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Bar and bat party reflections

Back to the mitzvah

for The Brooklyn Paper

Photo gallery

Deryl now.
Jacob Bellone at his bar mitzvah.
Jeremy today.
Riki Altman on her bat mitzvah day.
Riki today.
Lauren Gruszka in her bat mitzvah days.
Lauren now.

Much like a morning zit, some things in life you just can’t predict. Like, who will win “American Idol,” if Jeremy Lin will be as big as Michael Jordan, or whether or your first kiss will be with Natalie Portman inside of the Batmobile. But, one thing that you don’t need to confirm with a crystal ball is that — unlike most of the characters participating in “The Hunger Games” — you will survive your bar or bar mitzvah. And the experience will be as sweet as raspberry rugelach, no matter how sticky things get. Think we’re full of kosher bologna? Think again! We caught up with a few elder Jews to reflect on their Miztvah-pasts. And if these guys can live through abandoning their grandfathers on the dance floor, dodging landmines in Israel, and a doing a crazy dance from ancient times called the Macarena, you’ll be just fine.

Riki Altman

Where did your bat mitzvah take place?

In Wellington, Fla., but I forget the name of the synagogue because we had to switch the location at the last minute because they had already booked it for another ceremony. And this happened after the invitations were printed. So many people were confused and got lost.

Describe your bat mitzvah

We didn’t have a lot of money, we were very middle class, so it was more about fun than opulence. But it took place in a really nice synagogue and I got to invite all my friends, which happened to be a bunch of girls and only one boy, none of whom were Jewish or had ever been to a bat mitzvah. So, it was kind of cool introducing them to the culture. Another great aspect of it was that one of my uncles, who had just had a stroke a year or two before, surprised me by flying in from out of town. That was probably the most memorable part, him hobbling in on his cane. I just never thought in a million years he’d be there.

What did having a bat mitzvah mean to you?

It was my way of really acknowledging my Judaism by honoring my family and my religion’s traditions. And as I said before, most of my school wasn’t Jewish, so it was a way of distinguishing myself as a Jewish girl, so in that respect, I really enjoyed it.

What was the most adult thing you did after your bat mitzvah?

Shaved my legs and plucked my eyebrows. That felt very adult to me. And also wearing a bra…a padded bra. Another adult thing I did, which I hated, was put half of the money I got from the bar mitzvah into savings for school. The other half I used to pin back my ears. My ears used to stick out. And back in the ’80s, when I had my party, the hairstyle was to blowout your bangs so they flew straight up and out to the sides, then you’d use Aquanet to spray it in place. Let’s just say my ears were parallel to my hair.

Any advice for someone planning her mitzvah today?

Make sure to have your ceremony in a synagogue, because it really makes it a special experience. Also, take this opportunity to talk to your rabbi and ask them all the questions that you need to ask about the religion that maybe your parents don’t know how to answer. This is the time to learn and grow.

Deryl Spielman

Where did you bar miztvah take place?

Mount Masada in Southern District, Israel with Miami’s temple Bet Breira.

Describe your bar miztvah experience.

An offer was made by my parents to go to Israel with a group of kids from the temple and that we’d all split the Torah readings. To me this was enticing because not only do you have to sing and memorize specific melodies for lines in the Torah, you must also read the words without vowels. To me, this deal was like getting the fast pass at Disney World and skipping the line. Plus, two girls I had crushes on were going to be in the group.

Most outstanding memory?

I remember being in an enormous bus going up a steep, curvy mountain with traffic going both ways. It came out later that there were leftover landmines scattered throughout the mountain. Not only did we risk plummeting to our deaths, but we almost got blown up along the way.

Most rewarding part of the experience?

After my Torah reading my father and my grandfather commemorated me with speeches of how proud they were to see me growing up and becoming a man. My grandfather always grabbed my head with both hands to give me big, fat, wet kiss on my cheek, and I still remember the one he gave me on that day. We absolutely bonded as a family and I was especially glad to be on a wonderful trip with them.

Lauren Gruszka

Describe your bat mitzvah.

I think it was pretty typical. We had the ceremony at the temple where I read from the Torah, then we took a shuttle to the hotel where I had my party. The theme was the beach. We had an ice cream bar that was a lot of fun. My dad made these giant wood cutouts that were shaped like ice cream sundaes and painted them. He also made a lifeguard stand. Everyone thought that was pretty cool.

Were you nervous reading from the Torah?

Yes, very nervous. I practiced a lot but I remember being scared to death.

What is your most outstanding mitzvah memory?

I was outside playing on the playground and my parents were looking for me because I was supposed to dance with my grandfather. No one could find me and the DJ kept calling for me over the mic. My grandfather was just left standing on the dance floor waiting for someone to find me.

Can you offer any advice to the new generation?

Your parents are putting a lot of time, money, and effort into this for you, so be respectful to them and thank them for everything! Don’t act like it is all about the money.

Jacob Bellone

Describe your bar mitzvah.

My bar mitzvah was in Albany, NY, and the reception at a nearby Marriott Hotel near the airport. My favorite parts were the theme — comic books — which I was really into at the time, and girls not being able to refuse me to dance. Speaking of dancing, I also remember doing the Macarena, the chicken dance, and Cotton-Eye Joe.

Most outstanding memory?

My bar mitzvah did lead to a 24-hour relationship with one of my female guests, but I broke up with her when I realized that she ate like a pig and talked with her mouth open while eating a brownie.

Any advice for the youth?

Have a good time but if you don’t, don’t worry, there will be far better times in your life.

Jeremy Glassman

Where did you bar miztvah take place?

Sarasota, Fla., in Temple Beth Sholom. The party took place at the Longboat Key Club.

Describe your mitzvah in general.

It was a bar mitzvah like many other Var mitzvahs, complete with confused Christian friends, obscure relatives, and lots of 13-year-old awkwardness. The services went well, despite the initial fear from my Cantor that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off in time. The only time I messed up during the ceremony was during the basic prayer over the wine at the very end of the service. I had concentrated so hard on the Torah and Haftorah portions, as well as the entire Friday and Saturday morning services that I led, that I blanked on this tiny prayer. Clearly, almost 20 years later, this still bothers me. The party was pretty great, too.

Any funny stories from the experience?

Not that it happened at my bar mitzvah, but my second cousin had a bat mitzvah a few years prior to mine and her hair set on fire when she went in to blow out the candles.

Any advice for a kid having a mitzvah today?

As much fun as it is to be the center of attention and have a whole party in your honor, it is still important to make an effort to greet everyone and thank them for coming. It seems like a silly thing, but people booked flights, paid for hotels, and may have taken time off from work to be there. The least you can do is throw them a, “Hey, thanks for being here.” Then you can get back to hanging out with your friends and nervously avoiding the girls. Also, brief your Christian friends on what’s going to happen, so that they don’t feel uncomfortable. Take lots of pictures at the party, and keep in mind that this may be your first chance to actively work alongside your parents to plan something, so engage in it and have fun.

Got a picture and a great story to tell from your bar or bat mitzvah? Let us know at X!

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