From what I have been told, making a bar mitzvah is supposed to be far less stressful than planning a wedding; one simple reason is that when preparing for a wedding there are usually two sides to consider. While the majority of couples can plan their son’s bar mitzvah without any regard to there being an “other side,” that is simply not the case if you are a “blended family.”
Choosing a place, time, and how to celebrate are unilateral decisions for most. When a blended family is in preparation for this milestone, event planning can get a bit more complicated.
My husband and I are parents of a blended family with eight children. We each came to the marriage with two children and have been blessed to add another four to our family. When our two older sons, one from each of our first marriages, became of age, the bar mitzvah planning was marked with trepidation. Unfortunately, when we reflect on those events we were left with some not so pleasant recollections mixed in with the joyous memories of those occasions.
First in line was my stepson. At the time of his bar mitzvah we had already moved to Israel but he was still living in the States with his mom. It was our dream to bring him to Israel for the celebration. My husband had been fortunate to honor the occasion of his own bar mitzvah at the Kotel in Jerusalem. He found it very meaningful and we wanted that for his oldest son as well. That dream was not to be a reality for us due to some unresolved custody issues, forcing us to change our plans and relocate the festivities to New York.
As there was a breakdown in communication with the “other side,” two separate parties were simultaneously planned, one thrown by each of his parents. Sadly little or no concern was given to complicated schedules, or the “letter of the law,” which granted my husband visitation during that particular time period. After some initial unpleasantness and eventual intervention of the family court we were able to straighten everything out and celebrate. Unfortunately, feelings were hurt along the way, stress levels were at an all-time high throughout, and children were caught in the middle as we smiled for the pictures and danced in celebration of this auspicious event.
Next up for a bar mitzvah was our son from my first marriage. Luckily I had full custody and my husband and I were able to plan the celebrations as we saw fit without any real interference, but that does not mean there was not some rigorous planning required to please all sides of my son’s multisided family. Although my ex-husband was unable to attend we still wanted to include his family members who lived here is Israel and were very happy that we choose to do so for our son’s sake.
This time we did decide to make it at the Kotel, celebrating on what we believed to be neutral ground. The impartial location, though, did not change the fact that there were intense emotions and I did hear rumors that my former family felt a bit slighted that they had not played a more central role in the event. Yet knowing that our decisions were guided by a trusted family rav and made according to halacha was comforting and important to us.
With a “blended” celebration, it is almost impossible to make everyone happy, but I know we tried to accommodate everyone, something which made the day very special for my son.
After eighteen years together, and several smachot under our belt, my husband and I are now planning a “no strings attached” bar mitzvah: our first son together will be turning thirteen in a few short weeks. Finally we can make the decisions that best suit our immediate family. No worries this time about being brought to court over our choices or challenges in figuring out how to keep everyone happy – both former and current relatives. No concerns about the hall being large enough so that each side of the family can have their own section, or where to seat whom in order to maintain the peace.
Anxiety over whom we thanked or whom we failed to mention in our speeches or the ramifications over what we said or left out have no place in this simcha. No more obligatory invitations simply because, “How can we not!”
As we look forward to this third bar mitzvah we will be making together as a family we cannot help but notice that each one of our bar mitzvot was a “first,” his first, my first, and now “our first.” Each event so far has come with its own set of challenges, inconveniences and bittersweet moments. Just as each one of our sons is unique, so too the event celebrating this meaningful time in their lives is unique. The common threads through these very different celebrations are that they are each a testament to the dedication and love we have for all of “our sons,” suffused with the prayers, the hopes and the dreams we hold for their futures.