Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Only the Nearest and Dearest

When I was a kid, very large frum families were not the norm. Actually, three children was considered a fairly large family. Five was a huge family. A large number of the parents of these children were Holocaust survivors. In most instances whole families did not survive the war, and the parents did not have a large number of siblings or cousins still living. Cousins, who might actually be second, third and down the line cousins, got close to each other because they were all that was left of the much larger families. When it came to simchas these cousins were invited along with a whole load of friends because that was all that you had.

Fast forward to today. Today five children is not considered a big family but merely an average or small-average family among the frum. Having eight to ten children doesn't raise any eyebrows. Families with considerably more than 10 children are not unusual. I have a friend that I went to college with who had 18 children. And one of my students was one of 22 children. B"H, Klal is growing larger. But that growth is one of the reasons why simcha giving has grown to be so unmanageable.

Let's follow a hypothetical family through a chasoneh. The mother and father of the kallah each have two siblings: 4 sets of aunts and uncles to be invited. The choson's parents have 5 siblings between them. These nine aunts and uncles have 48 children among them. That's 48 first cousins of the choson and kallah. Let's say half of those first cousins are married; that's 72 people that are first degree relatives. So, aunts and uncles and first cousins equal 90 people to be invited to a simcha.

The kallah is one of seven children; the choson is one of six. Let's say they are the youngest in the family and the last to get married. Their siblings and spouses total 22 people to invite. But each of the siblings has children. Let's be conservative and say there are "only" 33 nieces and nephews at this point. This makes another 55 people to invite to the simcha.

Let's give the choson and kallah four sets of grandparents. Then let's add in a few brothers and sisters of these grandparents. Let's say there are 12 more people to invite to the wedding.

Have I mentioned muchatonim yet? There are 11 sets of muchatonim for the married siblings. This is another 22 people to invite. (Note: just try not inviting your muchatonim to a simcha and watch the fireworks.)

The parents of the choson and kallah also have first cousins. Let's only give them 9 apiece. All are married. That is another 36 people to invite.

We are up to 215 people who "must" be invited to the wedding before we get to anyone who is not a direct first-degree relative.

Do the parents have close friends? Have they lived in one community for a long time and been invited to other's simchas? What about those who are not first-degree relatives but with whom you have been close your whole life? A large number of these people are part of a couple, so double the number.

How about the friends of the choson and the kallah? The younger the couple the more likely that they are still in contact with all or most of their high school graduating classes. Then there are the friends from the year in Israel. And let's not forget camp friends. If a boy is in Beis Medrash that's a whole lot of bochrim to consider. How about those you work with?

Can you count to 200+ in the blink of an eye? Can you count to 300+ in the same blink? Now add in the 215 "must invites" and you begin to see the problem.

I don't know of many, perhaps any, people getting married who would agree that none of their friends should be invited to their wedding. I don't know of many families that could survive the family machlokes if the first cousins--those of the parents and those of the choson and kallah--were not invited. Where to draw the line on who is invited and who is not makes world diplomacy look like a walk in the park.

Each generation in Klal has larger families than the generation before. How are we going to deal with this fact when it comes to making simchas? I posted a while ago the wedding takanos given out by Satmar. They included the fact that Bar Mitzvahs are limited to 40 couples maximum. Satmar families, as are most chassidic families, are very large. If each parent is one of ten, and they have ten children, and some of their children are already married and themselves are far on the road to having 10 children, then how do they possibly limit a Bar Mitzvah to 80 people? And that's with only one side to consider; at a wedding there are two sides.

So what's the solution? Is there one? How do we rein in the cost of gargantuan weddings without splitting up families? Don't look at me for an answer. No matter which way I add things up, the numbers are huge.


Commenter Abbi said...

The solution: Get married in Israel. Seriously. Our wedding was 300 people (my husband grew up here, so he and his parents had friends, etc.). I was studying for my MA at the time and had lots of leibedik friends to make the simcha very freilach, my parents siblings flew in, as did my grandparents and the price was a fraction of what we would have paid in the states.

Who can argue with getting married in the Holy Land? The people who really need to be there will fly in, the rest will send nice checks. Shalom al yisrael.

Anonymous said...

We went to a wedding at the Sheraton Meadowlands recently. There were 43 tbles on the womens side and I guess about the same number on the mens side. I didn't enjoy it at all. Everything was a mob scene. There was no room to dance and so much noise you couldn't hear what people were saying to you. I never did get to see all the people I knew would be there that I wanted to talk to. Even with big families do people really have that many others that have to come to a wedding?

