Party Streamlining A bar or bat mitzvah celebration can be fun without spending a fortune

(Provided)

(Provided)

Next to a wedding, a child’s bar  or bat mitzvah is one of the most  important days in his or her life, but it can also be one of the most costly. Families are faced with the challenge of planning a party that is entertaining and memorable, but also does not break the bank.

Take it from b’nai mitzvah parent Laurie Schimmel, who went into the event planning business three years ago for her daughter’s bat mitzvah.

“I think most people don’t know what they’re getting into until they start,” she said.” They don’t know what a realistic budget is.”

Schimmel works for Baltimore’s R&R events, which plans a variety of corporate and social functions. They coordinate each individual element of the celebration depending on how much help a family needs.

“We’re kind of like a boutique,” she said.”Some people come to us and are like ‘I only have $1,500 to spend,’ and we give them what we can for $1,500.”

Schimmel said R&R plans at least 50 mitzvah celebrations each year, and in some cases there are three on one day. She begins the planning process by meeting with the family and determining what their budget is and what elements of the party are most important. Schimmel said most families do not remember the food they ate but only whether they enjoyed themselves at a party.

“I am a firm believer that entertainment is what matters at the end of the night,” she said. “Having crab cakes is not the most important thing. Making it enjoyable for adults and kids is the most important thing.”

Schimmel also said it is better not to pick a theme for a child’s mitzvah celebration too early because his or her interests may change in a short period of time.

“One minute your child loves a sparkle, and six to eight months out we present the sparkle to the child and they’re like, ‘I hate that,’” she said.

Theme parties may be becoming a trend of the past when it comes to mitzvah celebrations, said Lorin Kotz of the Owings Mills planning company Celebrations.

“Themes are really nonexistent at this point,” she said. “People are not being very ‘themey’ these days. It’s really about sticking with colors or making it feel like a club.”

Kotz said a more popular option she is noticing is for kids to create a customized logo using their initials and incorporate it throughout the décor.

“I will say as a planner I kind of miss the themes,” she said. “They allow us to be a little more creative.”

Kotz said Celebrations caters an  average of 15 mitzvah celebrations each year and can fit any type of budget, but smaller celebrations are the way to go for families on a tight one.

“The number of people that you have is the easiest way to increase or lower your budget because each person that you have has to pay for that catering, a chair, et cetera.”

Schimmel said many families spend outside their means on elements  such as dresses they will only wear once and end up going into debt. She cautions families to not become caught up in what others are doing for their celebrations.

“You don’t know what you’re comparing budgets to,” she said. “They may have had a $10,000 budget, and you have a $2,000 budget.”

To see how one hotel is attempting to counter this “family competition” aspect of bar and bat mitzvah celebrations, one need travel to the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, Mass., which recently created a “Smart Mitzvah” package. It consists of a digital director, live video feed, a frozen yogurt bar and “Beverage  Genius” among other things. General manager Alex Attia said this has been in the works for the past year and thinks this will allow families to destress when it comes to planning a celebration.

“We can make it very easy for you,” he said. “Here are some options without you getting too stressed about it.”

Attia said the package ranges  between $90 and $150 per person  depending on what kinds of elements the family wants.

Schimmel said in planning her daughter’s bat mitzvah she enjoyed every aspect of the planning process but had to remind herself to only  invite guests she was close to. She said a common mistake among bar and bat mitzvah families is to invite too many guests who do not know the child or the family well.

“I would never have a party that was just a kid party, but I also want people who I will say hi to,” she said.

In two years, Schimmel will celebrate her son’s bar mitzvah and, said she is even more prepared. She  emphasized that families must  remember that the celebration is about their child and not the parents.

“In our industry we sometimes have three parties a day and we have to make someone feel their party  is the only one that’s important,”  she said.

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

Dealing with Disability Special needs b’nai mitzvahs face own set of challenges

Evan and Jacob Burman

Evan and Jacob Burman

Having special needs, whether cognitive, developmental or physical, doesn’t exclude children and their families from wanting to make b’nai mitzvah, but it does make it more challenging.

