Let’s Talk Bar & Bat Mitzvahs

I’m fond of saying that when my kids (presently ages 7, 5 and 19 months) have their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, they are going to be lucky to get a pizza party in our basement. Maybe we’ll rent them a karaoke machine.

Self depricating jokes aside, the fact that we won’t be hosting lavish affairs says as much about our finances as it does about our priorities.

It’s like our take on Chanukah gifts — although on a much bigger scale, obviously. We don’t “go crazy” because it’s (definitely) not in the budget; but we also don’t go crazy because it’s not compatible with our priorities — and with the values we want to impart to our children.

If we host a $30,000 affair for our son’s bar mitvzah, what’s he going to expect for his wedding? What’s he going to think about our priorities?

Let’s pretend we make $1,000,000 a year. Would a $50,000 Bar or Bat Mitzvah be appropriate?

Well, we’d be able to pay cash for it – so, there’s that. But just because we could afford it, wouldn’t make it right (for us). It would still be out of sync with our overall values of modesty and frugality.

Maybe I’m naive (and you all can feel free to tell me so in the comments section!), but to me, a modest luncheon at shul and a laid-back malevah malka at our home seems not only frugal, but really quite lovely! It is befitting the occasion, and it’s completely in tandem with our values and our personality.

It quietly says to our sons,

Becoming a man among Jewish men shouldn’t require your parents to take out a second mortgage. It shouldn’t demand that they rack up credit card debt.

Your Bar Mitzvah is about the yoke of commandments – not the yoke of consumption.

So, no, Mommy and Daddy won’t stop funding their retirement to pay for your Bar Mitzvah party. And trust us, when we don’t have to move in with you in 20 years, you’ll be very glad we didn’t!

And least that’s what I hope it will say.

Tell me: What do want your Bar and Bat Mitzvah plans – past, present or future – to say? How have you finessed — or do you plan to finesse – the financials of this important simcha?

Have you bucked communal conventions in favor of frugality and modesty? Have you – or your kids – regretted your decision? I’m eager to hear what you have to say!

Comments

comments

Comments

  1. For my daughter’s bas mitzvah we had her friends come over and we made challah-one of the mitzvos of a woman. I had a teacher come over to deliver a brief d’var torah and they decorated aprons while the challah was baking. Very low key and it was just what we all wanted.

  2. In our community in Denver, it has become fashionable to have much more scaled down simchas. I grew up in NY, where many Bar/Bat Mitzvahs are really mini-weddings, which is somewhat ridiculous. Generally in my community, there is a larger-than-normal kiddush in shul, and then either a shalosh-seudot, a melave malke or a Sunday brunch, where the Bar Mitzvah boy usually makes a siyum on mishnayos (which is a wonderful way to commemorate, IMHO) or the Bat Mitzvah girl gives a dvar Torah. Out-of-town simchas are one of the really delightful aspects of leaving New York.

  3. We just celebrated our son’s bar mitzvah a month ago. We’re in Toronto, where big flashy affairs are the norm, and we went to considerable trouble and effort to buck that trend. We ended up doing a nice kiddush luncheon for the congregation, and that night our son took a half dozen friends bowling. The kosher pizza places were open by 6:30, so getting a couple of extra-large pizzas delivered was no problem, and that was that.

    We wanted our event to be about the mitzvah, and not the bar, and I cannot imagine ever regretting our decision.

    • I am really curious as I have a bat mitzvah to plan. What about your family? It seems like they did not get a chance to celebrate with you. Was your family able to come for the kiddush luncheon?

      • We invited our guests to join us for services, and whoever was there that morning – invited guests and regular congregants alike – all came to the kiddush. We knew about how many people there would be, so we made sure we had plenty of food for everyone.

        We also invited family and close friends over for a casual tea on the Sunday afternoon.

        HTH

  4. Not being Jewish, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs are not an issue for us…..however, weddings, sweet 16 birthday parties etc. are. We try to be clear that a wedding is a day, a marriage is a lifetime therefore it really isn’t about playing princess and bankrupting mom and dad in the process. It also isn’t about a young couple having an oppulant day, that costs them years of stress and repayment of debt as a newly married couple.

    I think this is also a generational thing. My parents, their siblings and cousins all had smallish weddings in local churches and then receptions at my great grandmother’s 2 bedroom house and yard. I love looking at the wedding pictures. My great grandmother passed away when I was 13 years old and my great grandfather when I was 20 (I’m 43 now). I spent a lot of time visiting their house. It was sold when granddad died. Those pictures take me right back to that little house full of love and family. I love showing them to my kids too.