Anonymous said...

History tends to repeat itself. It's important to know what happened in the past so we can live better in the present and future, biezras Hashem.

In the past, there were periods of high fertility among our people, e.g. in Eastern Europe in the 1800's there was a great jump in growth and large families (although mortality, infant and other, was higher then, so there were many children who didn't survive to adulthood, for one thing).

What did the people do then ? There was much poverty in the shtetl. But they managed. They didn't make weddings in fancy halls. We should examine what they did and copy at least some of it.

Since weddings and simchas are in the focus here lately, will a post on the high volume of the music at many simchas will be coming soon perhaps ? ;-) Maybe that's too narrow. If so, maybe a general post on various aspects of music at simchas, not just a 'turn the volume down' one ?

Anonymous said...

I don't think Abbi is right that flying to Israel to make a wedding would be a real savings. She isn't figuring in the very expensive cost of airplane tickets for the choson and kallah and the parents and the siblings and paying for somewhere to stay while in Israel. For our families that cost would have been almost what our parents paid for our wedding here in the states. And I haven't even counted what the wedding itself would have cost in Israel. Maybe if most of the people who need to be at the wedding are already in Israel would you save some money.

Commenter Abbi said...

I know my parents paid for their parents' tickets and my brother/sister in law and helped out with a few of their siblings. Everyone else paid their own way.

I and my chatan lived here at the time.

I'm sure it was much cheaper because my husband's whole side lived here and we had enough family here that only my parents stayed in a hotel.

But since even the fanciest weddings here are nowhere near the outrageousness in the U.S. ($350 for a velvet chuppah? A basic chuppah here is free; there are also plenty of real gmachim here that will actually rent you flower arrangements for next to nothing.) I'm willing to bet that even with all the airfare and accommodations, it's cheaper.

Anonymous said...

Moving the wedding out of town just shifts the costs to different people. When my nephew got married in Israel my wife and I went and my kids did not. I paid $2000 for the air tickets and another $700 for hotels. I wasn't going to pay that for my kids as well. I'm actually kind of sorry that we went at all. After spending all the money to get there the gift to choson and kallah was a lot less then it would have been if I hadn't had to spend all that money. So it cost my brother less but it cost me way more.

Anonymous said...

If you can't reduce the number of people because of family size and still wanting to have some friends there then the type of wedding has to change, like where you wrote about having only a smorgasbord type of buffet instead of the smorg and a dinner. You can't have the same type of weddings if you don't cut the number of people. Money only goes so far.

Anonymous said...

The opposite of what Allen said is also true. We have two children living in Israel. When their sister got married last year we had to pay for air tickets for two adult couples and for 5 children. Ordinarily we go to visit them because it's lots cheaper for two of us to fly then to bring them all in. But for the wedding we had no real choice. A travel agent gave us a break and we "only" had to pay $7200 for the tickets. Add that to the wedding expenses and we were way over what we could spend. We cut the guest list for the dinner in half and invited the others for simchas choson v'kallah. Still some people who are mad at us because we "owed" them a simcha since we went to theirs.

And the choson and kallah also had financial fallout. People who come to a simchas choson v'kallah don't tend to give wedding presents.

Those airplane tickets aren't small change and they sure will make a difference in what kind of wedding you can make.

Anonymous said...

Re the comment above -

The expectation that every sibling will be at a family simcha (in this case with their children as well) is also a modern thing. In the past, if one sibling was in Eretz Yisroel or in some other far away place, they just missed the simcha (if they even knew about it). Maybe they sent a letter of good wishes and mazal tov.

Perhaps economic pressures will bring history to repeat itself more often in this area too.

Also, the mention of presents presents another subtopic for consideration on the wedding theme.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to predict D that it won't catch on again. Unless siblings don't get along or aren't speaking to each other I can't imagine they wouldn't come to their sibling's wedding. Particularly since travel is a lot easier today then it was in the past. Then it was not only expensive but it took a long time to get from A to B. I see the problem as being more about all the children of siblings. That's where the big expense starts to come in.

Scraps said...

This is when I thank G-d I don't have a large extended family...the Required Invitations from my side probably won't break 10, possibly 15 at the very most. And not all of those invited will attend, I'd imagine. I'm glad, because I'd rather have my friends there anyway. :)

Anonymous said...

I think scraps made a point that is the basic problem. She would rather have her friends at the wedding. Me too. But do you say that family is not as important as friends? Not for my parents. Maybe the problem is about whose wedding is it. Does the kallah's and choson's guest list come first or does the family guest list come first?