Be forewarned: if you have 12-and/or 13-year-old kids, you are about to enter a Twilight Zone-esque parallel universe known as “The Bar/Bat Mitzvah Circuit.” This will require not only a complete commitment of your free time, energy and financial resources, but also a twisted understanding of human nature. So, before you or your children step toward the synagogue doors, I’ve assembled the definitive rookie’s guide to attending a bar or bat mitzvah party.
The Invitation: Several weeks before the event, an invitation on paper stock roughly as thick as a strip steak will arrive at your home. The amount of enjoyment you will experience at the event is inversely proportional to the amount of glitter that falls out of the envelope.
The Service: You will notice that for the first half of the service, the child being bar/bat mitzvahed is not doing anything besides sitting on the bimah in an oversized chair looking vaguely uncomfortable. This is so that the family can conduct last-minute mobile stock liquidations to help pay for everything that follows.
• Eventually, the young man or woman will take centre stage for some preliminary prayers in Hebrew and English. It is likely that they will hit puberty during the third or fourth verse of the second prayer.
• When it is time to read directly from the Torah, a succession of family members will take the stage to recite blessings. Inevitably, Uncle Herb will butcher the blessing despite hearing it thousands of times. Aunt Nancy will elbow him in the ribs. The rabbi will smile and silently wonder why he chose his given profession.
• After the Torah reading, the boy or girl will read an essay they wrote on what the Torah portion means to them. This despite the fact that the literal reading of most Torah portions involves either the ritual slaughter of a goat or the subtle endorsement
• There is no applause after either the Torah or Haftorah reading, in order to allow sleeping congregants to continue their slumber.
The Gift: Because Jews love to contradict stereotypes, the only acceptable gift is cold hard cash. Cheques are fine, too. All gifts must be given in increments of $18.
• If you give more than the amount given to your own child at his or her bar/bat mitzvah, you will be considered a snob. If you give less, a special investigation will be launched at the next Hadassah board meeting. It’s best just to make things match.
The Party, Hour One – Cocktails: You will be offered a stuffed mushroom or a piece of meat on a stick at least once every 14.3 seconds. No matter how elegant the appetizers, nothing will be more fought over than a tray of mini hot dogs wrapped in puffed pastry.
• If you are male, within 10 minutes of entering the event you will spill some kind of red sauce on your white dress shirt. You will attempt to cover this up and hope your wife is too distracted by the action at the sushi table to notice.
The Party, Hour Two – Enter The Hall: It will take you 15 minutes to find your place at Table 14, because Jews have a sense of humour about non-linear table placement, and Table 14 will somehow be located in a row adjacent to Table 3, Table 9 and a numberless table featuring a picture of Harry Styles.
• The bar or bat mitzvah child will be carried into the room like the pope. They will be mildly upstaged by their younger brother or sister, who will be wearing adorable sunglasses and a fedora.
• You will be grabbed by the sweaty right hand of Uncle Irwin, who will pull you into the hora. You will grab the non-sweaty left hand of a random female guest, who will look mildly disgusted by your sweaty right hand.
• A chair will be brought to the centre of the circle. Do not sit in this chair. It is reserved to individually raise each family member in a Lion King-like salute to their power and authority over you.
The Party, Hour Three – The Meal: You will only be given one bread roll. Eat it quickly, or guard it like the Hope Diamond.
• During the salad course, the father of the honoured child will take to the stage to give a toast. He will thank everyone for coming, “from near and far.” He will also thank his lovely and beautiful wife for putting so much time and effort into such an incredible event. Try to catch a glimpse in the background of the exhausted party planner getting intravenous fluids.
• The husband will also salute the amazing job his child did at that day’s ceremony. Note that his speech was written at least 72 hours before the event, having no idea whether his child excelled or butchered the Torah portion. Shake off the hypocrisy and clap politely. He’s paying for your drinks.
The Party, Hour Four – Your Time to Shine: As you manage to eat your last bite of salmon, a table with candles may be wheeled out onto the dance floor. Key individuals in attendance will be asked to join the child on stage while lighting a candle in their honour.
• Once complete, the table and its now-burning tablecloth will be wheeled off the stage and the DJ will play a song by Michael Jackson, a formal signal that marks the beginning of the “old people” portion of the dance festivities.
• For the next 20 minutes only, the DJ will dust off songs created between 1970 and 1990, while the adults pretend they are still culturally relevant. You will dance enthusiastically and think you look good doing it.
• You will not look good.
The Exit: You can’t leave yet. Give it at least another 20 minutes before you offer up a strategic yawn and put yourself into the now-40-people-deep farewell line.
• Jews don’t let Jews drive hungry. You will find to-go bags filled with donuts, warm pretzels and bottled water with monogrammed labels as you approach the exit. You will eat the entire contents while waiting in the coat check line.
• There will also be a gigantic row of candy in jars. Several moms will nonchalantly fill a bag or two with Skittles and jelly beans, “for their children at home.” None of that candy will make it home uneaten.
• You will ultimately arrive home, full and exhausted. But before you collapse into sleep, admit it: you actually enjoyed yourself.
• Rinse and repeat. You’ve likely got another bar/bat mitzvah next weekend.
Michael Wolfe blogs at toolazytowriteabook.com