In a crisis, play "Don't Stop Believin'"
December 13, 2017 3:19 PM   Subscribe

Oh man, this brings back memories. I'm from nearby one of the places featured in the story, and the b'nai mitzvot parties ranged from "nice kiddush luncheon after services" to about a notch below what's in the article (at a country club, with a DJ and party promoters, photo booths, etc., but not quite as intensely themed), with my own a bit in the middle. I always thought the promoters and dancers were always a bit awkward, especially when there were a bunch in matching outfits.

It's a little crazy how much stuff has not changed in the nearly 20 years since mine--we played "Coke and Pepsi", we got the same little party favors (neon hats, the glasses) and socks to wear on the dance floor, and thanks to the oddity of fashion cycles, even the outfits on the kids aren't too far off.
posted by damayanti at 3:43 PM on December 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

For dfm500 jr's Bar Mitzvah, he explicitly said he did not want a big, loud party: No DJ/photo booth/elaborate dinner/all the other tchotckes... Instead of bagels and lox after the ceremony, he had a taco truck. We had leftovers for almost a week.

Instead of "The Party", he wanted to go to a baseball game. We took him and his friends to an Oakland A's game.

The A's lost, but other than that, we were thrilled that he had the celebration that he wanted. Studying for the Bar Mitzvah had been really rough for him, and we were delighted that he got to have HIS special day.
posted by dfm500 at 4:02 PM on December 13, 2017 [10 favorites]

N.b., "bar mitzvah" does not mean "son of the commandment"; it is Aramaic for "[male] person who is/can be commanded". In other words, a legal adult. Fun fact, the feminine Aramaic equivalent would be "brat mitzvah", but when the term was popularised in English-speaking countries they went with the Hebrew form for obvious reasons.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:52 PM on December 13, 2017 [12 favorites]

Meir Kay is a bar mitzvah party motivator. Well, not just that. As he explains on his website, “I'm all about spreading positivity through different mediums.” Along with producing and directing and starring in videos that emphasize kindness and happiness, he’s a hype man, a dancer, a balloon animal-maker, a distributor of neon hats and glow sticks, a wrangler of both kids and adults on the dance floor.

I love people like this and wish that I knew how to mirror the same concepts in my own life, but I've never been able to cast off my lifelong cynicism.

And I've only been to one b'nai mitzvah party in my life (in 1990). All I remember is that her parents got an ice cream truck. I thought that was the coolest thing ever.

I still kinda do.
posted by elsietheeel at 5:12 PM on December 13, 2017 [3 favorites]


Links to that classic Grantland article with one of my favourite lines in web journalism:

Fifteen years have passed since this era of my life, and still my social calendar has never been as gala-filled.

posted by morspin at 5:35 PM on December 13, 2017 [6 favorites]

Wandering around the upper east side a few years ago I saw an event moving in, sitting in on the sidewalk just these beyond incredible flower arrangements. I mean works of art, ultra ostentatious really beautiful works of art, I ask the caterer "wow, someone really famous getting hitched?", naw he replied "just a bar mitzva"... huge kudos to dfm500 jr for being down to earth.
posted by sammyo at 6:37 PM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

I live in the NYC suburbs. 3 kids. I have been to scores of these events. (I agreed to be bar mitzvahed, but no party. I learned my Torah portion, read it on Saturday morning, my grandparents and aunts and uncles came, they went back to my house for bagels, I went to my Little League game. My brother had a 300 person party.)

It is mind boggling what is spent on these parties. I went to one at Trump National that had the Knick City Dancers come to perform 2 dances. My #squad, the adults I knew and hung out with at these were apparently big drinkers. Booze consumption by the adults was huge. The kids too would all try to sneak a drink aided by some drunk adult who thought it was ok to give the kids "just one". At the ones I did not attend but my kids did, I never let an attending adult drive them home. Even if I had to drive a half an hour at midnight, I would pick up my own kid and any others. The bus ride from the temple to the event for the kids were often out of control.

