low waste bar mitvah

My son recently celebrated his bar mitzvah. It could have been a very stressful time, but I made a point of not letting it get to me. 

When things were not going quite the way I envisioned, I kept repeating to myself – “I refuse to get upset about a happy occasion.” This allowed me to stay calm and everyone else to have a great time.  

So, how did I go about organizing this event? I’ll let in you in on a couple very useful and helpful tricks that we used to ensure we had an organized and enjoyable simcha.

We live in Israel, but we had about 20 guests join us from America. Our expected numbers fluctuated for a while, which made planning a little harder since we had to coordinate airport pick ups, hotel info details, event details and airport drop offs. By creating a spreadsheet, which I shared with my husband and our tour operator, we were able to organize car service pickups, pickups which we did ourselves, guest lists, event details, and even gift lists and thank you note check offs . We could also easily monitor and track any changes.

The Bar Mitzvah was Thursday morning, which was great because we could take pictures. We  had an additional small event in a hotel on Shabbat for just family. People started coming in early in the week, so we needed a lot of meals to feed our guests from America.

On Monday night, we had take-out Chinese; on Tuesday night, we had hamburgers, on Wednesday night we ordered pizza and made pasta. This meant I did  not have to cook, which made things easy, and was a helpful stress reducer. 

There is a waste factor from ordering deliver. To minimize waste, we used real dishes, silverware and cups. (We had about  23 people for dinner each night!) We made it low key, so anyone who wanted to join us was able to. This created extra family time and was a fun way to spend time together.

Another way we saved on waste and cost was that we decorated the party room ourselves.

We hung 70 paper lanterns from the ceiling. This is something I can use again for other events, and maybe for my sukkah. I am also thinking of starting a decoration gemach so there will be even more use of them. I ran tulle around some ugly columns in the room. I had pictures made up of my son and family – and we hung them all around the beit knesset. 

My son did not want a slideshow – which would have been less wasteful, but after the event, I did give the pictures to people who were in them, and will save some of our family photos to use at upcoming simchas!


I outsourced wherever I could. I worked with a tour agency to manage all the bookings, and they organized a tour guide for us; and for the bar mitzvah, on Thursday morning, I hired a caterer. They managed a lot for me – so I could minimize what I needed to do and allow myself to stay calm before and during the event and actually enjoy my simcha. 

The caterer did a great set up with the rented  tables, and they looked really pretty. We used cloth tablecloths and real cutlery and crockery, to minimize the waste. As centerpieces, we had baskets of cupcakes that were decorated to look like flowers.  The person I bought them from took the baskets back afterwards so they were reused. The cupcakes are a more American thing, but they were an interesting touch that reflected our culture. 

On the day, we used Sunkist wrapped candies to throw at the bar mitzvah boy. One can’t get away from having wrapped candy – so there was a little plastic waste there – but it was unavoidable. 

We set up a photo booth, got a nice backdrop and decorated the booth with paper flowers. We had a fresh orange and grapefruit press – so there would be no plastic bottles. The caterer did order milk, which came in cartons, and some of the pastries did come in boxes. There was not a lot of food left over. In total, we threw out about 5 medium size bags of garbage, which consisted mainly of food waste from peoples plates. Not too bad for an event for 150 people!

On Thursday night we went out for dinner, and I took the leftover food from the evening to my friend who was hosting my son’s friends for the weekend. She appreciated it, and nothing went to waste.

For our family simcha on Shabbat, we went to a hotel. The hotels in Israel know exactly what to do, and the hotel did everything with very little need for my guidance. There was not a lot of food waste, because the hotel served food in a buffet style. This  made it easier for people to take just what they wanted, and allowed for a lot of choices. Holding this at the hotel allowed me to enjoy my guests, and the cost was reasonable.

We also had two days of touring. I hired a tour bus and a tour guide. I printed the local information and itinerary for our guests on recycled paper. I did give guest plastic water bottles for the tour – which I don’t usually do, but when you are traveling bottled water is best.  I used reusable bags to give people snacks for their rooms and tried to choose snacks with low waste packaging.


Just making small changes helped reduce the amount of waste we generated for the simcha, and being mindful of this was a small thing that helped show people you don’t need a lot of excess to have a good time, and sometimes less really is more.