So as I venture into ever more diverse segments of the Jewish community, I have come to the conclusion that there are some fascinating cultural differences and similarities in celebrating bris, bar and bat mitzvah, and weddings.
Here are a few:
1. “Making a bar mitzvah.”
Frum (Orthodox) people generally say, “I’m making a bar mitzvah. I’m making a wedding.” What this means is that they are planning the simcha for their child, which is true, but I’ve never heard non-Orthodox people use this particular verb in this context. Why is this? Similarly, Ortho-folk will say, “I’m making Shabbos,” or “making Pesach.”
2. “Just come.”
I’ve found that Ortho-folk who come from large families and busy communities are much more “heimish” (homey) about extending an invitation by phone, declining an invitation, cancelling, showing up uninvited, etc. Clearly, people should be good about sending invitations and reply cards, and not make the “baal simcha” (the one “making the simcha”) call you to see if you’re coming (!) when they’d much rather be at the manicurist’s, but in general, this degree of chilled-out attitude doesn’t seriously bend anyone out of shape. “Surprising” someone at a simcha is also a totally accepted thing to do, or popping in for part of it if you can’t be there for the whole thing.
3. The six weeks rule.
You know how the “rules” say to send an invitation six weeks before? I find more secular Jews send them out earlier than that, and I’m not even referencing the “save-the-date” that comes out much, much earlier than that. In the other corner we’ve got the Ortho-Jews who send them out later. Sometimes much later. (See: heimish.) Also, no save-the-dates as far as the eye can see.
4. Gifts table.
No idea why on earth this is true, but at non-Orthodox shindigs, there is typically a gift table. Ortho-folk bring their gifts to the home before or after. Truly an oddity to my mind.
5. What time does it start?
Non-Ortho affairs start, well, when they’re supposed to start. Showing up late requires an explanation. On the other hand, when an Orthodox wedding or bar mitzvah is called for 6 pm, “everyone” knows it’s only going to be immediate family and the photographer at 6 pm. Show up at 6:30, for crying out loud. (!) The other totally bizarre thing about this is that the further east you travel, the later you should show up; so when my sister’s vort (engagement party) in NJ was called for 8 pm, most folks showed up at 11. Oh… was that not on the invitation??
Well, this makes perfect sense. Orthodox people have more kids… their simchas have a lot more kids! Your typical Orthodox wedding will have multiple nieces and nephews, all decked out in their finest, to the extent that a babysitter (or team of) is often hired at the hall to supervise the kiddies. There is often a whole “kiddie table” with “kiddie food.”
But as usual, I like to find more in common than not… we all: want to experience nachas, want to be surrounded by family and friends, have spent more than we planned, and want all our guests to be happy. Oh, and if our kids could write their thank-yous with no input on our part, we’d all be all the more joyous.
Curious to hear your observations!