By Mordechai Schmutter
Bar Mitzvah Planning
As someone who’s making a bar mitzvah for the first time, people keep asking me, “Are you excited to be making a bar mitzvah?”
Excited? I don’t know. There’s not really going to be a significant change in my life between now and after the bar mitzvah, except that I’ll have a teenager. And I teach teenagers. This is not something to celebrate.
Sure, I understand that this is a big simcha for my son, because he’s entering the age where he’s mechuyav b’mitzvos, and we’re happy for him. And he has his own awkward questions to fend off, too, such as the one that countless mommies asked me when I became bar mitzvah: “How does it feel?”
I don’t know that there’s a difference. “Um . . . sweatier?”
I mean, I guess I can be excited that I get to say “Baruch she’p’tarani,” but if I’ve done my job at all, he’s not doing so many aveiros every day that this is going to make a huge difference in my afterlife.
Am I excited that I’m no longer going to be getting someone else’s aveiros? It would be nice not to keep getting the aveirah of my own child not listening to his parents. That’s a double blow — he doesn’t listen to you, and you get the aveirah for it. This is why I’ve stopped asking my kids to do stuff for me.
But I haven’t gotten to think about how I feel mostly because I don’t have time. I have way too much to do for this bar mitzvah. And I’m probably forgetting something.
So I’ve made a list. (The list doesn’t include food. That’s a whole separate list.)
Hall. The good thing about bar mitzvahs is that you can generally do it in the kiddush room of a shul. The only thing is that you need to make sure that the room is big enough for the number of people who are coming, which you don’t know until they send in the reply cards, which they can’t do until you send them invitations, which you can’t do until you have a hall.
Invitations. Once you have a hall, you need to print invitations, despite the fact that everyone you know has some other method of finding out electronically. You need to give them something concrete that they can hang on the fridge until about three months after the bar mitzvah.
Reply Cards. There are a few different formats for these. Most people either make a checklist of options — “will attend,” “will not attend,” “will attend but doesn’t eat dessert,” etc. — or they just put “will ___ attend,” so that guests can either write “not” if they’re not coming, or, if they are coming, they can be unsure of what to do with the space.
Do they leave it blank, like they’re pausing in their sentence because they’re trying to think of an excuse not to come? Do they write, “iy’H”? But then if they’re not coming, shouldn’t they write, “Will iy’H not attend”? Do they write “b’li neder”? “Probably”? Or do they just write “Will too attend,” like they’re having an argument about it?
That’s not your problem; it’s your guests’. You’re already paying for their postage.
Benchers. You should probably print out benchers, because you’re serving food, and no one thinks before they go to a simcha, “Hey, they’re serving food! We might need a bencher!” But that might be because every simcha provides benchers. So if you’re not providing benchers, you should specifically mention it on the invitation.
Also, benchers are a nice souvenir, because they have the name and date printed on them in case your guests need an alibi, and you can buy a lot of them for relatively cheap, unless you accidentally leave out the letter ‘N’ on the order form.
Musician. The most cost effective route here is to go with a one man band, and if you get to choose the one man, I would say it should probably be a keyboard guy.
But you don’t have to listen to me. I don’t mean to take parnassah away from all the harmonica players.
But the one thing you should realize is that no matter how many musicians you hire and how long they’ve been doing this, it always takes them at least three hours to set up. They’re looking at wires like they’ve never seen them before. Like they didn’t just come with them. Maybe the wires keep getting tangled; I don’t know.
They’re like, “It takes time. I have to plug in all the speakers.”
No you don’t. You need about half the speakers. I have never once been at a simcha where people were complaining that they couldn’t hear the music. Except that one time with the harmonica guy. But that was on a riverboat.
Photographer. People question hiring photographers at all these days, seeing as everyone already has a camera. But who’s taking pictures when everyone’s dancing? It’s not like the guys who stand on the side lines are doing it. Plus, photographers have better equipment, like those 10-foot umbrella sticks. And bowties. A lot of photographers wear bowties, because regular ties get stuck in the camera straps. And because they know no one’s taking pictures of them.
Tablecloths. I put this on the list at the behest of my wife, because left to my own devices, I wouldn’t have even thought of tablecloths. I know this for a fact because when we go on day trips and I pack the food, we find a picnic table and my wife goes, “OK, where’s the tablecloth?” and I go, “Tablecloth!”
Centerpieces. Centerpieces are very important, because guests spend the whole event staring at them, especially during the speeches. It beats staring at the guy across from them. I actually read somewhere that the point of centerpieces is to provide an icebreaker for people who’ve been assigned to sit together — it gives them something to discuss. So you want to go with something weird.
“Look at those centerpieces!”
“What? I can’t hear you. The music’s too loud.”
I actually thought the point of the music being loud was to make it so you don’t need icebreakers. It’s kind of like the people who break into song at Shabbos seudos as soon as the conversation gets interesting.
Schnapps. I have to get my hands on some schnapps, because I have none in my house. I’m more of a Bartenura/Rashi guy. I don’t drink anything that’s not named after meforshim. And I don’t know much about the ones I drink either. I’m still waiting for the Baalei Tosfos to come out with a wine. Though that sounds like something I would overdrink.
Simchas are a good time to figure out how your local gemachs work. There’s a tablecloth gemach and a center piece gemach and a schnapps gemach, and you have to return every item to exactly the right gemach, because they get very snippy about it.
“These aren’t our tablecloths. We gave you schnapps.”
“Yeah, well, we spilled the schnapps on the tablecloths.”
And some neighbors are also willing to lend things. Everyone has some kind of huge, bulky prop from that time they made a simcha, and they’re all like, “I’m happy to lend them to you, if only to justify keeping them in my house, because my husband keeps complaining about the storage space. He says, ‘Why do we have 16 identical vases? I am never buying you this many flowers!’”
Hosting. The prevailing advice is not to let anyone sleep in your own house, because you have enough going on that weekend. Let them stay in other people’s houses. Preferably neighbors.
And as far as being a good host and providing everything the guest needs, the tradition is that you give them a guest bag that is mostly just a vehicle for the schedule so you don’t have to go knocking on doors in the morning. You also give your neighbors a hostess gift, and your guests give them a hostess gift. Then the host provides food for the guests that is also in the guest bag that you gave the guests, and the guests and the host both give you bar mitzvah presents. It’s a circle of giving that, in the end, means the hostess did two nice things for you, and you did one for her, so you still feel like you owe her one. Maybe you can take those vases off her hands.
Write Speeches. The bar mitzvah boy has to have time to practice his, so he doesn’t sound like he needs to be taken out of the bar mitzvah and put into Resource Room. (What a great name. Why doesn’t the regular classroom have resources?)
As the father, the main part of your speech is all the thank yous, like thanking everyone for coming, especially since their reply cards said they were coming, and you already figured out tables. You should also thank your son’s grandparents for always being there, even when you didn’t want them to be there, and for never mixing in more than they felt was necessary. And of course, you should thank your wife for everything she did, especially the things you would have missed had you put this whole thing together yourself, such as tablecloths and centerpieces and cutlery.
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of five books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com