Enter Israel, stage right: the wedding planner

The 12 white tables at Kibbutz Palmahim are arranged with delicate bouquets of sweet-scented lilacs and white roses. The chuppah, constructed of four bamboo poles and topped with a single layer of white chiffon, is beautifully wrapped with delicate ferns and white roses. A white carpet covered in rose petals runs between the rows of empty chairs.

An air of anticipation and romance fills the air as an army of workers busily finishes the last touches for the wedding.

Since early morning, Menashe Shani and Amit Stein, the wedding planners, have been walking around giving directions, building decks and carrying decorations.

For Stein and Shani, planning elegant weddings like this one is easy. That is not the case for Israeli couples, who often find the task of planning a wedding either overwhelming or too time-consuming. Like their American counterparts, they are increasingly likely to turn to the services of professional wedding planners.

Nearly 40,000 couples get married in Israel annually (the most recent Central Bureau of Statistics figures are for 2002) at an average cost of 150,000 shekels. Lately, more of those shekels are going toward wedding planners.

In 2003, Stein and Shani formed a partnership to meet the growing demand for wedding planners, but they say the actual title has been around for at least the last six years. “It wasn’t an officially recognized career, but many people were doing the job without calling themselves wedding planners,” Shani says.

From their backgrounds in catering, Stein and Shani easily crossed over to the production side of event planning. “I met Amit when I was managing a catering business. We worked together for three months, and then I left for New York. But we both knew we wanted to run our own business together one day,” Shani said.

“We had a lot of managerial experience and knew the catering business well,” she continued.

Many Israeli wedding planners get into the business because it matches their skills and career history rather than because they always dreamed of the job. This is particularly true because there are no academies or institutions for wedding planners in Israel.

Zip Osossky started as a manager of a photography studio before becoming a wedding planner. “Couples used to come in for help with photographers, and I started helping them get lower prices and giving advice about how to plan the wedding and what to do next,” he said. “I didn’t decide to be a wedding planner, I just found myself here after things progressed, and today I help couples with the organization and planning.”

“It’s an incredible amount of work to plan a wedding, and when most couples arrive in the studio, they don’t understand how to do anything, and they don’t have the time to deal with it.”

Some wedding planners, like Stein and Shani, essentially do it all: decorations, catering, music, ceremony, location. Others show up only on the day of the wedding.

“I recommend caterers and DJs and help couples find a place to get married. But on the day of the ceremony, I spend my time helping them and taking care of things they need done,” Osossky says.

At times, having a wedding planner around on what many people consider the most important day of their lives may end up saving the day. At one sunset wedding in Caesarea, Osossky said, all of the guests had arrived and everything was ready for the ceremony — except the rabbi.

“I had to send someone to pick him up because his taxi didn’t show up. We didn’t want the ceremony to be in the dark, and he was much later than we expected. In the end, it worked out.”

But perhaps the worst near disaster involved the bride, Osossky said. As she was getting into the groove on the dance floor, her corset came untied, ripping her dress down the seams on both sides and leaving her embarrassed and exposed. “I found an emergency seamstress and we got her sewn up in the middle of the wedding. Of course we cut that part out of the video.”