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October 31, 2014 / 7 Heshvan, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Bar Mitzvah’

Baruch HaShem: Other Views

Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

One Way


Paintings and Objects by Lynn Russell


Chassidic Art Institute


375 Kingston Ave., Brooklyn, New York 11213;  (718) 774 9149


Noon – 7pm; Sunday – Thursday: Zev Markowitz, director


Until January 24, 2008


 


Lynn Russell’s current exhibition at the Chassidic Art Institute challenges us with a piety that resists all easy answers.  First there are the Baruch HaShem pieces, highly unusual collaged texts combining letters, images and objects that somehow lead us to the painted and altered photographs of Jewish life, finally guiding us to her signature image, “One Way.”  Exactly where is the artist taking us?


 


In 2006 Lynn Russell created a petite series of collages that explored variations on the common phrase of Orthodox piety, “Baruch HaShem.”  She was interested in how this commonplace utterance could find itself, visually, in diverse contexts.  We see the letters initially on a box of matches, a paper cookie, a discarded piece of cardboard and finally a box of Gefen Lemon Extract.

 

 



Baruch HaShem (2006), 11 x 14, collage, photograph and oil paint by Lynn Russell


 


 

On the most banal material, the letters – each salvaged from a unique source – take on a kind of visual poetry of their own while on the more recognizable host, they battle for recognition, tending to obscure and bully the everyday object.   In her use of these commonplace objects as the foundation and foil for the expression of thanks, Russell manages to illuminate yiddishkeit with a “pop” sensibility, somehow grounding the expression of acceptance and gratitude with the nitty gritty of everyday life. 


 


As we see her series develop, the material becomes more complex, moving first into Russell’s familiar terrain of the photographic image.  Bus Lane captures an image of speed and danger in a night scene that suggests that a vehicle has just whizzed by on a busy city street, narrowly missing the viewer (or the viewer just missing the bus) and eliciting the bold asymmetrical collaged response of “Baruch HaShem!”   She next explores the varieties of newsprint, the very elemental stuff of letters, here the text pasted over an everyday automobile advertisement.

 

 



Bus Lane (2006), 5 x 7, collage and photograph by Lynn Russell


 


 

Finally her vision fixates on an ultimate manipulation of image and text in Baruch HaShem.  She has photographed a collage of the text with each letter seeming to take on a life of its own.  There are swatches of colored paper and traces of other collage material, all composed with more of an eye to rearrange the text rather than elucidate it.  But the surprise is that now Russell has photographed the original collage and painted in oils on top of it, adding yet another level of visual complexity. The final effect is of an integrated painting; viscous, deep and personal, even though the artwork is neither totally painting, or photograph or collage. 


 


Lynn Russell’s next set of images returns to works we are more familiar with from her earlier exhibitions, the manipulated photograph or Xerox print.  Here however she starts out with a very limited palette, exclusively black and white.  The first two images are immersed in celebration taken from a wedding; a kallah posing in front of a screen and a group of Hasidic men dancing.  But simple documents, they are not.


 


Kallah is a visual conundrum.  Practically the entire scene has been appropriated by Russell and the photographic backdrop a mere pretext for visual fireworks, a virtuosic calligraphic feast that squiggles and decorates a Matisse inspired tableau centered on the bride’s happy face.  Her moment of marital joy has become an occasion for the artist’s joy.

 

 


Mazel Tov (2006), 23 x 28, Offset print painted with ink by Lynn Russell

 

 


Similarly the dancers in Mazel Tov celebrate with the chassan, clad in a white kittel, but here, seem to be black-hatted actors in another more ominous drama.  The environment is super-charged with agitated lines that generate an uneasy tension and the chassan suddenly seems vulnerable and alienated from the revelers.


 


Her next set of images is even more radically rendered in black and white.  Four stark images of men; each individual virtually anonymous because of the radical nature of Russell’s copying, enlarging, re-photographing, and copying until she has transformed the original image into her own vision.   They are ciphers of religious men engaged in otherworldly pursuits, removed from the world by the very nature of the artist’s manipulation.  In a startling way these black and white images reach their fulfillment in the three large-scale, painted color photographs that crown the exhibition’s ambitious theme.


 


Each of these images represents a core value of Judaism boiled down to its essence.  Sukkot represents the hiddur mitzvah involved in carefully choosing a beautiful lulav and esrog.  Two men are patiently examining one aspect of the four species.  The image is disarmingly familiar, black jackets and hats contrasting with stark white shirts, both facing the same direction to examine respectively an esrog and a lulav bundle.  But the abstraction that results from Russell’s reworking of the photographic image obliterates their faces and individuality, rendering these pious young men into a chilling symbol of what Jewish men methodically, perhaps obsessively, do before yom tov. 

 

 


Bar Mitzvah (2006), 30 x 24, painted photograph by Lynn Russell

 

 


In her most radical distillation, Bar Mitzvah, Russell depicts the public reading of the Torah as a confrontation between the brilliantly lit white scroll and a deeply silhouetted figure, clad in tallis and kipah.   The reader is concentrating, focused only on where the yad has momentarily rested.  At this moment he clearly knows no other world than the holy words.  It is an image of enormous solitude even though we know with certainty that this scene can happen only in the public scene of a congregation. 


 


Finally the reassuring textual message of One Way stands in stark contrast to the widely eclectic visual language that Russell employs to animate this (and most other) images.  A father and son, rendered in bluish monochrome, walk hand in hand through an urban landscape fraught with visual danger.  These Hasidim stand as sacred islands in a sea of unaccountable, indeed threatening, changes and turmoil.  The surrounding world is drenched in violent colors of crimson and sickly, yellowed browns, effaced and brutalized in her vision.  The father must guard his son by the only other stable element in the composition, the simple street sign proclaiming the certainty of religious faith, “One Way”.  But is there really only one way?  Is it that simple?  It is exactly this tension that gives this image such a powerful impact.

 

 


One Way (2006), 27 x 21, painted photograph by Lynn Russell

 

 


Lynn Russell’s artwork resides on a very fine edge between the deeply felt piety of “Baruch HaShem” and all the doubts and tension that pursuing a religious life can have on our individuality, our independence and freedom.  Do the words “Baruch HaShem”, uttered in thankfulness, faith, and submission to God’s will, also mean that we must lose a bit (or more) of ourselves in the Divine will?  Do we become less or more in these encounters?  These are the questions that Lynn Russell’s current exhibition makes impossible to avoid.


 


Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art.  Please feel free to contact him with comments at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com  

Something From Nothing

Wednesday, August 15th, 2007

On June 27, 2001, a single mother and her son landed at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel for a two-week vacation. The plan was that she would go to a seminary and he would go to day camp. Neither of them knew a soul in Israel, nor did they know any Hebrew and next to nothing about Judaism.

Six years later, to the date, nearly 200 people, mostly Israeli and mostly religious, celebrated the boy’s Bar Mitzvah at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens. This is a story of spiritual rags to riches, of a good woman who has found the right path, and has learned to apply all her goodness and giving to a Torah life. And while this type of thing is not uncommon in Jerusalem, it is still wonderful to encounter further evidence of G-d’s creating something from nothing.

As the mother and son painstakingly learned the aleph-bet that first summer and said their first words of thanks to the Almighty, we, the people around them, adopted them. When the mother decided not to go back to America, we enveloped them into our hearts and into our lives.

While our children all played together, on Shabbat or during the week, we answered both routine halachic questions as well as metaphysical ones about existence, Midrash and the Land of Israel. The women helped the mother with Kashrut; the men helped the boy in shul. Seminary joined hands with ulpan, camp evolved into yeshiva for the boy – their choice of neighborhood became permanent as the family put down ever-lengthening roots.

As the years passed, we noticed that both mother and son were giving at least as much as they had been receiving. In the beginning the mother and son were invited out every Shabbat. Now she hosts Shabbat meals, lectures, concerts and other gatherings in their home. Everyone in their building knows that their apartment is open to all: Come borrow (books, anything), see (the rabbit, the giant terrace) learn (about lots of things) or lean (on her strong shoulder).

Everyone knows there is enough gas in her car for every possible contingency, whether it’s a ride to a doctor, the store or just to get a breath of fresh air. Once we drove to Ma’aleh Adumim, a lovely garden city on the edge of the Judean desert; she had never been there before. Let’s go! So we went – just like that.

She has helped people in need, having learned how to both give and receive, when she first arrived in Israel and to Judaism. Her regular volunteer work at a soup kitchen, in a poor haredi neighborhood, just barely skims the surface of a life of giving and doing for others. This is a woman who has learned enough Hebrew to help English speakers (who have lived here longer than she has) with many tasks they would otherwise not be able to complete. This is a woman who has driven around Jerusalem picking up and delivering prepared food for sick people. The list is very long.

In a valley behind the Givat Ram campus of Hebrew University, the Botanical Gardens include twisting paths between trees and bushes, their Latin and Hebrew names posted on signs beside them. Hints of herbs tickle the senses. At the bottom is a lake with swans and ducks skimming the water around tall bulrushes. A breeze plays on the trees, and the band plays quiet Klezmer music. Couples arrive, wish Mazal Tov, and take a romantic walk around the lake. The children play on monkey bars at the far end, run around the lake and answer their cell phones when their parents can no longer make eye contact with them.

This venue is perfect for a family that loves to go hiking and camping during school vacations. Needless to say, they have almost always taken friends with them, whether up to the Golan Heights, down to Eilat, and everywhere else in Israel.

We daven Minchah just before a blazing sunset, and then the festivities begin. Music and lively dancing follow the speeches. There is confetti in the air.

To all the guests this is much more than a Bar Mitzvah. It is as much a tribute to the boy’s mother and their spiritual victories as it is to her son who has grown right before our eyes into a true Torah Jew. The mother has thanked us all for coming. As she speaks, we whisper around the table that it is we who should be thanking her.

Mazal Tov!

Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

        Whenever Jews come together in honor of a lifecycle event, it is a simchah. Rarely does a community, especially a small one, celebrate more than one simchah at a time.

 

         While planning my current trip to Poland I was informed that I had to be in Warsaw for the weekend of Parshat Chukat as they would be celebrating four special events.

 

         A baby girl had just been born and would be named at Kriat HaTorah, a young man reached the age of Bar Mitzvah, and there would be not one wedding, but two, on Sunday. And the chatanim would both be called to the Torah on that day. This is an unprecedented event in post-Shoah Poland and possibly in the 105-year-old history of the Nozyk synagogue itself.

 


Yehuda Mordechai Koronowski-Kafka

 

 

         During the reading of the Torah on Shabbat the whole congregation stopped to sing and dance with each of the four celebrants.

 

         The baby’s name is Rachel Rivka bat Yisrael and Sarah Kurzokowski, the proud Bar Mitzvah boy, Yehuda Mordechai Koronowski-Kafka. The first wedding on Sunday at three p.m. was for Tzuriel ben Avraham and Orah bat Avraham Kowalik, and the second wedding, held minutes later with a shared reception, was of Malka Kafka to Michael Herman.

 

 


Tzuriel Ben Avraham and Orah bat Avraham Kowalik


 

        

         While at the reception I heard that the Beit Chabad was also celebrating the birth of a son to Rabbi and Rebbetzin Shalom Ber Stambler.

 


Malka Kafka to Michael Herman

 

 

         Sadly, news also arrived that an old woman, a member of the community, had passed away over the weekend. This one weekend, full of milestones of the Jewish lifecycle, confirms that Jewish life has been reawakened in Poland.

The Old Shtetl Rymanow (Part I)

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006

     While the Ukraine was the birth place of the Chassidic movement, Poland and especially the Galicia area soon became the hub for most Chassidic activity after only two generations. Many of the renowned early Chassidic Masters were travelers until Rebbe Elimelech of Lejask settled down in one place and became known as the Rebbe of Lejask. His students also took up residence in specific towns, connecting each branch of Chasidism to a specific locale. Today there is no Chassidic leader who is not affiliated with the name of a shtetl even if there has been no connection to the town since the Shoah.

 

         Recently there has been a movement to return to the ancestral home of the Chassidic movements to recover and restore any sign of their heritage that had been left behind. Many cemeteries have been restored and Ohalim, burial chambers, of important Rebbes have been rebuilt, and pilgrimages have been made to the sites on important dates, such as yahrtzeits.

 

         Last week I had the privlage to sit down and talk with Rabbi Avraham Reich, Rabbi of Cong. Menachem Zion Yotzei Russia in Boro Park Brooklyn. Rabbi Reich is a seventh-generation direct descendent of the legendary Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Rymanow. During our conversation that engendered enough material for numerous articles, Rabbi Reich told me of the state of affairs in his ancestral home town of Rymanow.

