Unexpected Moments From the Bar/Bat Mitzvah Chronicles


Bar and Bat Mitzvahs often are positioned as a highlight of childhood (and a bridge to adulthood), but they just as often have some sort of traumatic element as well.

Whether it’s severe stage fright, technical difficulties, a sudden family squabble, a drunk relative embarrassing everyone or a wardrobe malfunction, a picture-perfect event can be kind of rare.

Although nobody on the Jewish Exponent staff had a horrific experience, some less-than-positive memories do exist, even at events other than their own — although everything did tend to work out for the best. Here’s a sampling, starting with my own day.

Hoping for rain on my big day

As my Bar Mitzvah day (June 30, 1979) approached, I became an ardent follower of the late Action News weatherman Jim O’Brien.

Every day, I watched the news to catch the weather forecast, fervently hoping that something would change and the predicted sunny skies would give way to downpours of rain.

My Bar Mitzvah conflicted with the Newtown-Edgemont Little League championships — and my team, the Indians, was playing for the championship. I was the left-handed starting second basemen on my team; I was a lousy hitter, but I could field and run.

Anyway, I was praying for rain, hoping the game would be postponed a day so I could play.

It turns out O’Brien’s forecast was spot-on and the weather was beautiful. My Bar Mitzvah went off without a hitch — and my team lost 6-0.

But there were even ramifications at the luncheon following the service.

As this was my last year of Little League eligibility, I missed the ceremonies for the “graduating” players. One of the things the departing players got to do was stand on home plate and try to throw a baseball into a barrel angled where second base normally was placed.

While I couldn’t leave, my friends did — “I’ve waited five years for this” one told me — so I had a depleted crowd at the luncheon. I can’t say I wasn’t a bit jealous that I didn’t get a chance at the barrel.

Lack of giveaways a bummer

Jesse Bernstein, Staff Writer

At Saligman Middle School in the late aughts, to show up on Monday without wearing the give-away attire of the preceding weekend’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah was to proclaim that you hadn’t risked it all in a game of Coke and Pepsi; you hadn’t slid the Cha-Cha slide; you hadn’t snickered at the forced rhyme for candle number 7. You hadn’t lived.

I don’t remember a lot of party specifics, but I do remember my sweatpants emblazoned with, “I Had Eilat of Fun at Maya’s Bat Mitzvah” (Israel-themed party) and “Orange You Glad You Came to Jon’s Bar Mitzvah?”

So when my parents told me that, in lieu of a giveaway, we’d be making donations in the names of each party guest, I was aghast — my dreams of give-away immortality, lost in time like so many tears in the rain — but I had no choice but to assent.

Somehow, I survived.

When I think back to the ridiculousness of it all now, how much we were being taught to socially signify to one another at those parties (she had a band, he had a DJ; he had Betty the Caterer, she had snacks), I’m thankful to my parents for preserving little of that night but the photos and the memories.

Not because it wasn’t terrifically fun — it was — but because the thought of someone walking around in a sweatshirt that says something like, I don’t know, “Things Got Messy at Jesse’s Bar Mitzvah” is a horrifying prospect.

Celebrating Sans Synagogue

Selah Maya Zighelboim, Staff Writer

After lessons with my Bat Mitzvah tutor, we would sometimes go out to her backyard so she could feed the deer — much to the chagrin of her neighbors.

That tutor was a cantor who worked in the Austin, Texas, Jewish community and she, like everything else that was a part of my Bat Mitzvah, was chosen by me and my family. We picked the date (the day before my 13th birthday). We chose to have a mincha maariv service instead of the more common shacharit service. We even made our own siddur, and I chose what tune I wanted for each song.

My family had moved to Austin a little more than a year before my Bat Mitzvah, so we didn’t belong to a synagogue. I didn’t have a set way to go about the process or even a place to read from the Torah, but it wasn’t a detriment.

Rather, it was an opportunity to make the entire celebration more personal.

In the end, my Bat Mitzvah was held in an upstairs library at Texas Hillel. I led most of the service myself, with support from my tutor/cantor and the Texas Hillel rabbi at the time. The service was immediately followed by a party downstairs in a multipurpose room.

As I danced in that multipurpose room with my out-of-town friends to the tunes of Austin’s legendary DJ Simcha, I remember feeling like it was the best night of my life.

And when my brother’s Bar Mitzvah came around two years later, my family chose once again to have the celebration sans synagogue. ❤


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