Then the question becomes what do you give a kid as a gift who is having a $100,000 party? And if your child goes to say 2 events a weekend, they can end up going to 30 or 40 of these things in a year. That is a lot of gift money.

My kids were not bar mitzvahed. We are more culturally Jewish. We took each kid away by themselves for a week as a celebration of becoming a teen. One went to Spain. One to Turkey and one to London/Paris. They chose the location.

Anyway, I thought the article was written well. It does give a good flavour of what these events are all about. I know it was not the intent of the article, but not one religious ceremony was even mentioned.
posted by AugustWest at 9:46 PM on December 13, 2017 [2 favorites]


Links to that classic Grantland article with one of my favourite lines in web journalism:

Fifteen years have passed since this era of my life, and still my social calendar has never been as gala-filled.

That might be the single best title I've ever seen for a post on the Blue, period.
posted by Itaxpica at 10:41 PM on December 13, 2017

The late Lubavitcher Rebbe mentioned once that his grandfather brought some cookies and vodka to the synagogue on the Thursday morning after his father turned 13. The LLR's father was called up to the Torah – I don't recall if the LLR said he was the reader – the service was concluded, the people attending (only men I expect) had a drink and a bite to eat and that was it, that was the bar mitzva for the son of a prestigious rabbinic family in pre-Revolutionary Russia.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:44 PM on December 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

I grew up in the DC suburbs and have a ton of cousins, so I went to a LOT of fancy b'nai mitzvot. And I wasn't even invited to the really insane ones-- rumor had it that a kid at JDS, a couple years older than me, had a record exec dad who got NSYNC to play her bat mitzvah.

My own was a lot more chill-- I had 30 kids and a karaoke machine in my basement, while the adults had wine and snacks upstairs. Then we went on a trip over winter break-- my parents had found a cruise line that ran from Istanbul down the coast to Israel, ending in Athens. We went to tons of museums and archaeologial sites, and as a tiny baby nerd I was in heaven.

At the time, I thought my parents had picked up on the fact that I straight up did not have enough friends for one of the 100+ fancy parties my peers were having (that 30 was a stretch even with the cousins). Later, I found out that my dad had asked a parent how much they'd spent on their daughter's (very fancy) party (at Camden Yards!) and was like welp, that is a waste of money, so it was not quite the thoughtful gesture I had imagined.

My younger sisters were a lot more social and could have had bigger parties, but we ended up really liking the 'small party + family trip" format so they did the same thing.
posted by nonasuch at 8:02 AM on December 14, 2017

I've just been informed that Lin-Manuel Miranda worked as a Bar Mitzvah dancer in Long Island to help try to cover his rent while writing In the Heights.

There are parents out there with ~15-year old DVDs rotting in their closet somewhere that have LMM dancing at their kids' parties and they don't even know it.
posted by zachlipton at 1:49 PM on December 14, 2017 [7 favorites]

I only just learned that paid dancers were A Thing from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

Joel: I’m sorry. You hired ringers to dance at our wedding?
Midge: Yes.
Joel: Okay, come on.
Midge: Wait, where are we going?
Joel: To find the Rabbi. I’m marrying you all over again.

posted by elsietheeel at 3:15 PM on December 14, 2017

Joe in Australia, the bar mitzvah you described for the Lubavitcher Rebbe was basically what my husband had as an Orthodox (not Chasidic) kid in Brooklyn in the 50s. A little more fancy, but not much. And it was actually about the religious ceremony!
posted by mermayd at 4:07 AM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Love the photos in this article. They capture the dichotomy of chaos and conformity that defines American adolescence so well. "A braid of girls takes a breather on the bleachers" may be one of my favorite photo captions ever.
posted by obloquy at 1:27 PM on December 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

Mermayd, on a Thursday though? Not even a Shabbos?

I should mention that this isn't current Lubavitch practice; the late Lubavitcher Rebbe was the son-in-law of his predecessor, so the practice he described from his own family wasn't the one he transmitted ex officio.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:47 PM on December 16, 2017

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