Someone Else’s Simcha Liron Shalmoni’s Bat Mitzvah: Bejeweled With Candy

High-end productions with lots of pink, bat mitzvah celebrations have become almost as extravagant as nuptials.

Ron Ben-Tovim
Ron Ben-Tovim
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Ron Ben-Tovim
Ron Ben-Tovim

Location: Vitrage reception hall, Nes Tziona

Time: 7:30 P.M.

In the neighborhood: Small stores surrounding a gravel parking lot in the shadow of a newer, stark white shopping mall. A cool evening breeze brings respite from the first truly hot week of the season. A washed-out toy store just by the decked entrance to the reception hall is offering beach and pool paraphernalia with elongated foam floats protruding out of their bin like the tentacles of a tired, yellow octopus.

Venue: Near the entrance, a small seating area in white and purple. Several stands offering freshly grilled and cooked appetizers line the wall, opposite two longish bars. Inside the main hall: about 20 square tables, covered with bubblegum-pink cloths topped by white lace runners. On the side of the room, a long kids’ table is set, bejeweled with lollipops and candy. At the center of every table, balanced on a silver axis, is a basketball-sized, glass globe covered in gleaming rhinestones. A sizable, black DJ stand commands the dance floor.

Simcha: Liron Shalmoni’s bat mitzvah

Home: Liron is the eldest child of parents Moshe (38, lawyer) and Sarit (38, Moshe’s office manager), big sister to the ever-smiling Lior (8), and begrudging housemate of Comet, the family’s 14-year-old dog, (Sarit: “Liron’s not that crazy about him”). The family lives in Rishon Letzion, about 20 minutes south of Tel Aviv, and is made up of a mixed bag of backgrounds: Yemenite and Turkish (on Moshe’s side), Romanian/Hungarian and Persian (on Sarit’s side).

A brief history of time: Liron is the family’s eldest grandchild, and first to go through the bar/bat mitzvah gauntlet. Paternal grandfather Yuval (60): “The joy just overwhelms you. I guess this means we’re getting a little older.” The proud grandfather hugs the bar mitzvah girl. “Would you believe she’s my granddaughter?” he grins, comparing his tanned forearm to his granddaughter’s lighter one, and plants a kiss on her forehead.

Fact #1: Liron’s bat mitzvah should have actually taken place in July, during the summer break. Sarit: “All the girls with birthdays in the summer move their parties up, since next year they’re all going to different junior highs. We have three bat mitzvahs this week alone.”

Number of guests: 220

Family history: Sarit: “My bat mitzvah was held on the rooftop of our apartment, with 70 people, and no one from my class. Bat mitzvahs didn’t use to be such an affair. Now it’s like planning a small wedding.” Moshe: “My bar mitzvah was in a reception hall, but that’s because I was the eldest grandchild. And anyway, it wasn’t anything like this.” Liron, commenting on her mom’s bat mitzvah: “That’s funny;” Sarit: “You see, she thinks it’s funny.” Liron scoffs: “Today it would be weird to have a bat mitzvah on someone’s roof.”

Fact #2: Sarit and Moshe have known each other since the age of 12, when they were both neighbors (Moshe: “We were on the first floor, they were all the way up”) and classmates in the nearby city of Holon. However, they only started dating after Sarit was released from the army at 20, and during Moshe’s stint as an infantry company commander. Paternal grandmother Yaffa (60): “I feel like Sarit and Moshe are both my children. I’ve known them since they were this big,” gesturing downward with her outstretched palm.

Rites: DJ introduces Liron, as images of her (professionally shot) flash on the walls in the darkened hall. Enters the dancing bat mitzvah girl, wearing a black-and-white dress, black doll shoes, and sporting a Madonna-esque microphone headset. Liron then goes on to sing the song “Letter to my Brother” by Israeli artist Kobi Aflalo. (Sarit: “It has very positive lyrics”). Song ends, dance music kicks in, and friends and family swarm the dance floor, encircling Liron. A few boys make feeble attempts at swaying from side to side, as the girls do their best MTV impersonations. Some of the smaller girls wander off to an area of the hall reserved for weddings, using the aisle for a make-believe catwalk.

After a short eating break, Sarit (in a white mini-dress), Moshe (in a light suit), and Lior (blue jeans and plaid shirt) face the crowd. Lior launches the speech portion of the evening (“Liron, you’re my role model, but you can also be kind of annoying”), followed by Moshe (“You’re a beautiful, smart, sensitive girl”), and Sarit (“You’ll always be my little girl”). After a short word from uncle Yaron (30) (“First time I held you in my arms, you were the one without hair, now it’s me”), Liron’s classmates frantically grab the microphone, turning the ceremony into a “who-loves-you-more” contest (“May you continue to be the amazing girl you are – in one word, perfect”; “May all your wishes come true”; “I just want to add something from my real heart”; “Good luck with the boys”).

After the DJ manages to pry the microphone from the hands of the girls, the delegation disperses, leaving Moshe and Liron alone on the dance floor. Queue spotlight, and the father-daughter couple go into a slow dance, to the sound of Liverpool Express’ “You Are My Love.” Soon, other couples join in. Music then switches to dance-pop, sending boys, girls, men, and women to dance around the glowing bat mitzvah girl.

Music: Jennifer Lopez, Black Eyed Peas, Middle Eastern pop. DJ: “Kids today, they come up with their iPhones and say ‘see, this song just came out 24 hours ago, I want it!’ and I’m like, ‘hey, slow down! No one knows that song yet! It’s like there’s a competition or something.”

Food: An entire universe of appetizers: From mini-burgers and fries, beef tortillas, noodles, fried “cigars,” to Persian favorite gondi (meatballs) and Tunisian fricassee sandwich (fried buns with spicy tuna, pickled lemon, boiled egg and onions). Inside the hall, guests are welcomed with an individual tropical plate (pineapple, orange, melon, and cherries). Later, mezze and bread are placed on the table. Intermediate course: A choice of salmon-tilapia-fillet combo or pastilla(aMoroccan dish, made up of meat-filled filo dough). Mains: Beef steak or grilled spring chicken. Liron’s maternal grandfather Yaakov (65) is one of the reception hall’s managers, making sure the girl of the day gets the best of the best.

Drink: 7up, Pepsi, Diet Coke (for the kids), red wine, whiskey, vodka (for the bigger kids).

Word in the ear: Yaffa: “Children -- they’re the whole world. They are everything. And as much as we love our children, we love our grandchildren that much more.”

In my spiritual doggy bag: Younger generations may have a very different idea of how to celebrate simchas, but their way seems like fun.

Random quote: Liron’s maternal great grandmother Rivka, a spry and energetic woman in her late seventies, lays down an appetizer she picked up between group photo-ops, just as Sarit calls overhead: “Savta (Grandma), we’re taking a picture!” to which she mouths to a near by relative: “They never stop taking pictures!”

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