March 17, 2010 | Issue 30

Upsherins Trim Down Amid Recession

New York, NY — [TheKnish.com] With the weak economy forcing lifestyle changes large and small, one of the mainstays of American Jewish life — the Upsherin Party — is undergoing some recession-era adaptation.

While few seem to be doing away with the traditional celebration, many families are scrapping themed parties, trimming guest lists and in some cases holding joint or group upsherin parties.

“The creative aspect of Upsherin has been decreased,” said caterer Frizoor Schneider, the chef of Jewish Advantage Planning and Simchas (JAPS) in Los Angeles, California.

The cost cutting at Jewish lifecycle celebrations by no means is universal. Plenty of Upsherin celebrations, not to mention extravagant pidyonim haben, are still being held. But the cutbacks in upsherin parties have been pronounced in some communities, according to caterers in the industry.

Schneider said he recently catered a joint Upsherin for four lifelong friends whose families decided to have a combined celebration, saving on invitations, food, photography and specials such as entertainers and giveaways. Schneider said spending on those kinds of specials has been shaved by about 40 percent.

One caterer in Bogota, N.J., said the average spending on an Upsherin has been clipped to $25,000 from $50,000 a few months ago, as clients cut out bells and whistles.

“The last time we did a full weekend event with kiddush meals, breakfast, luncheons and dinner buffets was a year-and-a-half ago,” said the caterer, who asked not to be identified. “Most families are looking for simplicity."

In Houston, Maybits Treif of CAtering Simcha Kosher Enterprise Team (CASKET) said that while he has slashed prices to satisfy clients who want to produce an Upsherin at half the usual price, the fixed costs of his own expenses - gas, labor, food, shipping - have made his business all but unsustainable.

“We're not able to produce profit,” Treif told TheKnish.com. “Business has been hurting.”

Among the extras clients are eliminating are special decor, extravagant cocktail hours, food upgrades and size. They aren’t, however, doing away entirely with the party.

“We’re doing as much work as ever here; people just spend less,” said Hyman Hyadoon, president of Exquisite Events Katerers! (EEK!) in Montclair, N.J.

Hyadoon said the Darwinistic nature of the catering business - weaker companies are felled by the recession, and stronger ones pick up clients from their failed counterparts - means that surviving companies are doing more business than ever. He said the last two years have been two of his company’s best, despite the recession.

“Caterers who went out of business were going out of business anyway,” he said. “The recession just pushed them over the top. We're not going anywhere.”

Schneider concurred, saying that “Even though business is off, the business that has been there has been a lot of business.”

Experts say the effects of the recession are more apparent at Upsherins than pidyonim because the Upsherin is more expendable and pidyonim often have multiple funders - the father and mother’s families.

“For an Upsherin, the Torah portion and synagogue service is what counts. The rest is just a child's birthday party,” one Staten Island caterer said. “An Upsherin is not a birthday party. It's a pinnacle lifecycle event for children, and their continued resistance to downsizing in the face of economic hardship proves this.”

Writer

Pencil Martin Bodek is short, dark, handsome, runs marathons (finishes them too!), can solve a Rubik's Cube in 1:47, is a big TED chasid, can whup your keister in Scrabble, loves halva, co-founded TheKnish.com, and writes books from 5-9: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/mbodekatgmaildotcom


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