Bar­mitz­vah par­ties that won’t break the bank

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - SIMCHAHS LAU­REN LIBBERT

IT ALL be­gan, as so many things do, with a ca­sual con­ver­sa­tion over cof­fee with friends. Half an hour later, I stag­gered out of the café feel­ing light­headed, dry-mouthed and more than a lit­tle anx­ious. I had two bar­mitz­vahs in the space of 18 months on the hori­zon and, ac­cord­ing to one friend, I’d be lucky to spend less than £15,000 on each one.

If I was feel­ing jelly-legged af­ter that ini­tial chat, join­ing the 5,700 mem­ber-strong Face­book group en­ti­tled Top Tips for Bar­mitz­vahs and Bat­mitz­vah Mum and Dads had me spread-ea­gled in shock on the floor.

With a click of the ‘join’ but­ton, I en­tered a mag­i­cal world of simchahs where any­thing and ev­ery­thing was pos­si­ble pro­vided you have the imag­i­na­tion and fi­nan­cial where­withal.

There were silent dis­cos, ma­gi­cians, photo booths, bal­loon cen­tre pieces, DJs, dancers, mo­bile bars, sweet carts, 3D dance floors, bar­mitz­vah boys’ names in 5ft let­ters, ice cream tri­cy­cles, choco­late ta­ble names and so much more. Heck, I could even get some­one to write my bar­mitz­vah speech if I felt like it or, even bet­ter, hire an event plan­ner to plan and or­gan­ise the en­tire thing.

Don’t get me wrong; this is a fab­u­lously sup­port­ive, help­ful group with tips fly­ing around from de­liver-at-home kosher cater­ers to the best place to get your daugh­ter’s hair braided, but it can also be hugely ter­ri­fy­ing for those on a lim­ited bud­get and don’t fancy the bailiffs pop­ping in the morn­ing af­ter the big bash.

For those of you read­ing this with a baby strapped to your chest and won­der­ing what the hell I’m talk­ing about, take note: fully li­censed kosher cater­ers can charge up­wards from £50 per adult, DJs can be at least a grand and venues can run into the thou­sands if you’re look­ing for big num­bers so I heartily ad­vise stuff­ing any spare notes you might have un­der the mat­tress from this day for­ward.

Bar­mitz­vahs tend to run like mini-wed­dings in our com­mu­nity and the av­er­age price of those is £55,000 — so you do the maths.

As Jewish par­ents, we want noth­ing more than to give our chil­dren the best bar or bat­mitz­vah pos­si­ble and with many of us hav­ing two or more chil­dren these events can in­flict stress on a fam­ily months, and some­times years, be­fore it even takes place.

As one North Lon­don mother told me: ‘There is a huge pres­sure on fam­i­lies to con­form, and while the Face­book page can have use­ful in­for­ma­tion it can also add con­sid­er­ably to that pres­sure. I was quoted £5,000 for a shul Shab­bat lunch for 50 peo­ple and that was from a caterer de­scribed as ‘rea­son­ably priced’ on the group.’

So it will come as no sur­prise to learn that more and more fam­i­lies are sen­si­bly jump­ing off the bar­mitz­vah road train and do­ing things their own way, at a bud­get that suits them.

Sara Levy from Edg­ware is cel­e­brat­ing her son Rafi’s bar­mitz­vah next Fe­bru­ary and do­ing it very dif­fer­ently. “He’s our third child and we’ve al­ready had two ex­pen­sive sim­chot un­der our belt so we’ve de­cided to cut down on cost and ex­trav­a­gance this time by just hav­ing a Fri­day night sup­per,” she says. “To sup­ple­ment what Rafi may see as less of a ‘fuss’, I found two very cheap flights to Is­rael in Jan­uary and he’s go­ing to go with my hus­band to a tefillin fac­tory to watch his tefillin be com­pleted and learn all about their con­tents. They’re only stay­ing two nights, but I think this ex­pe­ri­ence will stay with him longer and mean more to him than the big par­ties we had pre­vi­ously.”

An­other mum tells me how they de­cided to ditch the adults al­to­gether, tak­ing their son and his friends to an es­cape room for their bar­mitz­vah cel­e­bra­tion be­fore host­ing a bar­be­cue at home which they catered them­selves. “I didn’t even buy new out­fits for any­one,” she says. “Too much pres­sure to make the per­fect day to have the per­fect pho­tos and for ev­ery­one to look per­fect.’”

Rachel Baker from Liver­pool re­duced the costs of her son’s bar­mitz­vah to un­der £6000 and her daugh­ter’s bat­mitz­vah to £2000 by tak­ing the DIY ap­proach, de­sign­ing and print­ing her own in­vi­ta­tions and get­ting a kosher take­away for the evening party rather than hav­ing it catered.

“It saved a for­tune and was amaz­ing,” she says. “I bought dec­o­ra­tions off the in­ter­net and dec­o­rated the room my­self for the lunch.”

Sarah Moss from Edg­ware also found ways to down­grade the costs, but not the cel­e­bra­tions, for her son’s bar­mitz­vah.

“We were so broke that I didn’t even buy a new dress,” she says. “No one re­ally needs a din­ner dance for 13 year olds — we had a lunch for the grown ups and then my son had a party for 40 friends, for which we hired a disco from out­side Lon­don. For­get the photo booth — we had a pho­tog­ra­phy stu­dent with a bag of ac­ces­sories.”

An­other canny tip for those with nerves of steel is book­ing the hall six to eight weeks be­fore. “We got fan­tas­tic halls of­fered at ma­jorly re­duced prices at the last minute,” says Carolyn Levey from Bar­net in Hert­ford­shire , who also rec­om­mends stock­ing up on kosher wine straight af­ter Pe­sach as it can be re­duced to £5 per bot­tle; home mak­ing place cards and buy­ing fi­bre op­tic ta­ble cen­tres from Pri­mark or eBay.

For her re­cent June bar­mitz­vah, Caro­line Bourne from North Lon­don bor­rowed gaze­bos free from their lo­cal pri­mary school and hosted a day party at home, which meant no venue hire. “Pay­ing a trusted cleaner and her friends meant I didn’t have to hire bar staff at a hefty price tag ei­ther,” she says.

This is all great ad­vice.

As for me, I’ve just booked the lo­cal town hall (much cheaper than some of the shul halls I tried) and I’m about to mes­sage my for­mer Es­to­nian au pair— a mu­sic stu­dent who sang like an an­gel in the shower — to see if she can pro­vide our en­ter­tain­ment. Wish me luck.

These events RW¼Rû] fam­ily stress for years

PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES

The party can be a big suc­cess with­out spend­ing a for­tune

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