Her bat mitzvah was rescheduled twice: In a season of joy, coronavirus brings tears of disappointment
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Rebecca Weinstein had been planning her daughter Tessa’s bat mitzvah for two years. Two sets of grandparents, local friends and relatives as well as guests from all over the country were set to attend the Jewish coming-of-age ceremony on April 4.
On Dec. 27, the Katonah resident received some bad news.
The venue, Doral Arrowood Hotel and Conference Center in Rye Brook, was closing in two weeks due to financial difficulties.
With Tessa's bat mitzvah just three months away, Weinstein scrambled to find a new venue and felt triumphant when she was able to book the Westchester Renaissance Hotel in West Harrison.
That elation was short-lived.
With less than three weeks to go before the event, with all the party favors and decorations piled up on her kitchen table, Weinstein came to the realization that the event could not proceed as planned due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The National Guard had arrived in New Rochelle, just nine miles from the venue and epicenter of the pandemic, schools in the region were deciding whether to shut down and President Trump had just announced sweeping restrictions on travel from much of Europe.
“Last week was sort of the tipping point, and my rabbi said, ‘I think you really need to realize that this is probably not going to happen in terms of the service,’” said Weinstein. “So after a lot of back and forth, and a lot of worrying, we decided to pull the plug.”
The cancellation or postponement of milestone social events such as bat/bar mitzvahs, weddings, high school proms and sweet sixteen celebrations not only takes a financial toll, but can be mentally and emotionally challenging at this unprecedented time, experts say.
Dr. Harris Stratnyer, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and a Scarsdale resident, said he has been counselling many families (many via FaceTime) in this situation.
“People are feeling depressed. They say things like, ‘Why did God do this to us?'” said Stratyner. “Can you imagine, you've planned your daughter's wedding for the past year and a half and now it’s suddenly canceled. It’s highly stressful and people feel a loss of control.”
Stratyner said it’s best to look at the larger picture.
“We've got to go one day at a time and people need to say to themselves, 'Well, my son's going to have a bar mitzvah, my daughter's going to have a wedding',” he said. “It might be delayed by a few months, but what we have to do is look forward. Eventually they're going to come up with a vaccine and life is going to return to normal.”
Students most troubled by canceled events
Dr. Jen Naparstek Klein, a psychologist who specializes in child and family psychology and practices at The Counseling Center in Bronxville, said people are feeling a range of anxieties.
“In my practice, seniors in high school and college students are the ones who are the most troubled by canceled events, and I believe this is because many of their milestone events cannot necessarily be rescheduled,” she said. "Proms, graduations, study abroad, last semesters with friends; these are hard to replace down the road. They will likely just have to move on without them.”
Developmentally, the most significant relationships for these young adults are their peers.
“And the place for those relationships is school. So coming home, or staying at home, can be depressing,” Klein said.
Aside from staying connected via phone, text and social media, Klein advises a shift in thinking, such as seeing it as a potential opportunity.
“I would advise that once the dust settles, to ask oneself, what would I do with the gift of being forced to work on a project at home? What have I wished I could do with more time? Can I possibly do it now? Can I compose something, create, write, read, study, or practice something? Can I use technology to do it with others?” she said.
Monique Banks, of Monique Banks Party, an event planner from Chappaqua, said she had spent all last week and this week trying to reschedule events for the fall. Most corporate events, she said, have been canceled. A bar mitzvah that had been scheduled for March 14 in Pleasantville had to be rescheduled the day before the event.
The client lost $40,000 in catering expenses.
“The fallout has been tremendous across the board,” Banks said. “It was the right decision because you never want to live with the fact that you had an event and people got sick.”
The family ended up donating the food from the planned bar mitzvah to People to People, the largest food pantry in Rockland County.
“So that was the silver lining,” said Banks. “But there is no doubt there’s a tremendous emotional component here, whether it's a wedding or any other function because of the love and the energy and the time and the effort that goes into planning these things.”
Typically, a bar/bat mitzvah, involves two aspects, a religious service (usually held around the month of the child’s 13th birthday) attended by close family and friends and a party attended by a wider group of friends and relatives. While some families are planning to move the entire function to the fall or even the next year (so it coincides with the birthday month), others are still holding the religious ceremony at home with the rabbi and live streaming the event so relatives can watch the child reading from the Torah.
“When a child prepares for their bar mitzvah, they work for almost two years learning the different prayers and the Torah portion,” said Melissa Imberman, a party planner who runs Chappaqua-based The Event of a Lifetime. “If we're postponing the party until June, they have to keep practicing and memorizing and there is so much anxiety about doing this.”
Imberman said consoling her clients, canceling and rescheduling events has become the new normal for her. “It's really all I do all day long,” she said. “There's not one right answer for everybody. I'm trying to calm everyone down and saying we'll get through it and when we finally can celebrate, you know, we're all gonna really want to celebrate at that point.”
That doesn’t surprise Dr. Peter Faustino, president of the Westchester County Psychological Association, who has been getting reports from colleagues as well as families directly.
“People's reactions vary and change by the day, sometimes by the hour. I believe canceling events has added to the collective anxiety,” said Faustino, who practices in Bedford Hills and Greenwich, Connecticut.
“When we have something to look forward to attending, it creates a sense of hope and positive anticipation. When those events are canceled — and under the circumstances everything is canceled — it leaves us little room for anything but negative thinking.”
Jessica Malone Atkinson, creative director of Katonah-based The Spark Group, an event planning company, said she was worried about her vendors being able to keep their businesses afloat.
“For many, such as caterers, entertainment companies, florists, and photographers, fall and spring tend to be prime season for events, she said. “So now a lot of vendors who have made it through the winter but because of the widespread postponing of events, the projected revenue for spring just isn't there, and that could have a disastrous effect for vendors that aren't liquid.”
The most beneficial thing clients, who are able, can do right now is make additional deposits to their vendors for rescheduled or upcoming events, she said.
“That way they can ensure they stay in business and can continue working together when their events are rescheduled,” she said.
There's a silver lining
Rebecca Weinstein said she was able to reschedule her daughter’s bat mitzvah to Oct. 4 at the Westchester Renaissance.
However, her 75-year-old parents, who live in Cortlandt, are also dealing with postponed bat mitzvah celebrations of another granddaughter.
Weinstein’s niece, who lives in Ridgefield, Connecticut, was scheduled to have her bat mitzvah on a cruise ship to Bermuda this June. They were taking the rabbi with them.
“My parents had to pull out for obvious reasons; they are 75, and now my sister-in-law is scrambling to find a new venue,” she said.
Tessa Weinstein has found a silver lining in her thrice rescheduled bat mitzvah: “If it’s in October, I’ll have my braces off by then,” she said.
Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy covers women and power for the USA Today Network Northeast. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org