Money, Social Media, Memories Rule Matrimony Trends



A wedding is one of the most important days of a person’s life. And like many other things today, the hottest trends in weddings are dominated by technology and its ability to capture the moment and how to keep costs down to avoid many of dreaded bills that can follow.

“I think that with the internet, people see what’s out there more,” said Heidi Hiller, owner and creative director of Innovative Party Planners, an Owings Mills-based special events planning company. “They aren’t just opening a magazine. Now you see all these crazy [options for] lighting, draping, flowers, caterers. … You can get carried away.”

In addition, celebrity nuptials and their planners have plastered social media with only the finest shots of their special days. This means for most people who roam their favorite A-lister’s Pinterest page, they are in awe of the beautiful photos — but not so much by the price tag.

“We have a budget conversation with anyone who is charge of contributing money,” said Diana Venditto, owner of Eventi, a Towson-based full-service event planning company. “We tell them, ‘If this is the look you like, this is the cost. If this is the band you like, this is what it costs.’ Money isn’t a comfortable conversation, but you have to have it up front and get it over with.”

Hiller echoed Venditto’s comments and added that few of her clients have a realistic budget in mind when they first approach her about planning their wedding. Despite how costly photographers can be, Hiller said photography is one of the first things she thinks about when it comes to trends.

Money isn’t a comfortable conversation, but you  have to have it up front  and get it over with.”  — Diana Venditto, owner of Eventi


“Who brides pick as a photographer is a huge a decision for them,” said Hiller who explained that people no longer want posed photographs in front of solid-colored backgrounds. Instead many couples are looking for “wedding moments,” where photographers capture the small, intimate interactions between the couple and their guests that made their special day just a little bit more memorable.

Some couples let their guests compile photos for them.

“A lot of people are using hashtags for their weddings and [putting them] on print materials like invitations or menus,” said Sandy Sanders, who works for Mount Vernon-based Feats, an educational, social and corporate event production company. After the event, the couple can use the hashtags as a tool to find all the moments their guests captured throughout the day.

Then there is the complete opposite approach. Some couples ask their guests to enjoy the moment for what it is, which means cellphones should be turned off or left in the car.

“Some people don’t want their wedding all over Facebook,” said Hiller.

While it might fly in the face of the incessantly social, technology-obsessed millennial, there is also a practicality to asking guests to leave photography to the professionals. It’s not uncommon for an overeager photo-taking guest to ruin a professional’s perfect shot simply by getting in the way.

The Knot, a website that surveys brides and grooms every year on the cost of their weddings, found that Baltimore and Washington, D.C., wedding photographers on  average charge between $2,500 and $3,000 per event.

“Intimate” is a trend that extends beyond the photographer. Venditto said she encourages couples to “take the time to write a personal note or a memory they have” with each guest as a way to make large-scale weddings feel more personal.

Regardless of all the small details and how they come  together, Hiller said the key to a wedding is “it’s not about what goes wrong, it’s how you deal with it.”

Saying Yes to the Dress and more

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Before the “to have and to hold,” there is usually the “to plan and to chart.” Planning a wedding is no easy task, and what’s popular can change as quickly as your Pinterest board.

Thankfully, there are a few current trends to provide some wedding guidance. The one overarching theme: vintage. Traditional, classic looks and ideas are back in style. So, moms, dust off that old wedding dress for your daughters — it might be exactly what she’s looking for.

Everyone already knows that it can be a lengthy process in finding the perfect wedding dress (unless it’s Mother’s Vintage), but there’s another type of dress that requires time and effort — the mothers’ dresses. The mothers of both bride and groom (or bride and bride or groom and groom) are important parts of any wedding, and they don’t have it quite as easy the fathers, who are putting on their best suit or renting a tux.

Jan’s Boutique in Cherry Hill, N.J., specializes in exactly this type  of dress. It has an inventory of more than 10,000 dresses in sizes 000 to 34, making it a hub for people in the surrounding areas, including  Baltimore.

When it comes to mothers’ dresses, classic and sophisticated is the name of the game in recent years, said Paul Virilli, one of Jan’s owners. “We’re seeing a lot more [dresses] that are clean — no rhinestones, no embellishments,” he said.

People frequently underestimate the amount of time it takes to get a dress. It’s likely the store will have the exact style with the exact color with the exact size, so there needs to be plenty of time to order and have any alterations made.

