(January 12, 2013 / JNS) As young people, bar and bat mitzvah parties helped us build character: awkward social interactions, quiet slow-dances where you desperately try not to make eye contact, and condescending head-pats from adults and kids taller than us.
Now that we’re older, and head-pats have taken on a sexier implication, how do we behave ourselves at our cousin’s/nephew’s celebration? How should one act if they know nothing of bar/bat mitzvahs? Should we wear pants? Why yes, but that’s not where your responsibilities stop.
The service at Temple
The first stop on the bar/bat mitzvah party train is the ceremony at Temple—a solemn, formal affair. Be a respectful adult. There is no snack bar. You will not be on a kiss-cam. You may be excited to support your celebrant, but remember that other kids are coming of age too. So when your relative goes up and aces his reading, DO NOT stand and yell, “YES! He nailed it! That’s my BOY, what’s up now Shlomi?!” Everyone knows your kid did better than Shlomi, but don’t call it out! Shlomi could be embarrassed, and you better let his developing Jewish nervousness take care of that on its own.
You’re finally here! The first thing to keep in mind: This is not like the only other large, formal gathering you attend—a wedding. No one will be throwing things at you to see if you’re going to be the next bar/bat mitzvah, so if a garter ends up in your lap, jackpot.
Above all else, you’re here to have fun, so stick to the basics. Mingle with the adults, comment on how cute the kids are, and if you share the same interests with the person of the hour, feel free to steal some of his or her themed decorations. My large basketball centerpiece is the classiest part of my apartment, and the reason all my friends know I kill it at sports.
What to avoid
While enjoying the party, know what activities and events are appropriate for your age. Drinks, food, giving approving nods to children—those are within your domain. Airbrushed tattoos or face-paintings ARE NOT FOR YOU. I know, face-painting is cool, and yes, I have an awesome tiger on my face as I write this. But just for today, let the kids have their fun.
When approaching the bar or bat mitzvah to congratulate them, it’s important to not treat them like a child. Don’t patronize them or pinch their cheeks. On the other hand, don’t treat them like too much of an adult. Don’t sit down, light up a cigarette, and starting venting about your relationship and faith-based questions. Your little cousin doesn’t have an opinion on the fiscal cliff negotiations. He just either loves or hates Justin Bieber. Gauge whichever one is currently cool, agree with him, and go in for your obligatory head-pat.
When considering a present, your go-to bottle of wine won’t cover it. Everyone else is going to gift something fun that a 13-year-old would enjoy, but you have them beat. You’re going to be the only one that gives something practical. I suggest a box consisting of a college savings bond, spot stain remover, and those little ties you use to close open bags of bread. He may just be excited to not get another gift card, and his attitude is going to be as fresh as his bread.
If you take the above advice, you’ll not only show up to a social event wearing pants (which I highly recommend year-round), but you’ll also lead a classy, understated night. If one day your path crosses with Shlomi, give him a hug, and gently whisper “I know.” He’ll look up at you, and you’ll have just made a nervous, Jewish friend. Don’t bring bread ties to his wedding.