Lori and David Burman have two sons, Jacob, 16 and Evan, 13. Evan had his bar mitzvah this past August, despite struggling with dyslexia. But Lori said that many of the challenges they had to overcome started with her older son, Jacob, who had his bar mitzvah several years ago.

“Each Sunday, we were putting him in classes learning Hebrew, and it wasn’t working,”  said Burman, who attends Columbia Jewish Congregation.

Burman added that her son attended a school that had smaller classes and specialized  instruction for students with special needs  during the week. After much frustration, she  eventually had a conversation with a family therapist, Sue Finkelstein.

“She said, ‘What are you doing? Pull him out of Sunday school and tutor him,’” said Burman. “I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ I’ve never had any friends who said Sunday school didn’t work.”

Finkelstein added that she doesn’t necessarily support children being pulled out of Hebrew school, but if they are creating strong  negative associations with Hebrew school, then that is more harmful to their Jewish identity then being removed.

Ian Cohen

Ian Cohen

She recommended Bill Bronstein, a tutor with more than 40 years of experience teaching  students with special needs in both religious and secular environments.

“You hear so many people say, ‘Here is the  material and how I teach, so the child better learn it,” said Bronstein. “I’m not just teaching the  subject, I get to know the student and what their likes are and adapt my teaching toward that.”

But what surprised Burman the most was that Bronstein didn’t teach her sons to memorize their haftorah and Torah sections; he taught them to read Hebrew properly. Bronstein added that  although Evan and Jacob both learned differently, they both got a grasp on Hebrew as a language, which he was proud of because he never allowed them to fall back on transliteration.

Ultimately, what made the difference for  Burman was taking a different route than the crowd. Burman said CJC was always supportive of her family’s choices and that she is grateful to them for allowing her to go a different route.

“I think [making b’nai mitzvah] can be an  individualized experience, and [it’s important to set] goals that are relevant for the family,” said Rachel Turniansky, director of disability and  inclusion services at the Macks Center for  Jewish Education. “And not to think about the standard, but to create something that is  meaningful for everybody.”

CJE is an educational arm of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, and Turniansky works to help students with developmental, cognitive and physical disabilities make b’nai mitzvah.

While dyslexia doesn’t fall under any of these categories, autism does, and creating an  individualized experience is what Fern and Sam Cohen’s son, Ian, will do to celebrate his bar mitzvah.

The Cohens have three kids: Josh, 16, Rachel, 10 and Ian, 13. After Josh’s bar mitzvah, they  decided to move to CJC because they heard about how accommodating it is for special needs students.

“[Ian] has a lot of anxiety so we decided to have a family aliyah,” said Fern Cohen, who is also an instructor at CJC’s Hebrew school. “We’ll have a Kiddush luncheon afterward, and hopefully sometime later in life he’ll want a  traditional bar mitzvah.”

Cohen said that a part from creating a unique bar mitzvah, some of the preparation has had its own challenges. She recalled when she, Ian and Rabbi Sonya Starr were going to meet, but Ian refused to go to the meeting.

“I said to Ian, ‘Where can we have the  meeting so you’ll come?’” said Cohen. “He has his favorite restaurant, it’s called Expectation, so the rabbi came to the restaurant, and we had the meeting there.”

Cohen hopes Ian will be active in BBYO and birthright as well as have a more traditional bar  mitzvah, but for the time being, she and her  husband are more concerned about him being comfortable in whatever ceremony he does  participate.

Said Cohen, “We figured the best approach is to not force him to do anything that will make him nervous.”

 

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Bat mitzvahs around the world

Bat mitzvahs are a common occurrence in countries such as the United States and Israel, but what about Bolivia, Honduras and Cochabamba?

“Today I am a women: Stories of Bat Mitzvah around the world” by Barbara Vinick and Shulamit Reinharz shares different stories of bat mitzvahs held from a variety of backgrounds.

The stories give context to how bat mitzvahs have evolved not only from country to country, but also through time, as it shares celebrations from World War II Italy and the first bat mitzvah held at the only synagogue in Indonesia.

The stories use testimonies and evocative photos to give the reader a real sense of what a bat mitzvah felt like in that time period and location.