Virilli’s best advice? “It’s never too early to start shopping.”

The throwback to the classics is true not only with dresses, but also with catering.

“People are going back to traditional, which is so interesting,” said Nancy Sachs, the director of catering for Simply Elegant in Pikesville. “If you stay in the business long enough, you see things come back around.”

More couples are renting vintage furniture, such as old farm tables or purposefully worn-looking chairs, and serving from them.

In terms of food, food stations are very popular, Sachs said. This could include anything from a raw bar or mac-and-cheese bar to a mini-station (with mini-sirloin and Portobello burgers) to a coffee station.

Candy stations, often collected in a brightly colored piece of vintage furniture, make for a live uniqueness to a lot of spaces, Sachs said. Couples are looking to put their own signature on a venue and the wedding itself, she added.

“Most of the time these days, it’s really the bride and groom driving the train,” she said, as opposed to previous years when it was often parents who had a lot of say.

When it comes to choosing the venue, there are many  options. Outdoor weddings, or those hosted in large barns, are very popular among couples. Bars, hotels and country clubs offer other popular choices.

A growing trend, however, is choosing places for those events leading up to the wedding such as engagement parties, bridal showers, the pre-wedding hair and makeup for the bride and bridesmaids and “first-look” photography.

Lisa Gardner, director of sales and marketing at the  recently opened Ivy Hotel in Baltimore, said she’s seen a number of brides use the Ivy for the pre-wedding getting ready, since it includes a  spacious spa.

Additionally, “first-look” photography — when the groom sees the bride for the first time — is definitely on the increase, Gardner said, with numerous couples using the Ivy’s location for that moment.

Planning a wedding is stressful, but keeping in mind some of the recent trends can take some of the burden off in idea-generating, making it easier to get from the “to plan and to chart” stage to the final desired “to have and to hold.”

Take 2 How Jews juggle the various challenges of second marriages

Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin

Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin

Mazal tov! You’re getting married … again.

Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, a certified practitioner in Imago Relationship Therapy and author of “The Marriage Restoration Project: The Five Step Plan to Saving Your Marriage,” notes that around 50 percent of married adults in America get divorced at least once, meaning the likelihood of being a stepparent is becoming increasingly high. It can work—but it takes tremendous commitment and communication, Slatkin says.

Raising someone else’s children poses uncharted challenges and opportunities for couples who must balance their own relationship with the relationships they must form with their stepchildren. It isn’t easy to create a blended and successful family unit. Chayim Lando, who is now on his third marriage and has 19 children and stepchildren between the ages of 5 and 28, has dealt with a number of “stepparenting” issues over the years such as: What should the children call the stepparent? Who is allowed to discipline the stepchildren? How can you ensure that the stepchildren don’t feel like you have usurped their biological parent?

“You have to figure out the appropriate thing for each child,” Lando says.

For example, this time around, Lando has asked that his older children from previous marriages call his new wife by her first name.

“The children are older, and we don’t want them to feel like someone is [swooping in] to be a new parent,” Lando explains. “It’s a message of, ‘You have a father and a mother. I am just here to help out, make your life better.’”

Melinda Greenberg and Keith Michel are handling their second marriage similarly. Each has two children in high school or older. Greenberg says Michel’s kids call her by her first name, and vice versa.

“We are both really respectful of the fact that the biological parents are very much involved in their children’s lives, and neither of us wants to do anything to usurp that role,” Greenberg says.

When Greenberg and Michel discussed moving in with each other, they talked about the need for father-children time and mother-children time and about how to be comfortable with the fact that “just because we are all moving in together and living in one house doesn’t mean we have to do everything together,” Greenberg says.

Daniel, Greenberg’s second son, has Asperger syndrome, which can lead to some communication challenges. There are times with Daniel and his stepfather are alone in the house, and Michel wants to correct some behavior. What happens if Daniel is not receptive?

“Keith has prepared himself for Daniel to say, ‘You are not my father,’” Greenberg says, noting that the couple role-played these scenarios. “Keith will respond, ‘I am an adult who cares about you, and I see you doing something wrong, a problem, and I want to be able to address that with you.’”

Lando says some stepparents make the mistake of saying, “I am the new sheriff in town” and that it rarely goes over well. Slatkin similarly notes that it’s important not to make too many demands on stepchildren, but rather to recognize that they will need time to transition to this new life and to build trust with their stepparent.

