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Sunday, June 19, 2005

Bar Mitzvah Madness

I was speaking to a friend recently, and the conversation, as it is wont to do among orthodox parents, turned to the topic of the exorbitant cost of jewish school tuition. We were wryly commiserating on the hell of paying out such a large chunk of our take-home pay to educate our children. I thought we were on the same page. Then she made a comment that blew my mind. "I'm spending almost as much in tuition this year as it's costing to make my son's weekend Bar Mitzvah!"

SCREEECH. CRASH. The conversation came to a dead halt. I was truly speechless. These friends, it seems, are spending upwards of $30,000 on a BAR MITZVAH.

Now lets be clear. I am well aware that the topic of extravagant, outlandishly opulent Bar Mitzvahs has been adressed by others. But my point is entirely different. These friends do not live a lavish lifestyle in any other way. Their house is similarly appointed to mine. The cars they drive are not luxury automobiles. They dress in reasonably priced attire. They do not travel to exotic, far-flung locales for vacations. These facts always led me to believe one of two possibilities:
A)They are not rich.
B) They are not show-offs.

But how do either of those possibilities jibe with a $30,000 Bar Mitzvah?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that the real story here is not the money being spent on my bar mitzvahs by the very rich. It's the compulsion felt by the not-as-rich to keep up with them. This is phenomenon that is very common in my West Coast community as well. I think it is going to put too many in the poorhouse.

1:23 PM  
Blogger Krum as a bagel said...

Classic 5Ts. Move to Monsey (take a snood).

This also feeds right into the tuition issue -- how can we expect yeshivahs to give breaks or to raise money for scholarships to people who make these types of decisions about their money?

1:49 PM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

I don't understand what costs so much about a bar mitzvah that one could actually spend that much. What are they spending the money on? Here in my conservative shul, the general pattern is a kiddush on Friday night (baked goods usually provided by the mothers of the b'nai mitzvah class), then a kiddush luncheon after Shabbat morning (a modest repast made by a local caterer in the shul's kitchen, plus more home-baked goodies), and then a party on Saturday night. I've never been to one of the Saturday night parties, but it's hard for me to imagine that they would cost more than a couple of thousand dollars (for the hall, the food, the band). I guess it's a good thing I live in a small community far away from competitions about bar/bat mitzvahs.

2:37 PM  
Blogger Krum as a bagel said...

I was at a bar mitzvah in Monsey recently. It was a buffet style meal in a nice restaurant with reasonable number of people (probably less than a hundred people) and a one man band. This is reportedly the custom in Monsey.

2:46 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

My parents were planning on having such a weekend bash for my bar mitzvah. When it became apparent that the cost would be too high and people (despite getting a free weekend out of it) still wouldn't come all the way out to the hotel (I don't remember where it was situated), they decided to scratch it. Instead, we had an intimate weekend with friends and family that consisted of a Friday night meal, a Shabbos lunch that was considerably larger, and shalosh seudos in my house. I have fond memories even eight years later: a nearly flawless krias hatorah, my sister hitting me on the wrist with a "pekel" in the middle of the haftorah, the drama of a visitor from Canada having a heart attack, giving my pshetl etc.

The bigger bash would have been glitzier but I was happier with the smaller affair. Can a thirteen year old really appreciate the lavish stuff anyway? It's for the parents to show off to their friends because in the long run it's just one day and clearly not worth going into debt for. In particular, it's not worth an entire year's worth of tuition! After all, the Bar Mitzvah celebrates the boy's becoming obligated to fulfill all the mitzvos of the Torah. What kind of middos would a $30K party teach him anyway?

3:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i remember one kids barmitzvar which was just on a monday morning with little more than a small seuda afterwards. isn't that what yidden did for hundreds of years till we came to america?

5:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree bar mitzvahs can be way too expensive-but tuition dwarfs everything else. My sons bar mitzvah-including-affair-bar mitzvah teacher and unfortunate mandatory kiddush-was equal to about 1 years tuition.
Mandatory kiddush-shul is in 5 Towns controlled by family related to a certain gadol.

6:44 PM  
Blogger tuesdaywishes said...

Two years ago, we celebrated our oldest son's bar mitzva. We were living in a small community, so the best way to handle feeding and housing our guests (who far outnumbered the shabbat-observant community of the town) was to have it in a hotel. Food, housing and all of the rest for about 150 friends and relatives ran us around $15,000. I can see how in a major metropolitan area or a resort-type hotel it could cost twice as much. It can be really hard when you want family and friends who don't live near you to share the simcha (that's the housing headache) and if your home isn't big enough you have to rent a hall and pay a caterer to feed everyone. This is WITHOUT having a big "bash" with a band and all that, as that kind of party for a couple of hundred guests can set you back $10,000.

10:10 PM  
Blogger DarkBlueHat said...

Now you know why they used to marry the girl off at twelve. Once you're spending 30K, you may as well throw in a Chason...

12:59 AM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

I don't understand why the guests don't pay for themselves. Is it necessary for them all to come? This sounds like what you'd do for a wedding, not a bar mitzvah! (And even there, it also seems to me that it's reasonable to expect that most of the guests will pay their own way, unless they really can't afford it).


10:06 AM  
Blogger Just Passing Through said...