Both Vinick and Reinharz are professors at Brandeis University and wrote the book as a part of the work done by the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute. Vinick has studied  gendered rituals in Jewish communities worldwide, and Reinharz is the director of  HBI and a sociology professor.

 

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

All the help you need

102315_Insider_ScoopPlannerPutting aside the fact you are catering mostly to teenagers, planning a bar or bat mitzvah is similar to planning a wedding.

Where are you holding the ceremony? What kind of food are you serving? Do you have a photographer? It can all be summed up in one word: stressful.

“The Bar and Bat Mitzvah Planner” by Emily Haft Bloom and Sheri Giblin takes all of the steps to planning the big day and breaks it down into manageable tasks.

The book focuses to please all people involved with the bar mitzvah process from the parents and kids to the rabbis.

It reminds you about all the details from as small as the flowers to as large as the venue where you are holding the event.

While planning the party may be on the guest of honor’s mind, the book doesn’t forget the spiritual aspects of the ceremony.

Lastly, you know you’re getting advice from someone who has been in your shoes, as Bloom was in the thick of planning a second bar mitzvah at the time the book was published.

 

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Making Magic

Rabbis often speak of the magic of Torah, but one local bar mitzvah boy took the sentiment to heart and brought Torah lessons and sleight of hand to residents of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Village.

Natan Gamliel

Natan Gamliel

Natan Gamliel, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Krieger Schechter Day School who lained three aliyot and the haftorah at his bar mitzvah service last May, knew he wanted to do something different for his mitzvah service project. He combined his love of Judaism and his passion for magic tricks into three presentations for seniors focusing on Torah and holidays.

According to rabbis, cantors and educators who work with children preparing for their bar and bat mitzvahs — and the service projects that tend to go with them — projects in general are getting more creative and can serve as ways for boys and girls to express their individuality.

“At Chizuk Amuno they encourage you to do gemilut chasadim and community outreach,” said Jenny Gamliel, Natan’s mother. “As our family started to talk we wanted to go beyond the collect-something-and-distribute-it kind of thing. We wanted Natan to have a connection with the people he would help.”

“Weinberg Village is a place for elderly people, and I wanted the opportunity to bring some joy to their day; a lot of time they’re alone in the day,” added Natan. Through the lessons, “I could brighten a few people’s day.”

The magic tricks, often a card trick or in one instance putting a resident’s phone inside a balloon, were an effective ice breaker before proceeding into the lesson.

“It was a great interactive piece,” said Natan, “to have them involved and bring their guard down so it’s not just, ‘Oh, it’s some 13-year-old coming here to teach us.’”

In the lesson portion of his presentations, Natan would present a Torah or holiday teaching. For Purim, he summarized the Megillah and recounted the customs and traditions of the holiday. As in school, Natan followed up with trivia and a question-and-answer portion to ensure that his senior students were paying attention.

“I was responsible for thinking of the magic tricks, and I also thought of the basic topic we would discuss,” said Natan. Then, together with his father Ziv, Natan would go online and look up commentary and craft lessons in a way everyone could understand.

Said Weinberg activities director Gayle Newman: “We have had several students come and do their bar and bat mitzvah projects here, so we were thrilled to have him. He was poised and presented his material very well. … He certainly is a talented young man.”

Natan also had the opportunity to serve meals with residents as part of their Eating Together program that runs four times a week and is always looking for volunteers, according to Newman.

Reflecting on what he got out of the project, Natan said, “Aside from delving deeper into what I was explaining, I learned how to present, how to be clear and audible for an entire audience. I learned how difficult it is and how rewarding it is when it’s over.”

He also had occasion to reflect on his day school education.

“It made me very grateful for the education I have,” said Natan. “A lot of people are just learning about these things or are hearing about them for the first time in a very long time.”

“I know walking in cold is not something he’s confident in. This pushed him outside of his comfort zone, but he knew it was important to do,” said his mother. “I was very proud of him for that.”

Outside of volunteering, Natan loves creating three dimensional objects out of Legos, paper, cardboard — “basically lots of hot glue and tape,” he said. He participates in sports and plays guitar and piano.

