By Larry Gordon
Having a party can be an exhaustive and expensive undertaking. There are big, lavish parties that seem to have no budget. We’ve all been to weddings and barmitzvahs like that. Twenty-piece bands featuring violins and harps, possibly even different rooms with live music of assorted genres catering to whatever your musical taste might be. We were at one of those affairs a few years ago, where the ba’alsimcha confided in us that the cost of the event—including gowns, hotel rooms, the finest elaborate cuisine, Avraham Fried at the chuppah, and the party itself—was in the $500,000 range.
Sure, you might be thinking that such an event is astounding and possibly mindless and ostentatious in displaying that kind of indulgence. On the other hand, if you can pull it off, why not?
But this is not about those types of rare and unusual events. This is about a unique sensitivity being shown, particularly in this day and age, to the other end of the simchaand celebratory spectrum. This is in part about a 14-year-old ninth-grader who looked around his seventh-grade class and then his eighth-grade class and observed that all the boys were reaching barmitzvah age, but many in a quiet and non-descript fashion; many were not having parties at which relatives and friends could participate at even the most rudimentary and economical level.
Even more serious to this young man was the fuss being made over parties and events celebrating one young man’s great day while from some in the same class there was nothing but silence.
His name is Avi Faivish and he is now going into tenth grade at Mesivta Ateres Yaakov. Together with his parents, Dov and Tzipi, he formed the Bar Mitzvah Fund. In their own quiet way and with maximum discretion, they have raised enough money to fund 40 barmitzvah celebrations over the last two years.
Avi and his dad have met with rosheiyeshiva, rabbanim, and school principals both here in the Five Towns and in Brooklyn to inform them of the existence of the fund and so they can recommend situations in which the fund might be needed. “What can I say? I’m very proud of my son and the sensitivity and consideration he recognized and identified in some of his classmates and peers,” says Dov Faivish.
The father-and-son team tells us that the cost of a bar mitzvah is about $5,000, which covers just about everything you can imagine at a typical barmitzvah party. They have established a website—barmitzvahfund.com—and after this article appears they are anticipating an uptick in funding requests along with people stepping forward to join them in this endeavor to underwrite these celebratory events.
The idea for many is not absolutely so-called free events. The idea of the fund is to provide supplemental funding and bring some parties up to par with others taking place in the class in the course of the year. There are instances where an event of any sort is not affordable and in that case the Bar Mitzvah Fund will fund an entire event.
On the subject of discreetly underwriting and sponsoring these enjoyable type of celebrations, I related to them a similar type project that is run and directed by our columnist Rabbi Yair Hoffman and a contingent of young students at TAG—the Machon Sarah Torah Academy for Girls in Far Rockaway—who last week organized their 40th wedding here in the Five Towns, which my wife and I were pleased to attend, at Congregation Beth Sholom in Lawrence.
The rabbi and the TAG crew do what they do humbly and quietly. Even though I speak to the rabbi almost every day about one matter or another pertaining to this newspaper, it wasn’t until he said about two years ago that he is making his 20th wedding that night that I even knew what he was up to.
The mechanics of how the barmitzvahs and the weddings get done are quite fascinating. Some aspects of what we have learned from both the Faivishes and Rabbi Hoffman are on one level trade secrets, but other aspects are an absolutely extraordinary display of chesed in a most elevated and exceptional fashion.
Both the Bar Mitzvah Fund and wedding projects only heard about one another recently. When I mentioned Rabbi Hoffman’s weddings to Dovi Faivish he said that he had heard about him and that he was interested in meeting him to compare notes.
If and when they get together, I’m certain that the focus of the conversation will be at least twofold. One is, how do you make a full wedding or even a barmitzvah for $5,000 and sometimes less than that, and secondly, if not just as important, where does the money come from?
When I asked young Avi Faivish that question, he offered that he and a few friends make the rounds on Purim collecting money from philanthropic homes to get the project going. He said that last Purim he and a small group of friends managed to cobble together $20,000—all spent on making barmitzvahs for families that otherwise would simply not have one. He added that they recently held a carnival in Brooklyn and they are planning other events in the course of the coming year.
As for Rabbi Hoffman, his efforts are a little less regimented as he prefers the route of putting the money together for a wedding in a more uncertain and chancy way. Whatever the formula, it apparently works and there are two additional weddings scheduled in the near future at Beth Sholom in Lawrence.
While the barmitzvah leads usually originate with a rebbe, teacher, or school official, Rabbi Hoffman says that often the requests for a financed wedding emanate from the young couples themselves. “They want to get married but they realize that their parents simply cannot afford all the trappings and expenses associated with making a wedding today,” Rabbi Hoffman says.
While the students at TAG and Dov and Avi Faivish are the faces behind these efforts, there are many other generous individuals involved in making these events possible. Volunteers set up the ballroom in Beth Sholom so that it looks like any other simcha that is celebrated there—and there are some exquisite affairs that are hosted there.
A group of volunteer women descend on the ballroom on the afternoon of said simcha to set it up—real dishes, cloth napkins, silverware, glasses, and the works. There are real and impressive floral centerpieces provided by a variety of area florists. The food is prepared for the event by local catering establishments. Some of the food is donated, some is furnished at cost. Musicians and photography are either furnished by local professionals or some of their staff are working at minimal cost.
Last week’s wedding—and no, there isn’t a wedding every week—was an impressive and emotional event. “I’m amazed,” said one of the fathers, who will obviously remain anonymous. He says that all he had to do was show up, walk his child to the chuppah, and then dance the night away. “I can tell you this,” he added, “Rabbi Hoffman and the girls of TAG—whom I really don’t know—are both lifesavers and life-givers.”
The father said that the event was, “A to Z chesed,” and that the new couple have a great start on their new life together because of their beautiful wedding that cost both families very little.”
“We couldn’t do this otherwise,” he said, “It just means so much.”
And the same is obviously true of the barmitzvahs; they impact dramatically on the barmitzvah boys and their families who otherwise could not be the focus of such a joyous celebration. Talk about getting off to a good start. It’s difficult to judge if a barmitzvah or a wedding contributes more to a young person’s ability to feel special—if only for that one night—and provides the energy to propel him or her in the direction of a bright and successful future. Probably both.