Posted by: laughs4dads | July 21, 2010

Today I Am a Man…and My Dad is Broke

So do you know what some parents are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on?

No, not homes. Or college educations. Or really cool, phallic sports cars.

They’re spending as much as $500,000 on bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs.

Keep in mind that we’re talking about 13-year-olds who would probably be just as happy with a new Xbox and a few thousand dollars in cash. But, no, they are thrown lavish affairs that would be more appropriate if, in addition to becoming an adult in the eyes of the Jewish community, they were also being crowned king of a small country, say Luxembourg.

These parties have included appearances by Cirque d’Soleil and Jon Bon Jovi (who I didn’t even know was Jewish) and have been held in places like the Museum of Natural History, where even some of the aborigines in the dioramas were paid to dance the hora. (I’m kidding about the last part. I think.)

To be sure, we’re not talking about average parents here. These are billionaires. The average parents are only spending about $30,000.

By “average,” I’m talking about bar mitzvahs to which I have actually been invited. These parties, which often take place at country clubs, all feature entertainment troupes with DJs and dancers who whip the kids into a frenzy by offering cheap chatchkes like inflatable guitars and plastic hats. Then, later, when the adults are plastered with the help of the frozen vodka station, these same dancers lure unsuspecting people onto the dance floor to do embarrassing things in front of a professional videdographer, who will then blackmail the participants by threatening to post the video on YouTube.

But that is not all there is to do. These things are set up like carnivals, with midways that include photo booths, make-your-own-music-video stands, roaming (and annoying) magicians and, I kid you not, casinos. That’s right, gambling. For 13-year-olds. Granted, they’re playing for prizes and not money, but, still, between that, and the open bar, and the 13-year-old girls in sexy dresses, and the incredibly conspicuous consumption, it’s not exactly in keeping with the thoughtful ritual of the bar mitzvah. It’s more like a commercial for Las Vegas tourism.

Of course, there are moments when all the partying comes to a halt and certain traditions are observed: the lifting of the bar mitzvah boy (or bat mitzvah girl) in a chair and dancing around with them until they fall out of the chair or throw up…the doddering grandfather saying the prayer over the challah…the lighting of the candles on the cake which has been lavishly decorated in the theme of the occasion, which is usually not at all related to Judaism, but is more likely to be “my favorite movies” or “sports stars I admire.” (I have sat at a Michael Jordan table. At a bar mitzvah.)

Back to the lighting of the candles: this is when friends and relatives are called up to light one of the 13 candles on the cake. This is done by having the bar mitzvah boy recite a poem which he has supposedly written, but which was probably penned by his mother, unintentionally in the style of a 13-year old:

Uncle Jack and Aunt Reneé.
Are terrific relatives in every way.
Having them is quite a mitzvah
Even though Reneé’s a shikse.
So light a candle, that’s my desire.
Try not to set the place on fire.

Then Uncle Jack and Aunt Reneé are escorted front and center by the dancers as the DJ plays music selected specifically for Uncle Jack and Aunt Reneé, or possibly chosen totally at random.

Another tradition rich in Jewish heritage is the “montage,” when everything quiets down and everyone is forced to watch a pre-produced collection of photos of the kid’s entire life as if, at age 13, he’s going into retirement after years of achievement. This montage is always–always–set to Green Day’s Time of Your Life. How the ancients knew about this song is beyond me, but I think it’s mentioned somewhere in the Old Testament.

Of course, during the entire proceedings, envelopes are passed discreetly between the guests and the honoree or his parents. These will be opened later by a CPA and taken to a bank under armed guard, but only after a detailed list has been made attributing an amount to each guest. You know, for future reference.

Finally, everyone is given a lovely parting gift and staggers out to the parking lot, and the evening is over, and the bar mitzvah boy or bat mitzvah girl need never set foot in a synagogue again, except that they will–every week for about a year–when all their friends get bar-or-bat mitzvahed with increasingly lavish affairs. This escalates, sort of like the nuclear arms race during the Cold War, only with a make-your-own-dessert bar. The last celebration of the season usually includes a red carpet with Joan Rivers reporting for E!

You’re probably wondering what sort of party we threw our daughter, Casey. Well, we gave her a choice. She could go through a year of incredibly boring bat mitzvah lessons and get a big party, or she could wait three years, have no lessons, and get a smaller Sweet 16 gala. We put this choice to her when she was around 11. I think we may also have shown her photographs of rabbis with long gray beards so she could see who might be administering the lessons. (This was before Harry Potter, so she didn’t think the rabbis were Dumbledore, or else she would have chosen that option.)

We had a very nice Sweet 16 in a local hotel and everybody seemed to have a nice time and Barbara and I might still be able to retire.

Or pay for a wedding.

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