 


Rabbi Avraham Reich of Rymanow

 

 

         The cemetery has been mostly cleaned up, and the Ohalim had be rededicated thanks to many individuals such as Rabbi Mendel Reichberg who has done much work throughout Poland. But the former synagogue was in a sorry state of affairs. There are many pictures taken where there were trees growing out of the central section of the synagogue, with only the outer walls remaining.

 

         Rabbi Reich said that he had always had an interest in the town due to his family history, but he was moved to action by the reminiscences of a Mr. Yosef Margolis who was born in Rymanow and came to talk to the rabbi of his childhood memories. There was a custom that people coming to Rymanow to commemorate the yahrtziet of Rabbi Menachem Mendel would stay overnight in the town. Mr. Margolis told of how on the 19 Iyar of each year thousands of people would come to Rymanow. There would be no room left for all the people who wanted to sleep in the town, and people would wind up sleeping on rooftops or even in the streets. Mr. Margolis explained that the reason for this mass pilgrimage was that it was said that miraculous cures would occur to people in need, who would spend the night in the town after commemorating the Rebbe’s yahrtzeit.

 

         Mr. Margolis related how he himselfs was an eyewitness to a cure. There was a man who came to Rymanow as a cripple and after sleeping overnight, in the town he went home without the use of his wheelchair.

 

         Rabbi Reich had of course heard all the stories before, but this was the first time he had heard a story first-hand from an actual eyewitness.

 

         He decided to do whatever possible to recreate the custom. He started the process of reclaiming the ancient synagogue in Rymanow. In 2003, Poland passed a law enabling Jewish communities to reclaim communal property including synagogues, giving Rabbi Reich the opportunity to begin to realize his dream, and work began to renovate the synagogue.

 

         Actual records for the synagogue building say it is older, but the earliest known date for the building is 1593. During the renovations workers came across two stones that geologically did not match those of the area or those of the other stones used in the construction of the synagogue. Rabbi Reich excitedly explained that according to family tradition there were stones from the Beit Hamikdash, incorporated into the building of the synagogue. “These stones,” Rabbi Reich explained, “look like the easily recognizable, Jerusalem stone that we are familiar with today.”

 

         The stones were re-incorporated into the building of the synagogue in a section where a mikveh is being built.

 

         The tradition of pilgrimages is also being re-established. This past year there were over 200 Jews from around the world. They came from Israel, the U.S., England, Belgium Switzerland France.

 

         A highlight of this year’s trip was a Bar Mitzvah celebration of a young man whose birthday coincides with the yahrtzeit of the Rebbe. It was the first Bar Mitzvah celebrated in Rymanow since the Shoah.

 

         Rabbi Reich can be contacted at 718-851-8954. 

Is This Simcha Really a Simcha?

Wednesday, June 15th, 2005

You glance through your mail, and there it is – an invitation to a simcha. It could be a chasuna ora Bar Mitzvah. Your phone rings and you are invited to a bris, sheva brochos or a pidyon haben. No matter, these events are all simchas (s’mochos, technically) and the baal simcha wants you to attend. After all, we often hear people say, “We should meet only at simchas!” What greater joy than to participate in an event marking an important milestone in the life of a relative or friend?

 

However, for some, the idea of attending yet another simcha is not met with unqualified anticipation. After all, some of the things that have become “standard” of present day simchas do not add to the joy of the event. Indeed, there are those who come away from a simcha almost regretting that they attended. Why is this? Let us look at some of the negative aspects of our “joyous” events.

 

Time

 

Simchas are notorious for neither starting nor ending on time. There are, of course, a variety of reasons as to why people do not arrive on time to a simcha. Those with small children have to feed and put their children to bed; older children also require time in the evening; many men do not get home from work until relatively late; baby sitters sometimes show up late; one gets an important phone call that must be dealt with right away; and who knows what else can come up at the last minute.  However, the main reason for people coming late is that since they know that the simcha will start late, it makes no sense to get there on time. Of course, the simcha starts late, because the guests do not come on time. This has led to the vicious cycle that we now are living with.

