Oy vey!

Non-Jewish kids are demanding lavish faux mitzvahs, reports People, via Volokh Conspiracy. David Bernstein quotes the story, which is not online:

Welcome to the strange new world of faux mitzvahs, where non- Jewish teens like Kimya Zahedi–whose parents are Iranian-born Muslims–and Taylor Lasley, African-American and Presbyterian, get to party like it’s 5764 (that’s 2004 on the Hebrew calendar). A centuries-old Jewish tradition, bar mitzvahs (for boys) and bat mitzvahs (for girls) mark the passage from childhood to adulthood with rituals like candlelighting and slicing braided bread called challah, as well as with elaborate and often expensive celebrations. Now more and more non-Jewish kids are insisting on their own bar or bat mitzvah-style parties–without the religious rites and months of studious preparation–when they turn 13. “You see how you can have so much fun with so many people,” says Kimya, who attends one or two bar or bat mitzvahs every weekend in and around her wealthy neighborhood in Alpine, N.J.

The kids are insisting? What happened to “no,” I wonder.

It’s possible to have a cheap bat mitzvah, by the way. I did it for my daughter. Because I’m cheap. It was a great experience. I think we spent less on the whole thing than the parents of one of her friends spent on invitations.

About Joanne


  1. Ugh. What next, faux First Communions? Mock Masses?

    Enjoy your parties while you can, kids – college admissions camp will soon be creeping up on you.

  2. Mad Scientist says:

    This is not surprising. Over in Taiwan, the fad is to have an American-style wedding, complete with gowns, tuxes, and a minister. Some mininsters refuse to “marry” those who do not convert.

    Let’s see how many volunteers there are for real circumscissions.

  3. I don’t know about Taiwan, but the kind of ceremonies mentioned by Mad Scientist are a big Hawaiian industry for Japanese couples. The actual legal act is a simple matter of registering as a married couple at your local ward office (not very romantic), so you can do whatever you want for the ceremony itself, and Hawaiian companies are happy to oblige in providing the fantasy.

    However, the idea of fake bar mitzvahs…I dunno…it seems to take chutzpah to a whole new level.

  4. Today I’m a man.
    Tomorrow I must return
    to the seventh grade. – Leslie Aisen


  5. Walter Wallis says:

    Boys get a bar, girls get a bat?
    Somehow, oddly appropriate.

  6. Mark Odell says:

    Mad Scientist wrote: Let’s see how many volunteers there are for real circumscissions.

    That was my first thought, too — all righty then, let’s bring on the mohels! 🙂

  7. Bar = son of
    Bat = daughter of

  8. Richard Brandshaft says:

    You don’t have to be a devout Christian to celebrate Christmas. Why should you have to be Jewish to have a bar mitzvah?

    For that matter, among many Jews, the bar mitzvah has become an elaborate birthday party and an excuse for conspicuous consumption.

    We should just be glad we don’t live someplace where religion is really taken seriously, like the Mid-East or Ireland.

  9. Mad Scientist says:

    Well richard, should you actually be a Christian to take Communion? Technically, you should.

    What about baptism or any of the other sacrements specific to a particular religion?

    Basically, it’s just a bunch of greedy slobs trying to cash in on what is supposed to be a significant and solemn ritual.

  10. Walter Wallis says:

    Damn – another allusion shot.

  11. You’re just too subtle for us, Walter.

  12. Richard Nieporent says:

    I would expect something like this to be from a Mel Brooks movie.

  13. PJ/Maryland says:

    I didn’t have any Jewish friends growing up, so I’m a little unclear about the whole bar mitzvah thing. But isn’t the bat mitzvah a relatively recent development, an attempt to be evenhanded with Jewish girls?

    Actually, the Catholic (and, I’d expect, typical Protestant) equivalent to a bar mitzvah is Confirmation, not First Communion. I believe current practice is Confirmation in 7th or 8th grade (ie, age 13-15), while First Communion is usually second grade (~8 years old).

    If the current Jewish custom is to play down the preparation for the bar and bat mitzvahs and play up the party, I guess it’s not surprising that some Gentile Jones would want to keep up. It’d be nice if that keeping up manifested in some religious way, eg if the Muslim kid had a party to celebrate some Islamic accomplishment. Then again, I get the impression that even non-religious Jewish kids would want a party…

    (Fwiw, my recollection is that you don’t have to do much to be Confirmed. You take some classes and are supposed to know things like the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit*, but I don’t remember any talk of people flunking out.)

    (*In the order I memorized them 30-odd years ago, they are: Fortitude, Fear of the Lord, Wisdom, Understanding, Patience, Counsel, and Knowledge.)

