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The Simchahs Sequence

His bar mitzvah's next week? Who was supposed to order invitations?

Bar Mitzvah Number 1

The bar mitzvah planning begins as soon as you’ve brushed the bris bagel crumbs off your lap.

Immediately following the upsheren, you begin checking who in the family has children the same age, where they live, and how likely they are to grab that same weekend. You announce the date in trumpets, and anticipate its arrival with reverence.

There’s something pristine about planning your first family simchah, especially when you have no idea what you’re doing. No matter the who, the what, or the where, there’s one aspect of bar mitzvah celebration that carries an innocence of its own. For the first, and perhaps only time, you can decide, exactly what you want to do, who you want to include, and how you wish to celebrate.

There may be opinion-givers (whoever’s not paying for it), but final decisions are yours and yours alone. It’s just you, your spouse, and — if you’re being very nice — the star of the show.

Once the logistics have been worked out, the rabbi and the shul notified, and the gabbai has the list of who needs what, the date of the celebration is circled in red and posted on the kitchen calendar in countdown mode. The ticking clock at Times Square pales in comparison.

You over-order everything: invitations; bentshers and custom-colored ribbons with his name on it because you’ve convinced yourself that “everyone” can’t live without any of these necessities.

You prioritize. You can’t possibly take on any new projects when your entire life revolves around “The Bar Mitzvah” — whispered with the worship reserved for designer shoes, which you’ve quietly ordered as well.

You congratulate yourself on having found the perfect stamp that picks up the same tone as the invitation itself, where each font has been chosen with deliberate care. You can’t believe your good luck when you discover — six weeks to the day — that you’ve been able to get the post office to stay open so you can deliver your complete order to them stuffed, sealed, alphabetized, and sorted according to zip code, county, and country.

You choose each and every element of the affair, from menu to table height with the seriousness and veneration global leaders use when discussing world peace.

You justify the choice of caterer by the way his French-speaking über-professional staff position the trays of custom-made, lace-fringed petit-four holders. After all, the difference lies in the presentation.

You join the gym — restarting your membership and starving yourself back into your favorite sheva brachos outfit (it fits!) and literally preen with pride when your child finishes his speech because you’ve been practicing daily (“enunciate”) for the past nine weeks. You know the entire devar Torah and every nuance of trop of the leining by heart and have been silently mouthing it together with him.

Wanna hear parshas Beshalach?


Bar Mitzvah Number 2

Second time around you get smarter. The sweet kugel wasn’t necessary at the kiddush, and you’re determined not to have this overtake your life.

You drag out your old notebooks, figure out what you can do differently so no one will think you copied your first too closely, and hope no one will notice you’re wearing something you bought for a school dinner two years earlier.

You’re feeling smug as you remind yourself that this time around, you’re being more financially prudent and choose the shul’s standard package for the kiddush. It’s fine.

You try not to think about the fact that you had to pay a rush fee for the bentsher order because you missed the cut-off date, and pride yourself on the fact you remembered to call the shul secretary to spell the kid’s name right in the bulletin so the president can wish him a mazel tov from the bimah.


Bar Mitzvah Number 3

Third time around? You wake up two weeks before the event, wonder why you can’t pass out cookies and sing “Happy Birthday.” You hope no one notices you’re going to wear a maternity dress when you’re not expecting. It fits.

“What do you mean it’s next week? Who was in charge of ordering the invitations?”

If someone reminds you of the date, you mutter “post office” without acknowledging that you never made it there in time to mail them… because you forgot to order them altogether.

You do realize you can’t use the stack of unused invitations (why were you still saving them?) from the first event even if the only words you have to change are the name and the date. For a split second you toy with the idea of asking your friend, who has really nice handwriting, about possibly making it work. But in the one single clearheaded moment you have, you quickly move on to Plan B — enlisting the help of your eight-year-old in printing new ones on your home-office printer in the basement. You swear him to secrecy.

Your kids and their cousins are now running up and down the streets hand delivering them before Shabbos. Envelopes are so overrated.

You practice your best “inside” voice while you cajole (beg) your children to help you slap labels (your eight-year-old again) on the leftover bentshers (from Son Number 1 and Son Number 2) and assure them that “everyone does this” the day before a simchah.

Tears work. You know because you actually cried your way through a meeting yesterday with a food-service provider who kept rolling his eyes before finally agreeing to send food to the event. You assure your mother she won’t be ashamed and promise yourself you’ll remember to profusely thank all the boys in Son Number 1’s yeshivah class who agreed to serve as waiters for the kiddush and only hope your fifth-grade daughter and her friends will remember to set the tables during the leining. The janitor agreed to supervise.

Then you backtrack. You rummage through four cartons of old pictures — 192 of Son Number 1, and with a straight face (may G-d forgive you), you convince Son Number 3 that “you looked exactly like your older brother.” You use that picture for the poster you hang in the lobby of the shul because you forgot to tell the secretary you’re making a bar mitzvah this week. You pretend the gabbai isn’t ignoring your calls.

You tell the kid how “special” he is, and because you want him to feel like he’s involved with “this incredible simchah,” you give him a choice of wearing either his favorite tie (you’re working on the stain), his brother’s shoes, or his cousin’s belt, or even all three — because you don’t want him to realize the suit store you’re dragging him to the night before the event doesn’t carry those items, and they only agreed to alter his suit because they took pity on you. This isn’t the first time they’ve heard this story. And it won’t be the last.

Sound familiar?


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 774)

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