Life & Culture

When celebs get stage fright

A barmitzvah can be harrowing. We reveal coming-of-age memories


Dan Patterson, TV comedy producer, was barmitzvah in 1973 in Oxford: “Because Oxford Synagogue was being rebuilt I had the ceremony in St Aloysius Church. The lunch was at St Cross College and the dinner was at St Giles House, so it was probably the most saint-invoked barmitzvah of all time.

“I have happy memories. I was already being swayed towards Habonim and the Jewish joyousness was through that really, but it felt like an important rite of passage. The presents were unbelievable. It was like getting the best thing you got at your birthday over and over again. So when I say to my kids: ‘It’s not all about the presents,’ it’s a bit unfair. ”

Comedian Mark Maier was barmitzvah in June 1976 at Jesmond Synagogue: “My overriding memory was the pit-of-the-stomach churning sensation that embedded itself deep within my belly six months before the big day. Coined by my father as ‘The Barmitvah Feeling’, it was the abject fear that I would get my Haftorah wrong and be marched out of shul, shunned by my family and the Newcastle Jewish community and be forced to live in Sunderland. Suffice to say, all went well and I now look forward to my son Jake’s big day. We’ve got nine years to prepare but it’s starting. That pit-of-the-stomach churning sensation.”

Hadley Freeman, writer, was batmitzvah in 1991 at West London Synagogue: “Looking back at the photos from the whole day, I seemed to have been going through a skirt-and-matching-jacket phase, working a white and black look for the synagogue and then breaking out a matching floral twin set for the party. I looked like a 13-year-old Ivana Trump, with brown hair. The party was at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Hyde Park — or, as I now refer to it, the hotel where Samantha Ronson’s cousin also had her batmitzvah party and took Lindsay Lohan this year. So Lindsay Lohan came to my batmitzvah (18 years later).

“Basically, the whole point of the party was for me to try to entrance some French boy, David, who was the son of my parents’ friends. He, of course, was sat next to me for the dinner. He spoke not a word of English and I spoke not a word of French. It was not a success.”

DJ Yoda was barmitzvah in 1990 at North Western Reform Synagogue: “The party was at a restaurant in Islington where there was a DJ but no band. I performed my speech at the party as a rap, with my dad on human beatbox duties! Other than that, my memory is (thankfully) super-hazy.”

Documentary-maker Tim Samuels was barmitzvah on October 3, 1989 at South Manchester Synagogue: “The coming-of-age got off to a good start: the Morrissey quiff was perfectly groomed, the buttons on my first blazer twinkled, the Torah portion went down a treat, and I only got three Parker fountain pens (well below the late ’80s average). What hadn’t been factored, though, was the provenance of the egg mayonnaise at my kiddush in the shul hall. That became somewhat clearer in the car park of the Safeways in Hale on the way home — with the sight of freshly barmitzvahed boy projectile vomiting. The rest of the day was spent in bed, listening to the sounds of the party going ahead in the lounge without me. And I got three more Parkers later that week.”

Comedian Olivia Lee did not have a batmitzvah but she remembers her brother’s: “I made a speech and my parents thought it would be funny to play a trick on me. While I was about half-way through, there was the sound of a phone ringing and the MC interrupted me to say there was a phone call for me. The gag was meant to be on me, because as a teenager I was always chatting on the phone. But I was determined not to look the fool. In an attempt to turn the joke back on my parents I reached for the telephone cord, held it up and said: ‘Great gag, the phone isn’t even plugged in.’ The room went dead. It was my first experience of dying on stage, you could say.”

Historian Sir Martin Gilbert was barmitzvah in November 1949 at Brondesbury Synagogue: “I remember vividly singing my portion — Parachat Chaya Sarah — at my grandmother’s bedside as she was not well enough to come to synagogue.

“Just before the kiddush, my father went into the synagogue hall and saw a man knocking back several glasses of whisky. He had never seen the man before. ‘Who are you?’ father asked. The man replied: ‘I am a close friend of the barmitzvah boy’s father’.”

Actress Tracy-Ann Oberman was bat chayil in 1980 at Stanmore United Synagogue: “I was channelling a Lady Diana look in a white skirt and lemon cardigan. I had my hair cut to match hers and looked demurely out from under my fringe. I was going to the Dorchester every week for the boys’ barmitzvahs, but we had a tea at home. It was better than any posh do, though. My parents were very proud of me.”

Comedian Ivor Dembina was barmitzvah in 1964 at Harrow Synagogue: “I was insanely jealous of those boys from more affluent families who could expect a lavish party. To my shame I conducted a bullying campaign against my father to force him to provide a celebration that would meet the demands of my pubescent ego. So he cut a deal with me: I could have an expensive party if any cash gifts I received were used to fund it. When at the party one of the guests complained about the food, my father simply pointed in my direction and said: ‘Speak to him, he paid for it.’”

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