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 Beverlee Swayze
We live in a large city, with a large and prosperous Jewish community, where it is not uncommon to spend many tens of thousands of dollars on simchas. Live bands or dance groups (which start at $10G for an evening) often provide the entertainment for the parties, and kosher catering can easily run into hundreds of dollars per plate.
When my son was approaching his Bar Mitzvah, we knew we had to find some other options. Not only was the money just not there, but neither was the desire. We wanted to focus on the Mitzvah, and not the Bar. We also wanted to include our shul community. We are members of a small minyan in a very large shul, and felt that we wanted everyone in our minyan to share in our simcha. We didn’t want to formally invite everyone, though, partly because of logistics and partly because we did not want people to feel obliged to give our son a gift.
Our first decision was easy. There would be no big party. Big parties are not my scene, and if I had $50,000 to throw around, I’d rather give it to tzedakah. Instead of a party, my son took a half dozen of his closest friends bowling, and we ordered in kosher pizza. Total cost for the bowling lanes, pizza and pop was only about $200.
The hard part was the lunch for right after the shul service. We spoke to the shul caterer, and were quoted a price of about $4,000 for a very basic, bare-bones Kiddush. That much money for bagels and hummus seemed crazy, so we started thinking about alternatives. Our shul also has on staff a wonderful woman who runs the dairy kitchen. She does breakfasts and the regular congregational Kiddush each week, as well as the Family Service lunches. We knew her food was delicious, and dairy as well, which suited us as vegetarians.
The problem was that the shul has a policy that every meal for more than 50 people must be catered by the official caterer, and the first people I spoke to at the office seemed in no mood to make an exception. However, there is a weekly exception: the regular Shabbat Kiddush. At a shul with a membership of about 7,000 people and weekly simchas, there are always more than 50 people milling around and eating after Shabbat services.
This actually worked in our favor. We convinced the president of our little minyan that we should have a special Kiddush lunch on the day of the Bar Mitzvah, since it was the last service before the winter break. Then, suddenly, it was a Kiddush and not a “lunch.” We sponsored it, in celebration of our son’s Bar Mitzvah.
There was no room fee (because it was a congregational Kiddush for our little minyan) and no exorbitant caterer’s fee. It was a friendly and relaxed atmosphere, with a terrific selection of far superior food. Total cost for the Kiddush was less than $1500.
Yes, there were potential problems and sacrifices. We knew the shul board might have denied our request to sponsor the congregational Kiddush. We had a back-up plan, though. We are also members of a very small local shul, which has its own kitchen for members to use (dairy only). We were prepared to move the simcha to that small shul and do our own food preparation there. In that event, we would not have been able to celebrate with our little minyan, which would have been a pity.
Also, some people may have been put out that there was not a mega-bash with dancers, singers, disco balls and giveaways for the kids. But those people are most likely not the people I hold dear as friends. The ones who count are the ones who came to celebrate with us, and not to compare us to the Cohens.
Beverlee lives in Toronto, Canada. Raised in a strongly Jewish Reform home, she moved towards greater observance as an adult. As well as driving the family taxi, she is a musician and music teacher, and graphic designer. She loves reading, building websites, cooking exotic and interesting food, baking the best challah in town, and traveling with her family.