I was always certain that I was never going to be one of those mothers. A bar or bat mitzvah isn’t a wedding, after all. The important thing is that your child is reaching the age of maturity and reading from the Torah. It’s not about the color of the napkins, the quality of the appetizers or the fancy outfits.
Big parties just aren’t me. But then I take a look at the pictures of my daughter’s big, beautiful and undeniably lavish event last week, I think to myself: What happened?
Somehow, the same momentum took over that drove me when I planned my wedding. Except, somehow, the pressure to make this a beautiful ceremony and festive party was greater.
It’s not that my daughter is some kind of superficial, spoiled princess. Quite the opposite. My inner drive to make this a momentous occasion, to a large extent, stemmed from the fact that she was taking the meaningful parts of her rite of passage seriously, studying and practicing her Torah portion diligently and without complaining, as well as participating enthusiastically in the Matan mother-daughter bat mitzvah program.
But at the same time, because it was meaningful, she wanted a party. And not a low-key kiddush after the service accompanied by a kid-oriented disco party – which I would have been happy to provide. No, she wanted the whole nine yards, the kind of bash I’d thrown for her brother a little over a year ago. And why shouldn’t she? Her mother has been preaching egalitarianism all these years. She’s listened, and took upon herself the Torah obligation that only a tiny minority of Israeli girls do. (I wrote previously about the vagaries of Israeli bat mitzvah tradition here.
This was her chance, her day to be the star, the center of attention, in front of her friends, her family, and her parents’ friends. I couldn’t deny her, nor my family, who was taking days off of work and school, and flying overseas thousands of miles to come be part of the special event. So it came down to a full court press: a major Shabbat celebration and Torah reading capped by a big party.
And so, for about a month before the party, I vanished from the rhythms of every day life and got sucked into the vortex of what one of my witty friends termed “PSSS” — Pre-Simcha Stress Syndrome.
It’s just like the lead-up to a big wedding: Every day had an endless to-do list — invitations, caterers, decorators, photographers, music, shopping for dresses, shoes and accessories. All done with love and pleasure, but it truly took over my entire life. During my toughest moments, I commiserated with friends about why this felt even harder than wedding planning.
Aside from the fact that in these cases, Bridezilla is 12 years old, we concluded that they tend to push us over the edge because a big simcha adds an extra dollop of activity to the already full plate of a working mother.
Now comes the part where I say the bat mitzvah was so wonderful that it was all worth it. (We Jewish mothers are so predictable sometimes…)
Everyone says that there is far too much emphasis on the wedding, when afterwards, what you really should be preparing for is the marriage. But somehow, on some level, you can’t help but believe that your ceremony and celebration is some kind of talisman for the future.
With a bat mitzvah, we also focus on the event, even as we grasp that we should be readying ourselves for are the challenges of our child’s adolescence.
But we put our heart and soul — and a big chunk of our bank account — into the ceremony and the party anyway. For me, the event somehow represented a launching pad for my daughter’s adulthood. You can’t prevent the bumps and bruises of life. But you pray, somehow, that memories of her bat mitzvah will remind her of how important and valued and loved she was at this point in time.
It’s my way of trying to slip her a secret supply of self-esteem that she can draw on. And as those of us who have survived young womanhood know, we can use all of the strength and confidence as we can get.