I was married last week, and for our recent rehearsal dinner, my now husband and I put together a slideshow of photographs showing each of us at various stages of childhood and young adulthood. There were the obligatory bar and bat mitzvah shots. Combing through the photos of my 1992 bat mitzvah party, I got a good laugh at my girlish outfit: a carnation pink dress, with puffy, floral sleeves and a multi-tiered skirt that passed my knees. At my bat mitzvah party, the extent of boy-girl interaction was a dance-floor game of Coke and Pepsi, led by the emcee (who happened to be Paul Rudd — the now A-list actor who cut his teeth as a suburban Los Angeles bar mitzvah DJ).
At more recent bar and bat mitzvah parties I’ve attended, I’ve noticed, with a raised eyebrow, that the middle schoolers’ get-ups have gotten way skimpier — with many of the young girls in form-fitting dresses with spaghetti straps and high heels — and the co-ed dancing a whole lot closer. So perhaps it only a matter of time before the bar mitzvah took a real frat-party turn.
And last Saturday, it did, according to reports of a bat mitzvah so raucous that it had to be broken up by the police. In an article about the event, held at a Norwalk, Conn. museum, The Stamford Advocate reports:
Brian Fischer, rental coordinator for the museum, told police the younger guests at the Jewish ceremony, which celebrates a girl’s coming of age, tore out ceiling tiles and a light fixture in the 141-year-old, 62-room mansion. Fischer said he saw several boys and girls engaging in oral sex in the bathrooms, Officer Carleton Giles said.
Those allegations are “blown way out of proportion,” the bat mitzvah girl’s mother told the newspaper, employing an unfortunate choice of words — given the bathroom behavior Fischer says he witnessed.
But one local rabbi is urging the community not to jump to the conclusion that the incident is emblematic of any larger, troubling trend. Rabbi Joshua Hammerman of Temple Beth El in Stamford — incidentally, he officiated at our wedding — writes on his blog:
I’ve been the first to critique excesses at these events … but specifically to tie this type of misbehavior into Bar Mitzvah is equivalent to saying that because there was rioting in L.A. following the Lakers’ championship the other day, the NBA somehow is evil and corrupt. I won’t raise the banner of anti-Semitism, but why focus on a party that happens to occur after a particular religious event as opposed to any other teen party where similar (or worse) things might happen?
I’m not blind to the fact that our own students are capable of this kind of thing … but I’ve noticed a distinctly positive trend in the way families approach this event over recent years, and in particular this year. The over-the-top parties have fallen victim to the bad economy (even those who have the money see it as being in bad taste) in favor of more spiritual values. Our kids understand that as well. I’ve seen far less “bar” as the saying goes, and much more “mitzvah.”
Lower-key bar and bat mitzvahs — specifically those that incorporate tzedakah and social justice projects, as a growing number do — should be commended. But now parents and clergy need to take on, and take seriously, the issue of age-appropriate dress for young bar and bat mitzvah guests, whether or not it has an impact on age-appropriate behavior. I tend to think that it does.