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Expenses for 'That Big Day' Are a Disgrace

October 14, 1990

Page one of the Oct. 2 View section tossed me between the emotions of astonishment, pride and respect on the one hand, and disgust, revulsion and embarrassment on the other. The article "True Grit" described the rigorous, all-but-unbearable training young sailors undergo to qualify as SEALs in the U.S. Navy, "the military's most elite operational force." Side by side with it was "What Price for That Big Day?" describing the escalating expenditure by families of my co-religionists on the "theme" bar and bat mitzvah celebrations--in exploitation of which there was recently held what was deceptively called "Los Angeles' first bar mitzvah planning show." I say "deceptively" because a planning show for the coming of religious responsible age of Jewish boys and girls would have to do with texts, and learning processes and customs and study of the Mitzvot, the religious precepts and privileges now accorded to the young candidates.

It was disheartening for me, as a rabbi these past 45 years, to read of the costly, circus atmosphere of the celebrations being touted by the exhibitors at that show. What do they teach the young celebrants? They teach that conspicuous consumption, competitive extravagance (and) over-indulgence are somehow connected with coming of the age of responsibility of the Jewish adolescent.

This is a false, totally un-Jewish doctrine. Gluttony, Bacchanalia and the idolizing of objects are precisely the kind of paganism against which Judaism fought from its very beginnings. These are not the values we aim to teach. We aim to teach values of spirituality, moderation, modesty, charity, learning.

As for a celebration, let there be a celebration, of course. Host the congregation for a collation in the social hall after the service. Have a party at home for the circle of personal friends of the bar/bat mitzvah, a kids' party where they can actually have fun. Have a family gathering for the adults and their close friends instead of a big bash to discharge a host of business and social obligations.

RABBI JACOB PRESSMAN

Rabbi Emeritus

Temple Beth Am

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