    If my parents opted to have a big showy wedding at a deluxe venue or a “destination” wedding, we wouldn’t have those wonderful photos at Granny and Granddad’s house.

  5. Exactly my thoughts. We have bucked someone’s expectation on, well, almost every simcha we have made. And we have no regrets. There will almost always be an upset party and it is impossible to make everyone happy at the same time. I think a nice shul kiddush coupled with something for the closest family and friends is most appropriate for a Bar Mitzvah. It is a serious occassion that calls for introspection, and getting too tied up in themes and decor can dull that message. So long as a boy is being moved from dependence to responsibility, parents throwing responsibility to the wind makes little sense.

    Even if we have a million in the bank when the time comes (highly unlikely), I know there is a lot of keeping up with the Schwartzes. I’m happy not to feel the role of the Schwartzes.

  6. At this point, 4-5 years from the first of two bat mitzvahs that I expect to plan, I’m expecting a fairly modest affair. Both girls are in day school, and that has definitely put a dent in what might otherwise be a fairly comfortable savings account.

    However, a lot can happen in five years. And I’d be lying if I said a big affair wasn’t in keeping with our values and personality. If we could comfortably throw a big party, without sacrificing retirement or college savings or going into debt, I feel pretty confident that we’ll do it. But if we do, you can be sure it will be because mom & dad really love a good party, and NOT because we’re trying to keep up with the Schwartzes. We try very hard to minimize consumption and materialism in our house, but we use the money we save when we don’t buy “stuff”, and we spend it on experiences – great dinners (we’re MAJOR foodies) and vacations to places I never dreamed of seeing when I was a kid. I’m amazed at the places my children have seen in their short lives, and THRILLED that I was able to watch their beautiful faces when they first saw Paris, and Rashi’s synagogue in Worms. If I can afford to have my daughters feel like princesses for a day when they become bat mitzvah, then we’ll do it. And if I can’t, well, there’s always that wedding…

    • Thanks for the interesting perspective on big simchas. I think a lot of frugal people are quick to dismiss them, but it’s interesting to hear the other side.

      • Thank you both…. I am in the middle of planning my daugher’s Bat Mitzvah and this issue is very much on my mind these days!! Part of my mindset is that, G-d willing, my son will become a Bar Mitzvah in 3 years, and I certainly don’t want to set a precedent with my daughter that we can’t duplicate for him. For us, “lavish” isn’t the issue… it’s sheer volume!! We belong to a large synagogue (of which my husband has already been president…) so we know a LOT of people and want to include as many as possible in the celebration. My husband and I decided on a kiddush luncheon for all of our guests and the congregation so everyone can be included. My daughter has attended several B’not Mitzvah where there was a separate, smaller, kids only (or kids and family) party either Saturday night or Sunday, but, she does not want “just” kids at her party because she considers the parents of her friends (aka “our friends”) HER friends since she’s known most of them for all her life. In the end, we’re going to end up spending more than I would like, and I’m having a lot of trouble deciding how I feel about that.

  7. Ive been to many “east coast” affairs and not being able to afford such, was very happy to provide for my son a quaint but special community party that he was able to be proud of. With the help of our friends, we did most of the cooking and prep and he had the Friday night family dinner, Saturday luncheon in shul and melava malka on Saturday night. AND… nothing overpowered what a spectaular job he did in shul on Saturday!!! Thats what we will all remember. :)

  8. Given that I’m a BT and my husband is a convert, I think we’re going to have to do something at least a little more elaborate, simply because that is going to make our families more comfortable. My family isn’t thrilled with an orthodox service, although they will probably put up with it, but simply having a kiddush will probably not make them happy. And a melave malka will probably completely confuse them, let alone my husband’s family. That being said, depending on finances, we’ll probably keep it fairly simple.

    • My family ran into this problem for the opposite reason- my grandparents who are ultra orthodox wouldn’t dream of coming to our shul for my brother’s barmitzvah 20+ years ago- it was way to modern for them ( it was a modern orthodox shul, but to modern in a lot of ways). So we made a separate small celebration at a small yeshiva where my grandparents would feel more comfortable. I think it was a sunday morning, my brother made a dvar torah after davening and they had some cake and shnapps. That was about it, but they were happy to celebrate in some way without having to go through an uncomfortable shabbat making my mother miserable.

