At age 13, a Jewish boy reaches a milestone with his Bar Mitzvah ceremony. This is the traditional transition to manhood, when the boy becomes a full member of the congregation and when he can take part in religious functions as a “son of the commandment.” He has spent many years practicing to become a man and his practiced readings from the Torah emphasize this heritage.
The party after the Bar Mitzvah also is rich in tradition, but these celebrations seem to have morphed into a rite of passage that revolves more around American Idol and scantily clad dancers. In light of this metamorphosis, your son might want the same. But, you might remind him that this celebration is more about throwing a kickass party with friends than it is about spending money. The only problem is that parties, much like any traditional event in America, still cost an arm and a leg (in other words, they’ll max out a credit card or two). So here are some tips for that Bar Mitzvah, only on the very frugal side.
- It’s never too late to plan: Sure, many people might admonish you if you didn’t begin planning this celebration when your son was age ten, but what do they know? It’s never too late to get this celebration rolling, especially since you don’t need to hold the party on the same day as the ceremony.
- Avoid the Party Planner: Why do you need a party planner, when your congregation is filled with contacts? Your boy isn’t the first one to enter Bar Mitzvah, so ask around about caterers, musicians, and entertainers to find the best deals. Better yet, ask your son what he wants, as it may not be much.
- Eliminate pre-Bar Mitzvah events: You can opt out of the Friday evening Shabbat dinner and any Sunday brunches. You’re not breaking any laws by avoiding what could be an expensive affair. Instead, you might invite your son and his friends over for the Friday Shabbat dinner so that they can bond for your son’s special event. Leave the adults out and make the boys feel special.
- Keep it Simple: It’s not necessary to hold a celebration immediately after the ceremony, so if you can find a place to celebrate during the weekday that’s less expensive than during the weekend, then arrange for a weekday or weeknight celebration. The celebration is sometimes delayed for reasons such as availability of a Shabbat during which no other celebration has been scheduled, or the desire to permit family to travel to the event anyway.
- Limit the Guest List: With the above said, it might be best to limit the guest list. This way, you don’t need to worry about renting large rooms or paying out the nose for a caterer. But, it is your son’s day, so make sure all his friends have been invited.
- Don’t worry about flowers: It’s a Bar Mitzvah, not a Bat Mitzvah…do you really think your boy will worry about the lack of flowers on the tables?
- Make it Potluck: It’s the father’s duty to create a feast for his son on the day his son reaches the age of Bar Mitzvah. In fact, the celebration is no less important than the day his son goes under the marriage canopy. Why celebrate any less? But the cost! It’s enough to make you scream in terror, especially when all the relatives show up even without invitations. So make it a potluck, where every family brings a favorite dish.
- Make it Casual: The advantage to the Bar Mitzvah is that it doesn’t matter how you dress, whether you light candles, or have a cake. These are matters of personal preference and aren’t governed by any rules or customs. So, make the festivities casual, but be careful – if you decide on a theme, the party favors and decorations might become expensive. Instead, keep it simple and that way you can focus on each other and the man of the hour.
- Build Up to the Speech: It’s tradition for the Bar Mitzvah boy to give a speech. But, not every candidate wants to make a speech. The custom, therefore, is to interrupt by singing loud songs until the boy is forced to sit down. So you can build up to this point for free by generating excitement for this moment. By then, it’s time for…
- The Karaoke Machine: You don’t need to hire entertainment when the real performers are already in the room. This is about the least expensive music around, and probably more fun. Plus, your son doesn’t need to worry about asking anyone to dance.
- Be sure to send thank you notes: Even if a person can’t stand your son, the least that person can do is offer $18 as a gift or a token gift certificate to a record store or some such triviality. Still, you want your son to be better and rise above this small gift, so thank you cards and stamps will be your most expensive item in this whole, frugal affair. Make sure your son signs the cards, and send them out to everyone who offers a gift.
- Do it again, much later: Among religious Jews, it is customary for a man who has reached the age of 83 to celebrate a second Bar Mitzvah. Under this logic, a ‘normal’ lifespan equals seventy years, so an 83-year-old man can be considered a thirteen-year-old in a second lifetime. Although you, as parents, might not be around for this second kickass party, at least you don’t have to foot the bill.
Remember – the Bar Mitzvah is not your party. This event belongs to your son and a thirteen-year-old has privileges because he’s considered old enough to act responsibly. So, it might be a good time to teach him the responsibility of a credit card. Co-sign with him for a card and teach him how to use that card responsibly (especially before he enters college!).
Expensive parties aren’t responsible, but maintaining close family and friendship ties is an adult act that deserves a celebration. Mazel Tov!