Software helps takes the sweat out of planning a celebration

As wonderful as simchas are, the pressure of planning them can work the whole family into a shvitz.

Douglas Goldman knows that well. The San Francisco doctor has helped plan events as varied as Jewish Community Federation get-togethers and personal parties.

"The most common problem in putting an event together is [the] tremendous number of disparate details," Goldman says. "It's easy to lose track of some important information if you're not well-organized."

To help others juggle negotiate the shoals of event planning, Goldman's software company, Certain Software, has released Event Planner Plus as its first product.

Designed for professionals, Event Planner Plus can be useful for families planning b'nai mitzvah, britot milah or weddings, Goldman says.

When Goldman planned his own wedding in 1984, he remembers thinking it would be great to have software that would help people organize large, complicated events.

"I thought it would be a natural for a software product. I never thought of myself as the one who'd do it."

But he did.

In 1991, he quit medicine, frustrated with changes in the profession during the last 20 years.

"I was disenchanted with it for a variety of reasons," the former emergency room doctor says. "Medicine has changed dramatically… changes involving managed care, malpractice, physician-patient relationships."

Eight years later, he's focused on Event Planner Plus.

The software allows guests to be categorized by groups, such as synagogue or family members. "You may have an event where you want to invite all family members, husbands and wives, or maybe you just want wives," Goldman says. "There's lots of flexibility."

And users can comparison shop for the boatloads of food required at a seudat mitzvah, or religious feast.

"It has the ability to do side-by-side price comparisons, three at a time," Goldman says. "Literally, you can get on the phone and haggle prices, seeing real data in front of you."

The software also includes a comments section so event planners won't make the same mistakes the next time around.

"If you've got three kids who are all going to be bar mitzvahed, you want to take notes and store that information — don't serve pork, not a big hit at a bar mitzvah," he jokes.

Event Planner Plus shows floor plans with real dimensions so users can be sure not to seat relatives together who aren't speaking. Planners can accommodate kosher vegetarians by charting special food requests.

It has a spreadsheet that "calculates for you, including tips and taxes," Goldman says.

And when it gets down to the wire, the software will print those endless envelopes and name tags.

Goldman's first foray into software involved designing the user interface for the genealogical database at Beth Hatefutsoth, the Museum of the Diaspora in Tel Aviv. He founded the Douglas E. Goldman Genealogy Center there.

His interest in genealogy started with his own family tree, one with solid roots in the San Francisco Jewish community. His great-great-great uncle was jeans magnate Levi Strauss. His grandfather was Walter Haas Sr. Today, members of his family are known for hosting the Stern Grove Midsummer Music Festival.

At age 11, Goldman started asking questions about his family, but was frustrated by the lack of concrete answers.

"Every gray-haired woman was an aunt of some sort or other."

So, Goldman took to the library. His maternal relatives go back five generations and include founding members of San Francisco's Congregation Emanu-El, which remains Goldman's spiritual home.

"That's been my lifelong congregation," says Goldman, who became a bar mitzvah and was confirmed and married there. His three children were named there and now attend its Hebrew school.

Who knows? Maybe Goldman will lean on his software to plan their weddings one day.