His love for magic began at a birthday party when among the party favors was a deck of cards. He went home and learned from videos onYouTube and a few magic books. His family, including younger siblings Aviad, Lior and Gilad, act as his test audience.

“I can practice with my family because they won’t run and tell the world how I did [a trick], and I can get notes on showmanship,” said Natan.

Natan hopes to combine volunteering with magic as he moves on to high school.

mapter@jewishtimes.com

Party Hardy

102414_insider_party_hardy

Heidi Hiller (right), owner of Innovative Party Planning in Owings Mills, and her event planner, Tally Johnstone, show off an assortment of custom decorations.
(David Stuck)

When it was time for his bar mitzvah, Zachary Stein, son of a successful Hollywood talent agent, was given a “Titanic”-themed bar mitzvah party. The affair, which cost a half-million dollars, featured a model of the Titanic with the words, “Mazel tov, Zachary” scrawled on the front of the ship. Among other wacky gimmicks, the party featured a wet T-shirt contest and a rap-version of “Hava Nagila” performed by a famous hip-hop artist. Zachary entered the party announcing, “I’m king of the Torah!” But relax. It’s only a movie. Still, “Keeping up with the Steins,” a 2006 comedy that pokes fun at the over-the-top b’nai mitzvah celebrations that have become commonplace in the past several decades, is not all that far from the truth in some affluent Jewish communities. For the rest of us, however, money (and taste) tend to be important considerations. An array of Baltimore event professionals have some advice on keeping costs down while still having an event that reflects the personality of the b’nai mitzvah child.

“Find out what events actually cost,” says Heidi Hiller of Innovative Party Planning in Owings Mills. “Before you enter into a contract, make sure you read it and understand what isn’t covered. So many go into contracts thinking only about the rental of the place, the food, and the alcohol. That’s only half the cost of an event. The other half quickly adds up. Depending upon the kind of entertainment, dècor, photographs … sometimes those things cost more than 50 percent. Break it all down and then prioritize.”

Caterer Charles Levine, who owns Charles Levine Caterers and Glorious Kosher, agrees. “It’s all about priorities,” he says. “When someone calls us, we talk philosophy. We need to know, ‘What’s your vision? What is the most important element to you? Where do you want to put your money?’”

Once priorities are set, Levine says that going with a full-service caterer will ensure high-quality food and excellent service. Because he is familiar with local venues and experienced with so many different types of events, Levine says his staff can “lead the party,” sometimes making a party planner unnecessary. And since he has strong relationships with other vendors, he may be able to advise families on where to get the best prices on items such as party favors.

“Staff is not negotiable,” says Levine. “Staff makes the party.”

Levine also notes that clients may save money by holding a party in the time between meals. “We can do a great dessert and cocktail party, or late night hors d’oeuvres,” he says. “Maybe they don’t need to rent an expensive space, or maybe they can limit the number of people they invite,” he adds.

Among the b’nai mitzvah-related costs that clients often forget to take into consideration, says Hiller, are synagogue and party attire for the bar or bat mitzvah and other members of the immediate family. At Jan’s Boutique, in Cherry Hill, N.J., owner Paul Virilli’s staff always begins customers’ searches for the perfect bat mitzvah dress by asking them if they are on a budget. “We don’t assume that everyone wants to spend $5,000 on a dress,” says Virilli, who notes that his store carries dresses at price points from $99 to $4,000. “No matter where you shop, let them know your budget. An intelligent sales staff will keep you within your budget.” Virilli also encourages shoppers to go to stores that offer many options and to take their time. “Don’t rush the decision. We are the biggest store in the region, and we love it when customers look around.”

Hiller also urges clients to comparison shop. “Some venues include more than others. Do your homework!” If families are looking for ways to decrease costs, she suggests omitting party favors. “Maybe they don’t need that. You can use the D.J. giveaways instead. Be creative. If you or someone in your family has some special talent, maybe you can do some of the dècor by yourselves. “Remember, when it comes to dècor, you pay for labor, materials and creativity. Do whatever you can do ahead of time. Otherwise, you’ll be forced to pay for things you might have been able to do yourself.”

