In recent months, words and phrases previously unused by my nine-year-old daughter have begun to creep into her vocabulary. Most days, references to “marquees”,”chair covers” or “mirror balls” pepper her conversation with the panache of a seasoned party planner.
And I suppose in her mind she is a party planner, since her thoughts are somewhat — though prematurely — preoccupied with the prospect of her batmitzvah. With youthful verve she wants to hurry the calendar along so she can celebrate her Jewish coming-of-age, with the party to end all parties.
Unfortunately, the lofty nature of her social ambition and the gritty reality of what we, her parents, have in mind are mutually exclusive. Or to put it bluntly, she’s going to be very disappointed.
For unlike her three brothers, who all had — as they used to say in Yiddish — dinner mit chen to celebrate their barmitzvahs, I don`t see the need to mark a batmitzvah the same way, since, in my view, there’s no parity between the demands of a Jewish boy`s coming-of-age and that of his female counterpart.
But before the sisterhood start howling in horror, don’t blame me, look to the religion. When a girl reaches 12 years old she becomes a batmitzvah and is regarded in Judaism as ethically responsible for her decisions and actions, whether or not mirror balls are a-spinning to mark the transition.
No sour grapes — and no marquee, either
However for a boy to become a barmitzvah he has to be called up for a mitzvah in shul. What usually follows is a partial or complete reading of the sedra (portion of the Torah) for that particular week. To accomplish this there will have been months of lessons and hours of anguished practice before he debuts, knock-kneed, before an expectant congregation.
Thenceforth he wears tefillin, and is yoked by the obligations of a minyan and other demands of the shul service.
In fact the halacha states it is customary to mark a barmitzvah with what`s known as a seudat mitzvah or celebratory meal — though whether that’s Shabbat lunch for family and friends, or dinner for 300 on the pitch at Old Trafford, is up to those throwing the party and counting the cost.
But there are no such requirements in place for girls. Anything that`s done to mark the batmitzvah, such as a presentation or project is a construct. With or without it, a Jewish girl will flow just as seamlessly into religious maturity in the eyes of the Torah.
Indeed, my own batmitzvah comprised a small group presentation (“women of worth”) delivered to indulgent family crammed into the draughty classrooms of Manchester’s Talmud Torah centre. Afterwards we girls went our separate ways — in my case, back home for a blink-and-you-missed-it cup of tea for a handful of relatives.
Ah, so is this about sour grapes? Actually, it’s not. If you want to hire the Eiffel Tower for your simchah and I’m on the guest list, believe me I’m there with my passport and phrase book.
What I’m saying is that it isn’t necessary to whoop it up with a lavish do when the batmitzvah girl hasn’t actually done anything. If anything it feels indulgent and inappropriate. Why not spend the money, as one friend did, taking the child to Israel to do some charity work ?
I’ve tried to explain to my daughter how I feel. She wrinkles her nose in disgust. My husband fielded the feeble excuse that parents of girls have to make weddings too. But austerity and equality in today’s simchah-making seems to ace that argument.
Inevitably we’ll do something — perhaps a Friday night at home for family and a few friends — with invitations restricted to the size of my dining- room. No marquee required.