because life doesn’t fit in a file folder

Is it Wrong to Type Thank You Notes?

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Rude!

I didn’t think it was a big deal.

In fact, in my view, it was a no brainer.

My kid’s handwriting is illegible.

Now that schools basically move kids from block print to the keyboard, very few students ever really master cursive. In fact, cursive penmanship is considered a “font option” in our district rather than an important life skill that children should be required to master.

No matter how you slice it, Tech’s handwriting sucks.

But he is a whiz on the computer, so he found a program which allowed him to create his own handwriting font, and he used it to type his bar mitzvah thank you notes.

That’s right.

I said he typed his thank you notes.

I figured he would be able to write more personal notes on the computer as opposed to the standard:

Dear Mr. and Mrs. So and So:

Thank you so much for the thoughtful gift and for sharing the day with me.

Insert illegible signature here.

I have to be honest, I was actually thrilled by the level of personalization Tech employed into his thank you notes. In many cases, he thanked people for little things like smiling at him while he was on the bimah, or dancing with him Saturday night at the party. He thanked people for the baked goods they provided for his Kiddush lunch at the temple, and he thanked other people for coming to our home on Sunday for brunch. He thanked out-of-towners for making the trip to be with him on his special day and he thanked people for funny cards.

But he would never have done all that personalization if I had him write every note out by hand.

I had to get Tech to write those notes while he was still feeling the magical vibe of post-bar mitzvah bliss as he was leaving for overnight camp on July 1st, just 8 days after his bar mitzvah. He was so wound up after eating so much sugar all weekend all the compliments he received, he didn’t even complain when I told him on Monday morning he’d need to write twenty notes notes each day in order to complete all his thank you’s before he went to camp.

The boy composed all his notes without any complaints.

He also addressed the envelopes (by hand) and affixed the stamps.

Still, I got the criticism and the hairy eyebrow.

“I can’t believe you let him type his thank you notes.”

I feel slightly guilty as I tap out this sentence, but it’s true: nearly every thank you note we receive ends up in the recycling bin 2.3 seconds after we read it. I save very few these days and only the ones that feel personalized in some way. Given that most thank you notes written after large events are extremely impersonal, what does it matter if the note is typed or hand-written? Aren’t the words the most important thing? Aren’t thank you notes all about expressing gratitude? Would you rather receive a dull, illegible note by hand or a personalized, typed one? Does it even matter?

I’m genuinely interested in your thoughts on this? In 2012, is it acceptable to type thank you notes? Or would you prefer a handwritten one? And if you want a handwritten one, can you explain why?

The Happy Hora

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Hubby and I, up on the chairs in 1995. Do you not love my shoes?

In 1995, when my husband and I married, I remember dancing to the hora. At some point, someone brought out two chairs. As the traditional music played, we sat down as friends and family members held the legs of our chairs and raised us gently into the air, turned us in circles, together, my new husband and me. I remember staring at my husband from my chair. Noticing his wedding ring glinting on his finger, how foreign it looked.

Over the last several years, I’ve been to a lot more bar and bat mitzvahs than weddings. I’ve danced the hora at least nineteen-hundred forty-six bazillion times. To the uninitiated, the hora is a dance where everybody forms a circle and holds hands. You are supposed to step forward toward the right with the left foot, then follow with the right foot. The left foot is then supposed to be brought back, followed by the right foot. In my experience, almost no one dares to do the crisscross thing with their legs because dance floors are generally jammed so everyone mostly just goes around in circles.

Tech in the air!

At bar and bat mitzvahs, it is customary to raise the honoree, and sometimes his or her family members, on a chair during the hora.

The last time I sat in the chair was nearly seventeen years ago, when my husband and I were married.

Let me tell you something: the wedding hora is different from the b’nai mitzvah hora.

First of all, by definition, there are waaaaay more kids at a bar mitzvah than there usually are at a wedding.

I don’t think any of our friends had kids when we married so our wedding hora was pretty sedate.

During certain parts of the hora at my son’s bar mitzvah, I felt like I was in a mosh pit. All those circles going in all those directions. And then all that going in and going out. I was digging our DJ’s version of Hava Nagillah and feeling pleased that I was managing to move so easily in my four-inch heels when some kid gave me a pretty good elbow to the chin.

Whatever.

I wasn’t going to let a blow to the face ruin my night. In fact, I barely felt it.

As the mother of an only child, I knew I needed to pay attention. After all, my husband and I recognized this would be our one chance to experience everything. I watched friends pull a cushioned chair onto the dance floor. Surrounded by cheering friends and family members, Tech went first and made it look easy. He laughed and smiled as the strongest men in the room bounced him around in a circle.

“Hold on, Mom!” Tech warned as we traded places.

Holy shizzlesticks.

I now understand why some friends had warned me before the fact:

I don’t know who was holding the legs of my chair but who put all the tall guys on one side and all the short guys on the other? I was positively crooked. At one point, I bounced so high off my seat, I thought I was going to have an emergency landing.

