In this issue

Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Feb. 3, 2004 / 11 Shevat, 5764

Joining the Party

By Jonathan Tobin

The Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebrated as a soulless and godless excuse for spending money is a real problem for a secular Jewish community that wonders about its future. It is a custom other faith communities should imitate only at their peril.

https://www.jewishworldreview.com | Just when you thought that the integration of Jews into American culture couldn't be more complete, now comes news that non-Jewish adolescents are afflicted with a new problem: Bar and Bat Mitzvah envy.

Laugh all you like, but this curious trend was the subject of a front-page article in The Wall Street Journal on Jan. 14. In it, Journal staffer Elizabeth Bernstein reported that upscale non-Jewish kids are bummed out about the lavish parties their Jewish classmates are getting — and want in on the action. The result is that some parents are giving them catered 13th birthday parties with DJs and dancers that bear a striking resemblance to contemporary Jewish celebrations.

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While Bernstein didn't supply any data to lead us to think that this desire was really sweeping the nation, she did discover that there are enough of these odd events taking place to note that the trend was growing.

According to the Journal, Jewish reaction to this tidbit was split between those who are tickled by the idea of Americans adopting yet another piece of Jewish culture as their own and those who resent it.

In the former view, we should be proud that our rite of passage is no longer exclusive to the Jews in the way that bagels-and-lox, and some Yiddish words, have also become as American as apple pie.

Others apparently worry that these faux Bar/Bat Mitzvahs that feature candlelighting ceremonies for relatives are a mockery of Judaism.

In an age where anti-Semitism is on the rise, some of us can be forgiven for seeing anything — even something as harmlessly stupid as this — as an excuse for worry. But those who wonder about the implications of such silliness have it backward. It's not the non-Jewish kids and their parents who are mocking Judaism; it's the Jews they are copying that are at fault.

In a cliché that has been tossed down from virtually every [non-Orthodox — editor] synagogue pulpit in the country by frustrated rabbis to their indifferent congregations, there is often a lot more bar than there is mitzvah in our coming-of-age rituals these days.

No one suspects that the non-Jewish kids who caught the attention of the Journal had any desire to actually learn Jewish history, Hebrew and study the Torah, and to therefore take on more personal responsibility in their lives or even to adapt any of this to their own faiths. They just wanted a big party. The question that ought to haunt us is how different are they and their parents from all too many of their Jewish counterparts?

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The formal ritual of the Bar Mitzvah for boys dates back to early modern Europe, while the Bat Mitzvah for girls was a 20th-century American innovation. But the notion that the age of 13 was a time for assuming religious and legal obligations goes back much further in Jewish consciousness.

Mishnaic literature tells us that it was at age 13 that our biblical father Abraham tore down the false idols of his father. But it is probably not stretching a point to note that the many extravagant parties these days seem to be more of a homage to false idols of popular secular culture than a reaffirmation of religious values.

It is this noxious aspect of our culture that leaps straight out of the bourgeois gaucheries of Philip Roth's classic Goodbye ,Columbus that some of our neighbors are seeking to imitate, not the nobler ideals of Judaism.

The ritual of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah has undergone a transformation in this country in the past century that parallels the rise in status and income for many American Jews.

The celebrations of our immigrant grandparents were in keeping with the modest resources of most in the Jewish community in those days with the stereotypical gift of the era giving rise to the old joke that a Bar Mitzvah boy's speech would begin with the phrase, "Today, I am a fountain pen." Today, that lame jest rings hollow in an age when the cost of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs typically runs into the tens of thousands, if not more.

Is this merely a question of rampant bad taste? Maybe. But I think critics of our coming-of-age culture are more than party-poopers.

Calling the Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrant to the Torah as an adult is a symbol of the youngster joining a community of faith as a full-fledged member. But the downgrading of religious content and the emphasis on secular display illustrates the way all too many American Jews are becoming more distant from Jewish tradition, no matter which denominational interpretation they might accept.

If all we are giving our kids is a taste for expensive display, then we would do better to, as the Reform movement once suggested, scrap this tradition for a confirmation ceremony at the end of a course of Jewish study that extends beyond the age of 13. Indeed, the fact that for most kids, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah marks the end of any Jewish education is a worse problem than the expense wasted on lavish affairs.

It should also be noted that there are some highly positive alternatives to hideous theme parties that are also growing in popularity. More kids these days are donating percentages of the cash gifts they receive to charities or dedicating the event to a cause that they see as greater than their own personal glory.

During the struggle to free Soviet Jewry, the practice of twinning Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebrations here with kids still locked behind the Iron Curtain helped bring that issue to a mass audience. Perhaps that idea can be revived by matching American kids with those in Israel who are survivors of terror attacks or otherwise in need.

And, of course, there is the all-purpose alternative to a big party: a family trip to Israel. Though the popularity of such excursions has understandably declined in recent years due to the Palestinian terror war, there are still many courageous parents and children who want something far more meaningful — and are rewarded with the experience of their lives.

But if the only point of contact for Jewish youngsters with their tradition is a part-time education whose sole raison d'etre is to give them an excuse for an expensive bash for their friends, then why should we be surprised if many of them reject Judaism as lacking in the spiritual values they seek as adults?

The Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebrated as a soulless and godless excuse for spending money is a real problem for a [non-Orthodox — editor] Jewish community that wonders about its future. It is a custom other faith communities should imitate only at their peril.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here. In June, Mr. Tobin won first places honors in the American Jewish Press Association's Louis Rapaport Award for Excellence in Commentary as well as the Philadelphia Press Association's Media Award for top weekly columnist. Both competitions were for articles written in the year 2002.

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