Sunday, October 23, 2005


today i am a man?

ah, the bar/bat mitzvah. stumbling through torah portions, the electric slide, polyester 3 piece suits, limbo contests, candlelighting ceremonies, "today i am a man" speeches, multiplication dances, lyp synch, big hair ... the list just goes on an on. for those of you who have banished your 80s/early 90s experience from the inner recesses of your subconscious, the new york times and a new website/book called bar mitzvah disco are here to preserve your awkward adolescence for all the world to behold:
Now it is a book. A collection of more than 300 photographs culled from bar and bat mitzvahs from the 70's to the early 90's with essays by friends of the authors like Jonathan Safran Foer and Sarah Silverman, "Bar Mitzvah Disco," which will appear in bookstores on Nov. 2. It is at first glance a nostalgia tour through an era of unprecedented bourgeois tackiness. But, the authors say, it is also a cultural history, albeit one with a Duran Duran backbeat. The MTV-era bar mitzvah marked not only a transitional moment in their own lives, they say, but also one for American Jews as a whole. It was a time when an insular Old World ritual blew up into an all-American affair: inclusive, often suburban and, thanks to new Hollywood production values, unforgettably garish.

"There is this natural awkwardness that children experience on the cusp of adulthood," he said. "But it's also this kind of rite of passage for the community, which is, for lack of a better expression, becoming white. They are going from outsiders to insiders. What could be more awkward than that?"

Parents are featured in the book as well, always lavishly dressed and often posing proudly in front of banquet tables overflowing with food. Many Jews of that era, said Jeffrey Shandler, an associate professor of Jewish studies at Rutgers University, saw their son's bar mitzvah as a way to telegraph their social standing and ambitions.

"Part of the move to the suburbs is seen as a step to being more integrated with your non-Jewish neighbors," Dr. Shandler said. "It's not just a family celebration. It becomes a kind of mega birthday party. Parents are using this as a social occasion, so their business associates and neighbors get invited to the celebration."

For them, he said, their child's party was as much about networking and conspicuous consumption as about watching their child give a commentary on the Torah. Bar mitzvahs built around a "Raiders of the Lost Ark" or a Disney theme became common. Thanks in part to the introduction of the videographer, he added, the parties started to take on the look of movie sets"
this just takes me back to november 11, 1989 ... the portion was lech lecha, the theme was football, milli vanilli was all the rage, and i could do a mean "running man," but never did quite manage the "roger rabbit".

feel free to share your memories below - just think of it as an electronic sign-in board...

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