Virus creates havoc with weddings and other simchahs

Avivi and Michael Kohl made a last minute decision to go ahead with their March 15th wedding (Eric Benchimol photo)

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues to plead with Canadians to practise social distancing to flatten the COVID-19 pandemic curve, Jewish families are postponing, cancelling or getting creative about their simchahs.

Avivi Kohl, who got married on March 15 in Toronto – just three days after Ontario encouraged non-essential workers to stay home – said she and her husband Michael Kohl considered postponing their wedding “right to the last minute.”

“It really wasn’t until the week before the wedding when our Israeli guests called to cancel that we realized things would have to be different,” Kohl said.

Although the number of confirmed cases in Ontario was still in the low 20s in early March, her 85-person guest list dwindled to about 40, as people began to heed warnings about gathering in large groups.

“On the day of, I think 10 people backed out, including my own sister. She had a cough and was afraid to hurt people. Rightfully so,” Kohl said.

“We had a hug-free wedding for the most part. Lots of elbow bumping and social distancing. We provided hand sanitizers at our bar as well as to every parent of children present. We asked people not to shake hands or kiss during our speeches. We ran interference so no one would touch my grandmother. We sent e-mails leading up to the day telling people to stay home if they were unwell or had travelled. We told them we wouldn’t be mad, but grateful that everyone is safe.”

As the number of infected Canadians began to grow exponentially, the pleas from political and medical leaders intensified. In Ontario, as elsewhere, Premier Doug Ford ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses in the province for a minimum of 14 days.

Jewish families who have taken social distancing seriously have been forced to come up with creative and responsible ways of celebrating milestones.

From couples erecting chupahs on their driveways while family, friends and well-wishers look on from a safe distance, to bar and bat mitzvah parties taking place on Zoom, a video communication app, it seems that not even a modern-day plague is enough to keep some Jews from celebrating life.

Others, like Jessica Rosen, have opted to postpone.

Rosen was supposed to get married on March 22, but pushed the wedding back until the summer.

“But with every passing day, a summer wedding is unfortunately looking less likely,” she said.

She said her caterers had drafted a new policy whereby any events in the next 60 days could shift to a mutually-agreed upon date in the next four months. “We simply needed to top-up the deposit to keep them afloat. I was relieved A few days later, all gatherings of more than 250, and subsequently more than 50 were banned. So we made the right decision.”

Jessica Rosen and her fiancé Perry Libfeld decided to postpone their March 22 wedding until the summer (Tara McMullen photo)

Since mid-March, event planners and decorators have been working hard to accommodate their clients who have had to postpone or cancel their events.

Julia Germanovsky, creative director at E&B Event Decor, a company that specializes in weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs and corporate events, said she typically does 10 to 12 events a month.

“The current numbers for the upcoming two months are zero. All of the events are postponed for the obvious reasons. [Our clients] understand the seriousness of the situation but they are optimistic that it will be resolved shortly so we can carry on with these simchahs. People will not cancel their wedding or a bar or bat mitzvah. It’s a part of our culture and it will not be erased by COVID-19,” Germanovsky said.

Susan Fischer Avni, owner of and marketing consultant for Perfect Wedding Day, said she’s having a similar experience. She’s also down from about 10 to 12 events per month to none, as clients are looking for dates after July.

“Couples who have guests coming from oversees are looking at a full-year postponement. I’ve also had a handful of new bookings for couples who have had to cancel destination weddings,” Avni said.

She added that some couples are opting for intimate ceremonies at home and postponing the reception to later this year.

Craig Gruzd, creative director of DT Floral and Décor, said while he and everyone in the industry are struggling to survive, most people are being considerate and trying to find an alternative date late in the year.

“But there are only so many Saturdays or Sundays available so it causes issues for families, [when there are religious] restrictions for when you can have music and can’t have music, and conflicting dates with other families.”

Gruzd sympathizes with families who have had to postpone.

“We all work hard on planning events. It must be traumatizing for the family. You look so forward to celebrating and then you’re being told by the venue or Health Canada you can’t have an event,” Gruzd said. “It’s scary – in one week our world fell apart.”

Jessica Rosen said she’s taking the postponement of her wedding in stride.

“Ultimately we’re going to roll with the punches and see what’s in store for us. If a summer wedding can’t happen, York Mills Gallery has said they will move it again. But that would be a total bummer. Might have to do one of these driveway weddings like I’m seeing on Facebook because time waits for no man!”