Listen, I have no fear of being lifted by people who are scampered. I just wasn’t prepared for the “let’s-try-to-eject-the-momma-from-the-chair” thing that was happening beneath me.

This video is every Jewish mother’s nightmare:

Someone snapped this picture and posted it on Facebook.

Waiting for the ride to be over.

Someone asked me: “What were you thinking about while you were up there?”

You wanna know know what I was thinking?

That I needed to keep my legs together like two tightly twisted vines.

Because there would be no “junk” showing at my son’s bar mitzvah.

Would I do it again?

In a heartbeat.

That night, I couldn’t stop smiling.

I am pretty sure I was radiating something close to pure joy.

All day, my son amazed me with his comport, his flexibility, and composure; I could have danced all night.

And once I got off that chair, I did.

What is the happiest dance you ever remember doing?

To My Son, One Month After

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Dress rehearsal. No cameras allowed on the real day.

By the time you read this, it will have already slipped into past tense.

I will have already sat in synagogue and listened to him chant from the Torah.

It’s a little surreal, eighteen months of talking about it and suddenly, it will be over.

At the time, I wasn’t sure what to say.

Because I didn’t know how I would feel.

Everyone always talks about the party, the theme, the food, the DJ.

But for me, the most amazing stuff happened in the synagogue, hours before.

At one point, our family stood on the bimah together, facing the Torah scrolls, the congregation at our backs. We had just finished singing and the rabbi whispered, “Now turn and face front.”

This was taken right after the “glow moment.”

As we all turned, the room came into focus. We woke that morning to a stunning blue-skies day, as we stood in shul, the sun streamed through the stained glass windows.

From my vantage point, everyone’s head seemed to be glowing, especially the men’s heads underneath the neon green yarmulkes Tech had selected for the day. I saw every row filled with people — our people — family and friends and members of the community.

It felt like G-d was touching our little corner of the earth.

I thought back to eighteen months earlier, when we learned that Tech’s bar mitzvah was going on to be on June 23, 2012, how my husband took two giant steps backward.

“No way,” Hubby put his hand on his forehead. “I made my bar mitzvah on June 23rd. In 1979.”

My son was going to become a bar mitzvah and stand on the same bimah where my husband made his bar mitzvah thirty-three years earlier.

It was definitely beshert, meant to be.

And it felt a little bit magical.

Tech’s Hebrew name is Abbe Reuven, after two of his great-grandfathers. And, on his bar mitzvah day he received his tallit (traditional prayer shawl) from one grandfather and his other grandfather (my father) presented him with a tallit bag which had belonged to his father: these are ancient rituals, traditions passed down from one generation to to the next.

Our son is the walking embodiment of our faith. He has always been proud to be Jewish. He has never complained about going to Hebrew School, the way most some kids do. Each summer he heads to Jewish camp, and he says his favorite place there is at the waterfront, by the fire circle, during Friday night services.

Tech takes Jewish Law seriously, and — as he said during his d’Var (personal reflection) during his bar mitzvah — he truly wishes everyone followed the 10 Commandments. He feels these rules were designed to keep people out of trouble with themselves, family, friends, and neighbors, and he believes if we look at the lessons of the Torah, we can figure out how to stay out of trouble and live in peace with one another.

As he stood before a congregation of over 200 people, I was amazed by his composure.

I have always said Tech has an “old soul.” It is like some 93-year old Jewish guy died and on his way out, his soul went straight into our newborn. Tech has always understood the important things in life. He is comfortable in his own skin and with who he is, regardless of whatever others think.

[I expect to get to that place. You know, like any day now.]

I don’t pretend to know where Tech is going.

He is still becoming.

All I know is that if you can get up and sing (and speak) in front of hundreds of people at the age of 13, you can do anything.

Tweet this twit @rasjacobson

How My Son Discovered The Opposite Sex

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Around six weeks before school ended, Tech got glasses.

About two days later, he discovered girls.

I know this because at six weeks before the end of the academic year, I had printed out all the addresses and stuffed all the envelopes to be sent to everyone who was invited to attend his bar mitzvah.

“This is it,” I said, pointing to a 3-page list. “See that box over there?” I tilted my head towards a grey cube filled with envelopes. “Those are the people who are invited to your bar mitzvah. I’m taking them to the post office tomorrow, so you might want to take one more look. It’s your last chance to make any changes.”

I was thinking omissions. Cuts.

As in: That-kid-is-a-jerk-take-him-off-the-list.

Tech eyeballed the list and looked at me in horror.

“Where are all the girls?”

Had I handed him the wrong list? I peeked over his shoulder. No, it was definitely the same list we had reviewed two weeks before. The same list he had given his ultimate super-duper stamp of approval.

Tech’s voice went up two octaves. “None of my girl friends are on the list!”

Then he barfed out ten girls’ names I’d never heard before.

Ever.

“They have to be invited!” Tech waved his hands wildly. “Why aren’t they on the list?”

I wanted to tell him that he had never mentioned these girls, that the only girls he’d ever named in his life were the people connected to the families on the list.

But I didn’t.

