Many might rather forget it. But the nearly 50 people who came out to the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue on the edge of Chinatown Thursday night wanted to relive their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs.
In a large basement lined with inflatable palm trees, blow-up monkeys, orange balloons and “Aloha” signs, D.C. locals gathered for the celebration tagged “My Big, Fat, Embarrassing Bar Mitzvah.”
“Everybody’s here to have a good time and remember what it was like to be 13,” said Vanessa Thomas, one of the evening’s party planners for the luau-themed event. “People just think ‘I can’t believe I looked like that.'”
Thomas, a self-proclaimed “Hebrew school drop-out,” said she and her colleagues at the synagogue planned the party to mock the “un-hip” Bar and Bat Mitzvahs of the 80s and 90s.
Partygoers danced to hits from the last two decades such as “Beat It,” “Locomotion” and “The Electric Slide.” As the night drew on, some of the attendees stood up to sing karaoke to Bon Jovi and old-school rap, while neon pink lights flashed.
The 21-and-over event had a busy bar and attendees enjoyed fondue and assorted kosher appetizers. Although people were dispersed throughout the room, most came together for a game of Coke and Pepsi, a popular contest at Bar and Bat Mitzvahs.
Players lined up on each side of the dance floor. One team was “Coke” and the other, “Pepsi.” The announcer yelled “Coke” and those players sprinted to the other side of the room to sit down on their partner’s knees. “Pepsi” indicated the reverse and “7-Up” meant the partners run to the middle of the floor and link arms back to back. The slowest pair in each round was eliminated.
The synagogue held a contest for the most embarrassing Bar/Bat Mitzvah photo, with the prize being a gift certificate to the Hard Rock Caf?. Many admittedly – or perhaps, conveniently – forgot their pictures at home, but recalled the memory of their own celebrations years earlier.
Partygoer Beth Ancell said her dance-themed Bat Mitzvah was “fabulous.” She said Bat Mitzvahs are like “mini weddings,” but are easy targets for mockery because they are held during an “awkward time in life.”
The extravagance of some celebrations costing upward of $1 million is “ridiculous and disgusting,” she added.
“It’s a keeping up with the Joneses thing,” Ancell said.
Dan Zuckerman, whose father helped renovate the synagogue before its opening in April 2004, said his brother’s friend had N*SYNC perform at her Bat Mitzvah at the height of the boy band’s popularity. Her brother had the Dave Mathews Band at his celebration, Zuckerman added. Each performance $1 million, he said.
Chef and event planner Larry Liss said some celebrations get carried away because “it’s really for the adults.” Liss said his Bar Mitzvah in the early 1980s was a simple dinner and dance party with about 150 in attendance.
“I can’t believe I was so corny,” said Liss, recalling an embarrassing portrait from his party.
Despite the cost and trademark songs and centerpieces that have made the celebration of a Jewish child’s maturity to adulthood ripe for jokes, Liss said almost all people look back on the event fondly.
“They laugh but it’s still something special to them,” he said.