With this month’s editorial focus being on B’nei Mitzvah, and because it’s been almost two years since our older son’s Bar Mitzvah (when I last wrote about this topic) and we’re now knee-deep into the planning stages of our twins’ B’nei Mitzvah, I decided that this would be the perfect time to re-visit this topic, but with a slightly different twist.
My previous columns on how to plan the perfect simcha and tips and tricks for Bar Mitzvah planning, along with vendor referrals, can be found in the archives of OCJL, or you can feel free email me with questions. What I’d like to focus on this month is how Bar and Bat Mitzvah planning differs the second (or third or fourth) time around. Putting my previous planning into perspective after the fact and with the benefits of that old “20/20 hindsight,” there are some things that we will do differently and some things we will do the same.
One of the first things that is different with the experience of having a previous event is the timing of the planning. Interestingly, this second time around we are modifying the timing on both ends – we did not start the planning nearly as early as we did the first time, which I highly recommend, but, also, I plan to finish things sooner than I did before. While this may sound odd, what it really means is that we simply are not going to take a full year to plan and accomplish what can be done much faster. Six months of all-consuming stress and focus on this is more than enough – why drag it out for a full year or more? Aside from booking a venue and contracting with the main vendors who get booked up, such as the photographer and DJ, there is really no need to start the intense planning sooner than six months beforehand.
My best advice once you reserve those big things is to put it aside and then start to finalize the guest list, pick out the invitations, think about the theme and decorations, book a hotel for your out of town guests, all of those things starting at about six to seven months prior to the big day (which, incidentally, is the perfect time to send out save-the-date announcements). On the opposite end of the spectrum, however, I would encourage you to get things done as quickly as possible once you start that intense planning phase, to avoid saving too many things for the last minute. I made this mistake with Harrison’s (in part because I made all of the decorations, table centerpieces, table place cards and things myself), and it was very stressful at the end when I was still doing the calligraphy on the table placecards for the evening party up until an hour before the party! (A good friend can top that, though… she was still figuring out who was going to sit at what table during the whole cocktail hour and didn’t get to enjoy that time with her guests at all.) This time around I want everything done and ready to go at least a couple of days before, so that I can relax and enjoy the big weekend with my family.
In the past two years, we have literally been to at least thirty Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. There were months during Harrison’s year that, as a family, we had at least one, sometimes two, each weekend. The kids have been to far more than thirty. One thing I’ve really learned is that there is no right or wrong way to commemorate the simcha. We have been to so many different kinds of celebrations – evening vs. daytime, fancy vs casual, beach parties, bowling parties, carnival parties, swimming parties, and, soon to come, a Mardi Gras Purim party and a ski-mitzvah in Mammoth! Every event is special in its own way. Whether they are big or small, elaborate or simple, “typical” or unique, the important thing is that you are focusing on celebrating your child’s milestone with friends and family and planning an event that fits the personality of your child and your budget and not on trying to “keep up with the Jones’” or “one up” your friends.
Another lesson I learned is that, although it is our instinct to want everything to be perfect and to have the nice, special touches, in actuality, very few people even notice those little things. I spent hours selecting our invitations and drafting the wording, hand addressing them in calligraphy, making sure each stamp was perfectly and precisely placed and then standing in line to have them hand-stamped at the post office. While I’m not sorry I did that, I do realize that most people didn’t really focus on those extra touches and, instead, simply read the invitation for the date and place information, kept it until the event was over and then threw it in the trash.
If you don’t have the time, inclination or wherewithal to put a tremendous amount of effort into the little details, it probably doesn’t make a difference. We found a similar experience with the table placecards and party favors. People left their table placecards and favor bags on the table. It really wouldn’t have mattered if they had not been so meticulously done, and it would have saved me a lot of time, effort and stress.
One thing several people told me before Harrison’s Bar Mitzvah was that the most important thing that could make or break a party is the DJ and the second thing is the food. I agree completely.
As with any type of large-scale event planning, you learn a lot the first time around and can incorporate what you’ve learned into making the second event even better and much smoother. There are things we will do differently with Jacob and Michela’s upcoming B’nei Mitzvah, but the one thing that we definitely won’t change is keeping the focus on the meaning of the milestone, learning how to lead the service and understanding what it means, doing mitzvah projects and celebrating the milestone with family and good friends. The party and all that goes along with that is just icing on the cake!