My Bat Mitzvah party had a magician (nya nya)
New Yorker author Mark Oppenheimer has just published “Thirteen and a Day: The Bar and Bat Mitzvah Across America,” a book about the over-the-top materialism and underwhelming spiritual content of modern B’nai Mitzvah ceremonies and celebrations, and what the antidote might look like. Although he describes himself as a secular Jew who never had a Bar Mitzvah, Oppenheimer is enthusiastic about reclaiming the significance of ritual.
Reviewer Kera Bolonik, whose own Bat Mitzvah party apparently “sucked,” writes:
Oppenheimer can barely contain his grief — at times, awestruck revulsion — at events like these. While that may seem predictable, the thing that really riles him is sitting through b’nai mitzvah ceremonies that hijack the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbos) morning services. The rabbis often cut short the usual rituals at the expense of the regular congregants to accommodate the guests of honor. “By robbing the day of its central purposes, communal prayer and public Torah reading,” writes Oppenheimer, “b’nai mitzvah’s heightened importance within the Jewish community actually seemed to cripple the ritual’s religious potential … The first Torah service a young man or woman takes part in is not a true Torah service at all, but a reasonable facsimile of one … the child is guaranteed success for an audience of invited friends and relatives.” It especially infuriates Oppenheimer because so many of these families join the synagogue on a short-term, opportunistic basis, becoming members a year or two before their child’s bar or bat mitzvah, with no interest in engaging spiritually or communally with the congregation. In fact, most of them don’t renew their memberships once their children complete their rites of passage.