I know that this won't be something that applies to many people, but it's a situation we face frequently, and I just can't figure out the polite thing to do. I know that if anyone can help me, it's YOU.
Okay, background (bear with me): My husband is a clergyman at a synagogue with a large congregation. The convention is to invite us to all weddings he performs and to all bar/bat mitzvah (plural: b'nei mitzvah) parties. We don't attend them all -- we'd never get to do anything else -- just the ones of the families that we are close enough with that we think they'd invite us even if they didn't have to as a courtesy. (My question isn't about gifts, but in case you're curious, we have a similar policy for gifts: only for the ones we attend, or would attend if we were able -- otherwise, our gift budget would be through the roof.)
My question is about responding to the invitations for the b'nei mitzvah. The invitation is to the Shabbat service Saturday morning and Kiddush lunch afterward and often also to a party in the evening. (It's very bad form not to invite us, as my husband has trained these kidz, to the evening party if they have one, but they don't always have one, or sometimes just for kidz.) Note that a bar/bat mitzvah service is NOT a private event for the family and their guests; it's the regular Saturday morning services that are held every week for the congregation, open to the public, and the child participates.
I need to explain about the Kiddush lunch. There is always something, whether or not there is a bar/bat mitzvah or other occasion for which someone is generously hosting. If not, the synagogue pays (and it's usually much simpler, but enough for lunch). The important point that it is always there, and it's for everyone who attends services -- NOT just for the invited guests of the hosts. In fact, they are required to provide for their invited guests plus 250 or something like that. They don't have to host a kiddush at all if they don't want to, but if they do, it's for the whole congregation. I hope that's clear.
[Sorry for all the detail, but it's necessary to understand the problem!]
The response card will often have a line for the Saturday morning service and kiddush luncheon and another line for the evening party. If I'm going to attend an evening party, I wouldn't dream of skipping the service, so those b'nei mitzvah aren't at issue: I respond that we are attending both.
Finally, the question: But what about where there is no invitation to an evening party (or there is but we are declining because we don't know them well)? What do I do then about the kiddush line?
See, I don't attend services every single Saturday morning, more like 3/4 of the time. I don't know 6 weeks in advance if I'm going to feel like coming to services that particular Saturday.
For those b'nei mitzvah, I honestly feel like I (and my husband) are just part of the estimated 250 regular congregants that the hosts are providing for. So I don't feel like it messes up their count if we're not in it as part of their number of additional guests. But there's still that card staring at me ....
So what do I do? I am not comfortable with any of the choices that I can see:
1) Make up my mind in advance. But I do not feel that it is fair that I (obviously my husband will be there) should have to decide that far in advance whether or not I will be there that day. (Remember I am only talking about the ones where we have no personal connection and are absolutely only invited as a courtesy.)
2) Decline. But not only does this throw of their count if I do come (an insubstantial amount, though; it's an informal buffet, not a plated or seated meal), it seems kind of like a slap: "I already know I won't want to come that day since it's only YOUR bar/bat mitzvah."
3) Accept. But then, see (1). Also, then I kind of feel then that we are a little more obliged to send at least a small gift.
4) Just don't send back the card. Even though I am not really messing them up (as I said, we're part of the congregational base they're paying for anyway), it still feels rude. (But I feel less guilty about it if, as occasionally happens, they are having an evening party but didn't invite us to it!)
If we're also invited to the evening party, I have fudged this by just not filling in any blanks and instead writing a note saying that the party sounds like fun and we're disappointed that we will be unable to celebrate with them. Can't do that when the only thing we're invited to is the morning service, though.
I recognize that this is a very unusual and specific problem! So there's no etiquette authority to consult for some rule. I'm not so much looking for some rule to apply as guidance on how to handle this in a mannerly way. I'm stuck.
Which is why I turn to you all for advice. You always have good suggestions! Thanks in advance.