I'm looking for a place for my son's upcoming Bar Mitzvah, but venues for a party sure are expensive! Do you have any ideas for how to find a reasonably priced but still great location?
It’s time for you and your family to think outside the box, or, in this case, outside the hotel ballroom. My own Bat Mitzvah was a marvelous celebration that honored exactly who I was at twelve and a half years old with a huge picnic in my parents’ backyard. Though the grand scale Bar Mitzvah is far outside my personal frame of reference, I understand that this is a huge pressure point for many families, and a real (and, in my opinion, unfortunate) example of the meaning of a ritual being subsumed by the commercialism of it.
To answer your question directly, cheaper venue options include community centers, gyms, outdoor spaces with rented tents and basically anywhere that doesn’t advertise itself as a spot for weddings or Bar Mitzvahs. You could also look into the social hall at your synagogue. Other cost saving measures could include limiting the amount of alcohol served (the guest of honor is, after all, underage), going with some variety of canned music instead of live (having a jukebox at my wedding was really, really cool) or having a post-service kiddush or Sunday brunch instead of a Saturday night blowout.
To answer a potential subtext of your question a little less directly, though, I want to turn the questions back to you: What do you want your son to gain from his Bar Mitzvah experience? What are the values you hope he takes with him into adulthood? How can this celebration reflect those answers?
My guess is that your responses to the above are far more insightful than of a bunch of teenagers playing Coke and Pepsi (is that still a thing?) while hired dancers perform in the background. Don’t try to fit your child, your family or your budget into societal constraints. First of all, measured against those standards, your party might not be a success. Second of all, those standards aren’t worth compromising your values.
Yes, your child is going to go to a lot of over-the-top Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations in the coming months. He (or you) may even get some backlash for trying to buck these pressures. But in five or ten years after the party, hopefully he’ll have more substantial take-aways from his Bar Mitzvah than a memory candle collecting dust in the basement or a t-shirt with his name on it. Hopefully, he’ll have the values of his family and his community to carry with him into his Jewish adulthood.