      So my suggestion would be to plan the bar mitzvah you and your son want, explain the plans to your families and if they really can’t handle it (too religious, too different, whatever), offer an alternative celebration at another date and venue, maybe a nice restaurant dinner on a weeknight for just the family where everyone will be comfortable. But don’t waste money on a party neither you nor your son want just to make them “happy”.

  9. . . . that would be fill the role
    Sorry about the typo.

  10. If we are comfortable financially I would like to take my bar/bat mitzvah child to Israel for 2 weeks and then maybe a small Shabbos kiddush in shul. This way, the child feels special- 2 whole weeks with Ima and abba to themselves! Also, they get soemthing with their friends and going to Israel is more in line with shomrei mitzvot than a big party.

  11. anonymous says:

    As someone who IS planning a wedding right now, let me say that frugality is extremely helpful! It’s so easy to get caught up in the “must-haves” according to society and the wedding industry, but since we don’t have the money, our priorities have shifted. Sure, overlays are beautiful, but so are plain colored tablecloths! Sure, we intend to hang our ketubah (actual must-have!!) in our home, but that doesn’t mean we need a work of art better fit for a museum gallery. Do you remember when a chuppah was made of a simple tallit rather than elaborate confections of tulle and flowers? Yep, we’re doing that, too. We’re determined to have a beautiful simcha that is aesthetically, spiritually, and financially pleasing.

    • We got married in israel and just used the paper ketuba the Rabbanut (Rabbinic authority that marries everyone here in israel) gave us. It’s in a box somewhere. You just need a piece of paper with the ketuba text signed by a rabbi and witnesses. You don’t need something special and you don’t even need to hang it anywhere. Actually, under our chuppah the rabbi told us to just keep it in the attic somewhere.

      Feel free to buy a pretty one to frame, just letting you know it’s not absolutely necessary.

      • We actually have a friend who is creating it via Davka and MS Word. Aramaic on right, English on left, and monogram (created by my cousin, a genius graphic designer) in the middle. Simple, beautiful, halachic, us. Cost: One piece of nice paper at Dick Blick.

  12. I think that it is far easier to say, “I will have a very small event; I don’t care what the Schwartz’s think,” than to say, “I will have a very small event; I don’t care what my extended family thinks.” I cannot imagine having a bar/bat mitzvah for my child and not inviting all my aunts and uncles and cousins and cousins’ children. I want everyone to be able to get together, see one another, and celebrate with my child. A small Saturday night event in my house would mean excluding too many people.

    • anonymous says:

      Going with my above comment (also anonymous), this is the one area of our simcha where we have NOT been frugal. The guest list is expansive. We have large families and many friends, and while we’ve cut down our friend list considerably, we were not willing to say to family that this relative or that relative could not be invited. Because of this, we are scaling *everything*else* down so that we can afford to have so many people. We do believe that the people make the event!!!

    • Not sure if this comment is related to the comment above about nonreligious/Jewish family being uncomfortable at a simcha. If it is, Jackie’s comment wasn’t that she wouldn’t have room at her simcha or that she didn’t want to invite her extended family- it was that her family would be uncomfortable with a Shabbat tefila/large kiddush type of simcha.

      If a family prefers this type of simcha but feels forced to make a big catered affair to please extended family, I think that’s unfair. First of all, the simcha should be about the child and parents, and reflect their own values and interests. Of course it’s also about celebrating with family and friends but I don’t think you make a simcha specifically to cater to extended family. If that family feels they can’t handle or sitting through a service or mingling at a kiddush or would be upset that this isn’t an “appropriate” way to celebrate a bar mitzvah, then make a smaller separate celebration for them, as I said, at restaurant or other venue (hike to a nice picnic spot? bowling party? the options are endless).

      I agree, it’s sad when the entire family can’t gather for a simcha, particularly when the reasons are religious differences. It helps when family can be more generous of spirit and recognize the real purpose of the celebration. However, if that’s not possible, I don’t think the solution is to overspend or make a simcha that doesn’t reflect your values.

      • No, my comment was related Naomi, Beverly, and Orthonomics’s comments. For me, just a kiddush lunch and a small event for my child’s friends or a small gathering in my house would never work. The problem with doing the entire event on Shabbos is that I would either exclude a lot of family from the celebration or I would have to find housing for over a hundred people. And for a Shabbos event, you have to make certain that people eat on Friday night as well. At that point, it is a big event even without a three piece band (although it is, of course, much smaller than it could have been).

