The problem Francisco Velazquez, a 14-year-old freshman at Balboa High
School was having, brought to mind an issue that I had been thinking
about: people cause themselves suffering for fear of losing social
In Velazquez's school there are two lunch lines. One line is for kids
that get subsidized lunch with foods mandated by the federal government.
While the students that pay stand on another line and are offered a
totally different menu.
This system publicly divides the haves from the have-nots and Francisco
Velazquez is not interested in being tagged as a have-not. Being seen
with a subsidized meal lowers your status. Francisco can't afford to buy
lunch, therefore he doesn't eat lunch.
This reminded me of a conversation I had while sitting at the
smorgasbord of a wedding. I didn't know either side of the wedding party
very well, but I helped raise money for the wedding so I thought it was
only right for me to show up and wish the family Mazal Tov.
I turned to the person next to me and asked him who he was related to at
this wedding. To which he answered, "Neither side, I just helped out
here with money so they can afford the wedding and I felt I wanted to
come and say Mazal Tov."
It then dawned on me that many people earn enough money for daily
expenses, yet they still want additional help when making a wedding. The
extra help is needed because of the fear - the same fear that students
like Velazquez have - of not being able to be like others.
The real question is why do we allow ourselves to feel forced to make
weddings and Bar Mitzvahs that are beyond what we can afford?
The trappings we can't afford are not what make a wedding Kosher. For a
wedding to be kosher all you need is a Kosher Rabbi, two kosher
witnesses, a Minyan/required quorum of ten men and a Seudah/festive
meal. All the rest is not necessary for couple to be married, and for
that matter is no guarantee for a happy marriage. It is certainly not
part of the Mitzvah to go into debt when planning a joyous occasion.
In fact, the less financial strain on the couple and their parents, the
more likely it is that the marriage starts off on the right foot. When
there is so much financial strain and tension the marriage can start off
There's the matter of the overdone pictures and video, music, clothing,
decor and of course, my pet peeve: the guests.
My favorite line about this topic is one that I've often said, "When you
make a wedding, you invite those who you feel obligated to invite but
don't really want, they don't feel they want to come, but don't want to
say no, so they come and then they sit at your wedding and leave before
the main course because they don't feel obligated to you in any way."
There has been some relief in our communities about this issue with the
growing popularity of Simchas Chosson V'Kallah (instead of being invited
to the whole meal people are invited to partake in the dancing with the
bride and groom), but a greater change is possible and necessary.
The other day I came across an article that spoke of a change in a
This community has accepted self imposed restrictions regarding the
lavishness of the joyous occasions that they celebrate - starting from
the L'Chaim/engagement party through the Sheva Brochos (the seven
festive days after the wedding). These restrictions were made so that
everyone who makes a wedding still feels on par with everyone else and
not inferior. The married couple gets what everyone else gets. I think
this change is one that we can all learn from.
Do we really need to go into debt for our children's Bar Mitvah's and
weddings to make our children feel special on their special day? Is it
the menu that makes our kids feel special? The band?
I know someone who gives an equal amount of charity for whatever he pays
for his child's Bar Mitzvah or wedding. Therefore he's careful with what
he spends. He knows he has to afford double. It also gives him and his
children a chance to focus on priorities and remember those who are less
In this time that we all feel the strain of paying rent/mortgages and
paying tuition perhaps it's a good time for us to realize that - like
Francisco Velazquez - people don't want to be singled out for not being
able to afford what others can. Maybe now the time is ripe to follow
this group of Chassidim and collectively cut back on the unnecessary
expenses we can't afford.