Last Updated: 4:35 PM, April 18, 2010
Posted: 4:07 AM, April 18, 2010Comments: 59
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.
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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