With some unexpected free hours now because a summer school class I was supposed to teach is not running, I've been turning my eye towards some cleaning/rearranging jobs that have been waiting around for an opportune moment.
This morning's job is the bentchers. Do you have any idea just how many bentchers it is possible to collect over the course of 36 years? Hundreds! There are full-sized leather bound bentchers, there are cardboard bound, there are paper bound, there are plastic ones in every size and shape. Some are strictly bentchers; some contain other material as well. Some have print so tiny that even a magnifying glass won't help.
And the job is not as easy as simply saying keep 20 and put the rest in shaimos. As I glance at the names and dates printed on the bentchers I briefly find myself picturing the simcha and smiling. And I've hit on an idea of what to do with some of those bentchers: I'm going to mail them to the people whose simcha those bentchers were used at, along with a short note of remembrance of the occasion.
36 years and thanks to my mom I have 3 bentchers from my own wedding. These I will put away for each of my kids as a family memento. Ditto the bentchers from my son's bar mitzvah. We're giving sheva brochos in two weeks and the new choson is going to get to bentch out of the bentcher from his bar mitzvah. Plenty of other young marrieds where I have the bentchers from the husband's bar mitzvah, and I bet the couple does not.
The rest? I'm afraid they are going to end up in shaimos. I look at the names on some of those bentchers and have no idea whatsoever who those people are or how we got invited. And then there are also the bentchers from the school and shul dinners. I tried the local shuls and yeshivot and nobody needs any more bentchers--one school asks me if maybe I can take off their hands the excess they have. A few I put away to use in the Sukkah, but the rest are collecting dust and taking up space, so it is finally, and somewhat regretfully, time for them to go. I have a friend who made a remembrance poster out of the covers of most of her bentchers before she put them in shaimos. She cut out the names and dates and has a whole collage that she calls her "Where the money went in case you were wondering" collection. It's interesting to look at but not a project I'm going to undertake.
I know that we need to have bentchers at the seudah of a simcha, and it's not practical to supply only one to a table. But do hosts ever envision when they carefully choose those bentchers just what is going to happen to them down the road? I am quite sure that none of my hosts and hostesses all those years ago ever thought that I would be sitting here on a sunny morning in June of 2008 blaming them for having to be indoors cleaning instead of being out in the yard or maybe reading a good book. I know that they never gave it a thought because I didn't either until cleaning up the bentchers became critical.
A while ago, Eeees and I were at a 25th anniversary celebration for the parents of a friend of ours. When it came time for bentching, the parents of the anniversary couple pulled out some mint-condition bentchers from the wedding, which they had been holding on to for just such an occassion.
Inspired by this, we put away some of Walter's bentchers and will do so for George when he becomes Bar Mitzvah.
It's nice to have a memento, but bear in mind that there are gemachs that will lend perfectly nice benchers for your simcha. Another place to save money and waste. I think there are few things in this world as sad as things being put into shaimos because there's no room for them, rather than because they've been worn out through loving use.
My dad always joked with us that he wasn't go to pay for any bentchers at our wedding because he had enough in the house for my wedding and at least two more. He didn't do it for our wedding but for every sheva brochos he brought out our box of bentchers instead of ordering new ones. The way the bentchers collect in our house I think I'm going to start using my dad's line to tell my kids. Who knows, maybe I'll actually do it when the time comes.
Over the past few months, I've sent a bunch of bentchers to American solidiers stationed in Iraq, along with our packages of food. The first package was just on a whim, but the subsequent packages were requested by the chaplain.
Also, a few months ago, I recycled some bentchers from my (now 16yr old) son's brit - they didn't have anything printed on the covers because we didn't have enough time to order such a thing - and printed the name of a local girl and the date to make them personalized for her bat mitzvah.
Before tossing them in the shaimot pile, maybe there's a way they can be used at a school or a youth group?
Back in the days before mass production, people used to carry around their own utensils to use in restaurants and when eating at other people's houses. I recently started dong so again so I can stop using disposables, which I think are wasteful.
Why not attempt to create a similar practice. Printing all these bentchers is wasteful, it would produce some savings for the hosts and it would be better for the environment if people had one that they brought around to simchot.
