January 27, 2020

Making the cut

If you thought compiling your wedding guest list was tricky, just wait until your first child has a bar or bat mitzvah. 

Last year, when we started planning the bar mitzvah of our oldest son, Daniel, my husband and I decided we would try our best to keep the guest list reasonable — and the body count at 150. Considering the last time either of us had dealt with a guest list was 17 years ago for our wedding — an event of about the same size — we were a bit out of practice. 

The venue this time around, a country club in Santa Clarita, was large and could easily accommodate as many as 200 people, so we had a bit of wiggle room with the numbers. That still didn’t help. 

My husband, Ian, wasn’t terribly interested in the process, but he did want veto power. He’s a finance guy by profession, so he was more concerned with the numbers rather than the names. The trick was to balance my desire to invite everyone we could with Ian’s fiscal requirements. 

The first problem: Who to invite? 

It was Daniel’s bar mitzvah, but we were paying. How do you balance the mitzvah child’s list with that of the parents? And how do you balance the obligatory invites with the people you truly want to share in the celebration? 

Good questions. After a lot of revisions, we finally came up with a workable solution. Sort of.

When I made the initial list, I jotted down everyone and anyone I could possibly ever want to invite. I also told Daniel to make a list of the friends he wanted to include. Daniel’s list came to about 60 kids. Mine? About 140 others. We agreed that he could invite as many friends as he liked, which meant I had to cut. 

This is where the problems began. Lots of the names I had listed were my friends. Sure, I’d known some of these people for decades, but they didn’t really know Daniel. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this was Daniel’s day, not mine (or my husband’s). If someone had never expressed an interest in getting to know my son, why should Daniel have to invite that person to his bar mitzvah? That revelation cut off about 12 people. 

When it comes to family, you have to decide upfront how extended you’re willing to go. We opted to stick strictly to cousins, aunts and uncles, along with some second cousins who live in-state. 

One challenge for me came from the fact that our family has lived in our home for 15 years, and we are lucky enough to have an amazing set of neighbors who are like family. We invited six families from our ’hood, but we had to exclude a few people. I was uncomfortable at first, but then I recognized that this is an important event, and it needed to be done.

To keep things organized, I started by entering information into a Word document, then we transferred everything to a spreadsheet so we could account for kids and adults and meal choices for the adults (the kids/teens had a buffet). There are plenty of other ways to go about doing this, though; you could go old-school with a spiral notebook or new-age with an online guest-list manager.

Unfortunately, completing the guest list didn’t mean an end to my worries — there were still all the possible ramifications. Consider the blessing (and curse) of social media. Nearly everyone posts happy information on Facebook, but, I realized, that meant I could be faced with loads of people who believed they should be invited to the bar mitzvah — even though we had no intention of including them. 

As a result, certain acquaintances that I’d rather not invite had to be “blocked” from status updates. My advice: If you can simply un-friend people you want to exclude from your celebration, do it. Either that, or refrain from posting absolutely anything about the event on Facebook. (Sure, like that’s going to happen). 

Unfortunately, certain people might make an issue of being dumped from social media, so I went with the good old “hidden status” update. This might sound trite, and it might even make you (or me) feel like you are back in high school, but it did help minimize the drama.  

It’s been a month since the big day — we ended up with 130 people in attendance, and everyone in our household was happy with the outcome — and (knock on wood) I haven’t heard any complaints from people who were not invited. Believe me, I expected at least one nasty note. But it hasn’t arrived and I’m figuring we have passed the statute of limitations on that one. At least I hope we have.  

Everyone has people they feel obligated to invite, but when push comes to shove, you have to decide if you really want to spend the day/evening/morning (and the cash) on them. 

If the answer is no, leave them off the list.