Glitz isn't part of island Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrations
by Rabbi Arthur Starr

     One of the hottest topics on rabbinic bulletin boards these days is the escalating cost and lavishness of Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations. This isn't a new debate.
     Hundreds of years ago the rabbis issued "sumptuary laws" to regulate what had become excesses in dress and festivities of the Jews at celebrations and the ostentatious display of gluttony. These laws were known in Talmudic times and became common in the Middle Ages.
     Think how those rabbis would respond to the headlines in the Jewish newspapers today: $100,000 for a Bar Mitzvah celebration! Recreating the Titanic for a Bat Mitzvah party! A $27,000 Bat Mitzvah dress! As one Jewish pundit remarked, "The emphasis is now only on the Bar, not the Mitzvah."
      A Bar/Bat Mitzvah is an occasion to mark the entry of a Jewish child into the world of adult Jewish responsibility. At age 13 a boy was considered old enough to be responsible for his actions, to wear a tallit, to pray as part of a minyan. It was a religious celebration for their parents to show the community that they had fulfilled their obligation of raising their child to the fulfillment of mitzvot. The next step would be to lead the child to the chupah.
      In contrast to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrations we read about in many stateside newspapers, the celebration here at the Hebrew Congregation still focuses on the significance of the event itself.
     As the history of sacrifice and dedication permeates the sanctuary from the sand floor and the voices of those who went before us whisper in our ears, the Synagogue takes on a spirituality that is contagious. Many people have commented that worshipping in our Synagogue with our community is the highlight of their trip to the Caribbean. Celebrating a Bar or Bat Mitzvah here is so much more meaningful than the big party splash back home.
      The Hebrew Congregation is not, and will not become, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah mill -- a place to run to for a ceremony in order to escape the responsibilities to a Jewish community. To celebrate a Bar/Bat Mitzvah in our congregation, a child's family must belong to a Synagogue in their community and be trained there. Whatever that child would normally do in the home congregation is what we will try to have them do here ? with our prayerbook and our melodies.
      If anyone is interested in inquiring about available dates, fees and procedures for having a child's Bar or Bat Mitzvah in our historic Synagogue, please contact Rabbi Starr at or call 340 774-4312.