If the rabbanim want to be helpful for a change why not put out a takana banishing the printed bentchers? We have a house rule now about them--we leave them on the table unless it is from one of our brothers or sisters. Not only do the hosts pay for them but when the guests take them home and can't find any more room to store them then they have to pay to put them into shaimos. A lot of money being spent that doesn't have to be.
The best solution is to have the catering halls print up bentchers with their names on the covers so people won't be tempted to take them home, and to bring them out to the tables when it's time for bentching and collect them afterwards. Probably the plastic ones would last the longest. They already provide the chupah so why not the bentchers?
Your idea is a good one in theory Jake but this is caterers you are talking about. Wait until you see what they will charge you for using their bentchers. It might come out cheaper for you to buy them. They don't give you those chupahs for free. The hall near our home charges $500 for chupah rental. It's probably used about 75-100 times a year. You do the math. The hall is making $50K just in renting out a chupah that it owns and probably didn't pay the $500 for. So what do you suppose they would charge you for bentchers?
Yes it is sad that the bentchers are not going to shaimos because they are worn out rather than because I simply have run out of room. But I was not kidding that the bentchers run in the hundreds. Even if I used one bentcher every day it would take more than a year to use each one only once.
I'm not the only one with this problem and the schools, shuls and outreach organizations are over- inundated with bentchers that people have dropped off on their doorsteps in the dark of the night.
Hmmm, maybe I should consider this. Put 25 bentchers inside a nicely wrapped box and give it as a shower present. A not-yet-married girl might appreciate a head start on her collection.
And Leahle, thanks for the tip. I know it seems obvious but one answer is just not to take the bentcher home from the simcha.
As someone who produces Benchers for various simchas, I can understand the issue completely... how many do you really need?
But when people are on a budget and making a simcha, we recommend that rather than spend a lot of money on invitations (which eventually get thrown away), to make the benchers the focus as that can be the keepsake for the family and guests. We keep to the budget of the client, ensuring that they have something that will enhance the simcha. Often the product (the bencher) is quite simple and, we hope, useful later on (so they end up not in Shaimos).
People are not obliged to take benchers home... that's something to remember.
We also intend to start a bencher gemach as we have seen that there is a place for that in the community. (Regularly too, we have clients who wish to make personalised benchers for smaller functions like sheva brachot and what they often do, is bring their existing benchers (booklets like artscroll ones, all the same size) and we replace the covers, designed specifically for that function.)
Just think though... if we'd kept samples of every bencher we'd made (hundreds) and collected (also hundreds) I don't think we'd be able to move in our house!!
ProfK, someone about to get married is likely to be attending a lot of weddings herself. She probably already has a collection.
For my bar mitzvahs, I bought the simplest ones that are more of a card.
The bentschers are meant to serve as party favors--if they were eliminated people would feel the need to come up with other useless/excessive items for guests to take home.
It's the shaimos problem with bentchers that has people keeping so many around. You can't find anyone else who needs/wants the bentchers and you can't throw them out. They sit around until it becomes critical to reduce the number. Sometimes you keep certain bentchers as keepsakes but mostly they sit around because you have no idea of what to do with them.
I know many restaurants when they initially open up they need benchers.
Another idea, to tare off the covers of the benchers and print new covers for the simcha that you have coming up. Friends of ours got benchers and did that for their wedding, saved a couple hundred dollars.
Send some to Puerto Rico. I have friends who could really use a few dozen bentchers divided amongst themselves.
Contact me at email@example.com and give me an address to send them to. More than happy to oblige.
For the record, this unmarried single girl already has a quite extensive bentcher collection, begun in high school. :)
I have been to simchas where they got bentchers from a gemach, including a couple of weddings where the families were very well-off and surely could have easily afforded the nicest bentchers on the market but decided to forgo them (probably because of this very reason you've brought up). I think it's a good idea, but I also agree with MII that most people see the bentchers as "party favors" and would feel to obliged to replace them with some other tchatchke if bentchers went out of vogue.
My favorite bentchers are the ones that are tiny and you can carry them in your wallet--at least they'll see some practical use. A couple of friends of mine have given those out.
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