Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A

Growing Up Jewish – Bat Mitzvah Edition

June 09, 2011 By: Mel Category: Religion

It has been ages since I wrote a Growing Up Jewish post. And since last month was the 25th anniversary of my Bat Mitzvah (Fuck I’m old!), I thought it was time to continue the series.

According to Jewish law, at thirteen you are an adult. And that means a party.* Of course, being Jews, we have to make sure that you have years of suffering before you get to have any fun. That’s where Hebrew school comes in. You would assume, given the name, that you might actually learn Hebrew at Hebrew school. Not so. You learn to read Hebrew, but not to speak it or understand it. What’s the point, you ask?  Shrug.

I suppose it is mostly so that you can read/sing your haftarah at your Bar or Bat Mitzvah.  (That’s Bar for the boys and Bat for the girls. I really feel like “bar” would have been more appropriate for me, but whatevs.) Learning your haftarah also takes extra sessions of torture with the temple cantor. He is the dude in the funny hat who sometimes blows a horn. Thankfully, they don’t make you blow anything for your Bat Mitzvah.

I can tell you that I have not retained one fucking thing from all those years in Hebrew school. I can’t read Hebrew. I certainly can’t understand Hebrew. I’m not even sure what else we did. I have vague recollections of people watching Holocaust films. I remember people collecting money for Israel in little blue and white tins. I also recall skipping class and chewing on cinnamon toothpicks in the temple bathroom. (For some reason, cinnamon toothpicks were verboten.)

If your parents have money, they throw you a huge party for your Bar/Bat Mitzvah. I had a lot of friends with money at that time, so I went to a lot of ridiculously posh parties. People spend as much on those things as they do on weddings. I don’t get spending that kinda cash on weddings either, but tens of thousands of dollars on some teenagers?  Eye roll. You do get lots of loot though. Sadly, girls tend to get jewelry. Guys get cold hard cash. I knew someone who used the cash to buy their first car. Yeah. It’s that much sometimes.

Sadly for me, my parents did not have money. In fact, within a little more than a year, my father’s business would be closed down and the IRS would be trying to take our house. So I did not have a party in some fancy hotel ballroom with a band and tuxedoed waiters and shit. I had a party in my backyard with a DJ and some really tacky Hawaiian decorations.

Oh yeah. I almost forgot to mention that most Bar/Bat Mitzvahs have themes. My theme was a luau. Yes, that’s right, native culture appropriation. Shut up. I didn’t know. And there is really nothing you could do or say that would make me feel worse than I do when having to look at those Bat Mitzvah pics. So you may as well save it. That is one of the special cruelties that Jewish kids have to suffer. The only professional pictures I have ever had taken are of me at my most awkward, pimply, brace-faced, frizziness. And I’m wearing fucking pastels. And sometimes I’m wearing a lei. Horrible.

Anyway, my low-rent, backyard Bat Mitzvah was actually kind of fun. It wasn’t fun enough to make up for eight years of Hebrew school, but it wasn’t horrible. The nice thing about doing things on the cheap was that there was no bartender. It was help yourself. So some of my friends helped themselves. When my mother discovered this fact, she said to my father, “Bob, the kids are drinking!”  My father shrugged and said, “Meh, they ain’t driving.”  Very true, Bob.  Not for a couple more years at least. (Guess we know who gets credit for my love of liquor.)

Anywho, I fought with my mother about the Hebrew school thing for years. She said that once I was officially an adult after my Bat Mitzvah, I could decide for myself if I wanted to go to temple. I am happy to say I haven’t stepped foot in one of those places since.


* Some say twelve is coming of age for girls. And many orthodox Jews only throw a party for the boys. But screw them. That’s not how I learned it.