 

An acquaintance once related the following concerning his first encounter with Rav Avigdor Miller, ZT”L. In the 1950′s this fellow was told that he really should hear Rav Miller speak. Since Rav Miller was scheduled to speak at a Melava Malka, he decided to attend. Well, the evening dragged on and on with speech after speech. Finally, when it was time for Rav Miller to speak, he got up, looked at his watch and said, “Rabosai, it is late and time for us all to go home and sleep. A Gutta Voch!” and sat down.

 

Rav Miller spoke more than once against the practice of having simchas that require people to stay up late. He felt that this could be injurious to one’s health, not to mention that eating at a late hour is not a good practice.

 

Sometimes an invitation states such and such a time “B’dyuk.”  Even this is often meaningless. Indeed, it was once pointed out to me, tongue in cheek, that “B’dyuk” stands for “Biz de Yidden Vellen Kummen!”

 

Pictures or a Chasuna

 

I know a mashgiach in the bais medrash of a Brooklyn yeshiva who attends many chasunas. Heonce told me, “People have a choice between pictures and a chasuna, and they invariably choose pictures!” He was referring to the common practice of the chosson and kallah and their families and relatives taking pictures after the chupah while their guests are kept waiting for an hour or more. The reason for this is because the chosson and kallah are supposedly not “allowed” to see each other for a week before the chasuna. The result is that when the chosson and kallah finally appear for the first dance, it is quite late. Many people who have to get up early the next day are anxiously waiting to be served their meal so they can leave.  Those guests who find it necessary to leave without eating are unable to participate in the mitzvah of being m’sameach the chosson and kallah. Those who do stay go to sleep at an unreasonable hour and may not be able to properly function the next day.

 

My acquaintance, the bais medrash mashgiach, told me that when asked, his rosh hayeshiva has said that there is no problem with taking pictures of the chosson and kallah together before the chupah. However, there are authorities who advise otherwise, insisting that the custom of the chosson and kallah not seeing each other be maintained.This may indeed heighten the emotional dimension to the chasuna for the chosson and kallah. However, adherence to a custom and/or the feelings of two people must be balanced with the inconvenience of so many others. Kovod habrios must be a concern. Therefore, in cases where pictures are taken after the chupah, every effort should be made to limit the time spent on picture taking. Rav Yisroel Salanter is famous for his dictum that, “The other person’s gashmius is your ruchnius.” Doesn’t keeping hundreds of guests waiting for an extensive amount of time fly in the face of this?

 

Music

 

I have been at chasunas where the music was so loud that I could not talk to the person sitting next to me without shouting. We simply could not hear each other over the music. Indeed, there are times when guests leave the hall to find peace and quiet. Why is louder considered better? Why can’t the decibel level be such that one can hear the music and carry on a conversation? Why does one have to risk damaging one’s eardrums to participate in some chasunas? Today it is the custom for young couples to bring infants to a            chasuna. I can only wonder at the irreparable damage that may be done to the hearing of these young children. Given this and other considerations, I simply do not understand why young couples think that it is appropriate to bring infants to simchas. Years ago this was almost never done. Has something changed that I am not aware of?

 

Where is the D’var Torah?

 

The “format” of our chasunas is also problematic. With rare exceptions there is no d’varTorah. Here we have a major religious event that is totally devoid of divrei Torah. I recall reading a story about how the Torah greatness of the Chazon Ish was “revealed.” While attending a chasuna, he sat at a table set aside for the poor. A famous and learned Rov began to speak and quoted a Mishna. He explained it in a certain way. The   Chazon Ish stood up and pointed out that this was not the correct way to explain this Mishna and offered an alternative explanation. The Rov was so impressed with the explanation of the Chazon Ish that he asked the Chazon Ish to come and sit next to him at the head table. Given his great humility, the Chazon Ish did not want to do this, so the Rov went and sat next to him. The point here is that there was a d’var Torah at this chasuna. Why don’t all of our chasunas feature at least one d’var Torah? Rav Dr. Yosef Breuer, ZT”L, wrote in the Aug./Sept. 1966 issue of the Mitteilungen, the congregational Bulletin of K’hal Adath Jeshurun, expressing his reservations about the “new” custom of Hasidic dancing: “While we are not used to the manner in which frequently also in our circles the joyous participation in weddings manifests itself, such ‘deviation,’ actually an imitation of other circles, is of no real significance. We are concerned with the custom that calls for vigorous ‘Mitzve dancing’ during the festive meal but does not provide an opportunity for a single D’var Torah (either under the Chuppa or during the meal). This practice directly contrasts with the admonition of our Sages which characterizes any meal, particularly a festive one, as a ‘meal of the dead’ that is not accompanied by words of Torah.”