“It is important to discuss how you will co-parent,” Slatkin says. “While you want to run the family together,” he says, you should be cognizant that the children of the other parent might not feel comfortable with a stepparent administering discipline.

One thing to keep in mind is how in-laws deal with stepchildren. Slatkin says he has seen situations in which in-laws favor the biological children or get gifts for those children but not for the stepchildren. He says parents shouldn’t be shy about talking to grandparents about this scenario, to ensure that they don’t play into strained family dynamics.

Blended families also need to work out how to share simchas (happy occasions). Judaism has more holidays and get-togethers than many other religions, so working out a cordial celebration plan can be key.

For United Kingdom-based Rabbi Michael Rosenfeld-Schueler, there were additional items to consider. He won sole custody of his daughter, Shalva, just a few months after he and his second wife, Tracey, were married.

“Were there challenges? Yes, there were most definitely challenges,” Rosenfeld-Schueler says, noting that today the situation is “very positive indeed.”

Rosenfeld-Schueler says he and Tracey worked with professionals and read several books together to help smooth the transition. Among his top picks are “Blessing of a Skinned Knee” by Wendy Mogel? and “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. He explains there’s a “massive lacking” of Jewish books on related subjects but that he found the aforementioned works to have universal messages.

Tracey’s approach to being a stepmom was very much led by daughter Shalva and what she wanted. For
example, Tracey only offered affection if Shalva initiated it, and then she reciprocated warmly.

“We found this approach built up trust,” says Rabbi Rosenfeld-Schueler.

Shalva’s biological mother chose not to have contact with her daughter soon after the court made the
custody decision. Within a year, Shalva started calling Tracey “mum,” “mummy,” or “ima,” which was
welcomed by the stepmother — but not ever suggested or requested. From there, the relationship has
continued to deepen.

“Day-to-day it is a mother-daughter relationship. That’s what’s happened,” Rabbi Rosenfeld-Schueler says, noting strong and open communication between him and his wife was essential to making the transition work. He also says that keeping in mind what is best for the child is “ultimately the most important thing” that helps the couple make decisions.

Since then, the Rosenfeld-Schuelers have welcomed a new baby to the family and that, too, has been a wonderful gift for their older daughter. Shalva says she is happy “because I got a baby brother and it doesn’t really matter [that he is from another mother]. I call them my family because … they are my family!”

Slatkin says that to make the transition to a second marriage easier, it’s important that when divorced parents are dating, the kids are part of the equation from early on. He says individuals need to remember that when you marry a mother or father, you aren’t just marrying that person, but also his or her children.

According to Slatkin, it’s also important to take trips together and incorporate other bonding activities before and after the marriage, to encourage additional connection between stepchildren and stepparent. Simultaneously, he notes, having children can make it challenging for the parents to prioritize their own relationship and find time for private bonding, which is also essential.

Chayim Lando and his third wife, Lea Sternbach. Lando has 19  children and stepchildren between the ages of 5 and 28 from his three marriages.

Chayim Lando and his third wife, Lea Sternbach. Lando has 19
children and stepchildren between the ages of 5 and 28 from his three marriages.

Lando says it’s imperative not to let outside influences, stigmas or statistics stand in the way of a new healthy relationship. In the Jewish community — and more acutely in the Orthodox community — there
remains a tremendous stigma against divorce, Lando points out. Rosenfeld-Schueler says that stigma can be “isolating” at times and emphasizes the importance of looking for a support network of people who have gone through similar situations.

Slatkin says that roughly 70 percent of second marriages end in divorce but that he has nonetheless witnessed many successes firsthand. Remarried couples may be more motivated to make their union work because they have already seen a failed relationship, he says. Whether it be a first or second marriage, in Slatkin’s estimation, it all depends on “how committed they are to working on the relationship no matter what.”

Is it worth all the work?

“It is always worth it to be in a healthy relationship,” says Lando.

Looking Good Wedding gown styles for the Jewish bride in 2015

With the spring and summer months being the most popular time of year for weddings, many brides are now beginning to search for their ideal gown.

“Today’s modern wedding gowns appear to be trending toward more simplistic and classic silhouettes, while elaborate and luxurious fabrics, laces, and adornments are becoming more significant
in the design,” says Sharon Langert, who runs, a blog dedicated to fashion for Orthodox Jewish women.

