Stepping out of the American bar mitzva circuit

My family is officially now in bar mitzva season, or should I say, “circuit.”

I mean this literally: my seventh-grader recently received an Evite to a racing party at an indoor go-kart track, followed by a Saturday night celebration the following week for the same child.

His social life has certainly become more active than mine: in the last few months the bar and bat mitzvas he has attended included a bat mitzva dinner at an upscale Manhattan restaurant ¬†followed by a Broadway musical as well as a boys’ paintball party. He missed another classmate’s bat mitzva because we had a family one the same weekend in Boston.

And soon it will be his turn. In six weeks, my son will be called to the Torah in Jerusalem, at the Kotel. We chose to have his celebration in Israel for a number of reasons.

Simplicity. We don’t want to stage a bar mitzva performance and have to worry about a typical suburban American affair, complete with a party “motivator” (a virtual cheerleader that organizes party games and dances), an elaborate menu, and of course, the “montage,” the ubiquitous slide show highlighting every aspect of a kid’s life from birth to braces.

Money. If we’re going to spend a decent amount of money, at least we should channel it into an occasion that will leave us with tons of memories — in this case, an Israel adventure. We would rather spend the kesef riding camels, digging for pottery, floating in the Dead Sea, and celebrating Purim on Ben-Yehuda Street than on fancy benchers, personalized kippot, and the classic souvenir T-shirt or gym bag from “Moishie’s Bar Mitzva.”

The mitzva. What more meaningful place could we choose to celebrate a child’s coming of age than Israel, and specifically Jerusalem, where paratroopers liberated the most sacred site in Jewish history only 45 years ago? And we also get a chance to participate in a real hands-on chesed or mitzva project, in this case picking fruits and vegetables for Leket Israel, an organization that sends volunteers into fields and orchards to gather produce donated or left to rot by farmers and then delivered to¬†organizations serving Israel’s needy.


Now, this celebration will hardly be all ceremony — or physical labor — either. We plan to host a celebratory lunch at a beautiful restaurant in Yemin Moshe overlooking the Old City. And not all of the partying will take place in Israel. Since most of our family and friends cannot travel to Jerusalem, we are planning a small brunch after our return — though narrowing the guest list is no easy task when you want to include your child’s classmates and teachers, close family, and a few of our own friends in the mix.

I absolutely cannot begrudge parents who want to hold a grand affair and invite as many guests as they can afford — they certainly have the right to celebrate as they see fit. It’s mainly the competitive aspect of the American bar and bat mitzva — i.e., outdoing the “Bernsteins” — that I can’t stomach.

This year in Jerusalem!







About the Author
Lori Silberman Brauner lives with her husband and two sons in Teaneck, NJ, also known in certain circles as "Dati-neck." She works as a copy editor and staff writer for the New Jersey Jewish News.