Life & Culture

Barmitzvah planning gives me decision fatigue

Naomi Greenaway's Schleps and the City column turns to the fine art of simchah-throwing


So much has happened in the few weeks since my last column, but, unfortunately, I have only half an hour to crunch it down into readable format because I have a Zoom with the band manager, an appointment with the alterations lady and a tasting with the caterer before a family FaceTime with our old rabbi (currently living in Baltimore).

Yes, it’s the run-up to my son’s barmitzvah and life has become a little more hectic than usual. In fact, my working days in the Telegraph newsroom feel like an Ayurvedic spa retreat compared to the pace of my days off. It’s utterly therapeutic to have a space where Pinterest boards of flower arrangements or my son’s barmitzvah logo will most definitely not be popping up on my screen.

And about that logo. Speak to any invitation company or event planner and they’ll tell you that the first step (after venue, band and music) is designing your logo.

The logo, as it’s been explained to me, impacts every element of a barmitzvah. I’m sorry, but… what? Does the Mishnah argue that a Jewish boy officially becomes a man only once his logo has been proofed and printed? I’m pretty sure not.

And I think I’m safe to say that when anyone reading this became bar or batmitzvahed, there was just an invitation with a pretty font and a name on it. The logo mishegas does make me wonder if all this barmitzvah planning could be taken down a notch or two — but, of course, I didn’t wonder long enough to actually take my own planning down a notch or two.

Am I going to be that mother who sends her son out into the big wide world as a man for the first time - without branding? If he ended up having an identity crisis, I’d never forgive myself. So yes, there is a logo, and admittedly there have been a few (hundred) emails back and forth changing fonts, redoing colours and tweaking designs.

That’s the other thing about all this organisation: you think you don’t care about logos, chair styles, dancefloor designs, lighting, benchers, kippot and cocktails — until you have to make decisions on them.

OK, cocktails, I have an opinion on (gin-base — fabulous; berries and sprigs of smelly herbs spilling out of it — even better) but I can promise you I have never had any strong feelings about a bencher.

Never have I had a good bench and thought, “Wow that bencher was just so fabulous, I’d love to do that all again.” But now that I have to make a decision about the barmitzvah bencher, I have become a connoisseur.

It’s a bit like doing up a house. You think you don’t care about handles, then you have to choose them, and they’re all you see wherever you go. “You’ve got great handles” becomes your number one compliment.

It’s the same with so many elements of the party. There’s lighting (sounds optional but not really), chairs (generally essential), a dancefloor (no, apparently, you can’t just dance on the carpet) and kippot (you may be able to identify your family from the back on all other days, but let’s not leave anything to chance on the big barmi day).

These non-essential essentials all need ordering, which means you need to make decisions on them, which, of course, can be a little draining.

It’s not the first time my husband and I have planned a “mitzvah” -— the last one was a “bat” during the pandemic.

After one cancelled party in May 2020, an unexpected lockdown extension in June 2021 meant we had to turn our big postponed freedom day bash into mini parties of 30 guests at a time, with two weeks to go. I did feel like Anneka Rice on speed in the run-up, but it was all do-able. The things that matter don’t really need months of planning.

What I also keep telling myself, although I’m having to shout it louder and louder over all the other noise in my head, is to bear in mind what it’s all about. These age-old traditions that plot out the course of our lives give us moments to appreciate the things that matter — to be surrounded by the people we love, to take stock and to reflect.

Which is why that 7pm Zoom with a rabbi in Baltimore may not help when it comes to kicking off a great party, but is my most important appointment of the day. I know he has the knack of delivering a meaningful dose of inspiration.

If this barmitzvah makes my son think more deeply about his connection to his past and to reflect on what type of man he wants to become, then job done. And if I have to throw a whopping great party whilst I’m at it, then so be it.

So excuse me, I’m off to sample some cocktails.

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