Someone Else’s Simcha / Ofri Raz's bat mitzvah - A rite of (showbiz) passage
A vivacious girl from a religious Rehovot home proves that a flair for drama and style can go hand in hand with tradition.
Location: "Look" reception hall
Time: 11 A.M.
In the neighborhood: Endless row of car workshops baking in the yellow summer sun, lining a winding dusty road in Rehovot, about 20 minutes south of Tel Aviv. Cars lazily exit the many workshops, as the soothing sounds of Israel Radio's Friday broadcasts waft from a nearby doorway. The weekend is almost upon us.
Venue: The street’s industrial vibe is interrupted by a decked porch, where young girls in skirts and long-sleeved shirts are quietly chattering under a sliver of shade. Inside, a long narrowish hall is revealed, with about a dozen purple-clothed tables set under elaborate light fixtures. A DJ booth stands atop the small dance floor at the center of the room, equipped with morphing LED displays of flowers and abstract shapes, reflecting green and pink on the polished marble floor.
Simcha: Ofri Raz's bat mitzvah
Number of guests: 100
Home: Ofri is the eldest child of father David, 41, a technology management lecturer, and mother Ronit, 42, a software engineer, who raised the bat-mitzvah girl and her little brother Lavi, 6, in an open-minded and unconventional national-religious home. The family started off in Haifa, and after a few moves, settled in Rehovot, just 10 minutes from maternal grandmother Hanna's home: "It's a big difference for us. Now she can just come over whenever she wants to."
Family history: Ofri's bat mitzvah is the first in her generation, and takes place a year after her twin cousins kicked off the coming-of-age extravaganza with their double bar mitzvah. David: “The difference between our bar and bat mitzvah and whatever's happening today is like heaven and earth. It's a real production;” Ronit: “My bat mitzvah was just inviting close family to our home.” Ofri, happy with the way things are, hints at her artistic inclinations: "It's a production, but a real production. I even went to a real studio to record a song."
Rites: Close family members are the first to arrive at the event, taking turns posing for the camera, big smiles in tow, with the day's indisputable star. With her carefully arranged brown hair dangling almost to the waist of her ruffled white dress, Ofri has uncanny camera awareness; her freckled face lights up Hollywood-like whenever a lens is within 5 meters of her. On with the show.
Act I: Hallelujah – Following a short scheduling scare (David, wryly: "The video cameraman was late, and so was my brother. We obviously can't start without the cameraman"), the show's off and running. The kippa-clad DJ activates the smoke machine; fumes envelop a dance floor where Ofri and four other girls (dancers supplied by the event's producers), all strike dramatic poses. Music kicks in and the five girls – Ofri equipped with Madonna-esque mic – break into a pre-recorded version of a Psalms poem. The song ends to raucous applause, as Ofri and her sidekicks share a group hug. Inbar, from Hallel Productions: "The [bat mitzvah] girls have a lot of practice together before the show, so there's a real connection there."
Act II: Ma and Pa – Next, family members and friends step up to the stage, taking turns to congratulate the budding starlet. First, David and Ronit, accompanied by Lavi, take the parental comedy routine to a new level, as Ronit constantly interrupts David's attempts to relay facts regarding, say, their daughter's birth weight (David: "You weighed a little more than three kilos;” Ronit: "To be exact, 3.295 kilos") and the age at which Ofri starting writing stories (David: "About five"; Ronit: "Four-and-a-half, to be exact"). Following his parents' act, Lavi presents his own work of art, choosing to congratulate his big sister with a sizeable drawing of his own. He is rewarded with a big hug, carefully directed by the ever-present cameraman ("turn around, turn around, turn around, back, back, back. Good"). Next up are maternal grandparents Hanna and Moshe, who laud the bat mitzvah girl, and detail their part in maintaining the young starlet (Moshe: "Every time your name pops up on my phone, I know there's a driving mission ahead"). The congratulatory ends with a couple of friends, who shyly huddle behind the mic, and list Ofri's many talents ("Well, everything"). Queue music.
Act III: Dance Fever - Everyone rushes to the dance floor, as David and Ronit run to the corner of the room to quickly fetch the white screens meant to square off the women's section of the dance floor. That section, however, proves to be the entire dance floor, as a swarm of giddy girls enters the newly erected space, leaving just a tiny space, somewhere between the screens and the back of a chair, for the handful of men and boys to try and dance in. Following a bout of circle dancing, with Ofri's head appearing and disappearing above the screens as she's flung in the air by her friends, everyone breaks for chow and the screens are taken away. Intermission.
Act IV: The teacher: A small table is brought onto the dance floor, next to it, an easel holding what appears to be a geometry lesson. Ofri materializes, wearing black-rimmed glasses and a tight pony tail, and begins a dramatic monologue of a teacher frustrated by her iPhone-totting, disruptive class (which she eventually learns to appreciate). Happy ending. Ofri soaks up the applause, and, before you know it, party favors and costumes are passed around, as David and Lavi rush to fetch the screens just as the dancing resumes.
Music: Modern-Hasidic-supercool-spiritual pop, with touches of modern-Hassidic-supercool-spiritual dance-pop. David: "Ofri would have liked to have some [MTV-style] foreign music, but we didn't think it's appropriate for a bat mitzvah."
Food: Tables are laden with salads, as far as they eye can see, followed by a first course of either salmon in rosemary or chicken-and-mushroom tortillas. Mains: Lamb cut, on the bone, or Moroccan-style spring chicken.
Drink: Soft drinks and juices for the kids, soft drinks, juices and the odd beer for the adults.
Word in the ear: Grandma Hanna recalls her own bat mitzvah: "It was family only, and I had a homemade dress. My mother made the fish herself. That was the piece de resistance."
In my spiritual doggy bag: That adhering to religious tradition can also mean respecting an individual's distinctive style of personal expression.
Random quote: Posing for a picture, the whole family, including grandparents, huddles in front of the camera. The camerawoman, trying to make the joyous bunch spread out a little to the sides: "You can stand in a row," to which David quips: "We'll be in rows only when we're dead."
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