“One of the most current and popular wedding gown styles is the flattering fit and flare, a style that softly hugs a woman’s curves while gently flaring out at the hips,” she says.

But for Jewish brides, depending on their religious denomination, there are special considerations of modesty to take into account.

“Modesty is not about being oppressed, but just the opposite—an opportunity to fully express the inner light and beauty of the divine and refine woman through fabric, silhouette and texture,” says Langert.

“Trends aside,” she addes, “choosing the perfect wedding gown style is always a very personal and individual decision. There will always be those girls who dream of a tulle-infused Cinderella ball gown or a simple and modern sheath, and the most important factor in choosing a gown is how it makes the bride look and feel.”

In “Wedding Wednesday: The Real Wedding Dresses of the Frum and Fabulous,” a recent post on Langert’s blog dedicated to the gown search and featuring photos of the author’s favorite bridal styles, she writes that “through necessity, many Jewish brides become their own designers. We are the queens of creativity when it comes to designing and modifying previously non-modest gowns.”

With that principle in mind, Rachel Leonard, fashion director for, makes the following suggestions on bridal fashion in 2015 — tips that can apply to Jewish brides of all denominations. For those who do not wish to purchase these specific styles of gowns, use them for inspiration.

General 2015 Trends

❖ High-low hemlines – “There are two variations of this trend,” says Leonard. “It can be a subtle high-low, where the dress hits at the ankle, or more dramatic, in which case it hits at the knee. It’s a great way to show off fabulous shoes.”

❖ Cutouts – “Reveal a hint of skin with side cutouts. We’re also seeing this trend in deep V necklines and open backs.”

❖ Classic lady – “You can never go wrong with pretty and timeless silhouettes. (Think Grace Kelly style.)”

❖ Slits – “Sexy, glamorous slits are perfect for an evening reception.”

❖ “Allover lace with long sleeves is a great way to look elegant and conservative.”

❖ “This Audrey Hepburn-inspired style features a crop top with a removable bolero jacket that you can take off for the reception. (It’s strapless underneath.)”

❖ “A tulle wrap is a chic way to cover up. The soft pastel color with beaded floral tulle is so gorgeous and ethereal.”

❖ “1970s-inspired bohemian-chic looks are having a huge moment right now.”

Created with flickr slideshow.

Blessed Beginnings Where to say ‘I do’ in Israel

With destination weddings a popular option of late, why not tie the proverbial knot in Israel? It turns out that this tiny country (roughly the size of New Jersey) has it all: natural beauty, scrumptious food and fine wines, affordable facilities to rent and the magical ambiance of starting your life together in the Jewish state.

050815_weddings_destination1“Getting married [in Israel] is a total spiritual experience, even if it’s in Tel Aviv,” says Osnat Eldar, a Tel Aviv-based event planner who has put together countless weddings for Israelis and others. “And it supports Israel’s economy and brings over families and friends who may think we live in a war zone until they come over and see what it’s really like here.”

Nevertheless, Eldar admits that it can be challenging to work through the marriage license process in Israel, especially from a distance. Multiple document requirements can prove frustrating to even the most determined couples. (Note: The nonprofit Itim helps both Israelis and Diaspora Jews navigate the bureaucracy.) Therefore, many couples opt to first get their marriage license in their home country and then have the ceremony in Israel. “But don’t worry,” says Eldar. “The marriage is valid in Israel anyway.”

Another heads-up from Eldar: While many of Israeli wedding halls provide kosher catering, others do not, and many traditional rabbis will not perform weddings in nonkosher halls — either due to the food or the fact that the venues are open on Shabbat. “Check with your rabbi,” Eldar advises.

Logistics aside, there is certainly a wide array of venue options to choose from in Israel, where it sometimes seems that every kibbutz and restaurant wants a piece of the wedding cake. Here is a just a sampling:
Lauren’s Gallery in Old Jaffa
The wedding party follows the bough-covered winding path up the hill to the chuppah. There, laid out behind the bride and groom, is a dazzling scene: a light-spattered view of Tel Aviv’s beachfront and city skyline. Afterward, amid happy music, everyone follows the happy couple back down the hill to the
reception in the trendy Lauren’s Gallery, where dancing and dining await.


