Will college costs affect the extravagance of bar/bat mitzvahs?
Non-Jewish readers may wonder, Huh? But this is something that Jewish readers with young children at least should ponder.
This LA Times Book Review article, entitled "Torah and Hora"* deals with the cultural changes over the last 40-50 years where bar/bat (boy/girl) mitzvahs have became extravagant parties on a scale higher in cost than most weddings. The latest truly off the wall extravagance for a bar/bat mitzvah is the infamous $10 million affair thrown by a modern military contractor executive in the New York area, which had 50 Cent, Tom Petty and Areosmith (among others) performing. As Bob Uecker said in the film, Major League, when describing a wild pitch that went over the backstop wall, "That pitch was jeuuuust a little outside..." In turn, I'd say that party's cost was "je-uuuuuust a little outside" the sensibility one may usually associate with what is supposed to be a religious ceremony.
I believe the LA Times book review/article may represent something of a trend setter as more and more Jewish middle class parents will begin to analyze the cost of college and other costs to help their children succeed in a global economy. They may finally begin to ask, "Why spend even $15,000 on a four to five hour party for a 13 year old...particularly when college costs are rising much faster than inflation--and when one or both parents may be suffering from unemployment for some period between the time of the child's bar/bat mitzvah at age 13 and the first year of college at 18?"
As my son's bar mitzvah approaches late this year in 2006, we are, at our home, thinking about this more and more. My son has said, "Dad, I'd rather have you save money for my college. Really." Yes, but old cultural habits die hard--just ask my folks.
In the old days of the 1940s and early 1950s, for example, there was a joke among Jews on the phrase that a bar mitzvah boy would say on his bar mitzvah day, "Today, I am a man." The joke was that, since a boy would most often receive a fountain pen as the one and often only gift, the boy might as well say, "Today...I am a fountain pen."
Well, you had to be there.
Anyway, as we gaze upon our fairly small, though growing, savings, we are seriously considering a small scale party for our son's bar mitzvah. Perhaps Temple members across the US may want to discuss the issue of extravagant bar/bat mitzvah parties alongside the usual stuff about intermarriage, the often maniacal one-sided nonsense spouted about Israel and the Arabs, etc. In fairness, I think this issue of bar/bat mitzvah party costs are not discussed because there is a bit of embarrassment to admit you can't afford both a major bar/bat mitzvah party and save for your children's college costs. Perhaps. I feel it, though...
* A hora, also spelled "horah" in my more youthful days, is a group folk dance most commonly understood to be a Jewish dance, at least in the US. However, per the Wikipedia, the hora is also a description of a group folk dance for Molodvans and Romanians, among others.