We simply went through the school directory and gathered the extra names, addressed the additional envelopes, and affixed a few more stamps.

After we delivered the invitations to the post office, Tech and I sat in the car. His guard is often down in the car. I figured I’d give it a try. “That was a good snag on your part,” I smothered my son in compliments. “It’s weird that so many people weren’t on that last list. How do you think that happened?”

Tech had his nose in a book, so he spoke absently.

“I’m not sure.” He turned a page. “When I got glasses, a lot of blurry people suddenly came into focus. I guess I thought they were already on the list.”

He says he thought they were already on the list.

I say he had a testosterone surge with a side order of corrective eyewear.

Whatever.

In the end, nearly all of his friends – young men and young women alike — attended his bar mitzvah.

And he was beyond happy to celebrate with them.

How old were you when you noticed the opposite sex? And what do you remember about that time in your life?

Facebook Advice Before The Bar Mitzvah

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A few months ago, after her daughter had just made her bat mitzvah, my friend Jill held my hands in hers and gave me some advice. She said:

“On your son’s day, don’t look in the book. I mean it. Just look at him. You can read the words and old day and you know the prayers and songs by heart. But just watch him. Watch him watching everyone. Don’t miss anything. Trust me on this.”

Jill is one of my wise friends.

Friday afternoon, I asked a last-minute question of my Facebook friends.

My former camp counselor wrote:

I love this piece of advice, how Betsy’s words echo Jill’s, and I plan to put aside my prayer-book, and just watch my son.

Admire the person he is and the man he is becoming.

(I will look and look and look at my boy even if it freaks him out.)

I will also breathe, enjoy the moment, keep my legs crossed during the hora, enjoy the moment and remember the significance of the moment.

Maybe I’ll even have a little something besides my standard Canada Dry Ginger Ale with a lime.

And what was that other thing?

Oh yeah, enjoy it.

Thanks to everyone for your comments emails and sweet tweets  — from the ridiculous to the sublime — wishing our family well.

I promise I will write you something fun after I get Tech packed and shipped off to summer camp have had a little time to clean up my kitchen process. It’s amazing how many of my brain cells have been reallocated from writing to other creative endeavors like cutting hundreds of triangles and making elaborate stickers and stuffing test tubes with M&Ms.

It will not involve masturbation.

Probably.

What do you think? Is this advice good for any event where friends and family will collide? Anything you would add?

Tweet this twit @rasjacobson

Oy Vey: What To Give (& Not to Give) For a Bar or Bat Mitzvah

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A version of this post originally ran back in 2010, but so many people have asked me what is appropriate to give for a bar or bat mitzvah in the last 6 months, I thought I would revise it and post it again. The timing seemed right. Or really, really wrong.

On October 25, 1979, I celebrated my own bat mitzvah in Syracuse, New York. Back then, my family attended an uber Orthodox synagogue where it was uncommon for girls to get the full bat mitzvah treatment. My neighbor (and most favorite babysitter) was the first girl at her Conservative temple to become a bat mitzvah, and I was only a few years her junior.

At our ultra-traditional temple, I wasn’t allowed to have a Saturday morning service for my bat mitzvah; girls had to wait until sundown on Saturday to get things started. I wasn’t allowed to touch the Torah. Or use a yad (pointer). Instead I read from the Book of Ruth, which had been laid on top of the Torah so as to appear that I was reading from the Torah. Mine was a pretty portion. I liked the symbolism of women taking care of other women, and I can still recite the words in Hebrew today.

Thanks to the Reform Movement, today, girls march right up on the bimah, just like their male counterparts. Girls chant their Torah portions beautifully (usually even more melodically than the boys), and congregants have come to celebrate the special days of both sexes with equal parts joy and pride.

I was 100% ready for my bat mitzvah. I have always been a quick study when it comes to language, and Hebrew was no exception. Add a tune to the Hebrew, practice that tune a gazillion times, promise me a receptive audience, and hellooooo… let’s just say, I was ready to perform.

This is not the case for everyone. For some kids, preparing for “the big day” is really strenuous. For introverted kids, it can be a real challenge to get up in front of hundreds of people and not only speak but sing or chant in another language! And then there is a d’var torah where students prepare speeches meant to explain not only what their specific Torah portion is literally about, but also what it means symbolically, philosophically, and how they connected to the portion personally. I always say if a child can get through his or her bar/bat mitzvah day, there isn’t anything he/she can’t do. It’s a crash course in language study, philosophy, essay writing, public speaking and etiquette lessons – all rolled into one.

Google Images

For months leading up to my bat mitzvah, people kept asking me what I wanted. When I was 12, the only thing I wanted was a horse, so I just smiled a lot. And anyway, I knew what typical bat mitzvah gifts were. Besides engraved Cross Pen sets and Webster’s Dictionaries, everyone I knew got the same thing: money, usually in the form of U.S. Savings Bonds. But it wasn’t polite to ask for money, and I would have sounded redonkulous if I had asked someone to buy me a horse.