Hilton Eilat Queen of Sheba Hotel
Once in Israel, just point yourself south and travel all the way through the desert until you can’t go any farther without swimming in the Red Sea. You’ve reached the popular resort city of Eilat. Having a wedding at the Queen of Sheba means a chuppah with stunning vistas of the Red Sea and Jordan, a seafront pool and an in-house spa. A bonus: Time-crunched guests will be relieved to hear the Eilat airport is merely a five-mile drive away.


Nof Hayarden
A short drive from Ma’ale Adumim and less than an hour from Jerusalem, this wedding hall in Mitzpe Jericho offers breathtaking views of rolling desert hills, the Dead Sea and Jordan. Guests can take it all in through both the glass-walled interior and the outdoor chuppah spot. Look for a variety of wedding packages that include catering and bar service. Note: The management is also happy to help arrange buses for guests coming from Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel.
Yam Carmel
For a dazzling 360-degree panorama of the Mediterranean shore and the Carmel Heights, you might want to consider having your wedding at Yam Carmel, which is nestled in the Ofer Forest near Haifa. In addition to its stupendous view, Yam Carmel boasts an open-air amphitheater for wedding ceremonies between April and late October. A bonus for outdoorsy couples: Yam Carmel is located very near an “extreme park” that features a ropes course, rappelling, bungee trampolines and a tube slide.
The Green Beach
For those who prefer their water up close, The Green Beach offers an event garden where countless couples have tied the knot. Perched on a private shore of the Sea of Galilee near the northern city of Tiberias, the coastal nature reserve offers an
impressive view of the Golan Heights and the Hermon mountain range. With capacity for up to 550 guests, a Green Beach wedding includes gourmet Mediterranean cuisine, plenty of room for music and dancing and an after-party option.
The Sephardic House
Location, location, location. Start your wedding day with a visit to the Kotel (Western Wall), then walk up with your wedding party to the hall, a short stroll away in Jerusalem’s Old City. There, you’ll find your chuppah awaits in the recently renovated open-air atrium. Afterward, enjoy an array of fresh foods cooked on the premises. Note: This space accommodates smaller weddings of up to 150 guests and includes a number of hotel rooms available for members of the wedding party.

Bamboo Village
Beach-combing couples will thrive at this beachside wedding locale in Netanya. With its panoramic view of the Mediterranean, Bamboo Village hosts as many as 400 guests to witness the outdoor chuppah. Specialties of the house include barbecues and fresh fish from the sea. A perk: In true after-party style, the guests — mostly young ones who don’t need much sleep — can spend the night near the beach in big tents. Older guests typically prefer one of two nearby hotels.
Barkan Winery
Hulda Kibbutz in the Judean Plain is home to Barkan, Israel’s second-largest winery. Like all the world’s wine countries, the area is regularly bathed with a gentle golden sunlight and just enough rain to grow perfect grapes. The winery — situated southeast of Rehovot and Mazkeret Batya, near the picturesque Hulda National Forest — has long hosted weddings known for their relaxed charm and pristine setting.

Get Real Get Married

050914_insider_insidescoop-bookBy Aleeza Ben Shalom, Soft cover, 131 pages: self-published

In her new how-to guide, Aleeza Ben Shalom, who calls herself the “Marriage Minded Mentor,” provides advice and an action plan that will enable Jews looking for marriage to “get over their hurdles and under the chuppah.” The book helps readers to evaluate what they want in a marriage partner and also encourages them to take an honest look at themselves to determine what they may be doing – unwittingly — to discourage appropriate marriage partners. Ben Shalom offers exercises, checklists and more, and she promises that with her advice, singles can be engaged within a year.

Five Facts about Being Married

050914_insider_insidescoop-health• A 2014 study by researchers from New York University’s Langone Medical Center that looked at more than 3.5 million men and women found that married people have a significantly decreased risk of heart disease.

• Ohio State University psychology researcher Brad Bushman and his team studied 107 married couples for three weeks and found that low blood sugar made spouses more likely to be angry at one another.

• According to a 2013 study at Bowling Green University, the U.S. marriage rate is now only 31.1 or 31 per 1,000 unmarried women. That is the lowest rate in more than 100 years. In comparison, in 1920 the marriage rate was 92.3.

• The same study found that the average age of first marriages for American women is now the oldest it has been in over a century at 27 years old.

• A 2013 study by the National Marriage Project found the greatest number of people ages 20-28 who consider themselves highly satisfied with their lives are married. The report also says that most women in the study who described themselves as “very happy” got married between the ages of 24 and 26.

