Simcha fair takes the headaches out of party planning

What better occasion than a simcha to bring family and friends together?

Yet planning a simcha means sleepless nights, anxiety, endless lists and hours spent driving around town sampling food, tasting cakes, previewing entertainers, picking out invitations and looking at photographers' portfolios. If you really want your simcha to be special, you have to shop around for flowers and a tallit with matching kippah — and don't forget the ketubah.

Who ever said simchas are fun?

Oakland's Temple Sinai puts the pleasure — and the simplicity — back into planning simchas with its second "Simcha Fair — Celebrations `97."

On Sunday, Nov. 2, all the component parts of a simcha will come together in a single room at the synagogue. No need to drive across town to compare caterers, or attend one party after another auditioning disc jockeys, string quartets and klezmer bands. Fairgoers need only walk from booth to booth.

"The concept is community service and connecting businesses that cater to Jewish clientele with the Jewish community," says the event's organizer, Adrienne Herman.

Herman says that while simcha fairs are common on the East Coast and in Southern California, Temple Sinai's event is the Bay Area's first.

"Everyone tears their hair out trying to figure out how much they can afford and what the best service is….This is a great way to do one-stop shopping," Herman says. "You can compare prices, quality and personalities. You don't have to run from one place to another. You don't have to bug all your friends for their lists.

"It takes the anxiety out of it."

Sally Cohen of Walnut Creek's Congregation B'nai Tikvah was in the throes of planning her son Jack's bar mitzvah when she went to last year's fair. Some of the individuals and companies she had hired for her older son's bar mitzvah five years before had gone out of business.

"I was looking for theme and decoration ideas," Cohen recalls. "I took my son with me. He had the ability to participate in the [choosing] process, which wouldn't have happened if on my days off or weekends I had met with these people. It was nice that he was able to preview more than one and help make the decisions."

Michael and Martha Mintz were simcha neophytes in the midst of planning their older son Dan's bar mitzvah when they attended last year's fair.

"It was the biggest thing we ever had to do," says Michael Mintz, also a member of B'nai Tikvah.

"We thought it was a wonderful fair — everything at our fingertips," Mintz recalls. "We found Donna Weinberg of Good and Plenty Catering. We hired her to cater our son's bar mitzvah and an office party."

In addition to taking care of business, those who came to the fair ate well, were entertained and got a shot at winning one of several drawings.

Mintz particularly liked an Israeli singer who performed during the afternoon.

Cohen left the fair with ideas for all sorts of party entertainment, from jugglers to tarot card readers and magicians to an 80-year-old woman who reads palms.

The event bore an only-in-California signature touch.

"We provided an anti-stress booth," says Herman, a veteran of her two daughters' b'not mitzvah. The booth offered the services of a psychotherapist as well as a chiropractor who also prescribed exercises. A "b'nai mitzvah maven" and a wedding expert were also at the fair to answer questions.

The most important simcha ingredient of all was on hand as well: Temple Sinai's Rabbi Steven Chester answered visitors' questions about simchas.

"It's one of the few events in the community that is targeted on simchas and something happy," says Chester. "That's what struck me the most. It was set up for people to enjoy and gave an aura of celebration, happiness and simcha. You could really feel that."