Leading up to our final weekend of performances for G-D’S HONEST TRUTH, we’ll be rolling out several essays written by dramaturgy students in the theater department of George Washington University. We are thankful to Professor Jodi Kanter–a noted educator and theater artist herself–for her wonderful work with these young ‘turges. We were so happy to have them sitting in on our process.
The “Bar Mitzvah kids” from Renee Calarco’s G-D’S HONEST TRUTH (Photo by C. Stanley Photography)
Today, I am a Wax Hand: Tales from a Bar Mitzvah Veteran
For a solid four of years of my parents’ life, one of the biggest parts of their weekend was figuring out how my sister and I would be getting to that weekend’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah. My sister is two years older than I, so immediately after she finished the two-year grind of her classmates’ Bat and Bar mitzvahs, I started mine. Parents would alternate carpooling duties on Saturday nights to the farthest pockets of Manhattan (or, God help us, Brooklyn) or arrange walking groups of acne-covered teenagers across Central Park on a Sabbath morning to hear the latest Bar Mitzvah boy crack through his thoroughly unmelodic Torah portion.
And if it was hard for the parents, one can imagine how difficult it would be for the kids. Maybe I’m in the minority, but you can bet I dreaded the walk to the Upper West Side, and the endless two hours of speeches (in which every single family member was thanked for traveling all the way from Israel, South Florida, Paris, Great Neck, Calcutta, you name it) that followed it, and then the luncheon where the same food was served week in and week out. With every cream colored oversized envelope you got in the mail you prayed that you find an invitation that would be asking you to join Mikey and his family for their special Bar Mitzvah weekend in Jerusalem. No parent would ever be willing to carpool that far. And of course every few Bar Mitzvahs, it would finally be the special weekend of a close friend of yours and as happy as you were for them, you started getting anxious about yours and how it would stack up.
And good luck on stacking up in comparison. While some of these Bar and Bat Mitzvahs were simple Torah portions read in the synagogue followed by a luncheon for invited guests, there were quite a few where it was hard to find the difference between Bar Mitzvah and over the top birthday party, sometimes even a Sweet 16 you’d find on MTV. Long gone are the days of “Today, I am a fountain pen.” Some of these parties were held at hotels like The Pierre or the Mandarin Oriental. The activities for kids would include photo booths where you and your friends would be inserted into movie scenes or jungles or in front of the Big Ben, karaoke booths that would record your singing your song of choice and then produce it on a CD for your parents’ listening pleasure, pillows and sweatshirts with your name graffitied on in bubble letters, wax hands, and trivia games with cash prizes (I made a whopping 15 bucks that night).
The one I will never forget was at The 40/40 Club, a nightclub owned by the rapper Jay Z, where late in the party he made an appearance to take pictures with the Bat Mitzvah girl and a select number of friends. I’ll always remember looking over the club from the top of a huge stairwell and the main source of light was coming from hundreds of little Nokia cellphones desperately trying to snap a picture of the man of the hour. You’d almost think the party was being thrown for his 13th birthday.
At many of these parties it was easy to forget why we were celebrating. I’ll always be thankful my parents did something a little different. The way my portion fell out I was able to read the same portion in New York and Israel. I first had a small ceremony at the Western Wall with our Israeli family and then a week later I read the same portion at our synagogue in New York, where after a few short and well delivered speeches we had a small luncheon–no frills, no Grammy winners, no photo booths. Exactly the kind of celebration fit for a 13-year-old.