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You’re insane if you think a bat mitzvah with live animals corrupts the tradition

2:48 pm Thursday, May 7, 2009
by stacey palevsky

To all of the letter writers and opiners who a) hate that we at J. dedicated a cover story to safari-themed b’nai mitzvah parties and b) think it antithetical to Judaism that families are planning these events in the first place, I recommend you immediately sit down with a Jewish American tween (and the parents who want to appease them).

Talk to them for five minutes. You’ll see that a safari-theme bat mitzvah party with a zebra and python reflects their reality.

Which is: They are awkward. They are self-absorbed. They like Miley Cyrus way more than Shakespeare or Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. They are not immediately preparing to get married and be fruitful and multiply (at least, let’s hope not). Rather, they are learning algebra and going to school dances and buying Clearasil in an attempt to hide the puberty surfacing on their t-zone. Sometimes they are experimenting with sex, cigarettes and even with their own identity. They might like themselves, but more often, they wish they could be prettier, smarter, more likable. Adults usually don’t “get” them. But they don’t usually “get” themselves, either.

In this context (which I call Reality, welcome!), the bar/bat mitzvah in America no longer symbolizes children entering adulthood, and anyone who still thinks otherwise is drinking the Kool-Aid.

Don’t get me wrong, the bar/bat mitzvah in the United States still has plenty of meaning — you can see it in mitzvah projects that raise thousands of dollars or books or blankets. And teens absolutely write thoughtful d’var torahs that they give, poised and articulate, from the bimah.

I realize that for many young Orthodox children, the bar/bat mitzvah is a spiritual obstacle course they commit to complete and then maybe have a nice kosher oneg afterward. For them, the big bash usually isn’t presented as an option. And that’s great.

But for anyone who is not Orthodox the bar/bat mitzvah is not just about Torah, trope and tikkun olam — it’s also about throwing a hecka cool party.

Don’t believe me? Go to the mall. Or Sunday school at your synagogue. Talk to 12- and 13-year-olds. I’d bet money that none of them would willingly skip having a party after their Torah reading.

If we really want to return the bar/bat mitzvah to its roots of self-discovery and personal growth, we’d change the age to 16, 18, 21 or 25 — birthdays when adult responsibilities (driving, college, drinking, renting a car) enter the marketplace.

In the meantime, we should remember that a bar/bat mitzvah party with a giraffe on the guest list does not preclude G-d’s invite. He/She’s there too. A big party doesn't necessarily corrupt a meaningful rite of passage. We live in America, after all, a land where anything is possible... which is to say that a bar/bat mitzvah can be both a big party and a thoughtful Jewish exercise, and that BOTH are equally a part of what it means to be Jewish and 13.



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Tags: Bat mitzvah, tween, teen, Jewish ritual, rite of passage, animals, party

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