The Art of the Best-Man Speech

Co-best men Mark Karafin (left) and Marc Shapiro give their speeches at the wedding of longtime friend Mike Ewing in March 2012. (provided)

Co-best men Mark Karafin (left) and Marc Shapiro give their speeches at the wedding of longtime friend Mike Ewing in March 2012.

The best man can’t just rattle off a few jokes, say something sentimental and call it a day. A great speech has the best man playing part stand-up comedian, part best friend, part couple historian and part master of ceremonies.

I called several of my friends to reflect on their best-man speeches and drew on my own experiences, as best man at my brother’s wedding and one of two best men at my childhood friend Mike Ewing’s wedding.

“It’s hard to do because you don’t want to make it too long and you don’t want to make it too short and you don’t want to screw up,” says Ryan Fried, who gave his best-man speech in 2012 at his friend Scott Davis’ wedding in Chicago. “So, there’s a certain pressure.”

And you have to make people laugh. But achieving that perfect balance of embarrassing the groom, and possibly the bride if you know her well enough, and touching the wedding guests’ hearts with sentiments is tough. And when you have years, decades or sometimes a lifetime of stories to tell, the inclination is to dig deep for the most hilarious and embarrassing stories.

“There’s a line, and you should cross it, but you should do it gracefully and tastefully,” says Mark Karafin, my childhood best friend and my co-best man at Mike Ewing’s wedding. “You are supposed to embarrass them, but you’re not supposed to throw them under a bus.”

At my brother’s wedding, that meant saying that he was an inspiration to men everywhere, because if a regular guy like him can land a beauty like his wife, the possibilities are endless. I followed one of my quips with, “but today is not the day for making fun of Randy, that’s every other day of the year.”

My friend Aaron Walker, who was best man at his brother’s wedding in 2009, poked fun by saying things such as, “Who knew you’d graduate college to become a stay-at-home dad?” and by referring to his wife’s profession as “pediatric gynecology” instead of pediatric oncology. But he was careful to achieve that balance of telling jokes and sentimental stories.

“I kind of did one after another,” he says. “You have a serious moment and then you have a moment when you poke fun or say something inappropriate.”

The preparation time varies, and speeches generally were about two minutes. Walker excitedly started working on his speech about a month before the wedding; some start a few weeks out, others in the days leading up to the wedding. It was a two-week process for Fried.

“I wrote in all in longhand, which is something I rarely do. Something about writing in longhand makes it more personal for me,” he says. “I read through it a whole bunch of times the day of [the wedding], and I felt like it wasn’t as personal as it could have been, and so I added a last paragraph that kind of tied it together.”

At the end of the day, if the couple laughs and likes the speech, the best man can rest assured he did his job.

I called Randy to ask him what he thought of the speech I gave for him in 2007. He thought I did a good job getting across the humor and the heartwarming sentiments.

“You could have had a lot more fun with it and could have been a lot more obscene with it too, which really surprised me,” he says with a laugh. “The amount of maturity and restraint you managed to use was very surprising.”

Perhaps I didn’t embarrass him enough.

Four Little Words

On March 31, Opening Day for the 2014 Major League Baseball season, a website called provided lovers who might be considering proposing to their significant others with some news they could use. published the rates for scoreboard marriage proposals for all 30 major league teams. Sadly, the Orioles don’t offer the service. But say your fiancee is a Yankees fan. Assuming you don’t see that as reason enough to dump her, you can pay $100 to propose before everyone at Yankee Stadium as well as those watching the game at home or on their iPads.

Just what makes for a great proposal? We asked Sarah Pease, a proposal (yes, you read right) and wedding planner in New York City. Pease, who owns Brilliant Event Planning, says today’s couples need her help with proposal planning because they aren’t satisfied with run-of-the-mill marriage proposals.

“Men are more involved in wedding planning, and since there’s so much focus on the bride at the wedding, grooms see the proposal as their time to shine,” Pease says.

“With the advent of social media and viral YouTube videos, the bar for popping the question has gotten much higher,” says Pease. “These days, if you tell someone you got engaged over dinner in a nice restaurant, they say, ‘Oh, that’s nice.’ Guys want other guys to say, ‘Wow, I can’t top that!’”

Pease talks about a recent prospective groom who used her services to plan a particularly elaborate proposal.

