Shrimp dinners and more make bnai mitzvah traif

The partying began in earnest when 560 guests arrived at Wings Over the Rockies, a nearby museum located inside an airplane hangar. Before dinner came cocktails, champagne, caviar, shrimp, latkes, crab and salmon, all distributed by servers costumed to resemble walking tables. Mimes, clowns, jugglers, dancers and stiltwalkers circulated.

At dinner, guests had a choice of sole, rack of lamb or chicken.

"This wasn't a party — it was a coronation," one partygoer recalled.

"It was something out of Fellini," said another.

The evening's entertainment was crowned with a full Broadway production titled "Come Fly With Me," complete with a cast of dancers, singers and a full orchestra — starring 13-year-old Kaily.

Dancing followed dinner and the show — and all guests went home with a glossy, slickly produced CD of Kaily singing 11 songs.

News of Kaily's bat mitzvah made the mainstream press because the affair was — as these reporters were so quick to note — outlandish, outrageous, excessive.

But there is more going on here than a mind-boggling expenditure of money that would have been far better spent feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, fixing the synagogue roof or benefiting myriad social services.

One assumes that at some point in her life before she sang two (not specifically Jewish) songs in synagogue, the privileged Kaily took part in a Shabbat service and that she had read from the Torah. The bat mitzvah was a culmination, then, of years of Jewish and Hebrew studies, which the young lady presumably sandwiched in between her showbiz aspirations and regular schoolwork.

Then what is she, and what are we, to make of a bat mitzvah menu that features two foods — crab and shrimp — expressly forbidden in the Bible?

Moreover, one wonders how many of the 560 dinner guests sat through the service in the synagogue? And of those who did, how many understood the studies leading up to it? How many realized that those studies and not the elaborate dinner, drinks and show were the real purpose of the bat mitzvah?

Whether parents spend a modest few hundred dollars to mark their child's b'nai mitzvah or, as in Kaily's extreme case, the parents spend tens of thousands, the religious component can often be lost to the child and the guests amid a blizzard of party-type preparations and expectations.

Consider this item from Cleveland: Two 13-year-old local Christian girls carefully planned what they called their "non-bat mitzvah party."

Having been invited to the b'nai mitzvah of many Jewish classmates, the girls had obviously enjoyed these events and wanted something like it for themselves.

No doubt the festivities and meals, not to mention the overblown emphasis on gifts, overshadowed the religious components of their friends' rites of passage.

Even Jewish kids and their families can fail to get the true b'nai mitzvah picture.

It doesn't take mimes, clowns, jugglers, dancers and stiltwalkers to make a circus out of what should be a solemn rite of passage. Many things besides crab and shrimp can make a b'nai mitzvah traif.

— Cleveland Jewish News