Preparing for a bar or bat mitzvah is hard work, involving years of intense study and the courage to lead an entire congregation in prayer. Organizing a party to celebrate this milestone — well, that’s no picnic either.
My 11-year-old son, Ari, is now a Hebrew-school dropout. I am aware that that's the name of a comedy act and a line of T-shirts. But, for me, the phrase is not a punch line, but a punch in the gut. I imagine my response was just like parents whose kids drop out of high school: disbelief, sadness and helplessness followed quickly by a healthy dose of Jewish guilt. "Where did I go wrong?" "What did I do to cause him to reject my contribution to his heritage?"
My bat mitzvah invitation had bright purple embossed text on a hot pink card with my name enlarged in decorative script at the top and daisies adorning the bottom. Twenty-plus years later, I remember eagerly waiting for my friends to receive the invitations and running home weeks later to check the mailbox for the return of the RSVP envelopes. Secured in a scrapbook, the invitation is a treasured memento.
Some things never change, or do they? Bar and bat mitzvah parties overwhelmingly follow a recipe that everyone assumes is written in stone, said Gail Greenberg, creator of mitzvahchic.com. The only room for creativity, people think, is to have a unique theme.
We all wanted to give my nephew the bar mitzvah party to not just match but surpass all of the one's he'd been invited to during the year. Yet the family's fortunes were not equal to the task. All we could scrimp together was $3,000. It could only have been divine inspiration that led us to the conclusion that this actually made the job of putting together a bar mitzvah to remember a lot easier than it seemed.
It's been said that when it comes to raising children, the days go slow and the years go fast. As I find myself in the thick of planning my second son's bar mitzvah, these words ring all too true.