Be a trendsetter: Make bar mitzvah party cool, not expensive

Ask Helen

Dear Helen:

My son has attended 10 b’nai mitzvah in the last two years. Each required a gift and new clothes, expensive for parents of a growing-too-fast-to-believe preteen. There seems to be not very subtle competition among parents about who can produce the most impressive shindig (with the loudest/biggest band, most expensive caterer, most creative cake, etc.), without, mind you, any seeming emphasis on Judaism! We’ve finally recovered from recession-imposed traumas, but the list of what I’d rather use money for is long. I don’t want to embarrass my son, or have him feel he’s a poor relation (like I did growing up), but I can’t meet local standards with a clear mind or bank account.
Not Cheap, Just Careful

Dear Careful:

Parents owe their children many important things: a safe and loving home; physical and emotional health; instruction about good values, boundaries and discipline; and ensuring that they grow up to be good, caring people who try to make the world a better and happier place. They do not owe their child a fancy bar/t mitzvah, big band, overdone cake or lavish party. This is a great teaching moment, though your son may not appreciate it at first.

Try to make planning a family activity, so it becomes a bonding rather than divisive. Explain what you want him to do well with the actual Torah service and then to laugh and dance, but that his party will look different than the mega-festivities. Find an affordable location (the synagogue social hall?) to accommodate all family and guests (including those whose b’nai mitzah he attended). Instead of a big blast, plan the party around your son’s interests. Make it so cool and special that folks think you are a trendsetter. Then put some of what you save into his first car/insurance fund. That’ll teach goal orientation and financial planning, too.

Helen claims to have black belts in schmoozing, problem-solving and chutzpah. She’s a writer and an artist ( Please email your questions to and check out the blog at

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