Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
‘Tis the season of invitations and gift trolling. Many are for B’nai
Mitzvahs, which I recognize as an important rite of passage, though
some of these children turned 13 back in autumn, but apparently
needed the extra six months to learn the prayers and Hebrew. Some
are from colleagues for their children and others from seemingly
random synagogue members. The other half are about weddings,
which is a huge commitment and I honor (having failed myself). But
when I get an invite from second cousins in states across the country,
I feel more like I’ve been asked to contribute to the newlyweds’
coffers, and less like a valued relative. I‘m just your average middle-
aged, middle-class guy. I have family of my own that I support and
gift. What are the limits, beyond a polite No thank you?
Dear Not Moneybags:
Any invitation can be responded to with a polite note of No, thanks. I
wish you all the best, though it tends to be less blunt if accompanied
with some personal thoughts and good wishes enough to fill up a note
card. Only you can decide which of these to accept, but here’s some
baselines to consider, which can be augmented as much as you like for
people whom you genuinely love.
For B’nai Mitzvahs for children you do not personally know well, decide
on a book or two and give it with good wishes. I’d vote for something
about Jewish heritage, perhaps even a Holocaust memoir, and/or
something about Jewish values aimed at teens. You might even enjoy
sorting through the options. Then give exactly the same gift to each of
these young people, so there is no interpretive comparison.
For newlyweds, I give the same thing to each married couple, and you
are welcome to appropriate the ritual: a wooden soup ladle,
accompanied by a note about the importance of good nourishment and
nourishing communication as the key to a long-lasting relationship.
Again, for those you genuinely know and like, you can decide what
more is appropriate, even a cookbook or a stockpot.