  14. When my daughter was going to move on to the seventh grade, there was talk among her classmates about just what kind of a celebration to have. Eventually, they had convinced themselves that they were going to have $200 dresses, a fancy dinner, and a formal dance.

    For passing the sixth grade.

    The parents stepped in and told them no. My wife, who is very good at explaining things, said, “Passing the sixth grade is not a big deal. If you didn’t pass, you would have serious problems.” The children got a brunch and a pizza party. And they liked it.

    Like Joanne, I too wonder why more parents don’t say no. Proms, quincineras, and other coming-of-age rituals are important, but why must every important act involve a second mortgage to pay for the ritual? These parents have no clue, and their children are exploiting their stupidity.

  15. bat miztvahs date from the early 1920s, the first was done by the daughter of Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of the reconstructionist movement (at that time, most closely aligned with conservative judaism), but spread over the next thirty or forty years throughout the conservative and reform movements.

    I just was at a really nice, really inexpensive bar mitzvah party yesterday — the boy had thrown himself into learning, fluently led the full (conservative) service (much more than is often done), and after a nice kiddush, we all just retired to his parent’s house for the rest of the day to eat and socialize. It was such a nice change from the lavish ones!

  16. Walter Wallis says:

    If I am real careful, I can make my ignorance seem subtle. But I have worked at it a long time.

  17. The Bar/Bat Mitzvahs for my niece and nephew were so much fun I asked my brother-in-law and sister-in-law (i.e. the Jewish side of the family) if they would consider having more kids, just so we could all get together again for another one. They said “No”.

  18. Doug Sundseth says:

    I found the story interesting and, actually, a bit reassuring. What better evidence could there be for a general reduction in societal anti-semitism than for all the cool kids to want to party like the jews?

    As I see it, the difference between a bar/bat mitzvah party and a bar/bat mitzvah is similar to that between an Easter sunrise service and the White House Egg Roll. I know there are people who are distressed by the latter, but I have little sympathy. You may infer from that my attitude toward those who decry the former.

  19. I seem to recall hearing something about how it’s fairly common in Mexico to hold multiple “confirmations” for the same child, in order to collect gifts from as many relatives as possible.

  20. Shawn Lee says:

    I think the Asian equivalent, sans religion, is the high school graduation. Whenever someone I know gradutes, I see them go back to Korea and visit some relatives and family friends to collect on gifts and money.

    I remember wanting to be a man at 13. Oddly, I now wish I could be 13 again.

  21. Margaret says:

    I guess I don’t see why this “coming of age/spend money” party needs a religious component. I attended a Catholic high school. The girls who wanted to blow a lot of their parents’ money and show off had big Sweet Sixteen parties at a local restaurant or hotel ballroom. I had my three closest friends sleep over and we watched Monty Python’s Holy Grail… 🙂

  22. John from OK says:

    These children might be taking after their parents, who need ever more excuses to party. Some holidays come to mind:

    1. St. Patricks Day – used to be, we wore green and had a parade; now we drink green beer and pass out
    2. Cinco De Mayo – used to be, we learned about Mexico; now we drink Corona with lime slices and pass out
    3. Halloween – used to be, we dressed our children in costumes and went door to door; now we dress in costumes, go to a party, drink beer and pass out
    4. Mardi Gras – used to be, we drank a lot of beer and passed out, then swore off booze for the next 40 days; now we offer strings of beads to young women in order to see their breasts, drink beer and pass out, and compare pictures for the next 40 days

  23. Mad Scientist says:

    Hey John,

    Only number 4 seems to be an improvement!

  24. JimInNOVA says:

    John – Dude, you can remember what happened on St. Patties, Cinco de Mayo, and Mardi Gras? You need to drink more!


  25. John from OK says:

    Mad, JiminNova,

  26. Jill Webb says:

    I was sickened by this article and wrote a letter saying so to the editor of People Magazine. Not only for what I consider defilement of a sacred and ancient ritual, but because so many parents today seem to be indulging their kids’ insatiable wants. If you read the article, several of the parents said they were doing these parties so their kids would be popular and not feel left out. Why don’t we teach our children that not EVERYTHING is for them and we don’t always get every single thing we want???? When will it end? I know parents like this and it truly scares me – these kids’ demands are boundless – because their parents keep giving, and giving and giving – without the kids earning or deserving. It will be interesting to see the results……

  27. Celebrating the religious event of another faith, complete with religious trappings, is gauche beyond belief at the very least. It shows a profound disrespect for the underlying purpose of the celebration.

