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$1 million parties -- have NYC bar mitzvahs gone too far?

Last Updated: 4:35 PM, April 18, 2010

Posted: 4:07 AM, April 18, 2010

Comments: 59
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The ballroom of the Plaza Hotel had been transformed into a giant amethyst. Just that morning, it had been recarpeted in lavender; purple theatrical lighting glowed from the vaulted ceilings. Towering vases dripping with violet orchids, hydrangea, and roses bloomed on the crystal-covered tables. Two massive posters of a beautiful brunette child with blue-green eyes hung from the ceiling.

Suddenly, the girl herself appeared from behind purple lamé curtains. She was dressed in a cropped circus ringleader jacket -- a duplicate of the one worn by Britney Spears on her "Circus" tour -- a top hat, and fishnet stockings. A troupe of Cirque du Soleil performers surrounded her, and the whole entourage broke into a dance Spears herself would have struggled to pull off.

Photos courtesy of Fred MarcusCAN YOU TOP THIS? Bat mitzvah girl Ryan Sandler makes her grand entrance with Cirque du Soleil
Photos courtesy of Fred Marcus
CAN YOU TOP THIS? Bat mitzvah girl Ryan Sandler makes her grand entrance with Cirque du Soleil

The crowd of close to 400 erupted into wild cheers. Her mother wiped away tears of joy. The guest of honor had made her Grand Entrance. The party could commence.

It's supposed to be a bar (for boys) or bat (for girls) mitzvah -- a rite of passage in the Jewish tradition in which a child becomes an adult in the eyes of the community, usually on his or her 13th birthday. But in certain circles of New York City and Long Island, these parties seem less like religious celebrations than coronations.

Ryan Sandler, whose Spears-themed blowout was in October, had the best night of her life. And she deserved every second -- and dollar -- of the reportedly six-figure event, said her mom.

"Your child works hard, she studies the Torah for a year," said Liza Sandler, of Old Westbury, LI, "My kids have values, and they appreciate what we give them. I don't care if people judge how I spend my money."

Plus, she said, unapologetically, "It was a pretty amazing party. You didn't know where to look, there was so much happening in the room. There were contortionists on the ceiling, performers walking on stilts -- it was like going to a show."

Ryan's bat mitzvah is just one of thousands thrown in local ballrooms, country clubs, hotel lobbies, galleries, nightclubs, and grand estates each year as the Jewish children of New York come of age.

But some critics say these extravaganzas have gotten too extravagant, not only disconnected from the tradition they're celebrating, but putting too much pressure on families to top each other -- or even bankrupt themselves just getting the right gifts.

"It's called 'Keeping up with the Steins,' " said Rabbi Alan, er, Stein, the cantor of Temple Sinai in Massapequa, LI. "I think some of these families need to concentrate more on the 'mitzvah' and less on the 'bar.' "


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    04/20/2010 3:36 AM

    It's aggravating to see the same tired argument that anyone who suggests that the rich pay their fair share of taxes is asking for a handout for themselves. The people who are the MIDDLE CLASS in this country, and in this state especially, are the ones who are OVERTAXED and paying MORE THAN THEIR FAIR SHARE currently. The idea that we should be grateful that the rich holding these opulent, overindulgent, self-congratulatory celebrations are doing us some terrific favor by stimulating the economy is nauseating. Perhaps if those of us who actually have worked hard for a living were provided with reasonable wage increases and had less of our money siphoned off in taxes that actually end up in their hands through economic bail-outs, we, too, could stimulate the economy. And, quite frankly, there's a lot more of us than them and maybe with the impact we'd have - the economy would actually be in better shape!

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    04/19/2010 10:15 PM

    happen to know of this family. Actually heard he donates an enormous amount to charity regularly. As much as I can't relate, I guess me spending 50,000-100,000 on my kids affair means the same dent to them at their level. Just object to how the kids are being advertised, so uncool and dangerous!!

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    04/19/2010 8:57 PM

    The fact that some of you people think that hardworking Americans who do well in business somehow "owe" it to the rest of the country to spread their good fortune around, is insane at best. Business is a good thing, pure and simple. And in these hard economic times, it is the people who make money, who have money to SPEND--it is that bracket of workers who are KEEPING THE ECONOMY GOING right now, while everyone else has nothing to spend or contribute. Money should NOT be divided evenly--I went to college on LOANS for YEARS working part-time so that I could graduate with a competitive degree and make a good living. I have a hundred grand in student loans, and I am neither a doctor nor a lawyer. I DO NOT owe it to anyone else to share my income. I pay my fair share of taxes--I do not use the roads, parks, or public tax-funded programs ANY MORE than someone who makes less than me. I DO, HOWEVER, donate a substantial amount to charity, and I'm embarrassed at the number of people posting on this site who seem to have their hand opened, palm up, waiting for a handout. Shame on you.

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    04/19/2010 4:24 PM

    This is an insane amount of $ to spend on a party, but that's in no way standard for Jews to throw lavish bar mitsvahs - it's usually just a bunch of scripture-reading followed by a dinner and maybe some dancing - more fancy than a birthday but less so than a wedding.
    Anyways there's nothing wrong with spending money on goods and services, it helps the economy

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    04/19/2010 3:10 PM

    Oy vey! They're all meshugana!

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    04/19/2010 2:43 PM

    Are you people really serious? You use an article like this to post these random unsubstantiated assumptions. The truth is that you really have no idea who these people are, or what they're like, or how much they donate to charities each year, or how many jobs their success creates...

    Instead of using your energy for these random envious rants, perhaps you should go out and try to be just as successful so that maybe you can the same for your children one day. And THEN, see how you feel when a bunch of morons try to tell you how to spend your hard-earned money...

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    Jim in Vietnam

    04/19/2010 9:33 AM

    I've attended dozens of bar mitzvahs and none of them could have been considered extravagant.Definitely better than my Catholic Confirmation (Ice-ceream at Howard Johnson's and a $5.00 bill from my proud father.)

    Million dollar events like these reveal a people with no humility and definitely no empathy for the poor. Indeed, these events mock the poor..they MOON the poor!

    But let's wait for a few decades. Without a doubt we will read about how these over-indulged children turned out in life.

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    04/19/2010 7:22 AM

    Long Islander , did I offend you with the "fake royalty" crack ?

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