It was 16-and-a-half years ago, but I can remember my bar mitzvah like it was yesterday.
My brother and I played guitar on the concluding song to close out the service, we had an oneg afterward and then had a few hours until what I’m sure my friends considered the main event: the party.
The religious significance of the day wasn’t lost on me. I very much enjoyed Hebrew school at Temple Emanuel in Reisterstown. I had a lot of friends there, the teachers were great and we spent a lot of time discussing the philosophical and present-day implications of Jewish thought.
That being said, I’d be lying if I downplayed how pumped I was about my epic party.
Looking back, the whole event seems a bit ridiculous, considering it was a party for a 13-year-old. My father, Gary, recalls the whole thing running about $22,000.
To be fair, my party was no more or less extravagant than any of those of my friends or my brother’s friends. And with my brother being three years older and my birthday being in July, by the time my party came around, we had a lot of parties to compare it to. There are even a few I remember that were significantly fancier and arguably pricier than mine.
As my father explains to me: “If you look at Worthington Park, the area which a lot of your friends lived, that kind of socioeconomic class, that party was in line with what everybody was doing,” referring to the upper-middle class Owings Mills neighborhood I grew up in.
“I don’t think we were trying to outdo [anyone] but we certainly had the consciousness of keeping up, which is ridiculous, but you only know that later,” my mother, Sally, says.
So what exactly jacked up the cost of the party so much? For one, we rented a ballroom at the Hunt Valley Marriott, something I imagine isn’t the cheapest. While I can’t recall what exactly we had to eat, I know there were multiple courses, and I think the appetizers were served buffet-style. We hired a group called “Heart to Heart” that included a DJ, dancers and an emcee. Unbeknownst to me until I got there, my parents got my band a stage to perform on. My brother and I performed Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” with a cousin on drums and then played several original songs with our band, Titanium Vortex. My parents had custom T-shirts made for the band, and I crowd- surfed during our performance.
Oh, and there were about 150 guests. I remember inviting about 40 or 50 friends, with little objection from my parents. The adults most likely had an open bar and the caterer made a guitar cake.
My mom did make the signing board, where friends and family could write messages to me, and she made the centerpieces as well.
“At that point, that was nothing,” my mom says, in terms of cost-saving.
Each table was a different band I was into at the time. We scanned album covers or stickers I had, and my mom printed them out onto foam board for the centerpieces. My table was Ozzy Osbourne — as you might have gathered, I was really into Ozzy at the time.
Although both of my parents agree the party was extravagant, they have different takes on what — if anything — they would have done differently.
“I don’t know if I can look back and say I even regret it,” my dad says. “I think you would have been very disappointed if you didn’t have a party like that.” He does feel, however, that religious aspect of the bar mitzvah was somewhat lost on me because of the party.
My mom says she would scale things down significantly if she were to do it again.
“My feeling is, if I were to do it again, I would have a beautiful oneg for the throngs of people we had and then at night just have a kid’s birthday party,” she says. “It was a weekend event. We had a full lunch oneg after the service. We had the extravagant party at night and then the next day we had brunch for 70 people.”
I’ll admit that the cost of the endeavor was completely lost on me at the time, and since it was something everybody did, it didn’t strike me as extravagant. In retrospect, I’m grateful my parents made it happen. Even though I’m 29 now, it’s still one of the best parties I’ve ever been to.
We were also left with a lot of good memories.
“The one positive thing about a big party, whether it’s lavish or in the backyard … people who don’t see each other much anymore because families are so spread out get together,” my mom says.
Having moved from New York to Maryland in 1990, we had a lot of friends and family come in from out of town. I also consider myself extremely lucky that all four of my grandparents were alive and well then (my grandfathers have since passed away).
So, now knowing the cost that went into my bar mitzvah party, do I wish my parents did something different? Absolutely not. All of my friends and family from near and far gathered for the day, and in some cases the weekend, and had a great time reconnecting and partying together. You can’t really put a price on that.
Then again, I wasn’t the one footing the bill.