As I settled into my seat in the jam-packed sanctuary, I realized in a flash that it’s happened again: We weren’t invited to another bar mitzvah. Not the one happening that morning, of course, but one in a few weeks—the daughter of the close friends who had just made room for us to join them in the second to last row. Quickly doing the math, I counted that we were only six weeks away, as I’ve known the date of their bat mitzvah for years. An invitation to the upcoming event probably should have made its way to us by then, if it was going to at all. And apparently, it wasn’t.
Actually, I’d be less surprised if we were invited to the bat mitzvah that was happening that morning. We were friendlier once, when our younger kids were in preschool together, though we never were all that close. But I saw that it was their older child’s turn, and I was happy to be part of the community there supporting her. I kissed and congratulated my friend in the lobby after the service; her daughter had done well. It was entirely appropriate for the level of friendship we’ve maintained over the years.
The one I realized we’d be missing, though? That one was a shock. That one hurt more. We’d known the family since before either of us had children. And while our kids hadn’t necessarily been close—being a year older or younger, going to different schools—I always felt we were a part of each other’s experiences of raising Jewish children. We’d shared Shabbat and holiday dinners; we were on each other’s short list of people to call for a favor or listen about a problem. But somehow, that wasn’t enough.
There have been others over the years, now that my kids are getting older. Sometimes they were a kind of “half-invite”—an email, or even an official invitation without a response card, a “come to the service since we know you’ll probably be there anyway, but not the party” kind of thing (goodness knows the gift etiquette then). Sometimes we’d even discussed the family’s party angst in detail over kiddush lunch, and then, somehow, the day came and we weren’t invited.
We’re planning our own simcha now, and just like I’m sure many people do, we have the expansive list, and then made a more selective version. When my husband and I looked at the pared down list, it mostly made us sad. While our budget isn’t unlimited, we want to celebrate this special day in our family with as many people as we can, and we’ll use that bias for planning our event. You know, the “more people, fewer appetizers” approach.
We hear so much today about FOMO—the fear of missing out—often in the context of middle school kids posting things on Instagram and clearly leaving out certain kids. So we talk about it with our kids, encourage them to be kind. Our middle school even has a policy banning bar mitzvah-related swag from being worn immediately after an event, so as to minimize the hurt feelings of uninvited kids.
But there’s no policy on how to handle the feelings of adults who are legitimately sad at being left out. For the most part, I’m thankful that social media has strengthened my ties to the Jewish community. But in this case, maybe I’ll want to avoid social media myself the morning after, so I’m not hurt again as those celebratory photos surface. Or maybe I’ll be checking their profile often, wanting to click “Like” and support them, at least in the afterglow.
Of course, every family has a different set of circumstances and different expectations for the day. Decisions have to be made, and I’m sure our friends have reasons for their decisions. But now, with the lack of an invitation, a decision had been made for me. Though I’d pictured our friends celebrating alongside us, and us alongside them, I guess we’ll be able to afford a few more knishes on my daughter’s big day. I’d forgo them all, though, to have made this turn out another way.