I've always passed. When I was young most of my closest friends were Jewish, but they had no idea I was, too. How could they? I didn't go to Sunday school, my hair used to be straight, my last name is MacNaughton, and I never had a Bat Mitzvah. Half my family is Jewish (moms), other half is Episcopalian (dads) so I had one foot in each. I was bi-cultural, I guess - but I always identified more as Jewish but never felt like I really belonged. I wasn't part of the club….there are other areas of my life that i've been bi, leaned more heavily in one direction and passed - but that's a different topic for a different night.
So now, 25 years after I would've had a Bat Mitzvah I strongly claim my Jewishness, but i still don't feel part of the club - often I still feel a little like a faker. I think it's cause I never had any official ceremony around it.
I never any ritual or celebration that said "welcome". I never had The Party.
Here's where I should mention: I'm from Marin.
There are New York Jews, LA Jews and SF Jews, but there's really nothing like a Marin Jew and definitely nothing like a Marin Jew's Bat Mitzvah party.
I went to a lot of Bat Mitzvah's mind you - but I don't remember anything about the ritual itself. The bimah and the Hebrew and the meaning of it all - that went over our heads. What we found meaning in was The Party.
And I got to enjoy the perks - the candy and the dancing and the full size carnival rides (seriously - Marin Bat Mitzvahs, (I'm telling ya), but I never got to wear The Party Dress. What I always wanted-- the Bat Mitzvah party dress…
So I started thinking -if I were to have my ceremony now, if I were to have a party, what dress would I wear?
So I did a little research into the history of the Bat Mitzvah party dress through the ages (or really, just since the 50s cause before that women didn't have Bat Mitzvahs) and here is what I found:
Since I was born in 1975, I would have a had my party in 1988. I think we can all agree the late 80s were a fantastic time for Bat Mitzvah dresses. After some rigorous research, study, inner contemplation and reflection - here's what I would have worn.
Ok, so the more I learn about my Jewish history and culture, the more I learn maybe it's not all about the party. That a Bat Mitzvah is really a passage way to being a Jewish adult - both feet in - and the values that come with it. And maybe someday I’ll actually do some studying and have a Bat Mitzvah. I’m told by a lot of people it's never to late… but I don't need a party – I don't need a big thing at all… but maybe I still want that dress.
Wendy MacNaughton is an illustrator. She draws for publications like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and has some books coming out.