        I completely agree with you that it’s sad when the entire family can’t gather for a simcha, particularly when the reasons are religious differences. My point was that you should not have such a small event that you cannot invite your extended family at all.

        • Everybody’s family is different. Some people have very small families and so the party has to be community focused. Especially here in Israel, bar/bat mitzvahs are class/community focused for Anglos because most people’s family can’t shlep in for these anyway.

          I don’t think the rule is “don’t make big parties because they’re too flashy/expensive”. You need to balance your family’s needs with your budget and your schedule. If it’s too difficult/expensive to house and feed your family for a shabbat simcha, then it sounds like a party is the way to go for you. Good luck.

        • As much as I HATE to do it, I’m cutting a LOT of family from the guest list. Most of my cousins married out, so some of their kids aren’t even Jewsih and are, therefore, not becoming Bar/Bat Mitzvah. For those who did marry Jewish and had kids who became B’nai Mitzvah, the invitations were sent only as far as my mother’s generation so I am taking the liberty of doing the same. It’s sad, but this is part of the reason our family is not close. And, given that we see our friends every week at shul and certainly have more in common with them religiously, it is more important for us to have THEM with us….

  13. My parents are conservative and are used to big parties with bands and bars and what have you. We are planning our eldest child’s bat mitzvah right now. I had my parents give me the list of people they wanted me to invite — there are about 30 couples/families. I’ll invite those, plus our local friends, but my invitations will make it clear that there is no big shindig with a band/bar. We will have any out of town family at our home for Shabbat dinner, host a kiddush luncheon after shul Shabbat morning, do some sort of seudah slishit for women and girls, a melava malka at the house for family and friends, and a small Sunday night event for my daughter’s friends (it’s a holiday weekend) — along the lines of bowling or challah baking. I’m not excluding any family, but I’m also not making it into an elaborate affair because that’s what they’re used to.

    Yesterday, my daughter and I were invited to a mother/daughter tea for a bat mitzvah, which sounds lovely and low key, except that the invitation did not mention that there would be a DJ and a scantily-clad woman teaching dance moves. I found it slightly horrifying, to be honest. But there were a couple of Chabad women there who are, I guess, more gracious than I am, who were out on the dance floor learning the moves.

    Thanks, Mara, for the fantastic post!

  14. I have three little girls and sooner than I can even believe they are going to be in the bat mitzvah age. I think about what I’m going to plan for them–being frugal but also celebrating in a way that makes us joyful–and something my sister said when planning my nephew’s bar mitzvah has always stayed in my mind: “You know how much it costs to have a stupid piece of overcooked chicken on a plate!?”

    She was talking about her shul’s lunch catering and it always makes me laugh, but the point is that one *wants* to keep things modest, but prices are high these days for not very impressive catering. With kosher caterers, there is always a range in prices, but I’ve seen that it’s only the big bucks that bring out the good food and presentation. As someone who takes pride in cooking, I hate to think that “cutting back” for my daughters’ simchas will get me an inferior event.

    And that’s only the food!

    • Zehava – I don’t know if your shul will allow this, but I know several families have done their own cooking at my shul. They do it in the shul kitchen and there is proper kashrut supervision just to be sure. But that saves a TON of money and you are able to have exactly what you want that way. Also, a number of families have had catered kiddush luncheons, but they served dairy – salads, cheeses, lox, bagels, a few warm kugels or pasta dishes and a nice dessert table.

      • You have to be careful if you do your own cooking, especially for large affairs. I’ve been at several that were pretty bad (and some that were very good) It’s hard to keep the food hot without drying it out, get food out quickly, etc. without experience or at least expert advice. It’s not for everyone.

    • This is an important point. You can save by getting a cheap caterer, but you get what you pay for. My husband remembers a comment by my mother a”h about sometimes you need to pay a little extra if you want something done right. And you probably save more by cutting your guest list than by using a cheaper caterer.

    • SO true!! My husband and I feel that, besides the service itself, there are 2 things that can “make or break” the party… the food and the entertainment. I SO wanted to go with a “non-traditional” option, but the caterer was just so much more professional and on top of things that, as someone earlier mentioned, I decided my sanity was worth it. I’m disappointed, as I was hoping to be a “trend setter” by doing something different, but the “costs” of it not being done RIGHT (ie enough food!!) won out in the end.