Good topic Mom. I'm curious what ever happened with thos 'Simcha Guidelines' that came out a while ago. I mocked it when they did, but at least an effort was being made. From teh get-go I said that most people wouldn't adhere to it and that the Rabonnim, who by Guideline rules would not attend if it wasn't followed, would attend anyway. Especially if it was a wealthy individual who they could mooch off of down the road.

12:13 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

The Simcha Guidelines seem to have fallen to the wayside. But that's not even my concern. I have no real problem with one who is truly wealthy making a party that is commensurate with his wealth. It's when those who are not able to afford similar events leverage themselves to keep up. Is that the rich man's fault? Or the not-so-rich man's fault? I think the latter. Do you disagree?

12:59 PM  
Blogger Just Passing Through said...

Not totally. The nature of people is to try and follow others. Long ago it was decreed that when we die, we are buried in tachrichim; poor man's clothing. It used to be that people would get all dressed up and the level of that obviously depended on one's level of wealth. The Rabbi's decreed that everyone be buried the same. I think the same logic is what the guidelines followed. If the standards were across the board, no one will feel small.

1:26 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

True, but why isn't the effort multipronged, with the Rabbanim speaking out against jealousy? Is that a Jewish value? Throughout Jewish history there were always rich men and poor men in every community. Have we sunk so low that we can't see our own financial limitations clearly? And what's next? Takanos preventing the purchase of luxury cars? Takanos forbidding homes that are too lavish? I just don't see this being the solution.

1:32 PM  
Blogger Just Passing Through said...

True, but that's human nature. I'm not going to deny wanting a nice car when I see one. I'm just mature enough to know I can't get one. Rabbonim can give speeches up the yinyang decrying jealousy, but can only accomplish so much. I think that when people see wealthy people showing restraint (keep in ming everything is proportionall. No one expects a billionaire to have a one-piece band) they can learn from that more than any speech.

1:54 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Hey, don't get me wrong. I'm all for restraint, hence this post. But what bothers more is that people are killing themselves to keep up. It may be human nature, but so are many other things that we are not supposed to be doing.

1:58 PM  
Blogger Air Time said...

On the one hand, when the "simcha Guidelines" came out, you say you mocked it.

You also feel distrust toward the same Rabbonim who banned Slifkin books.

But you want them to step up and speak out against jealousy because you are worried that in the next 3-5 years you will have to make a Bar Mitzvah too.

If you can't afford a $30,000 bar mitzvah, tell your kid that you don't believe in spending that kind of money for a kids 13th birthday party, and that it is just throwing away money.

If someone wants to spend that kind of money, let them.

All you can do is go and eat and enjoy.

2:55 PM  
Blogger Krum as a bagel said...

The worst thing the extreme pursuit of material things in our communities, whether it be cars, vacations or homes, etc. is the values it teaches children. I hear kids in my neighborhood comparing notes about what kind of hotels they went to for pesach, what cars their parents plan on leasing next. In fact, just the other day my daughter announced that she wants a new kitchen. What makes Bar/Bat Mitzvah madness so much more insidious is that it is so directly focused on kids.

2:57 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Air Time, are you talking to me? I can't figure out where you got that mocked the takanos, or any opinion I might have had on the Slifkin affair. I also can't understand why you think that I am worried about a Bar Mitzvah I may or may not have to make in the near future. This really isn't about that. I was musing on the absurdity of the fact that people who cannot, by their own admission, afford to comfortably pay tuition, yet see nothing unusual in killing themselves to pay upwards of a starting yearly salary for a Bar Mitzvah. I certainly don't blame the rich for making lavish parties. That is certainly their right.

3:14 PM  
Blogger Air Time said...

My comment was more directed toward JPT than to you.

JPT said he mocked the Simcha guidelines. I am also referring to his opinion on the Slifkin gedolim, where JPT is uncomfortable with them because of their stand on the issue.

But you have to admit, Keeping up with the Cohen's, should you choose to do so, will cost you a lot of money in the coming years.

3:21 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

I absolutely agree that keeping up with the Cohens would cost a lot of money. Especially if you met the Cohens from my neck of the woods. But my point is really, again, that you can't blame the Cohens for others' jealousy.

3:26 PM  
Blogger Just Passing Through said...

Air, I'm not really sure where the Slifkin issue plays here, but I mocked the guidelines because I believed they would never be carried out and they were too specific and restrictive. The guidlines threatened that the rabbonim who signed itwould not attend a simcha if they weren't adhered. At the time I noted that I didn't believe that the Rosh Yeshiva of Chaim Berlin wouldn't go to the $300,000 wedding being thrown by the "local g'vir" (I don't have one person in mind here). I also felt that while we should all realize where we stand and have our priorities straight, if was focusing efforts in the wrong area. Rather than putting a finger on the problem being a 12-piece band vs a 5-piece band, look at the root of the problem.
I didn't ask them to speak about jealousy though. I think that was Mom's line. Jealousy is human nature. What they need to do is express disapproval and disappointment with the current trends.

5:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If someone has that kind of money to spend on a Bar Mitzvah, let them give it to the school and pay for my kids' tuition also! Oh my gosh!

5:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If someone has that kind of money to spend on a Bar Mitzvah, let them give it to the school and pay for my kids' tuition also! Oh my gosh!

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