American Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations range from intimate family gatherings with just a nosh to nibble costing a few hundred dollars, to “Mitzvah paloozas” that cost hundreds of thousands – or even millions of dollars.
There’s an old joke: “Ask two Jews, get three opinions!” Or as New Yorker cartoonist Bob Mankoff replied when his wife asked why he was arguing, “I’m not arguing, I’m Jewish.” That multifaceted way of thinking is apparent in the mix of ancient tradition with the latest trends and technology in bar and bat mitzvahs today.
The ceremony marks a Jewish child’s passage into adulthood and the religious ritual has remained relatively unchanged for centuries: in the year before a Jewish child turns 13 (for girls, in some sects, the age is 12) he or she studies a section of the Torah, the sacred scroll with text from the Old Testament of the Bible in Hebrew, preparing to be called up to the raised bimah platform in the synagogue to recite it aloud before family and friends. But the choice of where to perform the service—and how to celebrate after—can be radically different between families.
Live Streaming Bar/Bat Mitzvahs
For example, in 2005, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of the rock band Aerosmith and rapper 50 Cent were among the performers at a Long Island Bat Mitzvah costing ten million dollars. Another five million dollar multi-destination Bar Mitzvah began in Israel for the ceremony and culminated in a party in Tanzania where guests were flown on a chartered jet.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, “The final leg of the journey featured a fleet of small planes landing in the Serengeti, where guests were greeted by 100 Maasai tribe members.”
Even if you’re not among the super rich, party planner Lisa Ivler told The New York Times, typical budgets for Bar or Bat Mitzvahs she’s put together in New York and New Jersey range from $40,000—$150,000, the average cost of a New York state college education.
Another feature bringing Bar and Bat Mitzvahs into the 21st century: Live Streaming.
Today’s 13-year-olds were born to broadcast, texting before they could talk. Whether using their phones to live stream the raw experience on Instagram and Snapchat, or adding cinematic flair by hiring seasoned WebCast professionals like American Movie Company, the new norm is to broadcast the Bar Mitzvah in real time to private groups or vast global audiences.
While this might seem antithetical to traditional Jewish values, many synagogues have embraced Live Streaming Bar Mitzvahs and other religious services to bring more worshipers into the fold. As the rabbi at a temple that invested in live streaming technology explained to The Philadelphia Inquirer, “People live on their cellphones, iPads, and laptops. It’s transforming Jewish life.” The chief executive officer of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism added, “The value of a synagogue community is most meaningful through human interactions. So I don’t think streaming will take away from that value. If anything, it will increase your ability to reach out.”
Live Streaming not only facilitates attendance for those who are unable to attend services in person because they are sick, infirm, or live too far from the temple, it enhances new opportunities for connection especially during special occasions like Bar/Bat Mitzvahs.
For example, The Twin with a Survivor program through the White Plains, NY-based Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center (HHREC) pairs the Bar or Bat Mitzvah child with a Holocaust survivor for meetings to learn about the survivor’s experience, and for the survivor to potentially participate in the Bar/Bat Mitzvah service. Some students incorporate the survivors’ heart wrenching stories into their ceremony speeches.
HHREC director Millis Jasper explains, “The survivors impart important messages to the children such as not being a bystander, having tolerance and acceptance of others and not holding hate in your heart.” As many of the survivors are in their 90s with extremely limited mobility, Live Streaming makes it possible for them to share in the ceremonies from the comfort of their homes. The rabbi and Bar or Bat Mitzvah child can speak to them directly through the camera, and they can respond if two-way connectivity has been set up in advance.
And whether the celebration is lavish or humble, private or broadcast around the world, ultimately, connection is what a Bar/Bat Mitzvah is all about.