Want a Bar Mitzvah Party?
- 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
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
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
"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
Mark S. Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of
A generation ago, when bar mitzvahs were simple affairs celebrated
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
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
before the event, spending several hours each week learning to read
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
offended, it's just her 13th birthday party." There was a
candle-lighting ceremony -- like those she had seen at some bar
-- where the birthday girl's parents, friends, grandmother and uncle
were called up to light the candles on her cake. "After that party,
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
non-Jewish 13-year-olds whose parents requested bar mitzvah
up from three in 2001. Daniel Rose of Montville, N.J., says he did
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,
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
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
" 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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