More Mitzvah, Less Bar

Bar Mitzvah celebration. Brother of the Bar Mitzvah boy is held up on a chair. It is traditional for the child and his family to be raised on chairs during the party.

“OH, YOU’RE ON the Bar Mitzvah circuit now,” a friend recently smirked at me. “Buckle up.”
My son’s social calendar rivals Meghan Markle’s. A private event at a museum one weekend. A lavish affair at a swanky hotel the next. Invitations engraved in metal to soirees at “It” restaurants where barely pubescent partiers dance until well past the pumpkin hour.

Zev becomes a Bar Mitzvah in June, and already my husband and I are getting twitchy.

We are generally comfortable with the fact that we lack the means to keep up with the Jonessteins. Proximity to extraordinary wealth has its own advantages, and I have always steered my attitude toward the positive rather than the gnawing, obvious negative.

I would cut off any budding jealousy in my progeny with unyieldingly sunny remarks. I’d utter things like, “How lucky that you got to pet a zebra today at your friend’s birthday party” to quash any attempt my child might make to ask, “Can I have a zebra petting zoo at my party, too?”

That strategy worked. For 13 years.

After a few months on the “Bar Mitzvah Circuit,” however, I’m getting a bit nervous. Our plan is to celebrate all the hard work and training that goes into becoming a Bar Mitzvah with a glorified pizza party. After all, this is really just a party to let off some steam after months of practicing trope. It’s not a wedding. Or a coronation. We figured we’d do something fun and pure and not at all lavish.

That had long been our plan. We’d focus on the “mitzvah,” recognizing that any party involving 13-year-olds doesn’t require a “bar.” But, for the first time, I’m not sure that we can realistically pull this off.

A Los Angeles Bar Mitzvah party is not a simple affair. There is an entire industry built around it, from career DJs, to photo booth companies, to airbrush and henna tattoo artists. Kids are growing up expecting a certain “experience” at these parties, and I am now concerned that failing to meet these expectations will mean that my son’s own party will, in the parlance of 13-year-old taste makers, suck.

That might not sound like a terrible fate but anybody who has survived eighth grade probably has a small reserve of terror for 13-year-olds. The comedian John Mulaney describes 13-year-olds as “the meanest people on the planet,” saying, “if I’m on the street on a Friday at 3 p.m. and I see a group of eighth graders on one side of the street, I will cross to the other side of the street.”

I can only imagine how Mulaney would react to having to throw a Bar Mitzvah party for one of them.

A weaker (and richer) woman might decide to throw out our original party concept, rent out Staples Center and hire Cirque du Soleil to contort their bodies into the word “Mazal Tov.” But I am not a weaker (or, alas, richer) woman.

My son will, G-d willing, become a Bar Mitzvah in June. He’ll have learned his Torah portion and recite his haftorah. And the party we throw for him later that evening will celebrate these achievements.

It will feature family. It will feature friends. It will feature music – some of which will be performed by my son and his band (how cool is that?) – and it will feature love and joy and pride. It will not feature a chartered bus, a caviar fountain, sky writing, Vegas show girls or Cirque du Soleil. But it will not suck.

I hope.

Mayrav Saar is a writer based in Los Angeles.


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