Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

Rites of Passage

Riki Goldstein

For baalei teshuvah, whether it’s their child’s bris, bar mitzvah, or wedding, making simchahs is a coming of age. Yet, like all milestones, getting there isn’t always easy

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

 Mishpacha image


Frum simchahs have a flavor all their own, but when you grew up with an entirely different style of celebrations, being a one-man simchah production team can be overwhelming. Where to start creating those memories?

Many baalos teshuvah find it helpful to draw on the wisdom and experience of someone who’s already made a simchah. “Before I made my first bar mitzvah, I went to some friends who are more experienced mothers, sat down with a notebook, and said, ‘Just tell me everything that I need to know or do.’ That became my bar mitzvah notebook,” says Chani Feldman, a baalas teshuvah who recently married off her oldest child, that first bar mitzvah boy.

Many women find it helpful to ask about a rough timeline for the preparations, conventions of hostess gifts and traditional gifts for chassan and kallah, the protocols of whom to invite, and a rubric of whom to offer the kibbudim and speeches.

Then there’s the all-important catering angle. Unless it’s a shalom zachar on Yom-Kippur-on-a-Friday-night, no one’s ever heard of a Yiddishe celebration without food. Lisa from Yerushalayim, who catered her sons’ bar mitzvahs by herself, says she needed copious advice on quantities and setup when making her first son’s bar mitzvah.

“I didn’t grow up frum,” she says, “I had no idea what having 200 people at an event meant. It was overwhelming. One friend told me to make up the cake platters on Thursday and set them aside, wrapped. A lot of people sent things over and offered support, so that helped. I hired one waiter, but in retrospect I needed more. I ended up so tired.” Now a simchah veteran, Lisa knows all about advance planning. She helps others in her community plan their simchahs, offering menu ideas and advice on what to order and how much to cook.


It’s a Family Thing

It’s family and friends who turn an occasion into a simchah. But when that family is not-yet-frum, even milestones they’re familiar with — like bar mitzvahs and weddings — feel foreign and strange. Helping parents understand Torah lifestyles through open communication and explanation — and knowing what not to explain — is part of a baal teshuvah’s life, and discussions about upcoming milestones can begin months, or even years, in advance.


The first simchah that Melanie, a baalas teshuvah mom and professional from Baltimore, MD, made was her daughter’s bas mitzvah. Melanie’s family was initially taken aback that her daughter would not be called to the Torah. “We had to break it to them that the bas mitzvah would have no shul service. Imagine! We were just doing a brunch.”

Melanie brought up the subject months before, easing her parents in so they’d know what to expect. Once she decided to make a catered brunch for her daughter’s friends and female relatives on a Sunday morning, she had to explain this sensitively to several family members who were chagrined to learn that their husbands were not invited.

There can be a lot that needs to be explained. When Chani made her first bar mitzvah, she prepared invitations for her parents’ friends and relatives, but realized that they wouldn’t recognize her name on the invitation. “I wasn’t known as Chani when they knew me!” she laughs. “So before I mailed those invitations, my mother had to explain to everyone that I had started to go by my Hebrew name.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 593)

Related Stories

Mic Drop

Heather Dean with Leah Gebber

On the one side were opportunities that couldn’t be duplicated: access to the biggest celebrities, p...

Growth Charts

Elisheva Appel

We set out to understand what growth and connection to Torah mean to women, and how that understandi...

Threads of Eternity

Esther Teichtal

Chana Gamliel designs parochos that adorn shuls around the world. And those threads close the circle...

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

What’s in a Name?
Shoshana Friedman “What does Writer X have to say this week?”
Atonement — Fake and Real
Yonoson Rosenblum White confessionals and faux rituals
Four Walls Coming Full Circle
Eytan Kobre All the while, there’s been a relationship in the offing...
And Yet We Smile
Yisroel Besser We are the nation that toils to be happy at all costs
Out of This World
Rabbi Henoch Plotnick Dirshu Hashem b’himatzo — we are in Hashem’s company now...
Steven and Jonathan Litton
Rachel Bachrach The co-owners of Litton Sukkah, based in Lawrence, NY
Tali Messing
Moe Mernick Tali Messing, engineering manager at Facebook Tel Aviv
Sick Note
Jacob L. Freedman “Of course, Dr. Freedman. Machul, machul, machul”
Avoiding Health Columns Can Be Good for You
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman Only one reliable guide for good health: our Torah
Endnote: Side Notes
Riki Goldstein Most Jewish music industry entertainers have side profes...
Me, Myself, and Why
Faigy Peritzman Where there’s no heart and no love, there’s no point
Can’t Do It Without You
Sarah Chana Radcliffe When you step up to the plate, you build your home team
Eternal Joy
Mrs. Elana Moskowitz The joy of Succos is the fruit of spiritual victory
The Appraiser: Part III
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer Make sure your child knows his strengths
Hidden Special Needs
Rena Shechter You won’t see his special needs, but don’t deny them
Dear Wealthy Friend
Anonymous There’s no need for guilt. I am truly happy for you