There’s a Jewish celebration coming up in your family —
These celebrations create cherished memories for us and our loved ones. They affirm connections between the generations, celebrate children’s growth, bless wonderful relationships, gather extended families, and connect and reconnect us to Jewish traditions and to our communities. But before the happy day arrives, you’ll be faced with the many nitty-gritty decisions that go into hosting a celebration—decisions, again and again, about how to spend money.
Whether you’re planning a small family gathering or a large event, you’ll encounter dozens of choices about how to invite your guests, where they’ll stay, what they’ll eat, and how you’ll celebrate together. This guide can help you make those decisions in light of Jewish values.
Our advice in every chapter is illustrated with real-life stories from families across the Washington area who have found creative ways to celebrate bar and bat mitzvah celebrations, weddings, and commitment ceremonies that exemplify Jewish values.
Your wedding reception can both celebrate love and extend compassion to disadvantaged communities. Your child’s bat mitzvah party can both welcome her into Jewish adulthood and help ensure that she inherits a healthy environment. In an expression of Jewish values —of tzedakah/righteous giving, of modesty, of not wasting, of honoring workers, and of kindness to animals— your dollars can go to work in the world in ways that are both green and just.
The ideas on the pages that follow are gathered from a range of print and online resources and from people here in our local Jewish community. Look in this guide for suggestions that would be a good match for your event, your family, and your community. We know it can be daunting to plan a simchah/celebration, so we’ve broken down what you need to know as you evaluate vendors and make key decisions about the details of your event.
One of the biggest challenges of making conscientious spending decisions is balancing cost against the impact on the world. Sometimes a green choice will cost less than the conventional item or service; in other cases, going green will cost a little bit more. We hope this guide will help you identify the areas that your family cares about most and offer some green and just possibilities that won’t break the bank.
Every family is different. Some will choose to implement many of the ideas in this guide; others will find just a few that speak to them or that turn out to be feasible. Bear in mind Rabbi Tarfon’s advice that “it is not your task to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”
(Mishnah Pirkei Avot 2:21).
- If you are able to choose a venue where workers have a voice on the job —dayeinu/that would be enough!
- If you opt for Fair Trade Certified™ flowers — dayeinu!
- If you help guests share rides there and back — dayeinu!
- If you ask your caterer to use local and organic ingredients — dayeinu!
This is a special time in the life of your family—and a precious opportunity to grow more mindful of the ways that everyday choices can both connect us with our tradition and help us live our values.
You have already been blessed with a reason to celebrate.
Now, use this guide to reflect that blessing outward, into your community, our city, and beyond—by welcoming guests to a celebration filled with meaning!
On one foot ...
Not sure where to start? Consider these five celebration choices that will have a big impact:
1. Choose “greener” papers.
Recycled paper saves trees, water, and energy. Look for recycled papers with the highest possible postconsumer content and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification for any non-recycled content. If you can choose soy-based inks and papers not bleached with chlorine, even better
2. Take the “Just Journeys” pledge.
Honor hotel workers by patronizing hotels where workers have a voice on the job, avoiding hotels involved in a labor dispute, and encouraging your out-of-town guests to strip their beds and leave a tip at the hotel where they stay for your celebration
3. Serve food that doesn’t gobble resources.
Often, the energy used and waste generated by serving meat in quantity just isn’t worth it; consider leaving animal products off the menu with a delicious pareve or dairy celebration meal. Any local or organic ingredients also help to limit your food’s environmental “footprint”
4. Offset the climate impact of travel.
One of the most significant environmental impacts of any celebration is the heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions associated with guests flying and driving to join you. Take stock of that impact using an online carbon calculator, and balance it out with an equivalent donation to renewable energy projects that reduce emissions
5. Help build the world you want to live in.
Use the occasion of your celebration to direct much needed resources to organizations that are helping to build a world that more fully reflects your values. The ceremony or service, speeches, invitations, registries, and centerpieces all present opportunities to include guests in the sacred work of tikkun olam/repairing the world