The smoke spiraling skyward from the Lag Ba'omer bonfires dotting the land also marks a sea-change in national mood: the month-long period of mourning ends and wedding season officially begins.
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For Anglos getting hitched in Israel, the joy of tying the knot comes with myriad cultural hurdles, from local wedding dress styles (hello, sheer bodices) to RSVP etiquette (we have to call our guests to get a head count?) to the relative unpopularity of that great Anglo wedding staple, the multi-tiered cake.
One issue where the gulf between Israel and abroad seems especially wide is the question of wedding gifts.
In the United States, South Africa and parts of Europe, newly engaged couples are expected to compile a wedding registry, amassing a mountain of wish-list items like cutlery, a cleaner robot and 300-thread count sheets. Their guests can select and purchase items from this well-curated list and either bring them to a shower or have them shipped directly to the happy couple.
In Israel, gift-giving is more, well, straightforward: Guests arriving at a couple’s wedding venue are generally expected to bring cash or a check in an envelope and move along to the open bar. To some at least, a gift registry would be purely baffling.
Meanwhile, for couples with family and friends flying in from across the pond, other problems can ensue. Auntie Florence might insist on purchasing that Cuisinart and hauling it with her onto her El Al flight, only to find out that it can't be used in Israel. And Uncle Saul might write a whopping check in U.S. dollars, leaving the bride and groom to wince at the conversion fees when they go to deposit it at their local Israeli bank.
These problems prompted Josh Ben-David, a California native who made aliyah in 1997 and got married two years ago, to decide that the time had come for an Anglo-style gift registry in Israel.
Thus last month, Ben-David launched kooshkoosh.com, which he hails as the first-ever online gift registry in Israel. There are a few others on the market, most catering to religious couples and offering a limited supply of housewares and Judaica items, but kooshkoosh, which features brand-name offerings like Corningware dishes and Philips TV screens, as well as its all-English interface and handy search functions, is something of a revelation for local Anglos.
Shira Anderson, an American who has lived in Israel for four years and will be marrying her Israeli fiance in October, says that the chasm on gift-giving between Israelis and Americans is so wide that she is preparing a guide on local customs for her out-of-town guests.
A registry for gift-giving in Israel makes a lot of sense to her mind.
“There is a big benefit in my mind to the gift-giving in the States because it’s preparing your family home,” she says. “You know, I’d rather spend NIS 1,000 on a night in a tzimmer [bed and breakfast] than on fancy kitchenware, but that is something that I will actually one day need. So I definitely see the benefit of people giving gifts.”
Lian Matias runs the popular site hatunotblog.com, which was launched in 2011 and has a fully-English version catering to Anglo brides. In addition to lists of recommended vendors and a "Planning 101" section to advise harried couples, the site also offers glimpses of real weddings and forums for advice.
“We think it’s a great initiative to have a gift registry for people getting married in Israel,” Matias says. “We often advise brides, through our posts, to open honeymoon funds.”
Honeymoon funds, which are available on a slew of websites including honeyfund.com and giftmywedding.co.uk, allow couples to create a wish list of experiences they hope to incorporate into their honeymoon, like dinner cruises, five-star hotels, and spa treatments, and then enter them into a list along with an estimated price. Guests can select an item from the list and transfer funds to purchase it via PayPal, effectively allowing the guest to “buy” the couple an experience by simply sending them the funds to do it themselves.
Honeymoon funds are a way to “get the cash without being crass,” as an article on dailyfinance.com recently put it. Once considered a breach of etiquette, today nearly 12 percent of couples in the United States jump on the virtual-gift bandwagon, according to a recent study.
Matias does believe, however, that even with alternative gifting options entering the Israeli market, the beloved tradition of cash in an envelope isn’t going anywhere.
“Most young couples in Israel need money to start their life together more than they need gifts, especially those couples who have to pay for their weddings without much help from their parents,” she says, noting that many Israeli couples use the money received to cover the expenses of their wedding hall. “I can’t imagine a situation where a couple gets gifts from all the guests,” she says. “That wouldn’t work here.”