 

Too Much of a Good Thing

 

Interesting enough, while divrei Torah are hardly ever given at chasunas, when it comes to sheva brochos and Bar Mitzvahs there is a plethora of speeches. Indeed, at some of these affairs one could come away with the idea that “The more speeches there are, and the longer each speech is, the better.” Even if the speakers are good, there is a point at which the audience loses interest and simply cannot absorb any more information, no matter how well presented. Furthermore, it seems that virtually everyone is considered to be a suitable speaker, despite the fact that it takes talent and training to speak well in front of a group. If a d’var Torah incorporates a considerable number of sophisticated Gemara concepts, then at least 50% of the audience (the women) will have no idea what the speaker is saying and be totally bored. This leads to talking during the d’var Torah, which leads to “shushing.” The net result is far from an edifying Torah experience.

 

The Bar Mitzvah Drasha should be a “golden” opportunity for a boy to learn how to make a verbal presentation before an audience. However, my experience has been that the presentation is made in a fashion that makes it either incomprehensible or unintelligible, or both. Sadly, this chance to teach a young person the skills needed to present material to others in a clear and logical manner is lost. While it may well be true that the average 13 year-old boy is not capable of delivering a polished talk, this does not mean that his Bar Mitzvah Drasha has to consist primarily of mumblings sprinkled with words like Rambam, t’phillin, Gemara, etc.  A 13 year-old can be prepared to give a Drasha that is comprehensible, interesting, and understood by all present. However, the boy must be properly prepared for this. Indeed, the baal simcha has to make sure that all those who  speak are capable of speaking well. Furthermore, the number of speeches and the length of each speech have to be carefully limited.

 

During the Fifties and Sixties, students in the Bais Medrash of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath had the opportunity to take a “course in homiletics”  from none other than Rabbi Moshe Sherer, Z”L.  The course met bi-weekly, and the assignment was to prepare a five-minute speech on a current event and tie it to the parsha of the week. Rabbi Sherer stressed what he called the “Three B’s of speaking:” Be prepared; be brief; be seated! This is surely good advice for anyone asked to speak at a simcha.

 

A Waste of Good Jewish Money

 

Last but not least is the lavishness of our present day simchas. At a talk given at the 55th National Convention of Agudath Israel entitled “Society’s Newest Pressures” and reprinted in Selected Writings, Rav Shimon Schwab, ZT”L,  said, “The ostentation that one sees, the flaunting of wealth, the big rings, the large stones, the colossal weddings, the tremendous bar mitzvahs – what has happened? Millions of dollars are wasted! Money with which we could feed all the hungry Yidden of Yerushalyem, with which we could maintain all the Yeshivos – all of it is wasted. There was once an inyin of t’memus, of pashtus, of simplicity. Where has that gone? Did this also perish in the flames of Auschwitz? One goes to a chasuna. Almost all chasunas look alike – except for the chosson and kallah. Each one represents thousands of dollars which could be used to support the young couple for years. Many a chosson could sit and learn day and night for the money which we spend on one chasuna. What a waste of good Jewish money.”

 

Years ago sheva brochos were a simple affair made in the home of a relative or a close friend of the chosson or kallah. A minyan of men and their spouses and perhaps a few more people gathered for these sheva brochos. This is often not the case today. A restaurant or hall must be rented to accommodate all the invited guests. At the Shabbos sheva brochos, three lavish meals are served to 80 or 90 or more people. Some even take guests to a hotel for Shabbos! Is this really necessary? I recall when an invitation to participate in Shabbos sheva brochos meant inviting people to come to one’s home after the seuda for desert. For some reason or other this is not good enough today. As Rav Schwab pointed out, “What a waste of good Jewish money.”

 

Conclusions

 

I am convinced that people can make simchas today that are truly joyous occasions for all who attend. It requires careful planning and the willingness (courage) to implement guidelines that avoid the pitfalls outlined above as well as others that I am sure the reader can think of. However, doing this is well worth the effort. Those who attend a simcha that is truly a joyous and meaningful experience will come away with a feeling of appreciation to the ba’alei simcha for his efforts and long remember the event with fondness and warmth.

