Your RDA of Irony

My Second Career

The modern bar mitzvah requires much more planning than the D-Day Invasion. At least our troops did not require place cards for the beachheads in Normandy. Roosevelt, Churchill, Eisenhower and Montgomery were spared the daunting challenge of picking a theme for the event–a presumably fabulous motif that would flaunt our resources, humiliate the Germans and make Stalin jealous. In those more prosaic times, winning the war was ostentatious enough.

The bar mitzvah once was a rite of passage–when a thirteen year old really was expected to be an adult–but now it is a competitive form of self-deification. Who can put on the best show? Would you like a Hawaiian motif for the banquet? What about a Las Vegas theme? (Bugsy Siegel would be gratified.) There are party organizers who make a specialty of designing and choreographing these extravaganzas.

However, I have noticed that none of the bar mitzvahs have literary themes. That seems an ironic omission for the People of the Book. Perhaps I could go into this business. I do have ideas…

Of course, gentile authors might be inappropriate. A Faulkner bar mitzvah? (He is much more suitable for a 90 proof baptism.) But the number of Jewish writers still presents us with ample choices. To avoid all stress on the teenager, we could have a J.D. Salinger theme. The bar mitzvah boy won’t show up at the services but leaves a manuscript of his speech.

Would you like a Harold Pinter theme? A Pinteresque service would have four characters on the stage, doing disjointed readings, while interrupting and disputing each other. The audience doesn’t know which, if any of the children, is being bar mitzvahed.

A David Mamet service would certainly be noteworthy, especially when the Rabbi punches the child in the mouth.

For sectual ambivalence, choose the Irene Némirovsky theme.  The bar mitzvah boy insists that he is at his First Communion.

How about the Tom Stoppard bar mitzvah? The theme will be a dazzling synthesis of Shakespeare, Byron, Houseman, Joyce and Lenin. True, Judaism will never be mentioned, but in a Reform service it rarely is.

For a truly memorable service, you could have a Proustian bar mitzvah. It would last 40 hours but the bisexuality and the French pastry should keep the congregation interested. Furthermore, a Proustian bar mitzvah is an impressive credential on any college admission.

And for a truly traditional experience, there is the Sholem Aleichem theme. Your surviving guests will always talk about the pogrom.

  1. Were I Jewish, living on the west coast, I’d rent out the Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge and hire the Meshuga Beach Party band ( ): “Ask any big Hollywood macher, and they’ll tell you–it’s the latest craze with the boychiks and maydeles. The parting of the Red Sea and the curl of the Banzai Pipeline. The sands of the Sinai and the waves at Waikiki. The Diamond District and Diamond Head. The songs of the Jews and the sound of the surf guitar!”

  2. Hal Gordon says:

    Eugene —

    Not my place to say, but I would think that the most impressive show would be a C.B. DeMille “Ten Commanments” bar mitzvah. That would cover everything.


  3. Michael says:

    Passover Seders are traditionally Pinter themed.

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