  15. words of warning: if bucking the trend is your aim, do so with seichel!
    my husbands parents were poor and did a small dinner in their (small and shabby)home. yes, they did not go into debt, but my husband and his brothers were mortified – they went to a school with a lot of rich kids and they did not invite their friends, too embarrassed. Maybe they should have stood up and been proud of who they are, but they were, after all, thirteen year olds.
    now my husband insists on making standard (for our community) bar mitzvahs, he is still reliving his own disappointment. so.
    you have to know your kid – if he doesnt care so much what others think, maybe you can go cheap, but if he is the type of kid that cant handle it, go easy on the kids.
    we had a dinner in our shul, catered but family and very close friends only. one man band, no photographer, floral arrangements I did myself with flowers from Shop Rite. no sweet table. no benchers. no “extras”.

  16. With our third bar mitzvah we only had Shabbat, and I cooked the food. I wrote about it here: http://www.cookingmanager.com/cooking-35-people-sons-bar-mitzvah/
    We had a dinner for each of our older 2. It was sad not to be able to invite out-of-town friends. On the other hand, it was mid-summer and few of my son’s friends would have come.

  17. We get to invite our class (20 girls or s0). Have a nice meal and do a project. We do it in our house, and cook the food ourselves. They probably each cost about $350 for food and supplies. Even though it is nothing special, it makes us happy because we don’t really celebrate any other birthdays.

  18. I haven’t read through all the comments, but on the note of Bar Mitzvahs, what about gifts? When you are continually invited to so many bar/bat mitzvahs – is there a (very) budget friendly gift to give each kid?

    • In our school (Solomon Schechter) there is a “class gift”. We chose a print/calligraphy of our child’s torah or haftorah portion. We’re ordering it from a local vendor. Basically, each parent pays for one and it’s the gift “from the kids to each other” for every family who is participating. Since some families are friends outside of school, if they choose to give a separate gift from the family, that’s their choice.

  19. I had a pretty major bat mitzvah celebration and it was WAY excessive. looking ahead to the future bar/bat mitzvah celebrations that I’ll be planning (about 8 years in the future) I’m imagining a kiddush at shul, some kind of a dinner for extended family and close friends, and a trip to israel for us.

  20. the most important part of the bar mitzvah is when the young man is up on the bimah. all the rest is “wants” {vs. “needs”}. our son {6} already knows that he cannot have everything he “wants” because, not only financial reason, but also because we do not want to raise a spoiled brat. one of our favorite affairs that we went to featured a nice but not over the top kiddush luncheon after services, and then, that evening, a small gathering or just the family plus a few close friends of the parents for dinner at the parent’s house. dinner was deli sandwiches, cole slaw, etc. then, a party for the child. the party was very plain and simple. a DJ and tofuttis for the kids only. the out of town family was invited so that we had something to do! we brought a coffee urn, tea pot and some cookies, etc. we sat in one room shmoozing, the kids did there thing in another. very simple. very nice. the child understood what was really importnat. everyone had a good time. no nonsense about keeping upwith anyone, outdoing, etc. and this is the example we will follow, MH”. for our son.

  21. We are planning my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah next summer (June 2013). Instead of a luncheon/evening after her service, we are planning a trip to Israel the following July with extended family members (July 2014). We are having a small kid-focused the night of the service, but just with HER friends.

    This being said, I am struggling with my invitee list. Because we aren’t having a large function, do we still invite cousins, our parent’s friends, co-workers who would have been invited if we were having a luncheon instead? We are planning to have a more extensive oneg after the service offering bagels, deli, kugel etc for about an additional hour but other than that, they wont be invited to any other sort of party.

    I don’t want guests to feel they are invited to just bring a gift, but want them as part of this simchah. I am torn as to what the right thing is to do.

    I am trying to think of a way to incorporate guests knowing about our Israel trip so they also aren’t confused as to why there isn’t any function information in the invite.

    Thanks.

  22. Hi…so glad i found this site. My son’s bar mitzvah is in June. We are Not planning on a big party – we will be having a kiddish luncheon following the ceremony. We will have about 100 guests — We will be having the luncheon catered – bagels etc — not really sure what they serve at the kiddish – i would like maybe a sundae bar for the kids (25 kids) also thinking of maybe hiring a Cariacture to keep some kids a bit more occupied. I don’t want to fall into that Big Party since we are not that religious and we will be taking my son on a cruise – it was his choice a big party or a smaller luncheon and a big vacation. I just don’t want people to think we are cheap – but i guess that will be their problem.. Any other “fun” suggestions u can think of for the Kiddish – also how long to u think it will last ? i’m thinking 2 hours..

    Lisa

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