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A Public School Lesson in Bat Mitzvah Etiquette

By Eleanor Goldberg

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The faculty at Scarsdale Middle School launched a $10,000 “empathy program,” to teach students how to be nicer to one another, after witnessing a rise in several alienating acts: name-calling, gossip, cafeteria cliques and the wearing of personalized bar-mitzvah gear, according to an article in Sunday’s New York Times.

As part of the program, students discuss Friar Laurence’s treatment of Romeo and Juliet in English class and play board games with the autistic students from whom they are separated during the day. And, according to The Times, “[T]o combat feelings of exclusion, the Parent Teacher Association is trying to curtail a longstanding tradition of seventh graders and eighth graders showing up en masse Monday morning wearing the personalized sweatshirts handed out to the popular crowd at the weekend’s bar or bat mitzvahs.”

Jess Calamari, an 8th grader at Scarsdale Middle School gave out blue hooded sweatshirts to her more than 150 bat mitzvah guests last year, but doesn’t think she did anything wrong. “I don’t want to offend people, but I like sweatshirts,” the 13-year-old student was quoted as saying.

Other students disagree with Jess though. The party favor trend has recently moved from clothing to water bottles and pajama pants. Jason Thurm, 13, another student at the school, tried to reverse the effects by collecting 200 personalized sweatshirts from his friends and donating them to a local church. Jason didn’t dole out gifts at his bar mitzvah. Instead, he contributed the money his parents would have spent on those party favors to a charity, Jason told the newspaper.

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