‘Keeping up with the Steins’: The 500-year-old religious ritual meets the over-the-top bar mitzvah party
Bar and bat mitzvahs have indeed become more elaborate in recent decades and in certain circles, party planners, rabbis and guests say. It’s a shift that coincides with the escalating value Western society places on children and the Jewish day school system’s move to schedule bar and bat mitzvahs two years in advance, so to avoid conflicts. Since these 12- and 13-year-olds have a year packed with bar and bat mitzvah parties, everyone wants to be different — and that often means more impressive.
Many cost tens of thousands of dollars. The really elaborate ones graze a quarter million or more: One Toronto boy had pop band Maroon 5 flown in to perform at his bar mitzvah. Another flew to Las Vegas with his friends and a film crew to make a seven-minute spoof of blockbuster movie The Hangover in which they had over-imbibed on grandma’s matzo balls. Legendary boxer Mike Tyson had a cameo. Justin Bieber sang at a Toronto bat mitzvah before he made it really big.
But as the standard ratchets higher, so too do the tensions. Rabbis voice concern about fetes that may overshadow the true meaning of the day. There’s a trope that the synagogue door seems to slam shut once Hebrew classes are through and the party’s over.
“The classic line is sometimes there’s too much bar and not enough mitzvah,” said Rabbi Shachar Orenstein of The Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue, Canada’s oldest Jewish institution, in Montreal. (Philip Cheung for National Post)