A Secret to Your Happy Day, on a Budget

Written by Fran Kritz on . Posted in Features

In the Baltimore and Greater Washington area, communities have created opportunities to save and save big on the wedding of your dreams (or any celebration you have just around the corner, for that matter).

In Baltimore, for instance, a program called the Baltimore Wedding Initiative (BWI) promises an elegant wedding at a popular wedding hall, with the cost capped at $12,500. That includes the hall, centerpieces, music, photography and video, and scrumptious food.

“The rabbis in Baltimore thought it was so important for us to create the program,” said Zissie Pollack, who runs BWI. “So many people were finding it hard to afford a nice wedding and were going out of town,” especially to Lakewood, New Jersey, where expenses can be lower because of the high volume of weddings held in that community. Pollack said that because of the expense, family members and friends often can’t travel to the simcha (joyous event).

“The Baltimore Washington Initiative was created to make sure that families can make an affordable simcha their loved ones can attend,” she said.

For now, there is just one catering hall and one caterer that is part of the initiative: Martin’s West in Baltimore, and LeMo, a division of the Knish Shop, in Baltimore.

The $12,500 fee allows wedding hosts to invite up 315 people, with each additional adult $25 extra, and each child $18 extra. Upgrades, which are extra, are available, including changes in the menu.

The basic menu for the reception includes two hot dishes, three salads or cold dishes, cake and cookies, and soda. At the meal, expect an appetizer, a meat or potato knish, a choice of soup, a main course of either schnitzel or a chicken leg quarter, a starch, a vegetable, and dessert.

The set price also includes a delightful one-man band. Resourceful one-man bands augment their own piano and synthesizer playing with recorded tracks from famous artists. “Yes, that’s Yaakov Schwekey singing at your wedding!” BWI participants also get a videographer, three videos, silk floral arrangements, and a chuppah (wedding canopy).

While the BWI was created to make simchas more affordable for people in the Baltimore/Washington area, the negotiated fees are available to anyone. It’s our Southern hospitality tradition.

And affordability doesn’t stop at the wedding. The cost and joy of any simcha can be enhanced by finding out about the gemach (free rental services) available to the community. In Baltimore, gemach possibilities include mirror tiles for the centerpieces, schnapps for the l’chaims, benchers (Grace after Meals booklets), vases, tablecloths, wedding gowns, bridesmaids’ gowns, gowns for the family, ties for the chatan (groom), wedding shtick, tenaim (engagement contract) plates to break, and hostess baskets for the ladies' room. Most, though not all, gemachs in our area are in Baltimore. Find listings here: http://www.theadvertiserbaltimore.com/g-mach.

While many items are free to borrow (but must be replaced if broken or lost), gowns and some other items require a nonrefundable fee that is typically used to add inventory for the gemach. When Aliza Chlewicki used a gemach in Baltimore for her wedding gown 10 years ago, the fee was $250. “I could afford a gown but felt so good that the money was spent to allow more young women to enjoy their simcha,” said Chlewicki.

Be sure to inquire about all the costs involved. Rental bridesmaids’ dresses can often be less expensive than wedding gowns, typically $50 to $100, but you often will have to pay a cleaning fee, even if you think you didn’t get the gown dirty. And it’s rare to be able to do extensive tailoring. Most gemachs will let you use dressmaker tape to hem a dress. Ask for specifics before you sign an agreement for clothing.

One mother in Silver Spring used a Baltimore gemach to find dresses for her younger daughters when her oldest got married. “I was surprised by the range of dresses,” she said, “but the gemach runners were so helpful. The fees were reasonable and the only ask was to limit tailoring to dressmaker tape, so the dress could be used again and to take the dresses to the drycleaner before returning them.”

Rise Goldstein, a health researcher in Kemp Mill, Maryland, took over the gown gemach in the area several years ago. Said Goldstein: “The collection of formal wear includes a little of everything except bridal gowns, which means people utilize it for just about all kinds of events: female relatives or friends looking for fancy garb to wear to weddings, sheva brachot, or bar/bat mitzvah celebrations, and on from there.”

“Sometimes my basement, where I store the merchandise, feels a little like Grand Central Station,” she joked. “My hours of operation are exclusively by appointment, so people call or e-mail when they want to come by.”

Goldstein said she has met a lot of great women through the operation, some of whom have become dear friends, along with their family members. One woman used it to outfit herself for six events. “And some were already dear friends long before they made use of the gemach.”

Kemp Mill is also home to a decorative accesories gemach run by Bikur Cholim of Greater Washington that offers table decorations from napkin rings to vases to table cloths. Orlee Turitz, who lives in Kemp Mill, used the gemach a couple of years ago to decorate the tables for a friend hosting an aufruf meal (a pre-wedding gathering for the groom's family and friends).

“We were able to decorate the tables so beautifully using vases, tablecloths, and even napkins and napkin rings from the gemach,” Turitz said. There is no set fee for the gemach, just a requested donation to Bikur Cholim of Greater Washington, which benefits from the proceeds.

The most popular gemach concept across the country may be the shtick gemach, and our area is no different, said Dina Kritz, who oversaw shtick two years ago for her best friend’s wedding and is spearheading that part of the simcha for her brother’s wedding in August. “What’s great is that I’d never know what works well for shtick, and the gemach runners not only could sign an agreement but also suggest options from jump ropes to parachutes,” said Kritz.

And gemachs are not just for weddings. Search the word gemach online or post a query on your local listserv and you’ll find gemachs for free or low-cost items for rent ranging from air mattresses for visiting guests to that ornamental Chair for Elijah used during a bris.

Mazal Tov!

  For more information about the Baltimore Wedding Initiative, contact Zissie Pollack at 410-358-4933.

By Fran Kritz


  Fran Kritz lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, and is the mother of a son getting married in August.