As my regular readers know, my son’s bar mitzvah is next Saturday, June 23, 2012, and lately everyone has been asking: What does Tech want for his Bar Mitzvah? It’s a hard question to answer. I have to be mindful. I don’t want to say the wrong thing or get myself in trouble.

Whenever anyone asks me about what is appropriate to give as a gift for a bar or bat mitzvah, I feel weird because there is no short answer. I can’t just say, “Buy him a pair of new pair of jeans,” or “Jewish girls love scented candles” because the bar or bat mitzvah is not like a birthday party. It is the recognition that a child has passed through an entryway to life as a responsible Jew, a spiritual rite of passage that connects one generation to another. The day marks a beginning. The ceremony signifies the crossing from childhood into young adulthood and the emerging responsibility to fulfill the commandments and obligations identified with the Torah, the sacred laws and teachings written on parchment by hand in Hebrew. It’s a bigger deal than a birthday party; Jewish children have studied for seven years, including months of tutoring to get them prepared for their few hours alone on the bimah.

That said, I have decided to boldly go where no Jew has gone before: I’m going to suggest what you maybe-might-possibly consider giving (or not giving) to the b’nai mitzvah child.

(*Insert deep breath here.*)

When trying to determine what to give, you have to first ask yourself: How well do I know this person/family? That’s probably the single biggest factor that goes into the decision. You also have to consider how many people are going to attend to event: One adult? Two? The entire family? It matters. Because you have to consider that your host is feeding you. Are there two people attending or seven? Think about what you might pay to have that same group go out for a nice dinner — complete with appetizers and drinks and desserts.

SIGNIFICANT NUMBERS. The #18 in Hebrew means “chai.” (No, not like the tea.) To create the proper sound to pronounce the word “chai” you have to know that the “ch” sound something like an elderly man trying to clear his throat of an enormous ball of phlegm. The “ai” rhymes with the word “hi.” If you can put that together, you’ve got it! For all the math teachers out there, you might be interested to know that in Hebrew, each letter has a numerical value. Cool right? Kinda like a secret code.

The word for “life” in Hebrew is “chai. The two Hebrew letters that make up the word “chai” are chet and yud. Chet = 8 & yud = 10. Chet + yud = 18 or “chai”. Giving money in multiples of $18 is symbolic of giving “chai” or life, so Jewish people often give denominations of chai. In our community, children attending parties alone often give chai in increments: $18 + $18 = $36 (for double chai), $18 + $18 + $18= $54 (triple chai). Sometimes people get creative: a family might give $118 or $236 or one bajillion and eighteen cents — depending on whose special day it is and the nature of the relationship between the giver and the receiver. Family members generally give more than the average party-goer. That said, in some communities, giving $18 may be considered appropriate. It really depends on where you are how the community celebrates.

Some people say they find it helpful to think of a b’nai mitzvah like a mini-wedding, but I don’t think one should think about a b’nai mitzvah like a wedding when it comes to providing a gift for the child. Wedding couples receive gifts because (in theory) they need items to furnish their new home together. Unless you have had a serious heart-to-heart with the parents of the child regarding a specific gift, in general, kids definitely don’t need more stuff.

Traditionally, Jewish people give money to the bar/bat mitzvah child. Why? Because cash is always the right color, the right size, and it goes with everything. (Ba da bump! *snare*)

On a more serious note, historically the bar mitzvah was a way of helping to establish a young man with some money so that he might eventually be able to afford to make a home for his future wife. Yup, back in the old days, 13-year old boys were starting to think about marriage. These days, parents don’t marry off their sons or daughters quite so young. (We kind of like to keep them around, at least until they finish high school.) But once we move beyond that, the b’nai mitzvah became a way to save money for college. That’s just the way it was. All money went into the bank.

Done deal.

Some party-goers have told me they don’t like hearing that all the money goes into the bank; they fret that the child gets “no real gift.” Trust me. Jewish children understand that their gift is the party. They get to invite and then enjoy being surrounded by the people who mean the most to them. They understand that the party is in their honor and that it represents all their years of hard work and study. They understand that they are considered adults (by Jewish Law), and as such they can consider how, and to what extent, they plan to carry out the 613 Mitzvot which cover everything that one might ever do during one’s life. And for a few hours, they get to enjoy being the center of attention.

Good lookin’ group. Seriously, we looked good in 1979.

SO WHAT ABOUT GIFT CARDS? People often ask if it is appropriate to give the b’nai mitzvah child an iTunes card, a piece of jewelry, or a gift card to a favorite store.

At the risk of sounding ungrateful (which I am decidedly not), I’m going waaaay out on a limb on behalf of all Heebs out there and asking you (in the nicest of ways) to please refrain from giving b’nai mitzvah kids gift cards.

Consider this: bar and bat mitzvah celebrations tend to be large, so…well… if even 20 kids give the bar mitzvah boy $25 gift cards to GameStop, that child would have $500 to GameStop. Would you want your son to have $500 in store credit to GameStop? Who even knows if GameStop will be in business long enough for a kid to spend that credit! I have heard plenty of horror stories about stores going out of business to convince me to never give anyone a gift card for a bar or bat mitzvah.

