Michael Mann arrived in Atlanta from Los Angeles and a career in the entertainment industry. He fell in love with the Toco Hills Jewish community and decided to stay. Mira Bergen has been a longtime Toco Hills resident, choosing a wonderful life with her friends and spiritual family. She told me once, many years ago after her divorce, that she was waiting for her “bashert,” her divinely destined soulmate to marry. Well, he showed up.
What makes this special is that both of them are vibrant, happy seniors over 65, and neither expected to marry again.
When they started looking for an engagement ring together, Bergen found one she liked, but Mann said he wasn’t enamored with it. The next day, he went back and bought the ring. When he presented it and proposed, Bergen said in jest, “Get down on your knee.” Mann happily complied.
When Ruth Goldstein, a close friend, heard about the engagement, she met with several friends to create a party. The question was what could be done for the out-of-town families and the large Jewish community in the neighborhood in the middle of this pandemic? While a Zoom event would work for the out-of-towners, it didn’t seem personal enough for all the many family and friends of this couple.
The result was a two-prong solution: First, there would be a GoToMeeting private event online for family and out-of-town friends. The organizers arranged for about 50 to 60 people for a half an hour on this videoconferencing site with the understanding that most of them would not be able to attend the wedding. Some of the family and friends on this virtual call were from all over the country, with even a few in Israel. Some were Mann’s friends in the entertainment industry.
For the friends in the neighborhood, the idea of a drive-by curb engagement party June 21 quickly took on a life of its own. If well-wishers could stay in their cars and drive up in front of Mira’s home, the engaged couple could position themselves at the curb to accept Mazel Tovs and other good wishes.
Goldstein had more than just a regular curbside Mazel Tov plan. An engagement had to have a toast to the kallah and chatan (bride and groom) so Goldstein purchased 1-ounce scotch bottles, the kind you get on an airplane, and gave one to each car. Bergen called these “quarantinis.” Some drank it right in the car to honor the couple.
It also occurred to Goldstein that some kind of food for the well-wishers would be important too. The answer was small packages of M&M candy for their names, Mira and Michael. The small packages were also safe from virus concerns, symbolizing a sweet marriage.
The next issue was how to present the couple at the curb. Goldstein found another friend in Yelena Hertzberg, who took on the task of decorating the curb event. A large picture frame was used that allowed the couple to position themselves inside. There were also balloons, and a wedding veil was hung on the tree.
Then there was the marketing effort. Planners posted an ad of the event on Facebook for three days and enlisted Congregation Beth Jacob to include the occasion in its Shabbat flyer, and to send the announcement by email to all its congregants. The couples’ many friends were also notified by email. The cost of the event was supported by four sponsors: Goldstein, Hertzberg, Randee Goldberger and Leah Hiller.
The turnout was impressive, with an estimated 75 cars driving by to see the couple. With several family members along, each car took about two to three minutes, with so many cars waiting for their turn. If you do the math, even for 2 minutes, the event went on for more than two hours and probably much longer. During that time, Ely Landman came by with his guitar and serenaded the couple with his young children. Then Paul Shenk showed up with his juggling act. He and his wife Ilana, both dressed as clowns, added to the festive occasion.
Mann and Bergen will be married in September in the Beth Jacob sanctuary with only a small intimate group. Masks and social distancing will be observed.