How do I handle life cycle events when I …
… RSVPed “yes” to a wedding in two weeks that would require a full day’s drive to get there. I want to make a last-minute decision in case things are better, but I also don’t want to be those people who bail at the last minute.
… already postponed my daughter’s bat mitzvah from March 2021 to March 2022 because it couldn’t possibly still be this bad a year later, and now we’re getting close, and nothing is close to normal.
… have a bar mitzvah to plan but want to do so responsibly and flexibly given all the uncertainty right now.
… postponed my wedding reception and relatives want to know when we’re going to reschedule.
We Want to Celebrate, But …
For all of your unique celebrations and specific circumstances, the bottom line for each of you will be flexibility and prioritization. Flexibility, because some plans will likely change at the last minute and others won’t be able to be determined at all until the last minute. Prioritization, because for each event, you’ll need to decide what the absolute must-haves are, and what you can more easily let go of along the way.
As a guest or a presumed guest, you should do your best to communicate your intentions. You want to be there, you hope to be there and circumstances may mean that you’re not able to be there. Anyone planning an event right now understands that.
For future invitations that come in, you may decide that the uncertainty of it is too much to bear, and a “no” response is better than the back and forth. But in this case, since you’ve already said yes, the best you can do is try. What looked like “bailing” on an event in 2019 is just part of life in 2022, and no one will fault you for it. If they do, it’s about their (also completely understandable) stress rather than your behavior.
Because of the nature of learning a Torah portion that is only read once a year, “simply” rescheduling might mean waiting a whole year. Talk to your rabbi about your options for smaller in-person services, virtual options if that fits with your Shabbat practice or other potential arrangements. Even if your rabbi hasn’t managed a particular pandemic simcha (celebration) formula, they probably have a colleague who has.
The biggest issue in planning a bar or bat mitzvah right now seems like your child’s feelings about the whole thing. Talk to your kid about what feels most important about this milestone. Provide context for this one moment launching their Jewish adulthood rather than being an endpoint, which means there will be lots of Jewish adult moments to celebrate in the future.
Similar to above, if holding out hope for a big party (or even a small party) feels manageable, great: put the contingencies in place and play it by ear. But if the potential disappointment for canceling something feels worse than not planning it at all, hold off. If you’re able to do the service now, which in most cases you really should be able to do, move ahead with that, and talk to your teen about what other ways you can celebrate at another point in time when there is less COVID-related uncertainty.
The following applies to any of your scenarios, but if other people want you to explain, qualify or concretize your plans, they may be living in a slightly different reality from the one that is producing these questions.
Make sure your relatives know that they’ll be informed as soon as your wedding reception is rescheduled. Tell them the factors are numerous and the disappointment is immense, and you can’t wait to share good news as soon as it’s available. And then, to bring this full circle, as all good life cycle events must do, remember that even when you reschedule, you’ll need to be flexible and prioritize because, COVID or not, those are the characteristics that life requires.
Be well, all of you, and mazel tov,