Nettlesome issue tests mettle of couples and families: the gargantuan guest list

A charming midrash tells us that when the work of Creation was finished, God decided to concentrate solely on arranging shiduch — determining which baby girl would grow up to marry which baby boy.

Now the job of finding suitable partners for every soul in the universe — past, present and future –is obviously a 24/7 proposition, so it stands to reason that God has no time left over to help with the actual wedding plans.

This, however, is generally not an issue.

When deciding on the rings, venue, menu, music, flowers, etc., most couples are mature enough to consider their options, weigh them carefully and then exercise their free will to choose between A and B (sometimes also C and D…) with a minimum of angst.

But there is one item on the wedding to-do list that could benefit from some divine intervention.

The guest list.

Yep. Agreeing on the guest list is, from all reports, the single-most nettlesome issue that brides, grooms and their families must wrestle with. Stressful and potentially explosive, this exercise in who-and-how-many can cause sleepless nights, tears, ulcers and hives. Most definitely, hives.

Which leads me to my personal "Let's-Plan-A-Wedding" story.

In April 1953 Don, my beshert, flew out to Brandeis University, where I was a student, and slipped an engagement ring on my finger. With the blessing of both our families, we set the wedding date for late August.

The first week in May, before heading home from school, I trekked to Filene's Basement and successfully wrestled a lace-and-chiffon Priscilla of Boston wedding gown away from another bride-to-be.

By early summer, we'd selected the silver, china and cookware for meat, milk, Passover, etc., etc., etc.

Next we picked poached salmon over brisket, yellow tulips over pink gladioli, Israeli music over klezmer and determined the bridesmaids and groomsmen line-up.

Over the following few weeks, I found just the right going-away outfit — a periwinkle wool crepe suit with peplum, plus a purple velvet hat, huge like a serving platter. Momma chose the pattern and fabric for her dress and started cutting it out.

Oh, joy supreme! This wedding plan business was a piece of cake.

Then, on a balmy June evening far enough away from the wedding date to allow time to order invitations and get them in the mail, Don and I sat down with our parents to draw up the guest list.

At this point I must tell you that my father was one of the rabbis at our synagogue and Don's father, Nate, was the president of the shul. Because of their positions, both men were well known in the community, as was my mother, the rebbetzin, and Don's mother, Ruth — the first lady, so to speak.

Both couples had special friends, of course, but when in their "official positions," they tried their best to not play favorites, show partiality or step on toes. In other words, when it came to synagogue life, they all understood what politically correct meant long before the phrase became part of the public consciousness.

On that long-ago June evening, the six of us — Momma, Poppa, Nate, Ruth, Don and I — sat down at the dining room table in my folks' house. Momma laid out a tray of kamish bread and a pot of tea. Also, a bottle of very fancy scotch that Poppa had received in payment for performing a brit.

The pencils were sharpened, the note pad ready. Ruth was elected recording secretary.

We started the list with our absolutely-can't-be-left-out guests, de rigueur family and friends. Ruth tallied up the numbers and, happily, the total fell well within the quota.

With smiles all around, we toasted one another with shots of scotch and proceeded to Phase Two.

Pulling out our B-Lists, both sides added some lesser-known aunts, uncles and cousins, plus business associates, mah jongg buddies and steam room cronies. Then we tossed in other friends or acquaintances — those whom we didn't see often but who made the cut for reasons of reciprocity. Again, Ruth did the math. Again we were shy of the quota.

"So," Momma said, unaware she was opening a Pandora's box. "Should we add a few more names?"

"You bet," said Poppa. "Write down Gendler, Estrada, Kavich, Fogel, Perlman, Simon, Rosenberg, Yager, Roffman, and Fellman. Without them, I'd never have a minyan."

"In that case," said Nate, "write down Blacker, Venger, Rice, Kulakofsky, DuBoff, Rimmerman, Kaslow and Cohn. Without those board members, I'd never get a vote passed."

Ruth wrote.

Don poured himself another scotch. I began to itch.

"Fine," said Poppa. "Fine. Then we must also add the entire staff here at shul, plus the rabbonim, chazzanim, teachers and staffs from the other congregations in town. Derech eretz (courtesy or respect) after all, is very important."

"Paramount," said Nate. "Absolutely paramount. So add the federation board, the ADL office, the library committee and what's-his-name who runs the health club."

"We should also include the sisterhood and men's club," said Momma.

"With their spouses, naturally," said Ruth as she wrote.

"Naturally," said Poppa. "Also the chevra kadishah."

"And the B'nai B'rith," said Nate.

Don tossed back another scotch. I scratched.

The evening was beginning to sound like a debate between the schools of Hillel and Shammai.

"Add the supper club!"

"Pioneer Women and Hadassah!"

Don got more looped. I got more blotchy.

The list was nearing the fire department's legal limit for synagogue occupancy, and all because of our parents' PC proclivities.



"Bikur Cholim!"


"And the woman who runs the mikvah!"

With that, my Donald, ever the jokester, lurched to his feet. "Heerz an idea, folks," he said. " You wanna make sure no one falls through the cracks, right? You wanna make sure no one in the world feels left out, right? Well, let's just put an ad in the Jewish Press, OK? Let's just put an ad in the Press and invite every single person in the entire community to the wedding, OK? How's that for an idea, folks? Waddaya think?"

My in-laws-to-be were stunned into silence. My mother, imagining the amount of strudel and rugelach required for the reception, sighed.

And my father? He looked at Don with newfound admiration and pride.

"Brilliant!" Poppa said. "This solution is brilliant! My daughter is marrying a genius, a Talmud chacham, for sure!"

Don's totally facetious idea was actually accepted.

So he killed off the rest of the scotch.

Between that night and the wedding day, Don sobered up and my hives disappeared. The number of guests attending our ceremony was staggering, and after my groom stomped on the glass, everyone trooped down to the social hall for the reception.

In the first photo taken of us in the receiving line, Don and I are hugging my Aunt Sophie. A clock hangs on the wall directly behind us. It reads 2:30, and the line of well-wishers stretches behind Sophie and out of the frame.

In another shot, some old fraternity brothers of Don's are pumping his hand, slapping him on the back. The clock reads 3:15, and the line of well-wishers stretches behind the ZBT boys and out of the frame.

In yet another picture, the clock reads 4:27 and I'm being hugged by a man in a Panama hat that, to this day, none of us can identify. The line of well-wishers stretches out of the frame.

The picture taken at 5:03 shows a pregnant woman giving me an air-kiss. At 5:37 we see the shul custodian offering his congratulations. From 6:12 to 6:39, residents of Dr. Philip Sher Home for the Aged are pinching our cheeks. There were dozens of them. It took a while. And, in each photo, the line of well-wishers still stretches out of the frame.

By now, you get the picture — no pun intended.

For the record, the last receiving-line shot was snapped at 7:38. In it, there's a tall, thin man with a long, black beard and payes, wearing a long black coat. He's clutching Don's hand and whispering in his ear. Don later told me it sounded like, "Listen good, boychik, and remember. He who gives, lives."

By 7:45, the photographer had packed up his gear and gone home, so there are no pictures of me in by going-away outfit. But trust me, it was stunning.

So. Is there a moral to this story?

Try this: Those receiving-line photos prove, without doubt, that Don and I had the stamina needed to stand side by side in a receiving line for more than five hours.

Big deal.

We've now been standing side by side for almost 50 years, and that's a real trick.

Our shiduch, thank God, is still hanging tough.