The Arty Semite

Obama's Bar Mitzvah Dance Party

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

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A few days ago, I was in the process of retrieving my book bag from the trunk of a colleague’s car when the hood of the trunk came down suddenly and swiftly on my head, leaving me momentarily stunned. Like the characters in countless cartoons, I saw stars.

VA Democrats

The stars, in turn, gave way to a dull ache and to a nagging anxiety about the lingering consequences of my encounter.

I tell you all this, because I actually thought I was seeing things when, in reading about President Obama’s 50th birthday bash, I came across the following sentence from the Chicago Sun Times: “The night was balmy, and when dinner was done, a DJ spun dance tunes—‘like at a Bar Mitzvah,’ said one guest.”

But, no, I didn’t misread or misapprehend or misinterpret. There it was in black and white: The bar mitzvah, that millennial religious rite of passage, has been firmly associated in the American public imagination with a dance party.

Is it a measure of how far the Jews have come in contemporary America that one of their most distinctive, and age-old, rituals now stands in for a modern, and widely shared, form of partying? Should we wring our hands or use them to applaud?

All I know is that my head hurts.


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