    I attended the bar mitzvah of a friend many years ago (he is an actual Jew), and more recently the bat mitzvah of an adult friend. Although it is a rite of adulthood that is usually give at the age of 12 for girls, she had converted to Judaism upon marrying a Jewish guy, and the bat mitzvah is a formal acknowledgement of Jewish adulthood. She studied for many weeks to be able to speak the portion of the Torah in Hebrew that was assigned to her.

    It’s a time of joy but also a solemn recognition of both the privileges and the responsibilities of being an adult, and at least among Jews, different behavior is expected out of the child afterward, more befitting a mature human being.

    Rites of adulthood are important, I think, to the process of growing up. Western caucasian society is more or less devoid of them, which I think in part encourages the protracted adolescence that plagues many young adults today.

    I’m not Jewish, but I remember that when I started my period at about the age of 13, my parents acknowledged it as a milestone in my growing up and we celebrated it with a nice dinner out.

    I don’t think these faux mitzvahs are a way of honoring Judaism, or stamping out anti-Semitism. If anything it encourages mockery and ignorance of the Jewish faith, and perpetuates a disregard for the religious beliefs of others.

  28. In the standard bar/bat mitzvah, the kid reads a portion of the Torah (first five books of OT) in Hebrew and a portion of another part of the Bible, gives a speech interpreting the Torah portion and chants a number of prayers. It takes a lot of work to learn to read Hebrew and to learn the prayers, though some kids just memorize everything.

    My daughter’s Torah portion (it’s whatever comes up the week you have the ceremony) dealt with the procedures for selecting sheep for sacrifice at the Temple. It was a challenge to figure out what to say about it. I thought she finessed it well by asking: Why did I do all this work to read about how to perform animal sacrifice? What’s the point of perpetuating this ritual? And then she answered the question.

  29. What’s the big deal here.. so kids of other religions have parties when they turn 13? Good for them — imagine you were spending money on your kids’ (travel, apparel, gifts) for parties every weekend? And your kid was watching all their friends have a fun and be lavished with affection, attention, and gifts from tons of friends and family. Wouldn’t you want to see some of that come your kids way? One shouldn’t necessarily deny their child that same enjoyment just because the religion doesn say you MUST party. Last I looked we can throw parties for any reason we want, and because its America, you can call it anything you want.

    Btw, it seems pretty obvious from the various articles about these faux mitzvahs that the reason kids want them is because they are surrounded by jewish peers. Perhaps they are just more familiar with the Jewish tradition (as opposed to sweet 16s, coming out parties, or what have you).

    Maybe you should adjoin this thread with something about Kwanzaa.

  30. Kimya Zahedi says:

    I was the girl who held this party. I honestly did not beg or ask my parents for a party. I have been having one since i was 3 years old. Obviously they were not this big at that age or until i turned 13 in Jan, but I always celebrated my birthday. The term “faux mitzvah,” made me sick to my stomach the first time i read the article. I felt made fun of. I felt like someone told me I was doing something fake. There was nothing fake abnout my party. It was a big party, I admit, but I did not steal any tradition. I did not read aloud protions of the torah, nor did i get up on a chair and dance to the horah. I danced to persian music (which the writer neglected to include in the article) and and partied with my friends. I had an amazing night, and no one can take that away. It was just soo much fun. As for the money aspest, we did not know that the party would come to total to that number, but whatever the cost, it was an unforgetable night, that I, my brother, my mom, and my dad, along with all of our guests, enjoyed. I think that this article was a waist, and we should, in reality, be talking about the war with Iraq, or something more important than some 13 year old (me), and her big old birthday party…..WHY DO THEY/YOU CARE?

  31. nancy yamada says:

    I am a reporter at WUSA-TV in Washington. I am intrigued by everybody’s comments about “faux-mitzvahs”, coming of age parties for teens who aren’t Jewish. Does anyone know of anyone in the Maryland/DC/Virginia area who’s ever had one or is planning one now? Any tips would be appreciated…I can be contacted at http://www.wusatv9.com or 202-895-5523.

    Nancy Yamada

  32. Look Kimya, I don’t care if you have a wonderful party when you turn 13, but did you have to call it a Bat Mizvah? Can’t you call it something else? I am jewish, and I had my Bat Mizvah already. I spent four years learning all the hebrew and the prayers. Then when I started to learn my torah portion I was praticing an hour and a half a day. Even when I went to camp I had to practice. I understand you didn’t steal any of our traditions, but by calling it a Bar/Bat Mizvah that’s saying you prepared a lot for the cermony, not just had a party.