WHAT ABOUT GIFTS? Gifts are trickier. I know a lot of people who love to shop to purchase special gifts, like jewelry for girls. But would you want your daughter to have twenty-five pairs of earrings? Or twenty-five “Juicy Couture” handbags? If you give a gift, you have to understand it might end up going back. If there is something you’d like to give a child, the best bet is to ask the parents. They might be able to advise you against getting the kid who doesn’t play sports that cool basketball jersey that your son loves so much.

I know I am not speaking for everyone, but I believe the idea is to save the money for the child to use later — maybe not for an impending marriage — but for something significant, like education or perhaps future travel to Israel.

I know bonds are no longer en vogue because interest rates have taken a dive, but back in the 1970s when that stack of savings bonds went into my parents’ safe deposit box, I understood that the money that had been so generously given to me was to be saved for a time in my life when I would be able to use it for something important. And as my bonds came ripe, many years later, my husband and I were grateful to be able to use that money to pay for our first home!

THE REAL ANSWER. The real answer is there is no right answer because there is no right or wrong when it comes to gift giving. The thought behind every gift is appreciated. Jewish parents don’t plan these celebrations hoping to make money. We plan them to celebrate the years of hard work our children have put in to make it to their special day; because by the time our sons and daughters make it to their b’nai mitzvah day, they have clocked hundreds of after-school and weekend hours learning prayers, blessings, rituals, rites, symbols – even a whole other language while juggling academics, musical instruments, sports, and other extracurricular activities. It really is quite an accomplishment.

Bottom line, when it comes to gift giving, you give from the heart. If you are invited to a b’nai mitzvah, know that the people who invited you really want you there. They really do. People should never give more than they are comfortable giving. Invited guests shouldn’t feel like they are competing with anyone with regard to what they give.

Honestly, the best gift really is money. I know, to some people, writing a check seems like a cold, impersonal gift, but if the day really is about transitioning into adulthood, well… it makes sense that part of the event involves learning about deferring gratification and learning fiscal responsibility.

(Even if the parents aren’t practicing for the moment).

So I’ve talked about the verboten subject. How ungrateful do I sound? What do you think about my advice? And how many U.S. Savings Bonds do you think Tech is going to receive?

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Just Say No (Thank You): Bar Mitzvah Tales, Part 3

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When replying to a formal event – where the hosts have sent you an actual printed invitation and provided you with a pre-stamped return envelope  — it’s proper etiquette to return that card with a yes or a no response, preferably by the date that is requested on the response card.

The whole point of providing reply cards is so that your host can receive a pretty accurate count as to how many guests will attend the event and begin to figure out table arrangements. It also helps us figure out how much booze to order and how many chickens and cows we’ll need to kill.

If people don’t send in their cardy-card-cards, your hosts are stalled in their planning.

Since we have just completed this stage of Tech’s bar mitzvah, it occurred to me that people are having trouble completing their response cards.

Never fear. I am here to help you.

It’s super easy if you plan to attend.

Here, let’s practice.

We’d love to attend.

(Check appropriate box. Stick envelope in the mail.)

And things are just as easy if you can’t attend.

Watch.

Sorry we can’t make it.

(Check appropriate box. Stick envelope in the mail.)

You can even write nothing at all.

(Just check appropriate box, and stick the freaking envelope in the effin’ mail.)

Getting people to return their reply cards is one thing, but I can’t tell you how — upon receiving a reply card — I’ve wanted to holler like Meatloaf: “Stop right there!”

For the life of me, I can’t understand the people who feel compelled to tell me more than I need to know.

But this is why I know that in lieu of celebrating with us:

  • 2 people will be on a fishing trip
  • 2 people will be attending a rock concert
  • 2 people will be catching up on an entire season of The Voice
  • 2 people will be at home because they “wouldn’t feel comfortable around so many Jews.”

I know, right?

Is your mouth hanging open?

If these fine folks had just stopped at “Sorry we can’t make it,” everything would be much less…

…uncomfortable.

At least we know where we rank with these people: somewhere below sea bass, Roger Waters, and a DVR filled with forgettable television singing performances.

Also, I learned that while a few Jews are acceptable, apparently, there is a tipping point.

(Still wrapping my brain around that one.)

In all seriousness, ‘tis the season of special occasions. If you are invited to a formal event, remember, the people who invited you, actually want you there, so don’t be a schmuck and make your hosts track you down and find out if you are coming.

People planning a big party know not every invited guest will be able to attend, so if you can’t make it, no worries. We understand. People make plans: often long-standing plans.

My son’s bar mitzvah falls on June 23rd, the first weekend where school is out for the summer in these parts. There are a zillion graduations. And weddings. And plenty of other conflicts. We know this.

If you know you can’t attend a party, just send the dang card back. Your hosts will be sad, but they will simultaneously love you for having such good manners.

But.

Think about the way you reply. Choose your words carefully.

Channel the minimalists who seemed to understand less is often more.

