachic how-tos from one of the many high-caliber books and lecture series available, as well as through many reliable online resources. Rather, it’s that “Toras Imecha,” a proper understanding of the magnificent reality and purpose that emerges when we study and implement those halachos that cannot be imbibed from the pages of a book. It’s the creating of a safe and respectful space for any and every concern or question that a kallah may have before and, most important, after she embarks on this wonderful, holy, and sometimes frightening and confusing journey with her new chassan. It’s helping the kallah envision what’s possible when this avodah is properly understood and implemented.
            This isn’t really about who should be teaching our kallahs as much as how to best teach them at every stage of life. Here’s my vision: Let’s partner together, mothers and kallah teachers, to support each other in this critical, holy, and life-altering work. I have conducted trainings to empower mothers to teach their own daughters (though I do believe that in most cases a kallah should have a session or two with an experienced kallah teacher as well.) And let’s give enormous credit to each mother who knows that, for whatever reason, she isn’t the ideal teacher for her particular daughter, and seeks out the most suitable and qualified shaliach she can find to represent her.
            With the tefillah that together we can support healthy, thriving batim ne’emanim b’Yisrael,


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      M.A.

      I was so gratified to see Chaya Reich extolling the importance of investing in a qualified kallah teacher. Having proper chassan or kallah training can literally spell the difference between the life or death of a marriage.
      Many parents have become aware of the importance of checking into a prospective teacher and asking for credentials and rabbinic affiliations, but unfortunately, there is no required training, supervision, or governing body that regulates the field of kallah teachers. It is time for us, as a community, to band together and set up a system to ensure that our children can learn about our precious mesorah from qualified, well-trained kallah teachers, enabling each one of them to create a binyan adei ad.


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      F.S., Brooklyn

      I’m recently married and having such a hard time adjusting. It is of vital importance that a girl be provided a mentor, marriage coach, or kallah teacher, whom she’ll be in contact with after her wedding. Imagine if we could take care of our little “adjustments” when they’re still small issues, and not have to deal with them 20 years down the line when they’ve become something way bigger.
      Couples get married and need to figure everything out themselves. Just as important as it is to teach young kallahs before their wedding, it is even more vital to have someone to speak to, someone smarter and older, to give advice and serve as a listening ear. I feel so alone and don’t know where to start looking. If only this would be stressed before the wedding — that you automatically keep up with your kallah teacher / marriage mentor. Girls in this generation really need it.
      Hope all kallah teachers who read this can make a difference in our world!


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    Sara B., Israel

    After we got married, we didn’t have much money to spend on ourselves. While we loved our shanah rishonah, we wished we’d had more money to go on vacations before im yirtzeh Hashem having children.
    I understand that parents want to help their children if they can afford it.
    But spending $80,000 on a wedding plus buying new unnecessary clothing, and an entire apartment of new furniture… in my mind that’s excessive. Of course, everyone can spend what they want.
    But imagine if parents went to their children and said, “Our budget allows us to spend x on your wedding. Would you
    want us to cut back and give that to you as your shalom bayis fund?” The couple could use that money to spend time with each other— going out to eat, staying in a hotel once in a while, going away for Shabbos. I would have jumped on that.
    How about you?


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    Name Withheld

    In response to the list of wedding expenses shared by Hanna Green and anyone who shares her mindset. You’re all wonderful people.
    You spend responsibly and within your budget. However, it isn’t fair to judge others. Materialism is very important to some people, it’s their oxygen. It’s not right for anyone to tell someone else, “But you
    don’t have money, so how can you spend like that?” And it’s definitely wrong to say, “I have and I don’t spend, so if you don’t have money, you for sure shouldn’t be spending!”
    Please just remember where money comes from. The One above. He decides who has and who doesn’t. Who gives and who takes. No one in the position of having more should feel superior to those with less. Nor should they judge on how others spend their money. EVEN if that money was given to them by others.
    May The One Who Provides, continue to give you the means to help others.