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Bat Mitzvah Hoopla
Mom with a View

Bat Mitzvah Hoopla

There is an irony that this traditional celebration of the assumption of responsibilities seems to actually illustrate the lack thereof.


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Lavish bar and bat mitzvah extravaganzas with fancy themes, fancier entertainment and outrageous price tags are in the news again. We're showing the world we've really made it, giving our children a gift they'll always remember.

But what will those memories consist of? The rapper 50 Cents singing about a bat mitzvah? Tom Petty? Some pretty great gifts? I'm all for creating positive associations with Jewish holidays and events, but the key word is "Jewish." Parents of a friend of ours consulted him about a theme for his bar mitzvah. Apparently his suggestion was too novel for them. "How about Judaism?" he replied.

I find it difficult to attend these extravaganzas (perhaps that's why I'm so rarely invited!). Amidst all the hoopla and bright lights, between plates of food and designer attire, I'm so conscious of what they're missing, of how much more there could be -- more in the sense of meaning. More in everything else seems to be covered.

There is an irony that this traditional celebration of the assumption of responsibilities seems to actually illustrate the lack thereof. For 13-year-old boys and 12-year-old girls to have such wealth thrown at them, not based on anything they've done and with no acknowledgement of responsibilities to God and man, creates a sense of entitlement that damages our children.

It also engenders scorn for our heritage. If we, as parents, are blinded by social pressures and expectations from seeing the emptiness of the experience, our children are not. They know underneath it all the occasion ultimately means nothing. Cynicism starts to take root and Judaism is viewed with scorn.

I'm not blaming. They don't know any better. I just wish they could have a glimpse of the way it could be ("Ushpizin" for the bar mitzvah set?). I wish they could see children who understand the meaning of becoming bar or bat mitzvah, who appreciate the privilege to assume the mantle of responsibility to observe the Almighty's commandments and feel appropriately awed and intimidated, children who now feel a sense of accountability and approach the upcoming event with both excitement and a touch of heaviness. They know their lives are changing, and they are preparing themselves.

A bar/bat mitzvah IS a time of celebration. Judaism recognizes that life is not meant to be one long Club Med vacation, that being responsible is a good thing, and something worthy of celebrating.

There is still good food, dancing and most of all, there is still joy. The joy that comes from discovering your place in the world, the joy that comes from recognizing you are part of a special people with unique responsibilities, and stepping up to the plate to accept them. This is a joy that has no price tag. But it's a joy that can only be earned, not bought.

December 10, 2005

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Visitor Comments: 7

(7) Gail Lazar, January 5, 2006 12:00 AM

"It's the mitzvah, not the bar"

This article about the "hoopla" surrounding the celebrations for b'nai mitzvot really irks me. Why would the author lump all celebrations as if they held no's about the child, and the family, and the training, and the responsibility...and if that doesn't come across between the haftorah and the candle lighting then a community of many is to blame. My son is getting ready, LOTS of preparation, there's meaning being cemented into the whole process: every meeting with the rabbi, every practice at home, the younger brothers listening in, the family and friends coming from far and wide...the effort we put into making these friends and family feel cherished, if it means celebrating in a big way, so be it. We have so much to celebrate and be happy about. We are putting meaning into everything we do. Even our holiday card was filled with hope and excitement about our son becoming a bar mitzvah soon. Maybe if the author WAS invited to more b'nai mitzvot, she would learn something too...something more than looking at dollar signs. I have yet to be at a bar or bat mitzvah without tears in my eyes...the kids get IT and they express it quite well! G-d bless these young leaders coming into adulthood.

Gail Lazar
Bellevue, WA

(6) Karen Meade, December 18, 2005 12:00 AM

comment on Bat Mitzvah Hoopla

I live in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We are a small Jewish community, perhaps that is why the majority of our Bar and Bat Mitzvahs are filled with the joy of Jewishness. Perhaps it makes a fundamental difference when our children look out from the bima after a year of intensive Torah study, and many years of Hebrew and Sunday school, to see the family and friends who have come to the ceremony; to see the new adult who is to become part of the adult community, by taking on more responsibility, for himself, for others, within the community, and within the home. Not an immediate undertaking, but a gradual maturation to start on this special day as the child rises to the Torah and emerges a fledgling adult.

My son Max became a Bar Mitzvah in October. His emotions began showing on his face during the tallit ceremony, when my Mom gave him the tallit that had been her father's, whose Hebrew name Moshe my son bears. In our ceremony of passing the Torah down through the generations, my son openly cried, realizing the depths of the meaning as we pass our heritage, our history and our love for the Torah to the next generation. My son chanted Torah from his heart, surrounded at the bima by those chosen for the aliyahs, people who have watched him grow from an infant, to the young man we are so proud of. I was allowed by my Rabbi to present Max with an oral history of our family as a gift, as part of the service, where he heard and was truly moved, by the memories and the stories of those who have come before him. The ceremony was wonderful, my son's speech a mirror into his world; and the Rabbi able to speak to my son as only a Rabbi can after watching a boy grow for 13 years, from crawling on the steps to standing taller than the Rabbi on his Bar Mitzvah day. And yes there was a celebration, a luncheon given as a gift by my Mom where my friend Octavia played the music, Jewish and Jazz and AH!! the dancing circle of women of my heart around my son still fills my heart, and as he lifted up in the air by those who love him, in tribute to his achievement, a special moment in time....

While it is sadly true that many are so taken with the celebrations, they forget the ceremony, that is not the case in our corner of the world - Stop in some time to see for yourself.

(5) Anonymous, December 12, 2005 12:00 AM


Yes, Debra Monasch , your comments may be true and fair, yet I guess what bugs me is to see the massive hoards of $ go out the door(or in this case in the bellies of) for lavish affairs when so many jews struggle just to pay tuition in order to help keep our jewish kids jewish. I don't know that I am appauled when i hear of the sums payed for ceremonies- I think I am just shocked. You definately have a point about celebrating and dancing and not discussing the $ spent. I think these comments come from a place that is emotional-the empty wallet of so many of us who try to make ends meet. Let me ask you this: Do you think for even one second though that in this very trying economy(especially in Israel) that we as jews -together as a whole, should do with less at these affaors and instead donate $ to those less fortunate?

(4) Anonymous, December 11, 2005 12:00 AM

i totally agree

I totally agree with your view, but it is not just the bar and bat mitzvahs, it's also the weddings. such fancy horribly expensive festivities are often totally without meaning. it is all about showing that 'we can afford it and keep up with the others'. i have been to a wedding in israel where the guests didn't even stop eating and talking on the phone for the chuppa. but they had fire works.....

(3) Susan Rubinstein, December 11, 2005 12:00 AM

My 12 yr old son will have a smaller affair and see Israel

Being divorced from a Mizrahi Israeli man and him choosing not to have contact with our son over $, and me having to support my son on my own, I can no way afford a extravagant affair like all of my cousins gave their children. But perhaps I can have his affair in a Synagogue on a Saturday night when we can have a DJ for Dance. My Dad who passed away this year had his Bar Mitzfah in the back of his father's Shoe Store in Brooklyn, he was one of 6 kids. All of my cousins gave their children large parties in fancy catering halls, one in Manhattan that must have cost a fortune, but for me and my son, we will be happy with a smaller affair in a Synagogue where Judaism and Israel and it's people will be more the Theme...and perhaps we'll have some Yugioh cards there as a throw in since my son is a big fan of that game.

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