What is the most lame RSVP decline response you ever received?

A Confused RSVPer: Bar Mitzvah Tales, Part 2

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Self-made Star of David in Adobe Illustrator.
Self-made Star of David in Adobe Illustrator. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The invitations went out without a hitch.

The thank you notes arrived.

The RSVP’s immediately started to roll in.

(Which is totally fun.)

But yesterday we received one reply card that made my jaw drop.

Tech Support has friends who represent many different ethnic backgrounds and religious traditions.

Not everyone has attended a bar mitzvah before, so I expected there might be questions about what to wear to the synagogue and how long the service would last. I anticipated lots of other things, too.

But I did not expect issues with the reply cards.

Our reply card looks like this:

It seemed very clear when we designed it.

And when we addressed our envelopes, Tech’s friends received invitations with their names on the envelope.

So I was baffled when one very smart boy (let’s call him Wu) wrote six names (not in English) along with his own (in English) and then penned in the number 8 in blank line adjacent to “Number Attending.”

At first, I thought Wu was screwing with me.

But I realized he wasn’t.

I freaked out a little searched to find the school directory to try to locate Wu’s telephone number.

Unlisted.

(Of course.)

I called the school to see if they might help me.

“We can’t give out phone numbers or email address if they are not listed in the directory,” a voice on the other side of the line explained.

“Can you call the family and have someone contact me?” I begged. “It’s kind of important.”

Fifteen minutes later, the woman from my son’s school called me to tell me that she had reached the father.

She assured me that he would call.

Any minute.

I waited by the phone.

For hours.

No one called.

Actually, that’s not true.

The phone rang constantly.

But it was never *them*.

Eventually, I composed a letter that so so awkwardly explains — while Wu’s family is welcome to attend the service and the light luncheon which will be served after the service — the evening invitation and party is reserved for Tech’s friends and family members.

And people we know.

Now I have to figure out if Tech should give my note to his friend in school and have him pass it along to his parents…

…Or if I should just send it in the mail.

I’m thinking the mail.

Oy.

It’s official.

I’m flailing.

And I’m pretty sure I’m about to be considered inhospitable.

Please share your special occasion snafus here. I need a laugh.

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The Blessing of Paper: Bar Mitzvah Tales, Part 1

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The Ten Commandments, In SVG
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As some of you know, I have been planning my son’s bar mitzvah.

For the last 18 million months.

I will eventually write more about the horrors and the joys of this journey.

But let’s start here with the invitations.

I know a lot of people like very traditional designs when it comes to invitations for religious events.

Me? Not so much.

I looked around and found very few invitations that got me excited.

Meanwhile, everyone kept telling me:

The invitation sets the tone for the event.

Finally I decided to get Tech Support involved.

He was all shoulder shrugs.

“I don’t care,” he said. “Just pick something cool.”

Finally, I found the invitation that spoke to both of us.

It isn’t traditional. It is actually kind of funky.

And I don’t mean that it is contemporary.

It is just right, and I got them from Rishona Beck Myers at RM Creative Events.

And I would love to show a picture to you, but I haven’t sent them out yet.

So I can’t.

But I can tell you that only after the invitations and all the coordinating inserts arrived did I realize I kind of forgot about thank-you notes.

This should give you some insight into my abilities as an event planner.

I was just about to start searching again when eInvite bar mitzvah invitations came to my rescue.

They have a fabulous thank-you card that coordinates with my son’s invitation perfectly.

Click here to see more information about this thank-you note.

Initially, I was nervous about ordering from an online vendor, but they are printed on the same high-quality Checkerboard paper on which his invitations are printed.

And no, Tech Support’s real name isn’t Kayla.

And I didn’t use this font.

I used a more masculine font that matches his invitation – so everything goes together, which is lovely.

So lovely that I can actually hear my son telling his friends that he can’t swim in their pool or have a water fight or shoot off rockets in the backyard because he is just so excited to touch these papers. I can see him holding a pen and happily writing out all his thank-you notes without a single complaint.

Whaaat?

A mother can dream, right?

If you are looking to order bar or bat mitzvah invitations or thank-you notes online, be sure to check out eInvite.com.

Have you ever ordered something major from an online vendor? How’d that work out for you?

I received 50 Conventional Tie Die Celebration Bar Mitzvah Thank-You Notes from eInvite.com in exchange for writing this post. But all the opinions are mine. And these thank-you notes rock.

Oy Vey: Tips to Non-Jews About Bar & Bat Mitzvah Giving

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Not long ago I received an email from my old friend. She sounded kinda panicky:

Renna:

I have been invited to go to a Bat Mitzvah in NYC for a co-worker’s daughter. What do I give? Help!

Jenna 🙂

That Jenna. She brought me right back to October 25, 1979 when I celebrated my own bat mitzvah in Syracuse, New York. Back then, my family attended an uber Orthodox synagogue where it was uncommon for girls to get the full bat mitzvah treatment. My neighbor (and most favorite babysitter) was the first girl at her Conservative temple to become a bat mitzvah, and I was only a few years her junior.

