It’s been over a week since we welcomed our family and friends to town to share in Jake and Zack’s special day, and though I’ve spent much of it sick-as-a-dog (I ran into Harvey Fierstein in a restaurant over the weekend, and I actually sounded very much like him) and trying desperately to catch up on life, I’ve had the thrill of reliving the whole event in my own head and jabbering with lots of our guests.
As the chief event planner, I’ve asked myself over and over if there’s anything I could’ve changed that I would have. And over and over the answer is, “Nope!”
In a day filled with many memorable moments, the most memorable part for me had absolutely nothing to do with details of the events I coordinated. My favorite part—hands-down—was the beautiful service led by Jake and Zack and seeing their precious punims on the bimah. True to their humble natures, they worked quietly to learn their parts, and never once practiced their Torah or Haftarah in front of me. By February, they had learned all the prayers typically read by b’nai mitzvah students at the service, and I truly had no idea what more they could possibly be doing at their weekly sessions with the cantors. That is, until the final rehearsal the day before their event when they casually sprang the most incredible surprise on me.
There are two prayers sung at the Shabbat morning service—Sim Shalom and Ma Tovu—and although it’s possible it may have happened on a rare previous occasion, from what I hear it’s unprecedented for anyone other than the cantor to be given the honor of singing the verses. As I sat in the first row, the only spectator at their final rehearsal, my two amazing boys just nonchalantly launched into the verses accompanied by the cantor’s guitar. I nearly burst with pride at the rehearsal, and I had all I could do to keep it to myself so the rest of the family would be as gleefully surprised the next day. Of course folks who don’t worship at our Temple wouldn’t have known that this was out of the ordinary, but we locals thought it was remarkable and meaningful. I watched David and Ben, who flanked me as the twins launched into the verses, each have their jaw drop and they both poked me and beamed. Quite a cool honor for our boys!
And that’s why for me, the rest of the day and evening—fabulous as it all was—paled by comparison. But since I come from a long line of event debrief addicts, I’ll indulge in a brief analysis of the rest of it anyway.
I’ll just come out and admit it: My name is Andrea and I’m a planner. If I’m planning a party or a trip or a meeting, I like to do as much prep and planning as I can up front, so that I get to enjoy the event itself and not have to worry or stress or waste time. Silly me, I just assumed everybody was that way (except, of course, David, who married me to take care of all that kind of stuff). Yet I come to find out that apparently I’m the nutcase, and most people don’t enjoy handling this stuff themselves. When people ask who I’m using as a party planner and I tell them it’s just little old me, they look at me as if I’ve just told them I’m leaving next week to join the crew on the International Space Station. I’ve always assumed that wide-eyed look was horror and pity. I’ve now come to find out it’s chiefly marvel (although I’m not entirely sure if they’re marveling at my incredible ambition or my colossal stupidity).
To me, though, it’s like any other skill: if you love doing it, it’s probably something you’re decent at. And I guess what I didn’t realize is how much most people dread and despise event coordination.
Sure, there were lots of moving parts to anticipate and consider. Compile a guest list. Decide on the party venue. Book a block of hotel rooms for out-of-towners. Design and mail save-the-dates. Design and order invitations and thank-you notes. Help select a donation cause. Design a logo. In-lieu-of cards. Custom yarmulkes. Book our favorite DJ. Book my beloved designers. Our trusted caterer. The splendid photographer. The videographer. The florist. The valet. Hire a tent company. Create an informational website for guests. Select tallitot. Design and order sweatshirt favors. Find adult party favors. Driving directions from everywhere to everywhere. Help decide who should have aliyot. Slideshow montage. Develop menus. Make and deliver hotel bags. Keep track of replies, donations, thank you notes. Caaaake! Sign-in boards, easels and pens—oh my! Stock the bars. Candle lighting ceremony. Parent blessing. Appropriate clothing/footwear times six. (And for Ben’s event, I had the added “delight” of conjuring a formal seating plan and place cards.)
In reality, my three-pronged entertaining philosophy is simple.
- First, the most important thing to me is to make the event meaningful and appropriate for the occasion. This wasn’t a wedding, nor a birthday party nor a corporate event. It was a religious milestone for two teens, and while it’s certainly traditional to celebrate reaching that milestone, the religious significance needs to remain firmly in the forefront.
- Second, I wanted my “clients”—Jake and Zack—to be overjoyed with every element of the event from start to finish. This was, after all, their special day and I wanted everything about it to be a reflection of their styles and interests (which is why I arranged for them to work with the Judaica artist to custom design their invitations based on a quote they loved from their Haftarah). I also wanted to add in a few surprises as my gift to them. They knew there would be a slideshow montage, for instance, but they had no idea what I had created until it was shown that night. They also knew there would be some sort of cake for the candle lighting, but I combined Zack’s love of Ace of Cakes with Jake’s passion for the Red Sox and came up with the vision for the over-the-top Fenway Park cake. The guys had absolutely no Caroling idea and were thoroughly delirious when the amazing creation was delivered just a couple of hours before the party began. While all our guests oohed and ahhed and got to devour it with us, the cake was really our gift to Jake and Zack.
- Finally, every other detail I do for a party comes from my heart as a gesture of deep gratitude to the family and friends who are able to give the time and effort to share in the special occasion. I want every guest to feel warm and welcome, and know how genuinely appreciative we truly are to have the honor of their presence. You can have groovy lighting and hot music and a top-shelf bar, but it just ain’t a party without your peeps! I try to be the most gracious hostess I can, and think about the details that will ensure my guests have fun and feel at least a smidge pampered. My husband and one of my friends nearly had me committed when I spent hours baking and packaging my chocolate-chunk cookies for the hotel bags at 11:30 p.m. two nights before the event, but damn it, if my posse was coming all the way to Westport and shacking up in a hotel, it was my pleasure to share some of my legendary homebaked love! Pepperidge Farms snack bags from Costco just wasn’t gonna cut it. I hope it’s the personal touches that make Reiser celebrations quintessentially Reiserish. And while I wish it were otherwise, I just can’t seem to let go and trust anyone else to dream ’em up and execute ’em. That’s why my friends call me Crazy Lady (but it also may be why a bunch of them have already hit me up to help them plan their upcoming events ““ and yes, of course, it would be my pleasure, gurr-frenz!)
Bottom line is that I merely scoped out and coordinated an extraordinarily talented bunch of people who are amazing at what they do, and I spent my time creating and doing what I love to do most. (C’mon what mom wouldn’t treasure the opportunity to spend days going through delicious baby pictures of their tiny cherubs, screening music and learning funky new software to make it all into a montage?). Top that off with two of the sweetest, most accomplished teens as the guests of honor, and my “job” was honestly a piece o’cake.
And now, at last, you’ll be ecstatic to hear that I’m quite finished chattering about all things b’nai mitzvah. I’ll have some more photos to share in a week or so, but let’s finally get back to the much more entertaining ranting and dishing in the Life of Reiser!