“We set up a scavenger hunt all around the city, and at the end, the woman was taken to what she thought was a pop-up champagne bar to meet the guy. When she was brought in, she had to figure out a crypto text with clues like those in “The Da Vinci Code.” After that, she clicked play, and a video played on a huge screen in front of her. All her friends and family were in the video giving her their blessings. Then the room got dark, and a wall opened where the man was waiting. The floor was illuminated with thousands of candles, and there were flowers that had been flown in from all over the world. The woman really liked elephants so there were little elephants with tags on them. On each tag, he wrote one reason why he loved her.”

Pease says the groom probably spent about $20,000 on the proposal and that didn’t include her fee or the cost of the engagement ring. Pease’s fees start at $1,195, she says. “It varies. A flash mob in Times Square is going to be more than a roof-top dinner proposal.”

The Schleifers’ marriage  proposal was like something out of a Disney movie. (Frayda Breitowitz)

The Schleifers’ marriage proposal was like something out of a Disney movie.
(Frayda Breitowitz)

Yitzy Schleifer of Pikesville didn’t hire a proposal planner when he was ready to ask high school sweetheart Lauren Schuster to tie the knot. The couple have known each other since they were in the 10th grade together at Yeshivat Rambam. Baltimore natives, the Schleifers started dating that year and have been together ever since. So Yitzy was well aware of his future wife’s “obsession” with all things Disney. When it came time for him to propose, it was clear that nothing short of a fairytale proposal would cut it.

It was three years ago during Purim that Yitzy proposed. “Purim that year was Saturday night and Sunday, and we got engaged that Saturday night,” says Lauren. “He is very political, so he told me there was a [Purim] event for college students and young adults at the governor’s mansion, and we had to go. He got us Jasmine and Aladdin costumes, and we got all dressed up and drove to Annapolis,” she recalls. When the couple arrived at the mansion, however, there was nothing going on. “He said, ‘We must have the wrong address.’ Next thing we know, a horse and buggy shows up and Yitzy asked the driver if she can take us to some address. He had a whole script worked out for her. After a while she pulled into a driveway and said, ‘I have to turn the horse around, so can you please get out of the carriage for a moment? I didn’t understand why we had to get out for her to turn the horse, but we did anyway.”

Yitzy motioned for Lauren to join him behind some trees where he had set up candles, flowers and champagne flutes. “A song from Disney’s “Aladdin” was playing, and he sang it to me with his own words. My ring was inside a genie’s bottle,” she says.

After the proposal, the couple drove back to Baltimore, where they were thrown a surprise engagement party at Lauren’s parents’ house. “It was all a total surprise,” says Lauren. The couple now have a 4-month-old baby girl, Maxi.

Sharon and Eric Rubin got engaged on the shoulder of the PA Turnpike (David Stuck)

Sharon and Eric Rubin got engaged on the shoulder of the PA Turnpike
(David Stuck)

Eric Rubin’s proposal to his wife Sharon came as a surprise to both of them.

“We were on our way back from visiting Eric’s parents in Upstate N.Y., and we stopped off in Riverdale to visit his grandfather. His grandfather kept referring to me as Eric’s fiancee, but we weren’t engaged. Driving back to Philadelphia [where Eric then resided and was doing his residency] we were having interesting conversations about ‘what if?’ and the future,” Sharon recalls.

“I never had any idea we would get married. I mean, I saw us being together but never really knew how we would get to the marrying part. He was driving my car, and we were on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Suddenly, he pulls off to the side of the road and turns on the hazards. Then he gets out and walks around to my side of the car, opens the door and gets down on one knee. ‘Sharon, will you marry me?’ he asked. He had to ask four times because I didn’t believe it. I had a cold and had taken cold medicine so I thought maybe that was what was wrong with me.’”

Eric said, ‘I have to get you a ring. You’ll believe it when I get you a ring.”

Sharon got her ring, and they have been married almost 20 years. They have three children, Jenny, 17, Alex, 13, and Sam, 11. Sharon believes that her husband’s proposal was a lot like their lives together have been. “We’re deeply committed to one another; we’re attune to each other and can finish each other’s sentences, but it’s not routine,” she says. “We’re not in a rut; it still feels like it was yesterday that he proposed. We’re still spontaneous.”

