Friday, January 27, 2006 | return to: celebrations


Can a $10 million party ever be a mitzvah?

by avi frier, florida jewish news

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I would like to publicly apologize to Amber Ridinger and her entire family.

Initially, I was flabbergasted by reports of the bat mitzvah party thrown by J.R. and Loren Ridinger for their daughter, Amber. The bat mitzvah girl wore a $27,000 Dolce & Gabbana gown and unveiled her new perfume scent (Amber No. 13) and line of rhinestone-studded nightclub wear during the party. R&B/hip-hop stars Ja Rule and Ashanti performed for the guests, among them Mike Piazza of the New York Mets and The Inc. record label president Irv Gotti.

The affair, dubbed "Butterflies and Bling," cost $500,000. It made the front page of the Miami Herald, and page one of the Style section of the New York Times.

Though I was shocked by the amount of money spent on the affair last fall, and the seeming absence of any substantive mitzvah involvement in the celebration, perhaps my knee-jerk reaction was a tad judgmental. Maybe I was making a mountain out of a proverbial molehill.

I have learned my lesson, and I'm sorry.

So, you're asking yourself. What changed?

No, I did not learn of some previously unreported act of generosity performed by the bat mitzvah girl in honor of her coming-of-age. Nor have I changed my opinion on the value of a mitzvah versus that of any size party.

What brings on this mea culpa is that I have since learned that the affair wasn't nearly as big a deal as I originally thought. I have learned that $500,000 ain't what it used to be. I have learned that "Butterflies and Bling" was actually a barebones gathering that was by no means showy or ostentatious.

That is, when compared to "Mitzvah-palooza."

Last month, New York Daily News gossip columnist Lloyd Grove wrote about the bat mitzvah celebration that multimillionaire Long Island defense contractor David Brooks threw for his daughter Elizabeth.

Brooks booked two floors of Rockefeller Center's legendary Rainbow Room, outfitting the banquet hall for the occasion with a concert stage, a mammoth sound system, special carpeting and an array of Jumbotrons.

Kenny G. strolled during pre-dinner cocktails, playing his soprano saxophone, receiving an estimated $250,000 for the gig.

The evening's entertainment lineup included performances by rapper 50 Cent, Nicole Richie's ex-fiancé DJ AM, rap diva Ciara and rocker Tom Petty, culminating with a performance by Don Henley and Joe Walsh of The Eagles and Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac. And that was just the opening act.

That very same evening, in Pittsburgh's Mellon Arena, rock superstars Aerosmith followed opening act Lenny Kravitz with a 16-song set that had the crowd on their feet screaming euphorically from start to finish. After the show, the rockers boarded Brooks' private jet, arriving at the Rainbow Room just in time to cap off the evening (if 2:45 a.m. can still be considered "evening") with a 45-minute set, for which they were reportedly paid $2 million.

The more than 150 kids in attendance were handed $1,000 gift bags, which included the latest video iPod and digital cameras to capture stills of their favorite artists (except for "Fitty" Cent, whose bodyguards reportedly batted down the kids' cameras, shouting "No pictures!").

The price tag for the entire evening: $10 million, according to the Daily News. Brooks disputed many of the details, claiming that all dollar figures were "vastly exaggerated." He did not disclose any further details.

Amid my outrage over the "Butterflies and Bling" story, I was asked: "How much money does someone have to have in the bank to justify spending $500,000 on a bat mitzvah party?"

My answer: It's none of my business how they choose to spend their money. Besides, who's to say they are required to justify anything to anyone?

But if you balked at $500,000, I can only imagine how you're reacting to $10 million. So, for the more curious of you, I did a little poking around at Yahoo finance.

David Brooks is the founder and CEO of DHB Industries, Inc., which manufactures bulletproof vests and other armor products for the U.S. armed forces, federal agencies and state and local law enforcement.

Between Nov. 29 and Dec. 29, 2004, Brooks sold nearly 9.5 million shares of his company stock at an average price of $19.57 per share, amassing a (small) fortune of almost $186 million. Almost immediately, the stock price began a steady decline, closing most recently at around $4.80 per share. Today, the total value of the company is $189 million, not much more than Brooks' take last year. And Brooks and his wife, Terry, still own a combined 9.4 million shares, nearly 21 percent of the company.

To say the whole thing smells fishy is an understatement. In my financially illiterate mind, from the little bit I've scraped together off the web, Martha Stewart seems like the office worker who embezzles the occasional box of paper clips compared to this guy.

And it seems I'm not alone. Class-action giant Scott+Scott has filed a securities suit on behalf of purchasers of DHB securities between April 2004 and August 2005. The complaint alleges that DHB and certain individual defendants, including CEO David Brooks, violated the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 by making false and misleading statements causing artificial inflation in the company's stock price.

There I was, getting all upset when some nice couple from Miami dropped a half mil on their daughter's bat mitzvah, just because there didn't seem to be any real mitzvah associated with the celebration.

But by all reports, the Ridingers came by their money honestly. And in this day and age, I guess that's a pretty big mitzvah all by itself.


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