Bat Mitzvah girl one day, bar or bat mitzvah guest another … and another … and another…
Once Jewish children reach the age of 12 or 13, in addition to their own bar or bat mitzvah, chances are they will be attending many of their friends’ b’nai mitzvah celebrations as well. Being fashionably dressed for all those parties can cost a small fortune. Thankfully, help is on the way.

On Sunday, Dec. 7, from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Join for Teens, in collaboration with CHANA, will sponsor a “Priceless” dress event at the Mitchell David Teen Center in Owings Mills. The event will offer brand new special-occasion dresses for girls at no charge. For additional information, visit JoinTeens.org.

Tasty Trending

©iStockphoto.com/marzena_cytacka

©iStockphoto.com/marzena_cytacka

The days of bar mitzvah bagel brunches and backyard pizza parties are over. From cupcake trucks to chocolate fountains, bar mitzvahs have gotten bigger and grander in the Baltimore area.

“I have seen crazy things at bar mitzvahs,” says Linwoods restaurant sous-chef Abby Chaconas. “We have had people rent out the entire restaurant, hire their own sushi bars and bring in ice sculptures. At one of our off-premise bar mitzvahs, the family hired Justin Bieber as a performer.”

Offering both on-and off-premise catering services, Linwoods, located in Owings Mills, serves an upscale menu to satisfy even the pickiest of bar mitzvah families. With a huge emphasis on off-premise catering, Linwoods hires specific chefs to work only on outside events.

“We tailor the menu to meet the family’s needs,” says Chaconas. “We have plenty of vegetarian, gluten-free and vegan options as well. People have been getting fancier though. People used to order burgers, and now they ask for tenderloin.”

As dietary trends like gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian cuisines become more in vogue, Mt. Washington Tavern event coordinator Mary Booker adjusts the menu as needed to ensure every guest walks away happy.

“We start with the host’s vision and budget and work backward,” says Booker. “We have seen more and more dietary restrictions recently. While some have finger food on the kid’s menus, others have completely vegetarian bar mitzvahs.”

With social media on the rise, Booker comments that some tech savvy hosts are developing their menus based on internet searches.

“Many people bring in pictures of food they see on Pinterest and Instagram and ask us to make it,” says Booker. “Catering has definitely come into the 21st century.”

Searching for something sweet? Look no further than Iced Gems.

The Baltimore-based company specializes in cupcakes, cakes, cookies and desserts. The winner of the 2014 Taste of Three Cities, Iced Gems creates a wide range of mouth-watering treats using organic milk, free-range eggs and sugar. Cupcakes have exploded in popularity in recent years, so it is no surprise that Iced Gems owner and baker Christine Richardson has noticed an increasing number of customers selecting cupcakes as the finale to the bar mitzvah meal. Gluten-free and vegan cupcakes are also available, ensuring that everyone enjoys dessert regardless of dietary restrictions.

“We offer over 210 cupcake flavors, from chocolate-dipped twinkie to strawberry fudge sundae,” says Richardson. “We have noticed that more people choose cupcakes over cakes. Cupcakes are more portable. You can take them home with you instead of waste half a cake.”
Richardson also creates tons of themed cakes that are special ordered for bar mitzvahs.

“Last week, we created an EMT ambulance cake for a bar mitzvah,” she says. “We also offer 15 to 20 celebration cakes. If you dream it, we can bake it.”

Joining the food truck frenzy, Richardson owns two of her own trucks and brings them to bar mitzvah parties. She parks the trucks in front of the ballroom and guests line up outside to receive their desserts.

“Food trucks are insanely popular,” she says. “They bring an extra layer of excitement to the parties.”

Many catering companies offer exclusive dessert packages and tailor-made dessert tables.

“Every menu for every one of our parties is unique,” says Booker of Mount Washington Tavern. “Last week, we had a dessert table filled with caramel apples, s’more sundaes, mixed berry crisps and an assortment of cakes. You never know what you will find.”

Looking for a healthy dessert option? Edible Arrangements has made waves customizing healthy desserts. Since 1999, the company has been creating fruit concoctions that mimic flower bouquets. With representatives in Pikesville, Owings Mills and Randallstown, the nationwide company has become increasingly popular at Baltimore b’nai mitzvot for their delicious, beautiful centerpieces and fruit-filled dessert tables.