Lauren Schleifer says that she would have been happy to say ‘Yes’ no matter how her husband proposed. Still, the fact that he went out of his way to plan a proposal that really reflected her fairytale fantasies meant a great deal. “I don’t think you can predict what a marriage will be like based on the proposal,” she says. “I think it’s more about what the relationship was like before the proposal that is important. He made the Disney proposal because he wanted to do something he knew I would love. It was totally loving, and it’s been that way all along.”

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Go with the Flow

Jon Toub and Lila Miller visited a mikvah. Brianna Forster Photography)

Jon Toub and Lila Miller visited a mikvah.
(Brianna Forster Photography)

A few days before their wedding in January, Lila Miller and Jonathan Toub went to Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C., and, in separate ceremonies, immersed themselves in the synagogue’s mikvah, or ritual bath.

“It was a nice pause before the wedding, says Miller, 27, a program associate for the Schusterman Foundation.

Immersion in the “living waters” of the mikvah before a wedding is a time-honored tradition for the bride- and groom-to-be, says Naomi Malka, director of the Adas Israel mikvah, which opened in 1989.

“Any time someone is marking a milestone in their life and changing life status,” is an opportune moment to visit the mikvah, she says.

For Miller and Toub, who don’t consider themselves particularly observant, their visit to the mikvah was among the traditional elements they nevertheless included in their wedding celebration.

“There’s something about doing traditions that have been done for thousands of years,” says Miller. Adds Toub, 29, a technology consultant, “It was a nice way to connect to generations before us.”

When the couple arrived at the synagogue for their appointment, they were greeted by Malka, who walked them through the steps leading to the immersion.

“There were different cleansing rituals,” she point out.

Before using the mikvah, one removes all jewelry, cuts finger and toe nails and washes thoroughly, so nothing comes between the mikvah water and the body.

Miller took her turn first.

She used a ceremony prepared by Mayyim Hayyim, a Boston-area mikvah. It included a meditation for each immersion.

One such meditation just before entering the water includes the words: “I am now prepared to leave behind that which I no longer choose, to become one with another life, to become a creator of new possibilities, to become a partner in sharing the joys of life, to teach and to learn the lessons of married life.”

There are two blessings upon immersing in the water: One thanks God for the commandment of immersion, the other, the Shehecheyanu blessing, expresses gratitude for reaching that moment in time.

“There are people who dip three times,” explains Malka. Miller and Toub were among them. “Some do it seven times. Seven is an important number in a wedding” such as the seven blessings given to the couple. And at a mikvah, there are seven steps that lead into the water.

The mikvah resembles nothing more than a tiny swimming pool. Alone by the water symbolizing birth, life and change, Miller was left to her own thoughts.

“It created a really nice space, spiritually and physically,” she says.

“The thing that struck me most about it is how very separate it seemed,” says Ari Houser, a policy analyst for AARP, who used the Adas Israel mikvah before his wedding in 2012. “I was very much by myself.”

His wife, Deborah Srabstein, remembers what a contrast her mikvah experience was from the other activities surrounding her wedding.

“The rest of my wedding was with other people,” says Srabstein, education director for Oseh Shalom congregation. “This was one moment that was totally private. This was very personal.”

Couples often make separate appointments for the mikvah, says Malka. Some bring a friend or relative of the same gender to act as a witness, something Miller, Toub, Houser and Srabstein did not do.

“Sometimes brides will bring Mom and friends and make a little party,” adds Malka. “They’ll tell stories, like at a shower.”

“One of the things that appealed to me is that it marked a rebirth in a sense,” says Toub. “I’m starting a new life with somebody new. It was a concrete activity to mark the separation between who I was individually and who I’m going to be as a life partner.”

As meaningful as their dip into tradition was, Miller and Toub are still a Washington couple. So how did they follow up their mikvah experience?

Says Miller, “We went back to work.”

For information on the Adas Israel Synagogue (Conservative) mikvah, go to adasisrael.ork/mikvah or contact or 202-841-8776.

Baltimore-Area Mikvot
There are several Orthodox mikvaot in the Baltimore area. They include:

Mei Menachem Community Mikvah
(for women by appointment only)
6701 Old Pimlico Road, 410-415-5113

Beth El Mikvah
(for men or women by appointment only)
8101 Park Heights Ave., 410-484-0411,

Shearith Israel Mikvah
(for men)
5835 Park Heights Ave., 410-466-3060

Mikvah of Baltimore, Inc.
(for women)
3207 Clarks Lane, 410-764-1448