I'm trying not to let this become The Bat Mitzvah Planning (and Freak-Out) Blog, but it's about me, so for the next couple of months it's also going to be about Steph's Bat Mitzvah. What hadn't occurred to me, however, until Tonya posted a recent comment, is that some (many? most?) of my readers might not know much about the Bar/Bat Mitzvah tradition at all. Me, I grew up in a town and now live in a city with a large enough Jewish population that there's no public school on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. When I was at Wesleyan, the student population was around 40% Jewish. So, I've always been surrounded by Jews and often forget that this is not the case for the majority of the country—and world.
What follows is a very brief outline of what it means to become a Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Some of this is not accurate for Orthodox congregations, where, for instance, women are not permitted to read from the Torah, but I was brought up Conservative and now belong to a Reform synagogue, so this is how I see it.
The Bar ("son") or Bat ("daughter") Mitzvah is a person for whom the commandments apply—that is, one who has achieved majority age in the eyes of the Jewish congregation. That is generally considered to be age 13 (although some use 13 for boys and 12 for girls), and that's why most invitations ask you to celebrate with the family as the child becomes a Bar/Bat Mitzvah—the child has become one who can take responsibility for his/her actions. The ceremony itself is not a coming-of-age ritual; rather, it is just the first time that the child is allowed to participate as an adult. The child becomes a Bar/Bat Mitzvah regardless of whether there is a ceremony or not—it's a function of age. Up until that point, Jewish children are not expected to obey the 613 laws of the Torah.
So, yes, it's a big deal. However, what's become a really big deal is the party after the services. This, in my opinion, has gotten way out of control. It is, after all, just for a kid. Yes, it's an occasion to celebrate; no, it's not a wedding. I have heard of Bar/Bat Mitzvahs that cost upward of $100,000—yes, you read that right!—and had hundreds of guests. Oy. We will not be going that route, although it will certainly be a little fancier than beer and pizza in front of a big-screen TV.
Tonya wanted to know whether Steph was excited about the upcoming event. Yes, she is. She still has quite a bit of practicing ahead of her, but the reward will be a great party with lots of her friends and a DJ playing dance music I've never heard of! She also has to write a speech about what her Torah portion means to her, and then Andy and I have to write a speech about what she means to us, so I expect a major sob-fest by the time it's all over with.
And then you won't have to hear any more about it—until I start planning Pete's for June 2012, that is.