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We’re not schlepping to Israel for the bar mitzvah of our neighbor’s son, so why are they sending us a fancy schmancy invitation?


Some Jews living in the United States, when planning a bar or bat mitzvah, choose to celebrate their event in Israel. That certainly is a wonderful decision and anyone who so chooses should be roundly applauded. Some of these Jews, however, also elect to send out full-fledged, fancy-schmancy invitations to all of their friends and acquaintances, knowing full well that the vast majority of invitees will not be schlepping to Israel for their celebration. Some hosts will even invite their annoying neighbors, mortal enemies and backstabbing colleagues, all because they know that none of these invitees will actually make the journey overseas. Thus, a (cynical) argument can be made that, under certain circumstances, such an invitation to the Promise Land promises to be one of the most disingenuous invitations ever issued.

There are of course legitimate reasons for choosing the Kotel over a hotel.

So, the question is: if someone is making a bar/bat mitzvah celebration in Israel, why would they go to the trouble of inviting those who obviously will not be attending? What is the purpose of these “non-vitations”?

As a preliminary matter, we all can agree that Jews have celebrations in Israel for a variety of very valid reasons. For example, some Jews have oodles of family living in Israel so it makes perfect sense to party in the Holy Land. Others, however, abuse this notion. They mendaciously claim that they have "family in Israel" but then it turns out that they only have a (i) third cousin twice removed who sublets an apartment in Ashdod for two weeks during the year, (ii) distant in-law who is a freelance flight attendant for El Al or (iii) deceased relative buried on the Mount of Olives. That is not what is commonly meant by having "family in Israel."

Other Jews make bar/bat mitzvah celebrations in Israel for admirable spiritual reasons, believing that a celebration in the Holy Land will be far more . . . holy. That, too, is an absolutely legitimate rationale for choosing “The Wall” over a gala ball or for choosing The Kotel over a hotel. But, not every activity in Israel is necessarily filled with such spiritual splendor. Guess how much spirituality there is in zip-lining? You guessed it: zip. The beaches of Eilat are known for many things but spirituality is not at the top of the list, though parasailing is an uplifting experience. Eating the fabulous food at Jerusalem's Machane Yehuda market is not really a spiritual experience, although I know some fanatical foodies who would vehemently disagree.

Some Jews make celebrations in Israel based on thoughtful, responsible and logical financial considerations. They run the numbers and decide that a larger affair in the States will not be as worthwhile as a smaller affair in another state, the State of Israel. This, too, is totally understandable, especially for nuclear families who have not spent meaningful time in Israel together. (Yes, if your parents and siblings are experts in fission, then you literally have a "nuclear family." And yes, an insecure, narcissistic nuclear physicist who is desperate for praise is just “fission” for compliments.)

Unfortunately, there are a few overly-judgmental cynics out there who believe that some "invitations" to celebrations in Israel are resoundingly insincere, regardless of the rationale behind the location choice. These cynics insist that the hosts are simply looking to curry favor in their social circles and to earn extra credit for what actually are empty invitations. Sadly, when these cynics receive such an invitation, they sardonically interpret it as saying: “You are NOT cordially invited to join us for our celebration.” If you are among these cynics, there is something you can do to retaliate: show up! That's right, call their bluff, throw down the gauntlet, buy a plane ticket and make a personal appearance in Israel. You also should try to convince some of your similarly invited friends to do the same, thus blowing the party’s head count sky-high. Just imagine you and your entire gang of bogus invitees storming into the celebration in Israel, completely unexpected and unannounced. As the leader, you may wish to walk right up to the host and have a conversation that goes a little something like this:

YOU: Mazel Tov!

HOST: Oh, wow. I can't believe you all actually showed up.

YOU: Of course we did. How could we not? You invited us, right?

HOST: Uh . . . Yes, yes, absolutely. We're just so shocked . . . I mean, touched . . . that you came all this way to join us.

YOU: Well, we were equally touched by your generous and sincere invitation.

HOST: Yes, yes, those darn invitations.

YOU: Anyway, we're all starving but I'm sure you've ordered enough food to feed all of your invited guests. Otherwise, why invite us, right?

HOST: Yeah, right. Of course. Would you excuse me for just a moment?

Bottom-line: As the shocked host goes into an emotional cardiac arrest, and as the caterer scrambles to make emergency arrangements, you nod to your followers and, with a wry smile, proudly exclaim: "Our work here is done."

May 13, 2017

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Visitor Comments: 5

(4) ross, May 23, 2017 4:13 PM

And we're still friends

After receiving a friend's bar mitzvah invitation in Israel (but just the kiddush, not the reception, thanks a lot), I sent my friend an invitation to my daughter's 4th birthday party (the reception). He then sent me an invitation for another son's siddur play, and I later sent him an invitation to my grandfather's surprise 90th birthday. Well, he sent me an invitation to chaperone his son's school trip to Tzfas. I then told him that I'm listing him as an emergency contact on my daughter's camp form. Moral? Life is too much fun.

(3) Joey, May 17, 2017 1:40 PM

I'd go along with your evil plan, but you should still RSVP.

(2) Rachel, May 16, 2017 3:47 PM

Unfortunately some of these invitations are sent solely to revive back a gift!

(1) Janet Kasten Friedman, May 15, 2017 1:53 PM

cute, but I disagree

This article was cute and had some "good ones" which I appreciate. But I disagree with the main idea: that the invitations have no valid social function. I live in Israel, and have gotten invitations to simchas in the US. Was I going to come? Of course not! Was I insulted? Of course not! The invitations were sent in order to inform me that ....... (name of relative) is making this simcha; that they have thought of me foldly as part of their family; that they want me to remember them, and what stage they are in life. I usually try to send a present, often a book or meaningful item from Israel. I obviously don't send the sum of money that an American Jew attending the party would send; or even the amount that an American Jew would send when he is NOT attending. I am not rich and I do not allow myself to be intimidated by a fancy party to the point of giving more than I can afford. If the party-maker wants to be insulted, that's his problem. I have nothing but good will towards the makers of expensive parties, as well as the makers of inexpensive parties. May they all enjoy nothing but simchas!
The article examined the motives behind making a simcha in Israel instead of "at home" in the US. Some motives are depicted as being legitimate, and some less so. Are you a Zionist?! Most Jews in America claim to be. To a Zionist, you don't NEED a justification for coming to Israel. The more, the merrier! Yes, even to Eilat! Even for falafel! The connection between the Jews and Israel is holy. If a Jew does a mitzva for ulterior motives (to save money on a bar mitzva?) it is STILL a mitzva. As such, it still benefits the one who performs the mitzva (the bar mitzva boy and his family), the Jewish People, and the world at large. Who are you to criticize how or where another Jew makes his simcha?! Maybe he really CAN'T afford to make the kind of parties that most people in the community make? Does that make his "less than"..."

Bernice, May 18, 2017 3:57 PM

I agree with Janet

This issue goes to the heart of why we invite friends and relatives not only to simchas in Israel, but those who live in another city than where the simcha is taking place.
When I send invitations to you for my family's celebrations, I am saying that I want to you to celebrate with me, whether it is in person or from afar, and dance with me in your hearts because I love you. I am tempted to say "It's not about the gift that you're going to send or not send. We just want to share our joy" but my family convinced me that that's tacky. If you would show up in person, I would be delighted that you made that supreme effort, and would welcome you with open arms and bring me even more joy. I am inviting you because I want you to be there with me either in the flesh or in spirit.

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