Saturday, June 2, 2018


I spent most of 1979 going to bar-mitzvahs.  From my perspective on the outside looking in, it was a year well spent.

I turned fourteen at the tail end of that year.  Being on the leading edge of that birthday meant that most of my friends turned thirteen earlier in the year.  And thirteen is a big deal when you live in a place where more than half of the people are Jewish.

The public schools closed for Rosh Hashana, where I grew up.

So my parents found me a serviceable suit (these events, being both religious ceremonies and giant parties, were rather more formal than the sorts of things my 7th-grade self was used to attending) and my dad tied a tie that I could loosen and slip on and off as needed.  We stocked up on congratulatory cards.  And we watched the invitations roll in.

It’s always flattering when people invite you to big events like this.  And since the adults were more than happy to see a gaggle of 13-year-old boys hive off to do their own thing far away from the civilized conversation, we had a grand time.

Here in southern Wisconsin, we are sadly lacking in people who have bar-mitzvahs.  My daughters go to school on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur as if those were just normal days. 

Here we have quinceaneras.  “Quinces,” as the kids refer to them, apparently.

Lauren spent last night at one – her second one this year, with a couple more coming up.  They held it at the convention center, which used to be the roller rink and still has very nice hardwood floors because of that.  There was Food and Dancing and Good Times and really what more can you ask of an evening out?

For those of you who don’t have a Hispanic community in your area, quinceaneras are very similar to bar-mitzvahs.  They’re basically adulthood ceremonies, marking the moment when a child moves up the ladder to full membership in the community.  They involve a fair amount of food, conversation, and young teenagers (15-year-olds this time, as the name implies) hiving off to do their own things and letting the adults have their boring old conversations, to the delight of both sides.  And they’re dressy events, where the normal run of clothing just will not do.

We don’t really have much in the way of adulthood ceremonies these days. 

Kurt Vonnegut used to complain about this.  That modern industrial society seems to have left the whole idea of adulthood ceremonies behind, much to everyone’s detriment.  There’s probably something to that.

So it’s nice that they have these things. 


Katherine McKay said...

I well remember that year. At the beginning of it, I took you to a men's store where I was asked what we were shopping for. I told the salesperson, "A Bar Mitzvah suit." He said he knew exactly what we needed and proceeded to outfit you. He seemed startled, however, when I wrote him a check at the end and signed it with a "McKay." Doesn't faze anyone these days. Your niece, Sara McKay, will be celebrating her Bat Mitzvah in just two weeks. We're definitely an ecumenical family.

David said...

We are indeed. :)

I think I remember that store. I want to say it was down on South Street or thereabouts.

neurondoc said...

Amusingly, you posted this on the 39th anniversary of my bat mitzvah. We are of an age.

David said...

We are indeed!

Pretty soon my niece will have hers. We seem to have married into the tradition, as a family. More celebrations for us!