I’m preparing for my daughter’s bat mitzvah, which will be the final of my four children’s b’nei mitzvot. When it comes to the party, people have a range of styles around here, from simple to lavish. My husband and I made a conscious decision with our first child to stay true to our values and desires, not succumbing to peer pressure or keeping up with the Goldbergs. Granted, my first three children were the kind of boys who did not really have any “vision” for what they wanted for a celebration. They were open to what we proposed, so the power of suggestion worked in our favor.
Here’s what the first three celebrations looked like:
Son #1: A party for adults in our home the Saturday night after the bar mitzvah, where we did Havdalah, ate delicious kosher food, and showed a slideshow on the television in our family room. There were cousins and family friends who played in the basement without any formal entertainment. Shockingly, since they were kids, they were able to make their own fun. The next day my son had a party at the JCC Teen Lounge and gym, complete with pizza, candy, snacks, video games in the lounge, pick-up football on the lawn, and floor hockey in the gym.
Son #2: This son has special needs so we opted for a Monday bar mitzvah on Labor Day weekend, as Torah is also read on Mondays and Thursdays. He chanted beautifully. We had a simple, sit-down luncheon in the shul. We did the hora with recorded music and had a Jewish a capella group, who happened to be our friends, sing some Jewish songs. My son has a Jewish genetic disease, Familial Dysautonomia, so it was incredibly special and meaningful that he reached this milestone, performed so beautifully, and was surrounded by our loving network of family and friends.
Son #3: This child is more of a party boy, so we had a casual party at the JCC on Saturday night. As many of the parties we’ve attended are so loud you can’t hear yourself think, we opted to have the kids in the gym most of the time. They had a huge inflatable obstacle course, a photo booth, and a DJ running lots of games and music (which included music favorites from Camp Ramah, where my son goes to camp.) The adults were in another room, happily drinking, noshing, and talking. We all came together in the social hall for dinner, a little toast, and the slideshow.
I loved these simchas and the simple ways we celebrated our kids’ accomplishments. Yes, it’s a big deal to get up in front of a large group of people to chant Torah. But for goodness sake, the child didn’t cure cancer. To me, it’s a little over-the-top to glorify and exalt the young teenager who is already in a particularly self-centered phase of their life with a lavish party in their honor.
My daughter came home from school recently and said, “One of my friend’s bat mitzvah is months after mine. She already knows her theme, her colors, and her logo. Am I going to have those things?” she knowingly goaded me.
“Here’s the thing,” I told her, “the theme is Judaism and there will be no color scheme or logo. We know the important thing, which is your Torah portion.” She smiled, as she knew the answer before she asked the question. I have been vocal about my beliefs over the years and clearly she has heard me. She did not push back and is happily getting excited for her bat mitzvah and party. As with her brothers, we will start the weekend off with Shabbat dinner with our out-of-town and Shabbat-observant guests.
She will also write, with our assistance, a meaningful but age-appropriate d’var torah (speech) to share with the guests at her service. There will be the Kiddush luncheon after the service, where we can kvell over our daughter’s accomplishment. We will have a lovely, low-key party at our local Jewish Community Center, similar to her brother’s, for her friends and our family.
I want my kids to see themselves as being an important part of the bigger picture—the Jewish people—while maintaining their uniqueness, humility, modesty, and graciousness. When it comes to the big parties, I often hear people lament, “I am not having the kind of party that I want, but it’s what my kid wants.”
My question is, “Who’s the parent here?”
I tell my kids, “Here are your options within the framework of our values.” Children are very malleable and not too difficult to persuade.
That’s my job as a mother, as I see it.