My Frugal Simcha features reader’s stories about their beautiful simchas – on a budget. If you have hosted a budget-friendly wedding, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Brit Milah or other simcha, we’d love to read about it! Please fill out this form to submit your story.
By Bobbie Lewis
Our oldest child’s bat mitzvah was on June 1, 1991, just a few weeks before school ended for the year. What better way to get ready for summer than to celebrate with a day at camp?
There were several reasons we wanted to do something different to mark this rite of passage. For one thing, we’re not fancy dinner-dance type people. In fact, the kids in my daughter’s class were already getting bored with the standard parties that featured the same DJs and food that mostly went uneaten. We also didn’t have a lot of money. Paying for three children in day school and Jewish summer camp took a huge chunk of our annual budget.
As we thought about alternative ways to celebrate, the idea of taking everyone to camp made a lot of sense. Camp Tamarack, the Jewish Federation’s overnight camp, was less than an hour away, and our daughter had enjoyed several summer sessions there. We had all taken part in family camps and had gotten to know some of the counselors, whom our kids adored.
By doing a less formal, daytime party, we could invite more people – not only all our daughter’s classmates and our family and friends, but also our friends’ families. Actually, these friends and their children were de facto family. We had moved to Detroit from Philadelphia 15 years earlier. We had no relatives here, and so our friends – most of whom were also transplants – became like family. Our daughter was closer to some of them than to her own aunts, uncles and cousins.
The camp was happy to work with us. There was a modest charge to use the facilities, and we made arrangements independently with the counselors, paying them about $100 each to lead activities and keep the young people in line. The camp’s food service prepared a simple kosher meal for us – barbequed chicken, corn on the cob, cole slaw, watermelon and cookies – for about $8 per person.
Granted this was 21 years ago, but even then it was a fraction of the cost of a synagogue or hotel event. We also hired a square dance caller and a DJ, and rented a bus to transport everyone who didn’t want to drive on their own. The program ran from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the bus leaving from our synagogue at 10:30 a.m. and returning at 5 p.m.
Before the meal, guests could choose from a variety of activities: a hayride, boating, games, and giant bubbles. There was something for guests of all ages, including the little ones. We even brought along the Sunday papers for adults who just wanted to relax. After lunch came the dancing.
My husband created a unique bentscher, with side-by-side Hebrew, transliteration and English translation. It was the first time our daughter led birkat-hamazon for anyone except the family. (And it was the start of my husband’s publishing company, Singlish Publication Society, that produces customized siddurim, machzorim and bentschers, using the same Hebrew-transliteration-English format.)
The celebrant was not entirely pleased at the time. “I hated it!” said my daughter, Miriam Gardin, who is now 34 and lives in Jersey City. “When you’re 13, you don’t want to do something different, you want to be just like everyone else,” she now says, “Back then, I was the only one in my class who had this weird party. Everyone else had a dinner dance in a hall where you had to wear a fancy dress. But looking back, I’m glad we did it that way. It was much more interesting. As a parent, I appreciate that it was so family-oriented. There was something for everyone, even the really young children, so that parents didn’t have to get a babysitter in order to attend. About 10 years later I ran into some of my former classmates who told me my bat mitzvah was the best party of the year. Even now they’re still talking about it!”
Maybe we were just ahead of the curve, because it seemed like there were more kid-oriented or family-oriented parties for the classmates of my two younger children. In fact, three years after Miriam’s bat mitzvah, the parents of a girl in my son’s class copied our idea and held their own family party at Camp Tamarack.
The My Frugal Simcha series is being sponsored this month by SimchaCentre.com, home to the “bencher pen” craze. Find deals on kippahs, benchers, ketubahs and more for your next simcha at SimchaCentre.com.
Bobbie Lewis is a freelance writer and editor who retired from a long career as a communicator for nonprofit organizations. Her now-empty nest (except for Mona the border collie) is in Oak Park, Michigan. She recently started a kosher recipe blog, Bobbie’s Best Recipes.