Barmitzvah parties that won’t break the bank
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
The party can be a big success without spending a fortune