 

 
Dr. Yitzchok Levine, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at www.llevine@stevens.edu.

Lack Of Consideration (Conclusion)

Friday, June 1st, 2001
In last week’s column, I published a letter from a young family who had started life as secular Jews and later became ba’alei tshuva. Both parents work, teaching in yeshivas.
Their oldest son was Bar Mitzvah a few months ago, and in order to please both sets of grandparents, they decided to make a catered affair, albeit against their better judgement, since they could ill afford it. When the time came to send out their invitations, they initially discussed trimming their guest list, but were told by a number of friends that there is always a certain fallout, so invitations were sent to their entire family and friends.
To their surprise, almost one hundred percent responded affirmatively, and while that was unexpected, they were nevertheless happy to see that so many people cared enough to attend. What was very disturbing to them however, and what prompted them to write, was the lack of consideration on the part of many of their guests, who replied that they would participate in the dinner, but left right after the smorgasbord.
This not only represented a great financial loss, because the caterer had to be paid for each place setting, but it was also very depressing and demoralizing for the ba’alei simcha as well as those guests who were seated at half empty tables. The following is my response:
Dear Friends:
Your decision to air this matter and bring it to the attention of our readers was a correct one, and I certainly hope that many people will now think twice before they respond to an invitation affirmatively when they know full well that they will not stay for the dinner. But before we address that issue, I would like to discuss some other aspects of your letter.
You write that you live on a very tight budget, and that, against your better judgement, you made a catered affair for your son’s bar mitzvah in order to please the grandparents.
There are many things that we have to do in order to accommodate parents and grandparents, but making a catered affair that we cannot afford is certainly not one of them!.
‘Who is wise?’ our sages ask.
‘He who knows his place.’
This teaching has many implications, one of which is to know your financial limitations, and not spend recklessly.
You certainly could have explained to your parents that, as much as you would have liked to make a catered party for their sake, you simply could not afford it, and therefore would limit your celebration to a kiddush in shul following davening. I believe that your parents would have understood that, and if not, they could have opted to sponsor a party to their liking. I’m writing all this, not, G-d forbid, to hurt you or to shower you with recriminations…. Baruch HaShem, you had your simcha, and you should be happy about it. I am certain that despite your aggravation, it was a very beautiful and meaningful event – an experience that you and your family will always cherish. Nevertheless, I am pointing all this out so that our readers may benefit from your experience, for our sages also teach, ‘Who is wise’  ‘He who learns from every man.’
As to those irresponsible guests who replied that they were coming and then left right after the smorgasbord, I’m certain that, despite their rude behavior, they were well intentioned. They did not want to insult you by telling you that they could only stay a short while.
We live in a high pressure society. It’s difficult for parents to go out at night. There is homework to be done with children; babysitters are not readily available; men have to get up for early morning minyan; mothers for babies in the middle of the night, etc. etc., so it’s readily understood that some people just can’t spend a whole night at a simcha, but nevertheless wish to drop in to extend their good wishes. However, they should be honest about it and not mislead their hosts. Not only do such people waste their host’s money, but they also diminish the spirit of the party with the empty seats they leave at the table.
I personally have been to simchas where there were five or six people at a table set for twelve, and that is depressing. It would be by far more honest and considerate if people would signal their intentions from the start:
“B’ezrat HaShem, we’ll be happy to attend, but please do not make dinner reservations for us. We will not be able to stay for the entire evening.”
Before concluding this discussion on simchas, there is one more aspect of this subject that I would like to bring to the fore that you did not touch upon.
When people are invited to weddings or bar mitzvahs in modest catering halls, they tend also to give modest gifts, rationalizing that it’s not costing the ba’al simcha that much. If however, one is invited to a lavish affair, their gift is usually commensurate with the cost of that affair. After all, how can you give a small gift when you are invited to such a party? If you think about it carefully however, you will realize that there is something unfair about this. Most often, the modest affair is being hosted by someone of meager means, someone who could really benefit from a generous gift. Therefore, we should re-examine our methods of celebrating.
May HaShem grant that we have the merit of participating in one another’s simchas in a true Torah spirit.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/rebbetzins-viewpointrebbetzin-jungreis/lack-of-consideration-conclusion/2001/06/01/

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