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The $1 Million Hollywood Bar Mitzvah

December 11, 2016 | by Emuna Braverman

What is driving this kind of insane indulgence?

The Hollywood Reporter recently reported on average Bar Mitzvah celebrations costing $300,000, and $1,000,000 if it’s a destination event?! The excess, the complete missing of the point (you know Judaism, commandments etc) are so glaring that it’s painful. The live camels? The decorated jet to a safari? What can you say?

But there was one component of the piece that really struck me, that explained so much and that yet was so painful.

Quoting Joe Moller, principal of Joe Moller Events, “Not only are they trying to outdo one another, but they’re trying to outdo the Grammys and the Emmys, because these are normal things that are on these families’ social calendars.” The motivation is one-upmanship. The motivation is outdoing others. The motivation is competition. Dare I say it, the motivation is insecurity.

This perspective was confirmed by another party planner for luxury events quoted in the article. Brett Galley, the owner of Hollywood Pop, stated that “most people invite their boss, colleagues, co-founders of agencies and people from their temple, even if they aren’t that close, usually just to show off, to say ‘My kid’s bar mitzvah is better than you kids’ bar mitzvah.’”

It makes you want to weep.

At risk of once again stating the obvious, what are these children learning from these experiences? Self-indulgence? Entitlement? The importance of besting others?

It is the latter that I think is ultimately so destructive and so against the Jewish values a Bar Mitzvah is supposed to represent. The idea of competition, the idea of being better than someone else (and proving it!) is antithetical to Judaism. Many of us recall the famous story of Rav Zusia who suggested that the only question we will be asked when we die is not why we weren’t more like Moses or King David or the talent agent or movie producer down the street, but why weren’t we more like ourselves? Our job in life is to realize our own unique potential – in our own individual way. There is not necessarily any external evidence of the internal battles we have waged and won, of how much we have struggled, of how hard we have worked to grow and change. Only the Almighty knows if we have made the effort; only the Almighty is able to judge and give us our ultimate reward.

The superficial accolades of this world are an illusion and our children would benefit from understanding that at an early age as opposed to believing them the reality. Our and our children’s only competition, if I can use the word, should be against ourselves. Can I grow more? Can I push more? Can I be kinder? Can I be more thoughtful? Nothing else counts.

I overheard a group of teachers at a local Jewish day school the other day discussing their students. “It’s not fair,” one of them lamented. “Some of them have such gifts and some of them struggle.”

“That’s true” responded the other, “but luckily the school is free of competition and the more academically talented girls work to help the others while those helped use their own unique skills on other occasions. It functions as a family.”

This is the difference between a school and a mindset that incorporates true Jewish understanding and one that is more “mine is better than yours” oriented. At the private schools that seem to embody this latter philosophy, the students seem stressed and pressured and tempted to use certain substances to relieve their anxieties. They avoid collaborative projects because they are afraid that if their peer gets into Harvard, they won’t. These are the students whose children’s bar mitzvahs will later be featured in the Hollywood Reporter. They will have all the external trappings of success. But will they have the internal ones?

I don’t mean to judge. Certainly not everyone who hosts these types of celebrations is a bad person. I assume they want what’s best for their children. The question is: are they giving it to them? Or has their desire to “show off” or to “outdo one another” trumped their better judgment?

It’s also true that this mistake is not limited to the wealthy or to those with a-list clientele. In whatever environment or neighborhood we live and interact, we can make this mistake. We can focus on what others are doing and not on what’s best for our children. We can make life a grand competition instead of a grand community. The real problem is that if we do that, there are really no winners. It’s a vicious cycle that never ends. We all lose, especially our children.

Maybe we can use this Hollywood Reporter articles as a wake-up call, to nudge all of us, wherever we are, to pull back from noticing what everyone else is doing and spend more time making sure we’re doing what we want, making sure that we haven’t lost sight of what really counts, making sure that our children understand that we value them for who they are and not in comparison with anyone else (including their siblings!). And to remember that the Almighty has enough love to go around, even if our Bar Mitzvah celebration is very modest…

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