Someone Else’s Simcha / Maayan’s Birthday Bash - Doin’ It for Themselves

An eight-year-old girl celebrates her b-day bash with a mother determined to create her own, single-parent family.

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Ron Ben-Tovim

Location: Emek Dotan Youth Center

Time: 5 P.M.

In the neighborhood: The setting sun brightly colors an abandoned playground at the eastern side of the central city of Modi’in, drawing long shadows from a discolored swing set. Sedans swoosh by on a nearby stretch of road, their engines echoing against the rocky hills that mark the city’s limits.

Venue: A one-story, red-tile structure, part of a cluster of municipal kindergartens. Inside, a medium-sized main room is made larger by pushing off folded ping pong and foosball tables. A large straw mat is placed at the center, while strings laden with colorful balloons sway gently above.

Simcha: Maayan’s eighth birthday

Number of guests: 40

A brief history of time: Maayan was born to mom Orna Yair, 48, a jack of all dramatic trades (actress, director, birthday-party planner), joining older brother Daniel, 11, in their secular, one-parent Modi’in home. Opting not to wait up until life turned out the way it was supposed to, Orna decided she didn’t need a significant other to become a mother, striking out on her own. Orna: “I wanted to be a mother, and I imagined a spouse, marriage, kids, you know, the regular way. But that never happened, so I decided I’d change the order up.”

And did her choice to break the nuclear-family mold garner any criticism? Orna: “Just the opposite. Even at the time I decided I wanted to be a mother and later there was a lot of support from my parents, family, and people around me. A lot of sympathy, and even admiration.”

Rites: Orna and her sisters prepare the kiddy buffet, making sure everything is ready ahead of the party. Maayan, in black tights and a white shirt, happily skips along, helping out and wearing pink-tassel antennae on her flowing blond hair.

Elsewhere in the room, six teenagers, all dressed up in clown costumes and makeup, string up extra balloons, preparing the set for the arrival of the horde. The teens are all members of a special, city-based volunteer clown squad, which runs parties on behalf of Modi’in’s welfare department. Noa, 17, the latest to be in charge of the clown troupe: “The second you see the smiles on their faces, it fills you up with happiness.”

Soon enough, as more and more parents drop off their young, the room is filled with such smiley faces, all but overwhelming the young party crew. Within minutes, a clear division is made, as the boys, quickly tired of hurling plastic balls at plastic bowling pins, crowd a tired foosball table to the side, while the girls huddle smiling around the teenage girl clowns to get their glitter and make up on.
Standing to the side, clearly too cool for school, big bro Daniel stands smiling, munching on a piece of cake.

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Maayan’s birthday. Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen
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Maayan’s birthday.Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen
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Maayan’s birthdayCredit: Gil Cohen-Magen

As the foosball yelling and shouting dies down (“Go Blue!” “Go Red!”), the kids are corralled by their clown leaders into room’s center, where they partake in several variations of “tag“ or “catch” and “pass the parcel.”

A short eating break ensues, as the kids raid the treats, with Orna passing out vegetable sticks, with mixed results.

Next, Maayan is seated on the room’s version of a stage, as her peers greet her for her birthday with some surprising rhetoric (“May you go down the path of roses, and not the path of thrones”) as well as good-ole favorites (“May you have lots of cake”). Then, it’s mom’s turn to embarrass the birthday girl (“I’m crazy about you”), and then the lights go out.

And out of the darkness, a three-tired chocolate ship of a cake emerges adorned with candles as the room breaks into “happy birthday.” The candles are blown out to much fanfare.

Music: Salsa hits, “Gangam Style” on loop, and the best of Club Med.

Food: Pita bread with hummus, vegetable sticks, popcorn, cakes, and savory treats.

Drink: Water, raspberry-flavored concentrate, and instant coffee for the grownups.

Word in the ear: Orna on what makes it worth it, despite all the hard work: “The first best thing I ever did my life was when I had Daniel. The second best thing I’ve ever done in my life is when I had Maayan.”

In my spiritual doggy bag: While the mental image of what family should be has never really wavered, reality is serving up some pretty cool versions.

Random quote: During “pass the parcel,” one boy gets a note saying: “Tell us something we don’t know about you.” He thinks, placing his tiny head in his hands, and finally says: “I’m adopted.”

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Maayan’s birthday.Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen