American Jewish weddings are back – with rising prices, staff shortages, and uncertainty
New York Jewish Week via JTA – After 18 months with virtually no marriage, Rabbi Howard Buechler of the Dix Hills Jewish Center on Long Island found himself with not one but two requests to officiate on a recent Saturday night.
So he enlisted his daughter, Rabbi Yael Buechler, to officiate with one of them. The bride, Pamela Rosen, and her parents knew her because she led an alternative service at the synagogue during the summer holidays.
Meanwhile, one of Senior Rabbi Buechler’s sons, Rabbi Eli Buechler, assistant rabbi at the Jewish Center, an Orthodox synagogue in Manhattan, was officiating yet another wedding this weekend in the city.
âThis is the first time we’ve had a Buechler trifecta,â said Howard Buechler.
The unusual feat was sparked by an explosion of weddings this fall as couples planned big weddings that weren’t sure during the height of the pandemic. Along with the increase in guest lists, the trend has put pressure on New York-area rabbis, caterers and vendors who are struggling through a backlog of weddings.
No one is suggesting the pandemic is over, and the uncertainty – increases in cases, new variants and gaps between who gets vaccinated and who isn’t – is driving its own anxiety. (At the three weddings on Nov. 13, Buechler said, he believed guests should be fully immunized.)
Yet families have struggled to postpone postponed marriages – and cope with rising prices, limited venues, and ever-changing medical recommendations.
âThe number of weddings this year is off the charts,â said Bill Vidro, owner of Azure Limousine in St. James, New York, in Suffolk County on Long Island. âPeople are getting married this year who postponed their wedding from last year. There are now weddings from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. because the room was already reserved for the night. We pick up the bride and groom at 6.30 am. They go for pictures and then for an afternoon wedding. It’s crazy. And people get married during the week because the weekends are reserved.
The wedding blitz is a microcosm of a global economy still mired in a pandemic, from changing medical protocols and rising prices to staff shortages and supply chain disruptions.
Ariel Bick, 28, said that when she and her husband Steven Victor tied the knot on November 6 at The Beekman hotel in Manhattan, they followed city regulations requiring all of her guests to be fully immunized. Guests were invited to email her their vaccination records before the wedding; those who had not had to show them at the door.
Some 350 guests were invited; 220 participants. âAbout 10 to 15 didn’t come because they weren’t vaccinated,â she said.
A challenge: the rise in the price of flowers. Flower growers were very conservative when they planted this year because of the losses they suffered last year when many events were called off, said Jay Riether, owner of Flowers of the Month in Manhattan.
âIt created a shortage,â he said. âThe wedding scene in New York is now like it was before the pandemic, but flowers are scarce and costs are inflated and the most esoteric flowers are impossible to obtain. As a result, prices have increased by 20 to 50 percent.
It was Bick’s experience. âWe booked the flowers a year before the wedding and as we got closer to the date they told me the price was going up and they needed to pass the increase on,â she said. âWe paid about 20% more because of what they said was an increase in the cost of labor and materials. “
Employers in many industries say they are having trouble finding volunteer workers, a dynamic fueled by a number of factors linked to the pandemic. The hospitality industry, which includes caterers, has been particularly hard hit, and Gayle Wilk, owner of Gala Event & Food Artistry in Melville, Long Island, said costs were rising for wait staff and kitchen staff as well.
âIt’s very difficult to get help and we pay them a lot of money,â Wilk said. âWe pay a premium for dishwashers – everyone gets paid more. “
Wilk said his staff wore masks and there were special precautions in place due to COVID-19. Frankfurters in dough âcoversâ are usually served with a bowl of common mustard; instead, Wilk serves the finger foods with a plastic syringe filled with mustard that guests can squeeze out on their own. (COVID-19 spreads through the air, not on surfaces.)
âThe guests don’t take anything on their own, everything is served to them,â Wilk said.
Heather MacLeish, manager of Deborah Miller Catering & Events in Manhattan, said next year promises to be even busier “because we’ll be seeing three years of weddings in one year.” There will be brunch weddings, two weddings in one day and more Sunday weddings and weekday weddings. Thursday will be a big day. And we are already booking weddings in 2023 because a lot of dates next year are filled and we are seeing people who are already married and want to party.
People are eager to put the pandemic behind them and turn to some semblance of normalcy, Wilk said.
âPeople are trying to forget about COVID and they are inviting big numbers again,â she said, adding that some guests are declining because they don’t want to travel or are ânot mentally backâ.
As a result, she said, parties for 300 end up with 250 because 50 “are afraid to come.”
But 250 is a larger crowd than the handful who have attended weddings during the worst of the pandemic. Marlene Kern Fischer from Armonk, New York, said her son and fiancee are planning a wedding for 220 people to be held at a hotel in July 2020. The pandemic has forced them to cancel the hotel and party and Fischer said the couple, Eric Fischer and Danielle Clemons, celebrated their wedding on July 2, 2020 in their backyard with just 14 people.
âIt ended up being so beautiful, so intimate and special that now my second son says he wants a small wedding,â she said. âI feel like the pandemic has given people the right to do things differently now. Weddings don’t need to be in a hall, and the couple may not want to share any intimate thoughts they may have expressed in their vows in front of 220 people.
Fischer noted that the parents of the bride drove to her home from Maryland and, because they didn’t want to stay in a hotel, rented an RV which they parked in her driveway.
The newlyweds had thought of throwing a big party after the pandemic, but Fischer said the bride decided not to because “she didn’t want to insult her beautiful little wedding by having something else.”
The event turned out to be so special, said Fischer, that she wrote a book about it, âI won a girl but I almost lost my mind: How I planned a wedding in the yard during the pandemic “.
Despite all the hassle, however, the months of waiting to get married made the wedding day even more special, according to Rabbi Jack Dermer of Temple Beth Torah in Westbury, New York.
âThere is a real gratitude in being able to be together,â he said. âI have officiated at weddings for couples who have postponed their marriage for almost two years. Their marriage is now so much sweeter and more holy.