At our ultra-traditional temple, I wasn’t allowed to have a Saturday morning service for my bat-mitzvah; girls had to wait until sundown on Saturday to get things started. I wasn’t allowed to touch the Torah. Or use a pointer. Instead I read from the Book of Ruth, which had been laid on top of the Torah so as to appear that I was reading from the Torah. Mine was a pretty portion. I liked the symbolism of women taking care of other women, and I can still recite the words in Hebrew today.

Thanks to the Reform Movement, today, girls march right up on the bimah, just like their male counterparts. Girls chant their Torah portions beautifully (usually even more melodically than the boys), and congregants have come to celebrate the special days of both sexes with equal parts joy and pride. I was 100% ready for my bat mitzvah. I have always been a quick study when it comes to language, and Hebrew was no exception. Add a tune to the Hebrew, practice that tune a gazillion times, promise me a receptive audience, and hellooooo… let’s just say, I was ready to perform.

This is not the case for everyone. For some kids, preparing for “the big day” is really strenuous. For introverted kids, it can be a real challenge to get up in front of hundreds of people and not only speak but sing or chant in another language! And then there is a d’var torah where – for months – students prepare speeches for the congregation meant to explain not only what their specific Torah portion is literally about, but also what it means symbolically, philosophically, and how they connected to the portion personally. I always say if a child can get through his or her bar/bat mitzvah day, there isn’t anything he/she can’t do. It’s a crash course in language study, philosophy, essay writing, public speaking and etiquette lessons – all rolled into one.

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For months leading up to my bat mitzvah, people kept asking me what I wanted. When I was 12, the only thing I wanted was a horse, so I just smiled a lot. And anyway, I knew what typical bat mitzvah gifts were. Besides engraved Cross pen sets and Webster’s Dictionaries, everyone I knew got the same thing: money, (to be saved for college) usually in the form of U.S. Savings Bonds. But it wasn’t polite to ask for money, and I would have sounded redonkulous if I had asked someone to buy me a horse.

So what’s the problem?

And why don’t I just answer Jenna?

I don’t know.

These days, I have an 11-year-old (with a bar mitzvah date already set for 20 months away), and suddenly this question is coming up near daily, and I have to be mindful. I don’t want to say the wrong thing or get myself in trouble.

Maybe it’s that bar and bat mitzvahs seem different to me now that I am an adult. These days there is so much more of everything. Everything has gotten super-sized. Even proms and graduation parties have become bigger-er. And b’nai mitzvah “after-parties” can get overblown and seem to have lost what the celebration is supposed to be about.

(Can you visualize me squirming around in my chair? Well, I am positively squirmy, Jenna. I’m sorry. I’m trying.)

Whenever anyone asks me about what is appropriate to give as a gift for a bar or bat mitzvah, I feel weird because there is no short answer. I can’t just say, “Buy him a pair of new pair of jeans,” or “Jewish girls love scented candles” because the bar or bat mitzvah is not like a birthday party celebration but a celebration of arrival through an entryway: an entryway to life as a responsible Jew. It is a spiritual rite of passage that connects one generation to another. Jewish children have studied for seven years, including that one intense year of tutoring to get them prepared for their few hours alone on the bimah.

I thought about Jenna’s email and all my non-Jewish friends who have asked me this same question for years, and I have decided to boldly go where no Jew has gone before: I’m going to suggest what you maybe-might-possibly consider giving (or not giving) to the b’nai mitzvah child.

(*Insert deep breath here.*)

When trying to determine what to give, you have to first ask yourself: How well do I know this person/family? That’s probably the single biggest factor that goes into the decision. You also have to consider how many people are going to attend to event: One adult? Two? The entire family? It matters.

I told Jenna about:

SIGNIFICANT NUMBERS. The #18 in Hebrew means “chai.” (No, not the tea. Stay with me, darlin’.) For those interested in pronunciation, to create the proper sound to recreate the word “chai” you have to know that the “ch” sound something like an elderly man trying to clear his throat of an enormous ball of phlegm. The “ai” rhymes with the word “hi.” If you can put that together, you’ve got it! For all the math teachers out there, each Hebrew letter has a numerical value. Cool right? Kinda like a secret code. The word for “life” in Hebrew is “chai.” The two Hebrew letters that make up the word “chai” are chet and yud. In Gematria (the numerical value of Hebrew letters), chai is equivalent to 8 and yud is equivalent to 10. So “chai” — chet + yud = 18. Giving money in multiples of $18 is symbolic of giving “chai” or life, so Jewish people often give denominations of chai. In our community, children often give $36. But people can get creative and give $100.18; big spenders may give $318 or $418 or $518 depending on whose special day it is and the nature of the relationship between the giver and the receiver. Family members generally give more than the average party-goer. Sometimes people add chai in increments: $18 + $18 = $36 (double chai), $54 = triple chai, $72= quadruple chai, and upwards from there.

(I know that’s a big range, Jenna.)

