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Dear Cantor Matt,
My temple says that we have to invite my son’s entire Hebrew school class to his bar mitzvah. He’s not friends with his entire class and didn’t get invited to some of the other kids’ b’nei mitzvah! So why do I have to invite everyone? How can the temple make us do this?
— Whose dime is it anyway?
I can fully answer your question in four little words: take the high road.
At first glance, it can seem unfair and even presumptuous that someone on the outside is telling you how to spend your money. Your son should be able to exclusively invite his friends and those who invited him to their events. Adding extra bodies costs you, not the temple, extra money.
But your temple has a specific idea in mind.
Over the years, your kid has become friends with some of his Hebrew school peers and may not have much to do with others. And other students do the same. Then there’s that kid who doesn’t seem to belong to any group. He’s a nice kid, but maybe a little more shy or introverted than the others. It’s also possible that their families joined the temple more recently or they live in a different town, so they don’t attend school with most of the other students.
Now imagine this one kid as all of your invitations go out, and everyone in the class got one except for him.
Of course, you didn’t set out to do this on purpose. Even just reading about this scenario conjures gym class nightmares of being picked last for dodge ball (or maybe that was just me?). This is where your temple’s very sensible policy comes in: they have your back.
The synagogue figures that it’s difficult for parents and kids to keep track of every other student and who’s friends with whom—so they created a blanket policy that all the kids should be invited to every bar mitzvah.
But what do you do about another student whose parents didn’t adhere to the temple’s rule and left your kid out?
That’s a tough one to answer.
If your child and this classmate are mortal enemies who have always hated each other since the Flung Diaper Incident of 2002, then you may not want to invite this particular kid. But at the same time, even if you send your kid’s sworn nemesis a so-called courtesy invitation to his bar mitzvah, there are only two possible results: “Thanks” and “No Thanks.” And if the other child declines the invitation, then you have done the right thing and don’t have to worry about it any longer. If he accepts, all you have done is opened a door and welcomed someone new into your kid’s life that obviously wants to be a part of your celebration. And where’s the harm in that?
All in all, doing the right thing is a great way to set the tone for your son’s bar mitzvah.
Cantor Matt Axelrod (Congregation Beth Israel, Scotch Plains, NJ) is the author of “Surviving Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah: The Ultimate Insider’s Guide.” He’s always happy to hear from you and he might answer your question in a future column. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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