“It is a more healthy approach to dessert,” says Edible Arrangements Pikeville store manager Sylvia Buckson.

According to Buckson, “one of our most popular spreads for bar mitzvahs is our fruit festival. The spread includes pineapple daisies, strawberries, honeydew, cantaloupe, grapes and orange slices.”

For those with a sweet tooth, Edible Arrangements also offers creations covered in chocolate and other toppings.

“We dip our fruit in chocolate, sprinkles and other fun toppings,” says Buckson. “Why not make fruit fun?”

Well, there you have it folks. If you dream it, Baltimore caterers will cook it. Bon Appetite! And Mazel Tov!

afreedman@jewishtimes.com

My Extravagant Bar Mitzvah Party

The author’s bar mitzvah party was expensive, but the joy of reconnecting and partying with friends and family was priceless.

It was 16-and-a-half years ago, but I can remember my bar mitzvah like it was yesterday.

My brother and I played guitar on the concluding song to close out the service, we had an oneg afterward and then had a few hours until what I’m sure my friends considered the main event: the party.

The religious significance of the day wasn’t lost on me. I very much enjoyed Hebrew school at Temple Emanuel in Reisterstown. I had a lot of friends there, the teachers were great and we spent a lot of time discussing the philosophical and present-day implications of Jewish thought.

That being said, I’d be lying if I downplayed how pumped I was about my epic party.

Looking back, the whole event seems a bit ridiculous, considering it was a party for a 13-year-old. My father, Gary, recalls the whole thing running about $22,000.

To be fair, my party was no more or less extravagant than any of those of my friends or my brother’s friends. And with my brother being three years older and my birthday being in July, by the time my party came around, we had a lot of parties to compare it to. There are even a few I remember that were significantly fancier and arguably pricier than mine.

As my father explains to me: “If you look at Worthington Park, the area which a lot of your friends lived, that kind of socioeconomic class, that party was in line with what everybody was doing,” referring to the upper-middle class Owings Mills neighborhood I grew up in.

“I don’t think we were trying to outdo [anyone] but we certainly had the consciousness of keeping up, which is ridiculous, but you only know that later,” my mother, Sally, says.

So what exactly jacked up the cost of the party so much? For one, we rented a ballroom at the Hunt Valley Marriott, something I imagine isn’t the cheapest. While I can’t recall what exactly we had to eat, I know there were multiple courses, and I think the appetizers were served buffet-style. We hired a group called “Heart to Heart” that included a DJ, dancers and an emcee. Unbeknownst to me until I got there, my parents got my band a stage to perform on. My brother and I performed Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” with a cousin on drums and then played several original songs with our band, Titanium Vortex. My parents had custom T-shirts made for the band, and I crowd- surfed during our performance.

Oh, and there were about 150 guests. I remember inviting about 40 or 50 friends, with little objection from my parents. The adults most likely had an open bar and the caterer made a guitar cake.

My mom did make the signing board, where friends and family could write messages to me, and she made the centerpieces as well.

“At that point, that was nothing,” my mom says, in terms of cost-saving.

Each table was a different band I was into at the time. We scanned album covers or stickers I had, and my mom printed them out onto foam board for the centerpieces. My table was Ozzy Osbourne — as you might have gathered, I was really into Ozzy at the time.

Although both of my parents agree the party was extravagant, they have different takes on what — if anything — they would have done differently.

“I don’t know if I can look back and say I even regret it,” my dad says. “I think you would have been very disappointed if you didn’t have a party like that.” He does feel, however, that religious aspect of the bar mitzvah was somewhat lost on me because of the party.

My mom says she would scale things down significantly if she were to do it again.

“My feeling is, if I were to do it again, I would have a beautiful oneg for the throngs of people we had and then at night just have a kid’s birthday party,” she says. “It was a weekend event. We had a full lunch oneg after the service. We had the extravagant party at night and then the next day we had brunch for 70 people.”

