When my fiancé and I arrived in Israel to begin the wedding planning process, we were unabashedly positive. Wedding planning in Israel was going to be easy, cheap and fun. Both of us figured that we’d see a few venues - perhaps even five - and then we’d easily clamp down on the one we wanted.
Boy, were we ever wrong. Our estimates were completely off. Finding the venue turned out to be a significant challenge, which we were lucky to finish before we returned to the United States.
The trip began quietly, when we started looking at venues around the Tel Aviv area. Very quickly, we were made to understand by numerous venue owners that our wedding size, was, well, too small to be profitable for them. Because many venues charge per person, a charge that includes in-house catering, rather than a flat fee for just the venue, the size of the wedding matters greatly. The estimated number of our wedding attendees, approximately 150, would be considered a large wedding in the United States. But in Israel, where weddings of 300 to 400 people are considered average, our wedding seemed tiny to venue managers.
The wedding size began to exclude us from many venues. “See it from my perspective,” a wedding venue salesman in Rehovot explained to us, “A party of 400 people, even if I give them a lower price per person than your price, will give me a greater profit.” Not only would our size be an issue in terms of budget, but having our wedding on a high-demand day like Thursday was out of the question. Wedding halls just wouldn’t give us a Thursday, because that was a day on which they were likely to score a huge wedding.
The frustration didn’t stop there. I slowly came to learn that “alternative” venues, such as barns and unique spaces, which would usually be more affordable in the United States than “standard” halls, were instantly beyond budget, as they were labeled “boutique.” That meant their price points were double – often triple – due to a combination of their exclusivity and our small party size.
Adding to the complexity of our task were kosher and licensing concerns. First, our venue had to be kosher — not just the catering, but also the place itself, in the sense that it could not be open on Friday night or Saturday. If the place wasn’t kosher, we’d have a very difficult time finding a rabbi registered with the Israeli Chief Rabbinate who would be willing to hold our ceremony. Second, we had to find a place with a business license, as many of the sites we came across didn’t have one – they were privately owned and operated, which meant the ultimate embarrassment could occur: the venue could be closed by the police on the day of our wedding, or even before! We found ourselves frequently getting shady answers from venue managers when we inquired about these two certifications: one venue south of Tel Aviv eventually, after much goading, responded that they didn’t have a license but that they did have a kosher certification.
My fiancé and I became despondent. Would we ever find a venue that suited our tastes and would be willing to host us? It became a funny game, estimating how much extra money a venue would charge for a small party, for a Thursday, if they had certifications, and if they’d even agree to host us.
Our so-called vacation began to dwindle away. “Will you come to Tel Aviv to hang out?” my friends asked, only to receive the reverberating echo, “No, we’re seeing another venue tonight.” By the second week of our trip, we had seen over 15 venues, guzzled liters and liters of gasoline, and thoroughly tired out my fiancé’s parents. We began thinking we’d never find the right venue, and relegated ourselves to a massive venue outside of Tel Aviv that, while it didn’t fit our tastes or schedule, was begrudgingly willing to give us a Wednesday night.
On a lark, I called a friend who was planning a small wedding in Israel as well. She suggested checking out a few venues we hadn’t come across. Thanks to that spontaneous phone call, we found the perfect venue in old Jaffa. Not only is the venue one of the few places geared for small parties, it is also situated in a convenient location for our guests, most of whom live – or are planning on staying – in central Israel. The venue even had a summer date available — and it was a Thursday! My fiancé and I were so shocked that we didn’t know how to handle the information. We returned to the venue three times, double-checking everything to ensure we hadn’t overseen a fatal error. We closed on the contract a mere three days before I was scheduled to leave the country, giving me enough time to say hi to some family and make a trip to Tel Aviv to see friends.
Yael Miller is an International Affairs professional in Washington, D.C.