Someone Else’s Simcha / Noam Elbaz’s Bar Mitzvah - Shooting for the Stars

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Ron Ben-Tovim

Location: Opera House reception hall

Time: 7:30 P.M.

In the neighborhood: A darkened industrial zone located in the northern part of the city of Ashdod. Silent storefronts and office buildings glow mildly in the light emanating from immense neon signs and the faint aura of a nearby gas station. Down a street, oversized speakers mounted on a Chabad truck blast liturgical dance tracks.

Venue: What appears to be yet another office complex turns inside into a sea of smooth white marble and sparkling chandeliers that houses, at the same time, a separate event in each of its two halls (a wedding and a bar mitzvah). A small reception area is packed with food and small seating areas. A larger dining hall is filled with white-clothed tables separated by a dance floor.

Simcha: Noam Elbaz’s bar mitzvah

Number of guests: ~250

A brief history of time: Noam, 13, was born to Ariel, 39, an army contractor, and Natalie, 37, a secretary at the Ashdod municipality. The family resides in Ashdod, where both Ariel (“Arik”) and Natalie grew up together as friends and eventually as mates (Natalie: “I was a high school senior and he was in the army.”) Noam is the couple’s oldest child, later joined by Yinon, 8, Noy, 3, and four-month-old Ana’El, who came into the world just as the family was planning Noam’s event (Natalie: “It was a bit heavy, and a bit tiring, but we got over it.”)

Rites: Entering the reception hall, guests pass a blown up picture of the bar mitzvah boy, sporting a white fedora hat, on their way to an impressive spread of finger foods. Greeting friends and family at the door, Natalie, in a flowing white gown, and Ariel, in a dark suit and tie, smile and shake hands, as the cameraman flashes white-hot light.

After some mingling and munching, two temple-grade wooden doors dramatically open to reveal a brilliantly lit main hall, with classical-music-inspired dance music blasting away. Two statuesque female violin players, in flowing gowns, stand among a bevvy of Greek-style flower pots and flanked by a massive video wall, playing along with the beat, their bows in near-synch with the music. A smoke machine billows grey clouds in the background.

The evening’s MC/DJ announces the grand entrance, as Natalie and Ariel, looking like a bride and groom, enter the hall through another set of massive doors. Natalie’s voice comes up through the speakers with a pre-recorded blessing; an usher signals the crowd to applaud, and they comply. Next, the little brothers come in, with Noy, a little overwhelmed by the event, running to her aunt’s hands instead of joining center stage.

Then, grand entrance #1 takes place, as Noam, dressed in a diminutive white suit and sporting a snow-white kippa, walks in like a rock star, surrounded by dancers dressed in silver and white, and sings with a clear, flawless voice (Natalie: “We’re working on the singing thing right now, since he wants to work hard at it and even make it on TV”; Ariel: “That’s what all kids dream about these days, you know. It’s what they see on TV, unfortunately.”) Confetti and balloons drop from the sky.

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Noam Elbaz’s bar mitzvahCredit: Gil Cohen-Magen
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Noam Elbaz’s bar mitzvahCredit: Gil Cohen-Magen
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Noam Elbaz’s bar mitzvah Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen

As the music and dancers die away, Ariel covers his son with a fresh tallit, with a pre-recorded Priestly Blessing sounding in the background. Next, Noam goes through the rudimentary speech (“In this moving and special moment, let me say this prayer.”) Speech ends, music breaks out and friends and family storm the young star as most of the guests look on from their seats.

As the guests take a short food break, the violinists return, this time in red miniskirts, and return to their pedestal-like position. Soft music fills the hall, as Noam serenades his mother, followed by smoke-filled mom-and-son slow dance. Colorful laser beams hit the several slideshows of Noam through the ages projected on the hall’s walls. Dance music blasts through and the floor fills with kids, adults and an endless array of florescent accessories, courtesy of the DJ.

After another food break (and another costume change for our violinists) close friends and family prepare for grand entrance #2, which sees the parents and man-of-the-hour, wearing traditional looking gold-and-white Moroccan garb being driven into the hall in a gilt carriage, carried by two. strong-looking men and surrounded by costumed family members bearing trays of sweets.

The happy parade ends up at a henna tent set up in one corner of the hall, as grandmothers Esther and Raquel prepare the henna and spread it on Noam’s young palms (Natalie: “You rarely see people performing hennas at bar mitzvahs anymore.”) Soon enough, everyone wants a piece of the red paste, as happy guests storm the pulsating dance floor, holding sweets in their henna-stained hands.

Music: Classical-tinged techno, Middle Eastern pop, MTV hits.

Food: Starting things up: Beef skewers, sausage, couscous and vegetables, meatballs, chicken tortillas, and bread. On the table: Whole sea bream, beef asado, goose and spring chicken pastry, and stuffed chicken breast.

Drink: Soft drinks, beer, wine, whiskey, vodka and fruit juices.

Word in the ear: The Elbazes on inter-generational differences, bar mitzvah style – Ariel: “It’s a whole other world, everything’s different. We’re from the era of champagne-glass pyramids and lighting candles.” Natalie: “It’s progress, everything just got more advanced.” Ariel: “And more expensive.”

In my spiritual doggy bag: That today’s kids want celebrations that fit their aspirations: big.

Random quote: One waiter, frustrated after asking the entire staff what they think his ethnic background is: “Everyone thinks I’m Russian! And I’m Moroccan!”

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Noam Elbaz’s bar mitzvah Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen