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Now that weddings are all on Zoom, must I really buy a gift?

From its start in 1906, A Bintel Brief was a pillar of the Forward, helping generations of Jewish immigrants learn how to be American. Now our columnists are helping people navigate the complexities of being Jewish in 2020. Send questions to [email protected].

Dear Bintel,

I’ve always been a little lackadaisical about weddings gifts. There’s nothing like scraping together some dish towels and spatulas from the registry to make me feel like a Class A friend, right? But I usually succumb to eventually buying some weird glass bowl or other because the peer pressure and social judgement around wedding gifts is so intense.

Zoom weddings are coming and going and don’t seem to be stopping. I’ve been to three since the pandemic started, and per usual realize I forgot about the gift part. Is the gift still necessary?

An Unused $400 Wooden Salad Bowl

Dear Salad Bowl,

Lolz to your sign off. If you would have bought a gift for the venue-hosted wedding, then I think you should send a gift for the Zoom wedding. (This holds even if there is a proposed in-person celebration for some future date; we don’t know what the future will bring, so might as well gift now.)

People invite you to their weddings because they love you or because they have some kind of connection—professional, familial, whatever—that they are invested in maintaining. The pandemic has already begun to shred at the communal fabric of our lives. Let’s not let our relationships degrade further by skipping this ritual, however rote it may seem, of sending someone a weird glass bowl when they invite you to their wedding. These small moments are important, and embed you into the major life cycle events of people in your broader world. Down the road, you will be happy to be so embedded.

Yes, per traditional wedding etiquette, gifts are not necessary for a wedding that does not entail hosting. It’s why couples that elope don’t get to demand gifts — they escaped the crazy planning and expense, but it means forfeiting the gifts. You don’t get it both ways.

But nobody planned this pandemic. Lots of weddings were already fully organized and paid for when they had to quickly become Zoom affairs. Sending that gift is a small way to celebrate with the couple, at a time when so little about their wedding celebration went how they expected and they are probably struggling to feel celebratory.

Gifts feel festive, and their physicality add a nice tangible reality to a wedding that was otherwise virtual. You don’t need to spend extravagantly or in ways that feel foolish to you. But sending something you honestly think they’d appreciate would be kind and gracious.

Now, this doesn’t apply to every Zoom wedding out there.

Embroiled in a dispute? Got an unanswerable question? Let Bintel take a stab. Email questions and conundrums to [email protected].

If there is no registry, or the registry only contains “wealthy older relative level” gifts, then feel free to skip it. If you are a close friend who knows the couple well, then a personal gift would still be appropriate, but more loosely connected friends need not search high and low for the right gift. Send a warm, heartfelt email or maybe a handwritten card — real mail is always exciting these days (plus you’re supporting USPS).

If you do send a gift when there is no registry, check with the couple beforehand about where to send it. Many people have relocated during the pandemic, and nobody wants to return home to a porch full of unsecured packages or dead flowers.

Also, some Zoom weddings have become much more open-invitation affairs, and thus more informal. This is especially true if the event is held on a weekday morning, or some other more casual time. if you are fairly positive you wouldn’t have made the cut pre-Zoom, and the event has tons of people, then don’t worry about the gift either. A nice email or card will do here, too.

Of course, the biggest reason to give a gift is because you want people getting married to feel loved and celebrated — something which is especially hard right now. In the Jewish tradition, there is even an obligation on wedding guests “l’sameach hatan v’kallah” or to make the couple happy on their wedding day. Guests don’t come to Jewish weddings to be entertained; they come with the sacred obligation of making the couple feel as loved, held and joyful as possible.

Let that be your guiding principle: Whether it’s a nice bottle of scotch in place of a hodgepodge utensil collection from a picked-over registry, or a kind note full of warmth and friendship — or even that set of dish towels — choose an action that will gladden the hearts of the newly married couple.

Shira Telushkin lives in Brooklyn, where she writes on religion, fashion, and culture for a variety of publications. She is currently finishing a book on monastic intrigue in modern America. Got a question? Send it to [email protected].


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