In first person: When Man Plans, God Laughs

Despite our best intentions, even the best-planned events don’t always turn out. We asked readers to share events gone awry; their experiences reflect the silver lining.

Breaking the bank

Three days before my wedding in San Francisco, I received a preliminary estimate from the wedding planner. The bottom line was $14,000.

That may not seem too outrageous for a sit-down wedding dinner today. But it was 1985, and only 35 guests were invited, for a cost per guest of $400. In 2005 dollars, that’s $723.42, according to the Federal Reserve Bank. Quite an extravaganza for my nice Jewish mother of modest means from Buffalo, N.Y., where a three-bedroom house could still be had for hardly more than the total bill …

Needless to say, I realized I hadn’t given a budget to the planner, and that her dream wedding would not take place that Sunday.

My dream wedding included my husband-to-be, his and my family, our closest friends and some good food and drink in a nice setting. After recovering from my swoon, I took an ax to the menu and the order for thousands of dollars worth of chuppah flowers.

The outdoor ceremony was perfect and fog-free. The Russian-themed dinner was delicious. We gave and received heartfelt toasts with vodka from bottles encrusted in ice and flowers. No one cared that the sorbets between courses were strawberry and not raspberry. No one knew (or mentioned) that the flowers entwined around the chuppah and vodka bottles were polyester mimicking silk mimicking nature. And my generous mother never learned, until now, that she almost bought a house instead of a wedding.

Julie Lekach House | San Francisco

A fiery bar mitzvah

My son’s bar mitzvah day dawned on Oct. 9, 1982. With the reception at home after synagogue services, we were tented, flowered and supplied with ample amounts of spirits, relatives and friends, some from out of town.

The first sign of trouble was the distinct smell of smoke early in the morning. Living in a high-risk fire area, we nevertheless thought, erroneously, that we were not in the fire’s path.

We were surrounded by ocean, mountains and a highway leading to the synagogue. No one could get in or out of town. Though we were not in direct danger, we had no power and we were trying to calm an agitated Todd.

The cereony was postponed. Our neighbors then headed for our house, carrying whatever they could salvage from warm refrigerators, delivered with friendship and compassion. Those also threatened by fire helped the Diamond family face, with generosity and gentle humor, what was really Todd’s ordeal. The bond created that day lasted many years.

The fire never did hit Malibu. The bar mitzvah was rescheduled and Todd delivered his original Haftarah portion eloquently. Out-of-towners returned and the evening was balmy, smelling not of smoke but of orange blossoms.

Recently Todd mentioned to me, his wife and baby daughter that it was the 23rd anniversary of the fire. He never forgot, and neither have we.

Marilyn Damon Diamond | San Francisco

Life’s simple joys

As former displaced persons, my family and I have learned a painful lesson: Large items such as property or a business can be taken away, as happened to us when the Nazis marched into Austria in 1938 and we lost everything.

My parents, sister and I barely escaped with our lives, carrying just a few belongings in our suitcases, ending up in Shanghai where we were sustained through the generosity of American Jewry. We suffered through typhoons, serious diseases, humid tropical summers and freezing winters for the next eight years, the four of us crammed into a small room with no windows.

One of the few bright spots: My sister and I met our future spouses. About 20,000 of us refugees ended up in Shanghai since no other country would let us in without a visa. Our next stopover was Bolivia where, five years later, a most welcome small package arrived: Our U.S. immigration papers. Once again we made yet another fresh start, to raise our three sons in the land of our dreams.

We have lived here happily since 1952, and what did we do to prepare for a celebration? Let our children and grandkids be “doing what comes naturally” — have kids of their own.

In fact, recently we learned of the arrival of a little bundle of joy, Julia Shalom, our 10th great-grandchild! Now there’s a simcha!

Joseph P. Weber | Pacifica

Julie Lekach House

Julie Lekach House lives in San Francisco. She is a trustee of Congregation Sherith Israel and co-owner of DollarLink Software with her husband, Stan Lekach. Their two grown daughters attended Camp Newman for many years.