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My bar mitzvah suit

Taking his parents to court for what he wore in 1974

A Syosset woman improperly withheld from her son the $5,000 bar mitzvah gift that the youth’s maternal grandmother had meant for him, a Nassau County judge has ruled. Jordan Zeidman, now 20, sued his estranged mother, Shirley Zeidman, 54, last year in First District Court in Hempstead, and Judge Scott Fairgrieve ruled in his favor Tuesday, ordering her to pay the $5,000.” — Newsday, Aug. 26, 2015

Wait — you can sue your parents over your bar mitzvah?! Had I only known:

Decided on March 15, 1974

District Court of Nassau County, First District

Andrew Silow-Carroll, Plaintiff


His Parents, Defendants

The plaintiff claims that his parents subjected him to humiliation and grievous harm by going ahead with his bar mitzvah despite a clear lack of motivation on his part, a series of questionable fashion choices, and the insistence that he pursue his Hebrew school studies despite compelling evidence of mental anguish.

Findings of Fact

On February 28, 1974, the plaintiff turned 13, which according to Jewish law made him eligible for a “bar mitzvah,” defined herein as a reading of excerpts from the Torah at this Long Island synagogue, a speech thanking his tutor, and a catered affair to follow at the Huntington Town House.

In the months preceding this event, the plaintiff’s parents made him attend twice-weekly “Hebrew school” classes at the temple, overseen by a cantor given to mocking students for their Hebrew pronunciations and taught by guitar-strumming rabbinical students who led sing-alongs of music gleaned from canonic Jewish texts, including Fiddler on the Roof,  the theme song from Exodus, and Harry Belafonte’s version of Hava Nagila.

The plaintiff testified that he so dreaded these lessons that it would often send him into bouts of despair. He explained how Hebrew school took place on Wednesday afternoons, the same day as gym class at Waltoffer Ave. Elementary School. Because the school had no locker room, students were required to wear their red gym shorts under their street clothes. Whenever he used the boy’s room that day he would see the red cloth of his shorts through his fly, which would remind the plaintiff that it was Wednesday and that he had to go to Hebrew school that afternoon instead of hanging out at the playground. This realization was so demoralizing that he would stand nearly catatonic in the boy’s room until summoned by a hall monitor.

The plaintiff also asserted that, given an unfortunate growth spurt brought on by over-indulgence in Drake’s FunnyBones and what his mother called a  “glandular issue,” he was impelled to shop for his bar mitzvah suit in the “husky” department at Ohrbach’s. He furthered maintained that the suit chosen for him — a three-piece plaid number with seven-inch lapels and flared bottoms, worn over two-tone platform shoes — would surely come back to haunt him should anybody see the photos, say, 40 years later (Plaintiff’s Exhibit 2).

On cross-examination the defendants testified that the suit was considered a fashionable choice in 1974, and besides, it closely matched the suits worn by his two older brothers, to the degree that when they were photographed together they looked like actors auditioning for a B-movie about the Osmond Brothers.

On March 7, a few days before the bar mitzvah, the tailor took it into the back room of the shop for a final pressing, only to emerge minutes later with a stricken look on his face and a steam-ironed shaped hole in the pants. Plaintiff acknowledges that a new suit was delivered the next day, but if anything this one had even louder checks and wider bell bottoms.

On the afternoon before the bar mitzvah, the plaintiff was taken for a haircut at El Matador on Jerusalem Ave., across from the Big Apple. Whether the stylist was intoxicated or distracted, the ensuing haircut was bizarre and unflattering, even by the standards of 1974. Subsequent attempts by the plaintiff’s oldest brother to “repair” the damage with hair spray and a “hot comb” were to little avail, as photographs attest (Plaintiff’s Exhibit 2).

Despite the attendant unease brought on by these occurrences, the bar mitzvah  ensued as planned that Saturday morning, with the plaintiff sharing the bima with another boy with a much better suit and haircut. Plaintiff took little solace in the fact that he didn’t need to stand on a stool to reach the microphone, performed his Haftorah without stumbling, and did not break into inappropriate laughter at the reading of the week’s yahrtzeits, which included last names like “Lipschitz,” “Hymen,” and “Frankfurter.”

At the party that night, however, the plaintiff claims that he was subjected to multiple wet kisses during the performance of the “candle ceremony.”

Conclusions of Law

The elements necessary to establish a claim of  humiliation and grievous harm may be presumed when one is talking about (1) Jewish adolescence, (2) suburban synagogues, and (3) the 1970s. (See Gruber v. Temple Mesorah of Long Beach 1968; BBYO vs. AZA 1971; and various episodes of The Brady Bunch 1969-1974. The plaintiff bears the burden of proving each element of the alleged harm by “clear and convincing evidence.”  The evidence clearly establishes that the plaintiff “did not ask to be born”; however, the defendants  testified that the choices they made for the bar mitzvah were no different than those made by other families “in their circle.”

This evidence, coupled with the fact that the plaintiff was always a little neurotic, convinces the court that the bar mitzvah boy had what is known as a “normal Jewish childhood.” Accordingly, judgment after trial is neither for the plaintiff nor against the defendants, although our sympathies are with all involved.

So Ordered:


About the Author
Andrew Silow-Carroll (@SilowCarroll) is the editor in chief of The New York Jewish Week and senior editor of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.