Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:
Over the years, my family and I have been reading your column regularly, and I must commend you for the way in which you bring critical issues to the attention of the Torah community. I always marvel at the variety of subjects that are aired in your column, and every time you focus on a story, I ask myself what other issues can be left, but then, amazingly, your readers come up with a subject that has hitherto not been discussed. Well, I think that the subject that I am now bringing before you has yet to be aired.
My husband and I are the proud parents of six children, bli ayn hara. We are Yeshivishe people and live on a modest, tight budget. My husband is a rebbe in a yeshiva and learns the remainder of the day. I also teach, and between our two incomes we manage, although it’s difficult.
Recently, we had a Bar Mitzva for our son. For months prior to the simcha, we were debating as to how we should celebrate. My parents are not religious people. They are American in every way, and I became a ba’alas tshuva while in high school. My husband is also a ba’al tshuva, but he came to Torah when he was still in elementary school. He was influenced by Orthodox neighbors with whom he remains close to this day.
The reason why I am going into all this detail about our family background is so that you may appreciate the many problems engendered by our Bar Mitzva preparations. Both sets of parents insisted that we have a catered affair with music, etc. As I said, we are Yeshivishe, and that’s not our style. We would have been content with just a kiddush in a shul with our son reciting his pshetel (bar mitzva discourse). My husband and I felt, however, that our parents have had to accept so many changes in our lives that the least that we could do for them would be to try to accommodate them since their request was not in conflict with Torah. We took a catering hall and the simcha was great, but the cost was also great. As much as we tried to stick to a budget, additional costs kept cropping up. Once you become involved in something like this, you want everything to be as nice as possible, so you say ‘yes’ to many little things and before you know it, you’re in over your head.
But for all this, I am willing to accept responsibility. We made the decision … we wanted to please our parents, and Baruch Hashem, we accomplished that. But what we found very annoying, indeed, unforgivable, was the lack of consideration shown by many of our guests.
Like all ba’alei simcha, it took some time for us to draw up the guest list, adding, then cutting, trying to make certain that no one was insulted. Every guests represents an expenditure, and for people like us, that’s no small consideration. We were told by friends who had gone through the same experience, that we shouldn’t be afraid to invite more guests than we could handle because there is always a tremendous fall-off. On the average, they said, only 75 percent of those invited attend. To our surprise however, 95 percent responded in the affirmative, which was more than we had bargained for. But still, we were delighted to know that so many friends wanted to join us in our simcha.
And now, the reason for this letter: Of the 95 percent who responded that they would come, only 85 percent actually showed up! And even of those who did show, there were a number who stayed only for the smorgasbord, and left before we even sat down to the seudah (dinner), which of course, would have been fine, had they not indicated in their response that they were planning to stay for the entire dinner. We, of course, had to pay, regardless of the fact that their chairs were empty. You can’t imagine how aggravated I was when I walked around the room greeting out guests and finding empty chairs at every table. It’s not just the lack of consideration, but the sheer waste of money and food.
The Torah admonishes us not to be a ba’al tashchis (not to be wasteful), and some of these friends failed to take our feelings and resources into consideration. Besides, I must tell you that it was very depressing to see all the empty seats. We had worked so hard to make compatible table partners, and then to see that all our efforts were for naught, was to say the least, upsetting.
Initially, I was angry, but now that some time has passed, I have decided to channel that anger in a positive direction, so I am writing to you to make people aware that it is far better to say ‘no’ to an invitation than to respond with a ‘yes’ and then not show up. And if you plan to come to the smorgasbord and not stay for dinner, then have the courtesy to inform your host. Why should you cause someone financial loss and create hurt feelings?
I hope Rebbetzin, that you will publish this letter. I really feel that by airing these problems you are performing a great service to the Jewish community.
May you go ‘from strength to strength’ in all your wonderful undertakings.