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Want a Bar Mitzvah Party?

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  • ummyakoub
    You Don t Have to Be Jewish To Want a Bar Mitzvah Party More Kids on Cusp of 13 Get Faux Post-Rite Parties; Picking Hawaiian Theme By ELIZABETH BERNSTEIN Staff
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 1, 2004
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      You Don't Have to Be Jewish
      To Want a Bar Mitzvah Party

      More Kids on Cusp of 13
      Get Faux Post-Rite Parties;
      Picking Hawaiian Theme
      By ELIZABETH BERNSTEIN
      Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL


      After going to a dozen bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs last year, Laura
      Jean Stargardt told her parents she wanted one of her own. She said
      she
      found the singing inspiring and offered to learn Hebrew. She also said
      she wanted a big party.

      Her parents thought the request was unusual since the family is
      Methodist. But they co-hosted a lavish party for her and two of her
      friends last month that looked like a bat mitzvah, without the
      religion.
      They booked a country club in Dallas and a disk jockey, invited 125
      friends, and hired a professional dancer that Laura had seen at her
      friends' bar mitzvah parties.

      "I wanted to be Jewish so I could have a bat mitzvah," says Laura.
      "Having the party fulfilled that."

      A number of kids about to turn 13 who aren't Jewish are bugging their
      parents for parties that resemble those held following bar mitzvah
      ceremonies. In some affluent communities, parents line up the same
      entertainment and book the same party places. If they don't dance the
      traditional Jewish hora, they at least manage a tarantella or an Irish
      jig.

      "Parents will call us and say, 'My son's been to over 20 bar and bat
      mitzvahs, and I just want to do something nice for him,' " says Paul
      Noto, whose Carle Place, N.Y., party entertainment company recently
      staged one such 13th birthday party that cost $75,000 and included a
      tent with chandeliers, DJs and dancers.

      The parties can be upsetting to Jews who say they mock an important
      spiritual rite of passage. Others call the trend a welcome example of
      Jewish traditions becoming part of popular culture. "It shows how much
      the Jewish people and Jewish customs have become mainstream," says
      Rabbi
      Mark S. Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of
      Southern California.

      A generation ago, when bar mitzvahs were simple affairs celebrated
      with
      a glass of Manischewitz, the idea of a copycat rite wouldn't have
      occurred to anybody. But, starting in the late 1960s, parties with
      themes became popular, and by the end of the '70s in some areas,
      competition was raging to make them ever more elaborate.

      The bar mitzvah is actually an ancient, solemn event marking the
      coming
      of age of a Jewish male, undertaken after study of Jewish history,
      traditions and Hebrew. Bat mitzvahs, for girls, are a more recent
      phenomenon. Typically, children start intense preparations about a
      year
      before the event, spending several hours each week learning to read
      from
      the Torah -- the scroll containing the Five Books of Moses -- and
      sometimes writing a speech and doing charity work.

      After his daughter, Melissa, had attended a handful of bar mitzvahs a
      few years ago, Kevin Williams decided to spend $12,000 to throw her a
      faux bat mitzvah at a Manhattan hotel. About 150 people received
      invitations that read, "Welcome to Melissa's Black Mitzvah.... Don't
      get
      offended, it's just her 13th birthday party." There was a
      candle-lighting ceremony -- like those she had seen at some bar
      mitzvahs
      -- where the birthday girl's parents, friends, grandmother and uncle
      were called up to light the candles on her cake. "After that party,
      two
      more of her non-Jewish friends had them," says Mr. Williams.

      At Hart to Hart, a party company in Woodland Hills, Calif., co-owner
      Marsha Bliss says she organized more than a dozen parties last year
      for
      non-Jewish 13-year-olds whose parents requested bar mitzvah
      lookalikes,
      up from three in 2001. Daniel Rose of Montville, N.J., says he did
      seven
      or eight of these parties last year, up from two in 2001. In Roslyn,
      N.Y., NY Rhythm Entertainment has booked about a dozen in the past two
      years and none before that.

      Many rabbis are quick to point out that the parties have little in
      common with the real thing. "Bar and bat mitzvahs are about accepting
      adult responsibility in the community," says Rabbi Richard Block,
      senior
      rabbi of The Temple-Tifereth Israel, in Cleveland. "If non-Jews are
      going to emulate their Jewish neighbors, better they emulate the
      enduring values of Jewish tradition than the material excesses of
      contemporary life."

      In Malibu, Calif., Danielle Davis, who is Catholic, asked her parents
      for a bat mitzvah after attending several of her friends'. They
      explained to her the true meaning of the ceremony as a Jewish
      coming-of-age rite. "She said, 'Some of those things apply to me. I'm
      growing up and becoming a teenager. I should have a party to
      celebrate,'
      " recalls her mother, Rebecca Walls.

      "Of course the kids who had great bar mitzvah parties were elevated
      socially. So we kind of felt a little bit of pressure to hold an event
      people would remember," Ms. Walls adds. In the end, Danielle had a
      party, in February 2002, at a beachfront banquet hall with a Hawaiian
      surfing theme, a DJ and two professional dancers.

      *********************************************************************

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