Barmitzvah boy 1 - barmitzvah boy's dad 0

By Paul Lester, May 27, 2011

My barmitzvah was three decades ago. My eldest son's was three weeks ago. But the similarities are uncanny. Both services took place in north London synagogues and were conducted by young rabbis. Both parties were held in tastefully decorated function rooms (we decided against the replica of the barmitzvah boy sculpted out of smoked salmon). Oh, and I was single at both events.

Counting the ceremony, kiddish, evening meal out with the family and finally the party, the whole thing lasted half as long as the Six-Day War, but included fewer casualties, although I was about as nervous as a man going into battle, possibly because I had to say a little prayer, and I'm not talking about the Aretha Franklin song.

I was certainly more nervous than my son, who gave an award-winning performance in synagogue.

Even though my barmitzvah was sometime in the paleolithic era, I don't remember the rabbi back then being quite as fresh-faced as my son's. To paraphrase that line about policemen, you know you're getting old when rabbis start looking young. This chap was positively prepubescent. When he came on to the bimah with his tallit draped haphazardly over his shoulders, I felt like saying: "Does your mother know you go out dressed like that?"

Another thing I don't recall from my barmitzvah: breasts. There were more bosoms on display at my son's shul than show-and-tell day at Katie Price's school. What's the collective noun for Jewish cleavage? No idea, but there's got to be a joke in there somewhere about Hebrew and heaving.

It was a bit annoying my son’s speech got more laughs than mine - especially as I wrote them both

It was a magical and, I'm sorry to disappoint you, disaster-free day. Apart from the fact that the person responsible for filming the historic occasion, the reading by my son of his portion and his assorted sung prayers, pressed the wrong button on the camera.
And so when we came to watch it later that night, all we got was an episode of
Family Guy that the shmendrick had left on it. Good episode, though.

That hitch quickly forgotten, a good time was had by all. It was nice to see so many races and creeds at the party. Far be it from me to make cultural generalisations between Christians and Jews, prompted by comedian Jackie Mason. But I did notice that the other denominations rushed for the free booze, while the Jews made a bee-line for the buffet. Luckily, there was a lot of it. Enough to feed an army? Put it this way: the Israeli military could have popped by and filled their boots, and they would have left stuffed. And I'm just talking about the starters.

I did find it slightly worrying that my 13-year-old was surrounded by more women at the party than I was, albeit by the smallest of margins. He had two girls on his table (not that he noticed, he was too engrossed by his new iPod Touch that he thought nobody could see him playing with not very surreptitiously under a serviette), and I had one, although I got the impression mine was there for less than romantic reasons because she kept looking at her watch and making eyes at the potato salad.

Not that I've suddenly started competing with him now that he's come of age. That's absurd. Then again, it was a bit annoying that his speech got more laughs than mine, especially considering I wrote them both. Yes, he had better timing and delivery, but he didn't have people out there who he'd known all his adult life.

It was quite sad when it was all over, mainly because "we" - and I use the term generously - had to then compose 50 thank you letters for all the gifts. The cut-and-paste keys on my laptop were begging for mercy by the end. Not that sad, though: with two more kids, we - my ex-wife, her parents and I - have got to do it all over again - twice.

Last updated: 11:00am, May 27 2011