The Simcha File
A month before my son's bar mitzvah, my friend Devorah made me a simcha notebook where she wrote down the numbers of plates, cups, napkins, and pieces of chicken, kilos of rice and kugels that I would need. She made columns and highlighted items with stars and underlining. I'm a person who goes shopping without a list. Women like Devorah Miller have simcha folders with tri colored symbol systems, which she keeps throughout the years so that she can compare and contrast her family's smachot. She can page back to 1989 and know that chartreuse didn't work with gold, and never order a peach bar mitzvah cake from the bakery on the first floor of the mall. I can't even find my deodorant from day to day and she can cross-reference her simchas.
Who knew that you had to count plates, napkins, cups, and that you had to match the colors of the streamers to the color of the table cloths, and how are you going to keep the food warm? You and your kids are going to have to blow up 200 purple, orange and green balloons. And how do you count who is actually going to come? Do Israelis RSVP? They don't even realize it's a French acronym.
You have to understand that though I nor anybody in my family had a bat or bar mitzvah (even my father) I have a happy history with smachot. I grew up working at catering events at Hewlett-East Rockaway Jewish Center on Main Street, my sole connection to the temple other than smoking in the bathroom while levitating friends. I worked for Katimsky and Tuchman, a venerable caterer where there was a huge buffet before the main meal, which included not only pigs in the blankets, but caviar the color of radioactive orange stones. And to top it all off, there was an ice sculpture—of a flamingo, perched in stunning solitude, shining with every frozen speck of its curved neck and outstretched wings. We the crew ate in the kitchen and had our own meal, usually teeming plates of meat and rice soaked in gravy. I was only 16 but I spent my time flirting with Carl the waiter who had a handlebar moustache, was 35 and married, and was in a union and couldn't work more than 6 hours. That's why we the bus girls were hired, to set up, and clean up because we could be exploited for 10 hour runs and think it was wonderful, $1.85 an hour. And they gave us our own uniform—maroon velvet hot pants (short shorts) with a matching vest. I felt very happy in those hot pants. I was young and eager. I was a working girl. I had 20 dollars at the end of the night to spend on new albums and books and Bonne Belle blusher.
In comparison, our bar mitzvah in Tekoa was a no frills affair. Yet, it did receive an upgrade. Just when I had given in to all paper and hot plates serving, I found an innovation in the bar mitzvah game, a gemach, a free loan society just for smachot. Located in a trailer in the nearby town of Alon Shvut, it's like a secret service; you call a number and then somebody calls you back and says that another woman will be in touch with you later in the week to arrange a viewing of the smachot offerings. But of course, I have ordered this service a bit late; I am on a waiting list behind 8 other smachot. I don't even have a name anymore, I'm an event—the Mandell Bar Mitzvah. I thought I had no chance but they did call and on a freezing cold rainy night my son and I drove to the simcha caravan. The lights were out as there was a power shortage the day after snow but the simcha brigade was in full array. Suddenly the simcha lady had a brilliant idea. "We can use the candles we rent out as centerpieces," and we shivered, looking at chafing dishes and centerpieces and apricot and cream tablecloths by candlelight.
Our simcha was not on the level of Katimsky and Tuchman but it was not too shabby. In fact, it was truly wonderful.
Everybody wants to be invited and nobody wants to go, said Jerry Seinfeld about weddings. It's doubly true about bar mitzvahs. But if you are wondering if you should attend a simcha, don't think if you don't come, people won't notice. They will know. Now I regret all of the bar mitzvahs and weddings I didn't go to, even the ones I left early. I see all the effort that's required and I think: maybe I should have gone. Because when people tell me they can't come to my son's bar mitzvah because they have to work I think…quit your job. What could be more important than to share in somebody else's happiness? This is their day. They have arrived at some significant marker and as we all know, not everybody merits to get there. What is a simcha? A simcha is hope. Mazel tov.