After canceling a bat mitzvah trip to Israel for their daughter, Danielle, Tricia and Mark Rauch decided that if they couldn't bring their family to Israel, they would bring Israel to Houston. But when Tricia and Danielle began shopping for Israel-themed bat mitzvah invitations, they got very upset.
"We couldn't believe how expensive invitations had become since my last daughter's bat mitzvah two years ago," Tricia said. "I said to Danielle, 'If we're going to be spending this kind of money, at least let's try and find a way to also make it benefit Israel.'"
Tricia called Jewish National Fund (JNF) to find out if she could plant a tree in Israel for each guest invited to Danielle's bat mitzvah. "It turns out JNF has exactly such a program set up already," Tricia said. "The tree certificate is the actual invitation. We had the choice between a number of different bar and bat mitzvah-themed tree certificates and even one for water to help JNF alleviate Israel's water crisis. We wrote the text to appear on the certificates, and now Danielle has a garden in Israel made up of trees planted in honor of each of her 550 bat mitzvah guests."
Trends show that religious celebrations such as bar and bat mitzvahs are more lavish than ever, with the standard expense costing the equivalent of one year's college tuition (Forward "'Today I Am a Master Card': Bar Mitzvahs Break the Bank," Feb. 22, 2002). For most people, though, it is not just a question of how much money they are spending but how they are spending it. Whether planning a big blowout or a more modest affair, invitations that give to charity infuse any simcha with greater significance.
Roni and Arthur Tillem of Atlanta used JNF's Simcha Invitation Program for both their daughters' bat mitzvahs. As members of an Orthodox synagogue where women are not called to the Torah, the Tillems wanted to celebrate their daughters' rites of passage in a way that still had religious and spiritual significance. For Nicole, who just had her bat mitzvah in October, the Tillems planned a family weekend for Parshat Noach at which Nicole gave a dvar Torah based on her studies of the parsha. The theme of the weekend was about choices and Nicole spoke about how it is the ability to make rational choices that distinguishes humans from God's other creatures.
"The tree certificates with doves on them that we used as invitations fit in perfectly with the theme of the weekend," Roni said. "First of all because of the role of the dove in the story of Noach, and second of all, and more important, because they illustrated the choice of giving tzedakah. Given the circumstances in Israel, for the same money you would spend on invitations anyway, why not support Israel in a way that's tangible for your kids, yourself, your friends and your kids' friends."
Both the Tillems and the Rauchs reported on the overwhelmingly positive feedback they received from their unique choice of invitations.
"So many people called and even sent me thank-you notes about what a meaningful and beautiful way to start off the celebration of Danielle's Jewish coming-of-age," said Tricia Rauch. "People were so moved that they in turn bought trees in honor of Danielle."
Roni Tillem mentioned a similar phenomenon: "A number of people took Nicole's initiative and gave trees back to her as gifts. She loved the idea that she had inspired people to give tzedakah and I think she really took away from it a sense of the power of making good choices as well as the feeling that she had been able to do a personal mitzvah for Israel."
"When Danielle goes to Israel she will see what a special thing she did and understand how proud she should be," said Tricia. "Her bat mitzvah didn't just end with a party that had Israeli dancing and a backdrop of the Western Wall, but will always be something living in Israel --there is perpetual significance to her moment of passage from childhood to accepting the responsibilities of adulthood."
To find out more about JNF's Simcha Invitation Program, call (800) 700-1312 ext. 136 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .