If you are of the Judaic persuasion and you’ve recently hit, or are about to hit, the tender age of 23, congratulations. It’s been 10 years since your Bar or Bat Mitzvah. For most of us, that means it’s been 10 years since our least favorite after school activity, Hebrew School. It’s also been 10 years since you had the braces that made you look like Jaws from “Moonraker,” and 10 years, hopefully, since your awkward, fat phase. Mine never ended. Thanks for rubbing it in, you schmuck.
Like all major events, your Bar or Bat Mitzvah requires a look back. Why? Because this is the Internet. I don’t make the rules, I just write the stuff. But seriously, you’ve changed quite a bit in the last 10 years, and odds are, you haven’t thought much of your Bar or Bat Mitzvah after you stepped out of that temple, counted up your gift checks, and went back to middle school on Monday as the proud man or woman you became and still are today. Let’s take a trip down memory lane.
1. Puberty After Purim
A decade ago, hormones coursed through your veins, awkwardly stretching you into the adult you are now. These days, you’re grateful for puberty, but back then, it wasn’t pretty. Nothing was pretty. Girls were taller than guys, there was nothing like your voice cracking in the middle of your Haftorah, and random growth spurts made visits to the tailor to adjust the length of your pants a biweekly ritual. I guess the ancient Hebrews didn’t really factor puberty into the equation back in the day, mainly because thousands of years ago, Bar Mitzvahs didn’t feature invasive photographers trying to snap as many pictures as they could of the grease trap you called a face.
And gentlemen, I hardly (Ha! Get it?) have to remind you of the fear and panic that would set in every time your “little friend” popped up to say hello. Try concealing that in silk pants (or some other soft material) while you’re sitting on the Bimah, trying not to notice your mom’s recently divorced, buxom friend Marsha, or the inappropriately short black dress your 23-year-old babysitter Jill wore to your Saturday morning affair. Trying not to pop a boner on the Bimah. The struggle is real. Thank Moses for prayer books.
2. Interacting With The Opposite Sex
If you were popular or social, you probably invited a decent amount of people of the opposite sex to the affair. Or, if you were anything like me, you had no female friends, and any girls who came to your party were family friends, related to you, or came out of pity–or some combination of the three. (I still maintain that girls are stupid, and I stand by my decision to have a Simpsons-themed “Bart Mitzvah” with arcade games. So there.)
But girls were incredibly confusing. They still are. The same hormones that had guys going crazy back then had hit girls like a ton of bricks a year or two before, so not only were they taller than you, but they were more mature. Frankly, they had no interest in dating someone their own age. Hit the bricks, Romeo. At least Marsha’s giving you the eyes.
And even if a girl was interested in you, you would have had to cross the dance floor from the “boys’ side” to get over to the “girls’ side” to talk to her. Who the heck was brave enough to do that?
Enter the ultimate ice-breaker: Coke and Pepsi.
3. Coke And Pepsi: The Greatest Game Ever Played
Your DJ did the best he could to turn an awkward gathering of hormonal 13-year-olds and parents into a rocking good time. They had dancers, glow sticks, inflatable instruments, and, without fail, they opened every party with P!nk’s “Get The Party Started,” a tried-and-true opening number until “Let’s Get It Started” became a staple.
Whoever invented this game deserves the Nobel Prize for “getting teenagers to interact with one another.” There were boys on one side and girls on the other, and if it was your Bar or Bat Mitzvah, you obviously got paired with the best looking member of the opposite sex at the party (which, at my Bar Mitzvah, was my great aunt Florence). The DJ yells out “COKE!” and the girls come sprinting over to the boys to sit on their laps; the DJ yells “PEPSI!” and the boys come to sit on the girls’ laps, albeit a bit slower, because nine times out of ten, they’re walking with a slight limp.
It’s a ridiculous game and usually resolves in a bullshit win for the Bar or Bat Mitzvah kid, even though Mark Greenblatt TOTALLY got to the other side before I did, and will never, ever let me live that down. But after it’s all said and done, you’ve got a group of giggling, embarrassed kids interacting and harmlessly flirting with one another. Is that so bad? Forget Beirut and flip cup–we should bring Coke and Pepsi back.
4. Checks In Multiples Of $18: An Inconvenient Truth
At the risk of sounding like an ungrateful prick, I’m not quite sure when this “tradition” came into play, but for the love of Abraham, I wish it would go away. In Hebrew, numbers also correspond to letters, and the number “18” translates to “C’hai,” which means “life.” There is a “Fiddler on the Roof” quote: “To Life, to life, L’Chaim!” Or was that not mandatory viewing for kids growing up? Just me? Okay.
Somehow, it became an assumed tradition to give people gifts in multiples of 18. This is a fine sentiment, and I have absolutely no problem with the symbolism and message. (Though I have to question the short-sightedness of my ancestors who didn’t make C’hai equal to $100…or at least a round number. Counting all those eights is a bitch.) Your friend from math class gave you $36? That’s awesome. Hang out with that kid more often.
When it comes to your filthy rich second cousins who you’ve seen three times in your life and they hand you a check for $36 before hopping in their brand new BMW an hour into your reception to go to another Bar Mitzvah they deemed much more “important” than yours, you’re going to want to peg their car with a rock before they manage to leave the parking lot. “It’s double C’hai! Mazel tov!” It’s a pack of lies is what it is.
All in all, your Bar or Bat Mitzvah was a joyous occasion: a delightfully awkward affair, filled with brightly-colored braces, gifts, the love and pride of your family, a ridiculously stacked kids’ dinner and dessert buffet, and the envy of your non-Jewish friends. You probably still have all the centerpieces in your garage, a couple of your themed sweatshirts in your closet, and your album is probably gathering dust in the living room. Go through it, be nostalgic, and say thank you to your parents. You probably didn’t thank them enough back then, and life is short. If you’re lucky, they’ll be around to go to your kids’ Bar or Bat Mitzvahs.
Mazel tov, Hebrews and Shebrews.