I explained that when it comes to monetary gifts, City Mice typically give waaaaay more than Country Mice, but I told her not to get hung up on that. While I know some people have said they find it helpful to think of a b’nai mitzvah like a mini-wedding, I don’t think one should think about a b’nai mitzvah like a wedding when it comes to providing a gift for the child. Wedding couples receive gifts because (in theory) they need items to furnish their new home together. Unless you have had a serious heart-to-heart with the parents of the child regarding a specific gift, in general, kids definitely don’t need more stuff.

Traditionally, Jewish people give money to the bar/bat mitzvah child. Why? Because cash is always the right color, the right size, and it goes with everything. (Ba da bump!) On a more serious note, historically the bar mitzvah was a way of helping to establish a young man with some money so that he might eventually be able to afford to make a home for his future wife. Yup, back in the old days, 13-years old boys were starting to think about marriage. These days, parents don’t marry off their sons or daughters quite so young. (We kind of like to keep them around, at least until they finish high school.) But once we move beyond that, the b’nai mitzvah became a way to save money for college. That’s just the way it was. All money went into the bank. Done deal.

Party-goers have told me they don’t like that all the money goes into the bank; they fret that the child gets “no real gift.” Trust me. Jewish children understand that their gift is the party. They get to invite and then enjoy being surrounded by the people who mean the most to them. They understand that the party is in their honor and that it represents all their years of hard work and study. They understand that they are considered adults (by Jewish Law), and as such they can consider how, and to what extent, they plan to carry out the 613 Mitzvot which cover everything that one might ever do during one’s life. And for a few hours, they get to enjoy being the center of attention.

Good lookin’ group. Seriously, we looked good in 1979.

SO WHAT ABOUT GIFT CARDS? People often ask if it is appropriate to give the bar/bat mitzvah child an iTunes card, a piece of jewelry, or a gift card to a favorite store. I’m going waaaay out on a limb on behalf of all Heebs out there and asking you (in the nicest of ways) to please refrain from giving b’nai mitzvah kids gifts or gift cards. Consider this: bar and bat mitzvah celebrations tend to be large, so…well… if even 20 kids give the bar mitzvah boy $25 gift cards to GameStop, that child would have $500 to GameStop. Would you want your son to have $500 in store credit to GameStop? Would you want your daughter to have twenty-five “Juicy Couture” handbags? Or twenty-five pairs of earrings? Probably not. So think of the returns? It is actually emotionally awful for b’nai mitzvah kids to have to decide which earrings or necklaces or handbags to keep and which have to be returned when they know their friends have worked hard to find them “just the right thing.”

I would never be so bold as to speak for everyone, but I believe the idea is to save the money for the child to use later, maybe not for an impending marriage, but for something significant, like a college education or perhaps a future trip to Israel.

I know bonds are no longer en vogue because interest rates have taken a dive (plus one has to have all kinds of information about the kid handy: social security number, address, age, weight, favorite color… well, it’s not quite that bad, but the folks at the bank definitely don’t make it easy to get bonds, that’s for sure), but back in the 1970s when that stack of savings bonds went into the safe deposit box, I didn’t feel upset. I completely understood that the money had been given to me to be saved for a time in my life when I would be able to use it for something important. And as my bonds came ripe, many years later, my husband and I were psyched to be able to use the money to help pay the down payment for our first home!

Okay, so I have pretty much worked poor Jenna up into froth. She just wants to know what to give. Enough already.

THE REAL ANSWER. The real answer is there is no right answer because there is no right or wrong when it comes to gift giving. Jewish parents don’t plan these celebrations hoping to “break even” or “make money.” We plan them to celebrate the years of hard work our children have put in to make it to their special day; because by the time our children make it to their b’nai mitzvah, they have clocked hundreds of after-school and weekend hours learning prayers, blessings, rituals, rites, symbols – even a whole other language while juggling academics, musical instruments, sports, and other extracurricular activities. It really is quite an accomplishment.

And the party isn’t supposed to be a “Phew, we’re done!” moment. The day is supposed to mark a beginning. The ceremony signifies the crossing from childhood into young adulthood and the emerging responsibility to fulfill the commandments and obligations identified with the Torah, the sacred laws and teachings written on parchment by hand in Hebrew.

Bottom line, when it comes to gift giving, you give from the heart. If you are invited to a b’nai mitzvah, know that the people who invited you really want you there. They really do. People should never give more than they are comfortable giving. Invited guests shouldn’t feel like they are competing with anyone with regard to what they give. But the best gift really is a check. I know, to some people, writing a check seems like a cold, impersonal gift, but if the day really is about transitioning into adulthood, well… it only makes sense that part of the event involves learning about deferring gratification and learning fiscal responsibility (even if the bar/bat mitzvah parents aren’t practicing for the moment).

I know. I know, Jenna. I haven’t answered you.

You still want to know how much.

I don’t know, sweetie. I mean, I have a number in mind but … I’m just not comfortable.

We’re a complicated people, Jenna.

Oy.

That’s my take. What do you think is an appropriate gift to give to a bar or bat mitzvah?

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