A little while ago, our editorial assistant risked permanent public embarrassment and shared pictures from “Mollypalooza,” a.k.a. her bat mitzvah. We then asked our readers to send in their own bat mitzvah pictures, and chose a favorite to feature on the site. Without further ado, we present to you Gili Warsett:
Here, we ask Gili a few questions about her bat mitzvah:
What exactly did a “peace” themed bat mitzvah entail?
I became a bat mitzvah during the onset of themed b’nai mitzvot, and my mom, ever the Jewish feminist, would not allow me to have a non-Jewish related theme. She wasn’t totally sold on the theme idea at all, but if I had to have one, it certainly meant I couldn’t have a shopping, drama, baseball, or Disney-themed party, which was very popular in Florida at the time. A lot of my friends chose themes that highlighted an aspect of their identity like playing the flute or being a champion swimmer, but I failed at piano and caused my softball team to lose every game.
I was big into peace in the early 90s. By “big into peace” I mean that I owned a lot of clothes with peace signs on them and a dozen variations of peace-sign earrings. At 13, I’m not sure what I would have told you if you asked me what peace looked like, but my mom felt that peace was a very appropriate Jewish theme, so we hired a party-planner and decided to go all out. Each table had a cake in the center with a peace sign in purple frosting on top. The walls of the ballroom were decorated with cardboard cut-outs of “international” people of many skin tones and hair styles, clothed in “exotic” fabrics and fabulous prints. It was all very Benetton.
My Bat Mitzvah also had a slogan, “Peace. It’s Possible.” Not “Peace is possible,” but “Peace. It’s Possible.”
What is your favorite memory of your bat mitzvah?
I enjoyed giving the sermon at my synagogue. I had the unfortunate Torah portion of Leviticus: man not lying with another man. I didn’t identify as queer yet, but I certainly didn’t agree with my Torah portion. Instead of talking about the unfortunate passage, I spoke about scapegoats, which is also addressed in the same area. Anyway, it was fun to stand on the bimah in front of my congregation and make believe that I was the rabbi.
What would you do differently, if throwing a bar/bat mitzvah for your own child?
When I turned 26 (twice the age of my bat mitzvah), I was living in the Bay Area and my partner at the time arranged my friend’s house with peace-themed decorations including a “Peace. It’s Possible” banner and a cake with a peace sign in frosting on top. He blew up my sign-in board and made it into a new sign-in board. He made a CD of all the top songs that were playing on the radio in 1992. I walked into my friend’s house to find all my friends waiting to surprise me. It was fun to reclaim my Bat Mitzvah, much more queer than the first go at it, but also pretty embarrassing–I remember having to sit down and recover from the shock for a while before I could get into it. We limbo’d, which I was much better at when I was 13. At 26 I was closer to being the woman that I’ve become, although I still had plenty of lingering adolescent self-consciousness and social awkwardness. It wouldn’t have been a bat mitzvah party without those parts of me.
Now I have a 5-month-old baby girl and thinking about her becoming a bat mitzvah makes me cry a little (maybe it’s the hormones). I imagine I will follow in my mom’s footsteps: no goofy themes allowed. I was raised to think for myself, to be true to my identity, and to be proud of my feminist heritage. I am trying to instill these same values as a parent. My daughter, Zevi, may choose to not become a bat mitzvah. She will decide how to express her Jewish identity. Maybe by the time she becomes a bat mitzvah, peace will be not only possible, but foreseeable.