An interesting letter appears in this week's Yated. A writer from Lakewood writes to complain how every time a cousin or someone else makes a simcha in Brooklyn, that the Lakewood residents are expected to travel the two to three hours (and incur the costs) that it takes to get to Brooklyn.
Since when did Lakewood become one of the five boroughs of New York City?
“Huh?” you want to ask me. “Who said it is?
Well, I’ll tell you who said it is. It seems, based on current custom, that for every event - wedding, bar mitzvah, bris, sheva brachos, etc. - held in Brooklyn or anywhere else in New York for that matter, those who live in Lakewood - young couples and older families as well - are expected to commute. I find that ridiculous.
Who decided that people should be traveling for at least 2-1/2 hours to attend every simcha of every cousin?
Besides for the shlep, how about the impossibility of getting a babysitter? Does anyone know how hard it is to find a babysitter?
And of course, the babysitter will take good money for her services, which she deserves.
Add the cost of gas and tolls, and basically, you have young couples, who live on shoestring budgets in the fi rst place, shlepping to New York at a cost of at least $65-70, to say mazel tov to their disinterested uncle and aunt at their cousin’s wedding, and barely get to eat a cold piece of halfbaked chicken if they even make it for the main course.
I am sorry, but this is not normal.
I know a yungerman who he has limited income. He is smart and careful about how he spends his money, and he and his wife get by okay, boruch Hashem. Recently, however, he told me that he had to travel in to New York for three simchos of cousins, at a cost - all in one month - of a total of over $300, which he cannot afford. (He learns in a paying night kollel and had to give up the money he receives as well.) And for what?
“At one simcha,” he told me, “the baal simcha (his relative) barely gave me the time of day as I wished him mazel tov. I imagine he realized who I am, but I wondered why I even came. But the reason why I traveled,” he said, “was because if we wouldn’t come, my parents, and especially grandparents, would be upset.
It has to stop. Couples who have young children, or even older children, cannot be expected to travel in to New York - or anywhere else that requires multiple hours of driving - for every simcha. It is not fair to the young couples, and it can potentially affect their wellbeing and their shalom bayis, not to mention their finances.
I would add that, similarly, those living in Brooklyn or anywhere else should likewise not be expected to travel for over an hour to Lakewood or any other place for a simcha of a non-immediate relative.
It is time we bring back sanity into our lives and put a stop to the unreasonable expectations and demands that we have allowed to become part of our culture.
Here's my response:
Thank you for your letter. I can certainly understand why you would be upset. Traveling a long distance to go to a simcha can be an arduous and sometimes expensive proposition. And, in this day and age when everyone's watching the purse strings, I definitely understand why you would be upset at having to shell out major money for what might turn out to be a mediocre night at best.
But there was one thing about your letter that left me a bit confused. Is there a police force in Lakewood that forces you go to affairs in Brooklyn and other far away places? I don't mean to be facetious, but I'm wondering why you simply cannot just say no.
I know that I love to go to family affairs. I go just about every opportunity that I can. But I also know that there are times that I simply cannot go. Sometimes it interferes with my work or school schedules. Other times it is just costs too much (financially) to go. And sometimes, it's just not practical -- maybe it's a work night and I know that I'm not going to be up to four hours of round-trip travel time. When this happens, I send the ba'alei simcha my heartiest mazal tov and tell them that while I would love to attend, I have to give my deepest regrets that I simply cannot make it.
Believe it or not, people can and will understand if you cannot make it to a particular simcha for one of the above reasons. People understand that sometimes costs cannot be borne (whether they be financial or logistical costs). And, truth to tell, if the ba'alei simcha are stubborn enough not to understand, then perhaps it's their attitude that needs to be adjusted. If they are selfish enough to "guilt-trip" you into spending money, time or effort that you cannot afford, then perhaps you might want to reconsider how much you want to associate with them. Personally, I would prefer to spend my time with people who are more empathic to my needs and abilities, rather than be so self-centered to demand that everyone attend to them whether they have the means to do so or not.
You write that the yungerman in your town goes to please his parents and grandparents. I can certainly understand that. But even parents and grandparents can be made to understand the fact that you simply don't have the funds or the ability to travel to every family simcha. They may not be happy about the situation, but they can understand.
There is one additional point I would like to address in your letter. You write about going to a wedding "to say mazel tov to their disinterested uncle and aunt at their cousin’s wedding, and barely get to eat a cold piece of halfbaked chicken if they even make it for the main course."
Personally, when I go to a simcha, I don't care if I get a half-baked piece of chicken or not. When I attend a family member's or friend's simcha, my main goal in going is to be m'sameach (make happy) the participants. (I also have a secondary goal, as an amateur shutterbug, of taking as many family pictures as possible -- but that's just my personal mishugass.) I also understand that at a large affair with many people, the ba'al simcha may not have more than a few seconds to give me a quick "Mazal Tov, I'm so glad you could come." In short, I've learned that the wedding or bar mitzvah or whatever is not about me -- it's about the ba'alei simcha. Would it be nice if they could spend a whole ten minutes with me? Sure -- but when there are over fifty guests, it just becomes impractical, if not impossible.
In short, I don't go to a simcha with the idea of "what am I going to get out of the simcha?" My goal is "how can I contribute to the simcha?" If I get nothing out of it (or even just a half-baked piece of chicken and only two seconds with the ba'alei simcha) so be it.