Gentlemen, the modern Jewish Bar Mitzvah, as it practiced in the suburbs of our great country of America, is essentially about showing off how much money you have. For those unfamiliar with Jews, let me wipe out one of the most pervasive stereotypes: that we are cheap. Not only are Jews not cheap, but during the Bar Mitzvah "period" they are impelled to engage in conspicuous consumption more than any other minority group I know except the Cantonese. The Tlingits of Alaska are famous for something called the Potlach: this is essentially a large party where the richest people in the tribe ritually destroy all their assets, the person who destroys the goods with the largest amount of value becoming the most respected in the town; this is the closest anthropological relative of the modern Jewish bar mitzvah.
For those of you who don't know any Jews what happens is this: a poor, terrified 13 year old is told that he is going to become a man. He makes a pointless, meandering speech. "Today, I am a fountain pen." Depending on how observant his family is, he is possibly called to the Torah in the syngagoue, which means that he chants long passages from the Bible in the original Hebrew, (the odds are he doesn't understand what he's reading) while the elder people in the congregation hiss at him every time he makes a mistake.
Then there's the party. This is the Poltach. People spend unimaginable sums of money to have the "best" Bar Mitzvah parties in the neighborhood. In Long Island where I grew up, these reached mind-boggling proportions. Jugglers, Acrobats, Virtual Reality Machines, expensive caterers, name it, it's there. Everyone the family throwing the party knows need to be invited and beggar the cost: we're talking social status here, one of the few things more important than money. All of the boy's school friends need to be invited at well, and are generally sitting at a special "kids" table with paid entertainers and zoo animals sculpted out of ice, balloons, and, in one memorable Phillip Roth story, chopped liver. There are stories (aprocyphal? True? Anyway the spirit is true) of people who to pay for these elaborate parties. And it seems that the more money is spent the better. Good taste and common sense be damned.
The willingness of the small boy to participate in this is absolutely beside the point. Exactly where a religious ceremony whose point was to emphasize the beginning of communal responsibility became the excuse for a large, joyless party, whose point is to be pointless expensive is a question for a sociologist.
Now, this is not the way things are done in Israel. Generally, Bar Mitzvahs there are modest affairs, done tastefully, small dinners where some close friends and family members are invited, a real rite of passage without some connection to proving a point to the neighbors about you insane ability and willingness to pointlessly give money to mimes. This is also not typical of Jews in general. Stereotypes notwithstanding, we are not a bunch of ill-dressed, tasteless goons spending our ill-gotten money in garish resorts, talking loudly enough to annoy all the Goyim (well, maybe cousin Moishe)...However, when we need to throw a Bar Mitzvah...something happens...
When I originally wrote this node, I included a phrase in the beginning: "God help me, I'm going to be downvoted by every Jewish voter on E2" Not only did that not happen, but a number of people messaged me in agreement that Bar Mitzvah's should be more deep spiritual affairs. To everyone I underestimated (which was everyone, I guess) I humbly apologize, and I can't tell you enough how glad I was that I was wrong.