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Dear Danielle

Dear Danielle,

My daughter is 10 1/2 years old and my husband and I have begun planning for her bat mitzvah. We live in an affluent area and most families around here celebrate simchas in elaborate and excessive way. My husband and I feel, that although we can afford it – we do not want our kids to lose focus on what a bar/bat mitzvah is really about, so we want to plan a more low key affair. We are concerned that our daughter will compare her event to all her friends and feel disadvantaged, or embarrassed. How do we explain to her that circus acts and rap singers are not what makes a simcha meaningful?

Signed.

“Bat Mitzvah NOT “Diva Mitzvah”

Dear “Bat Mitzvah NOT “Diva Mitzvah”,

I commend you for resisting the urge to “keep up with the Cohen’s.”  Bar/bat mitzvahs definitely have gotten out of hand, and although I believe everyone should do what they like with their own money, these celebrations aren’t exactly reflecting the loftiness or spiritual nature of this ritual milestone. I am a huge fan of taking kids to Israel for their bar/bat mitzvahs – whether they have already been or not. Even if you choose to have your daughter’s bat mitzvah in your home town, I suggest that you explain to her that rather than doing what everyone else in your neighborhood does, you are going to celebrate it in a unique and special way – by taking a trip. Most kids make a speech associated with their bar/bat so I suggest you and your daughter together choose a theme that interests and relates to your child that can serve as the inspiration for your trip’s itinerary and a foundation for your daughter’s speech and/or chesed project. Examples of themes could be: the diverse culture of Israel (looking at Israeli dance, varying forms of music, art, etc.) or visiting archaeological sites and locals with relevance to the history of prominent women who lived in the land of Israel (from Rachel our matriarch to Golda Meir). Take this trip a few months before the official bat mitzvah in order for her experiences to set in and impact not only the speech she makes but her overall perception of this significant milestone. At the end of the day, no explanation will adequately convey the important message you’re trying to send your daughter – only your example will.

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7 Comments

  1. Shy Guy

    4/18/2010 at 12:18 pm

    Here’s another suggestion:

    While a trip to Israel is nice and can be very meaningful, you can also/alternatively have the Bar/Bat Mitzvah and his/her friends participate in practically assisting a charitable cause instead of throwing a party.

    At the end of the day, all the children can get together and discuss what they have learned or what their thoughts are.

    Afterward, the parents of the invited children can pledge to the cause, either publicly or anonymously. The BM kid’s parents can announce that they are donating the massive amount of money they would have otherwise thrown away on a theme oriented lavish affair.

    At the end of the pledging, someone from the organization contributed to can announce the total pledged and tell the children and parents what that amount can cover.

    I know of children from well off families who have generously given away every penny of cash they received as gifts for their BM and grew up the better for it.

    Of course, everything should be done relative to the financial position of the family. You should never have to keep up with anyone else.

  2. Melissa

    4/18/2010 at 1:08 pm

    A great gift instead of an overblown lavish party for a batmitzva would be a trip to Israel in the summer, a camp, or a teen tour where she can have a sense of independence.

    Although that can be expensive, there are financing options available that help you pay for it, see here:
    http://www.jewishteentravel.com/financing/default.asp

  3. JSJ

    4/19/2010 at 7:44 am

    I like all the ideas given here, however I think that they miss the point that a Bat Mitzvah shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg- even if the money goes to tzedaka or Israel instead of to jugglers, clowns and “party motivators.” Expecting parents to shell out a small fortune makes people who have less to spend feel uncomfortable (some even to the point of opting out) and raises the expectations of cash-strapped synagogues that B’nei Mitzvot are profit generators. Of course this isn’t an original idea- there are books about putting God on the guest list and the expression “more bar than mitzvah” didn’t come from thin air. But is it possible that people may be willing to *not* make a Bar/ Bat Mitzvah into a barometer of their family’s financial success and instead focus on the significance of the occasion, rather than a themed party? And could this become a trend?

  4. froylein

    4/19/2010 at 8:21 am

    Unlike Christian confirmations, the bar/bat mitzvah does not constitute in the ceremony but the religious coming of age. Maybe people should keep that in mind.

  5. Shy Guy

    4/19/2010 at 9:31 am

    JSJ, that is what I meant when I said “you should never have to keep up with anyone else.”

    Everything according to the scale of what is affordable and within reason.

    Personally, a kiddush with scotch, herring and kugel is good enough for me!

  6. JSJ

    4/20/2010 at 8:30 pm

    If everything is “in scale”- proportional to one’s means- the greater the means, the more out of control will be the budget. Leaving people without the gelt needed to keep up with their neighbors or kids’ friends’ parents the option of either A) taking on enormous debt to keep up appearances or B) risking social standing by hosting an inferior social event. Many people go with plan A (see original letter to Danielle).

    This issue needs to be taken seriously by synagogue boards and rabbis. I sense that it’s mostly upper middle class Conservative/ Reform families that are most affected by pressure to scale up the celebrations, urged on by synagogue boards that nickel and dime families into spending a small fortune on facilities and staff even before a single hors d’Å“uvre has been decided on. And after that, it all becomes funny money, so why not keep going– congregations expect kippot, bentschers, deejays, flowers, Friday night dinner, kiddush for the congregation…

    Synagogue boards need to understand that members are not geese that lay golden eggs when their offspring reach the magical age of 13. Perhaps rabbis could take the lead and refuse to condone celebrations that are over the top. That way, congregants could just blame the rabbi’s policy– well, we wanted to have a big celebration, but our synagogue won’t allow it– and they’re off the hook.

  7. JSJ

    4/20/2010 at 8:34 pm

    And I agree, scotch, herring, kugel. Perfect.

    My great uncle z”l used to tell a story about his youngest brother who had a Bar Mitzvah that made quite an impression. After the service, they had scotch, herring- and REALLY, REALLY BIG kichel! Everyone talked about those kichel for YEARS! 🙂

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