I’ll admit that the cost of the endeavor was completely lost on me at the time, and since it was something everybody did, it didn’t strike me as extravagant. In retrospect, I’m grateful my parents made it happen. Even though I’m 29 now, it’s still one of the best parties I’ve ever been to.

We were also left with a lot of good memories.

“The one positive thing about a big party, whether it’s lavish or in the backyard … people who don’t see each other much anymore because families are so spread out get together,” my mom says.

Having moved from New York to Maryland in 1990, we had a lot of friends and family come in from out of town. I also consider myself extremely lucky that all four of my grandparents were alive and well then (my grandfathers have since passed away).

So, now knowing the cost that went into my bar mitzvah party, do I wish my parents did something different? Absolutely not. All of my friends and family from near and far gathered for the day, and in some cases the weekend, and had a great time reconnecting and partying together. You can’t really put a price on that.

Then again, I wasn’t the one footing the bill.

mshapiro@jewishtimes.com

Sprucing Up the Modern Simcha

If the words “kosher catering” conjure up visions of bland and unhealthy food, and memories of bar and bat mitzvahs past still haunt you, remember that planning your upcoming celebration doesn’t have to be a monotonous process full of seen-it-befores or tried-that-onces. With the help of creative kosher catering professionals — or by simply looking within yourself — your special day can be one of a kind.

By including yourself in the process of creating (not just planning) your event, it automatically creates a more personal feeling. One way to do this is by making invitations by hand, which allows control over color scheme, font and design; you can make the invitation an extension of your celebration’s theme or personal interests. Imbuing the invitation with your personal style makes the atmosphere both more memorable and more meaningful.

Rebecca Friedman of Asheville, N.C.-based Farmer’s Daughter Catering suggests crafting your own table centerpieces as a way to infuse personality into the event’s ambiance. She also mentions that many clients want to work with the party planner, rather than allowing the planner to have total control.

Others may break from the traditional style of first having a cocktail hour and then a formal dinner for weddings or from having separate meals for adults and kids.

“When working with a client, I always ask them what they’re envisioning with regard to the flow of the celebration,” says Ellen Vaknine, vice president of sales of marketing for New York City’s Espirit Events kosher caterer.

Even for the parents who do choose to have “kid food,” Vaknine suggests updating the presentation with funky touches. Soup can be served in eggshell bowls, and kebob skewers can be made from bamboo.

Friedman suggests looking into old family recipes that can be used as part of the catering menu. That will create a catering menu that many guests haven’t seen before, and relatives will enjoy the sentiment.

Whether it is through personalizing decorations or bypassing traditional kosher fare, party planning doesn’t have to be dreaded and stressful. With just a little bit of creativity, and by recognizing exactly what you want for your special day, you can make your dream simcha a reality.

Flashback: Jenny Seidman

102414_insider_flashback1Although she says most of the details of her 1981 bat mitzvah party are fuzzy, there is one thing that native Baltimorean Jenny Seidman and probably most of her young guests remember clearly. Radio icon and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Sarah Fleischer of Baltimore’s 98 Rock was her DJ! Seidman became a bat mitzvah at Beth El Congregation, and her party was held at the clubhouse at Cross Keys. Now, Seidman, who grew up in Stevenson, lives in Owings Mills with her husband, Jon Seidman, also a lifelong Baltimorean.

Insider: How did you end up getting Sarah to DJ your bat mitzvah party?
Seidman: My mother was her fifth-grade teacher.

Tell us something about what you have been doing since you were 13?
Let’s see … I graduated Pikesville High School in 1986 and then went to college at University of Hartford in Connecticut.

What was your major?
Mass communications. That major worked well for me because after college I had jobs where communication was a necessary skill.

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(David Stuck)

What are you doing now?
I am senior human resources and wellness associate at The Associated. I have worked there for more than seven years. Prior to my current position, I worked in the marketing department as an account executive.

What’s your favorite part about your position?
It would have to be the people. I’m a real people person.

Where can we find you when you’re not at work?
The JCC is my home away from home. I exercise there. My current favorite class is Sculpt Barre.

Guilty Pleasure?
I love watching “Scandal” or anything by Shonda Rhimes.