I wrote this letter to my parents and read it to them two nights ago:
When I was 12 years old, I had big dreams for my upcoming Bar Mitzvah. For me the stakes seemed really high. See, it was about in 6th grade that I started to put together the pieces that I wasn’t like the other boys—in that, I kind of started to like the other boys. So between being picked on for being a closeted sissy and the fact that socially I was squarely situated in the school’s nerd herd, I realized that if I wanted to be well-liked, it was going to take some big changes.
Thank goodness I had a savior on the way: I had a Bar Mitzvah coming up within the year. My solution to my social angst was to throw a party that would dazzle them all! We’d play techno music, have dancers, a really cool theme—and I’d be the legendary star of the show. So legendary, in fact, that it would finally get me the respect, and friends I felt I deserved. That I felt I needed.
Once Bar Mitzvah preparations started picking up, I began to notice strange things appear around the house. Like the book on the coffee table called: “Putting God Back on the Guest List.” I wondered, “What that for?”
These clues all came together at our first official family meeting about my Bar Mitzvah. I kicked it off: “Ok guys, the first thing on the agenda we should talk about is the theme for my Bar Mitzvah. I’m thinking it should be theater or traveling” (both things that I loved.) My mom was writing something down, and she looked up and said, “Oh you’ll have a theme…it’s going to be Jewish.”
Can we at least have a video montage of me and my life? Nope. No video. It’s gaudy. A DJ that plays techno music all night? We’re getting a band, Brian—the adults that are flying in for this don’t like techno music. How about a separate kids party? Honey, we can’t afford that.
I was de-va-stated. This Bar Mitzvah party didn’t even sound like one that I’d want to go to, let alone be my own. What kind of a dork would have a Bar Mitzvah with no theme? Oh my God, it was going to be ME!
I felt helpless. So angry and so resentful. My well-meaning parents were ruining my one and only big chance for me to show my classmates just how cool this uncool nerdy gay Jewish boy could actually be!
Well, we had the party. There was no theme, and instead of techno music, the band sang YMCA and “Do you love me” to the crowd’s delight—except for me. At least that’s how I remember it. And man, I kept a chip on my shoulder for so many years against my parents for throwing me the Most Boring Bar Mitzvah Ever. On many occasions during my teenage years, I even told them I thought my party “kind of sucked.”
In hindsight? Ouch!
What a little brat I was being. In fact, I recently dusted off the video from my Bar Mitzvah, and I watched it. As it turns out, I was having a really good time. And I looked at some of the things my parents did and I’m so impressed—like instead of spending money on expensive centerpieces, they made decorative baskets canned food that we donated to a food bank after the party. I love that.
So when I think about the question—if I could re-do one part of my Bar Mitzvah experience over again, what would I reBar? The answer is pretty clear now that I’m a real adult. I’d be waaaaay more grateful, and I would tell my parents that appreciate the statement they were making by not glitzing up my big day, and instead making it about family, growing up, tradition, tzedakah, and accepting responsibility.
It’s funny that the very values I resisted as a teenager are now the ones I most appreciate in myself, and I can see where I got them from. Someday, I want to pass them onto my own children.
So for me, tonight, I want to reBar away my anger and resentment towards my parents for thinking that they were somehow setting me back, and to instead tell them this: Mom and Dad. I love you so very much. You did the right thing. And I want to thank you for a wonderful Bar Mitzvah.
For more reBar reflections see Brian Elliott's Jewels of Elul essay.
Brian Elliot is a changemaker, a technologist, and a relentless pun fanatic.