Someone Else’s Simcha Showstopping Bat Mitzvah Rocks Sleepy Israeli Town

A girl’s rite of passage is celebrated to much fanfare, as her parents vow to give her a night to remember.

Ron Ben-Tovim
Ron Ben-Tovim
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Noam Amar makes her grand entry on a swan-shaped chariot.
Noam Amar makes her grand entry on a swan-shaped chariot.Credit: Gil Cohen Magen
Ron Ben-Tovim
Ron Ben-Tovim

Location: Aliba reception hall and garden.

Time: 8 P.M.

In the neighborhood: A still, almost complete, darkness fills the industrial zone of the southern Israeli town of Ofakim, situated between the city of Be’er Sheva and the Gaza Strip. Large warehouses, lit dimly by orange streetlights, surround a slowly filling parking lot.

Venue: An imposing stone-and-glass structure, sending beams of colored light and pulses of dance music into the dim wilderness all around. A long red carpet leads into the grounds, which include a sizable hall, crowded with elaborately decorated tables, as well as an outside garden area, surrounded by food carts and bars.

Simcha: Noam Amar’s bat mitzvah.

Number of guests: Around 500.

A brief history of time: Noam is the third child of Benny and Anat Amar, who run a slew of local businesses out of their home base of Ma׳agalim, a settlement near the southern town of Netivot. Raised in a traditional Jewish home, Noam is sandwiched between older siblings Yekira and Or, and younger siblings Nave and Omer.

Rites: Anat and Benny, joined by the girl of the hour, who is wearing a white dress, welcome their guests at the end of the red carpet. They are flanked by two dancers wearing flowing white gowns and elaborate matching headdresses. Powerful spotlights shed iridescent patterns on a nearby water feature.

An all-female quintet wearing matching party dresses vigorously play their respective instruments – there are two harps, two violins and a cello – nearly in synch with the classically tinged dance music coming out of the overhead PA system.

Following a run of the garden and its many food stations, the guests, most of whom are not evidently religiously observant – about a third of the men sport kippas – enter the main hall and await Noam’s big entrance. A full band rocks out on stage, replacing the classical quintet. Young girls and boys scurry here and there in packs, constantly checking their smartphones.

To start things off, the master of ceremonies welcomes the Amar family – Anat, Benny and their four children – accompanied by prerecorded salutations to Noam (“May you succeed in life”; “I will do everything for you”; “Everything you do is perfect, and may God protect you”).

Next comes the big reveal. The MC asks all the guests to stand for the main event; many heed the call. Then, again flanked by her private dancers, Noam enters on a swan-shaped chariot, with the main theme of “Swan Lake” blasting in the background. Soap bubbles float through the air, piercing a dramatic smoke screen.

Noam disembarks and sings to the adoring crowd, accompanied by the two dancers. Her head is barely visible through a forest of hands clutching flashing smartphones. (A female guest: “A lot goes into trying to surprise people at these events, and it’s getting harder.”)

Everyone take a much-needed break. A cleaner materializes from the busy bathrooms, gazing at the hectic dance floor before returning to her duties. While everyone takes a short food break, photos of the bat-mitzvah girl are projected onto the brightly illuminated walls.

Shortly after, Noam returns in a colorful outfit, accompanied by about a dozen friends, and together they perform a dance number for the mesmerized crowd (Benny: “She picked a few friends from her dance class, and they worked on the routine with their instructor”).

After another break, Noam goes up to give her big bat-mitzvah speech (“A new path begins for me today, of maturity and thought”), with father and daughter sharing a slow dance afterward.

A bout of dancing then ensues, followed by a surprise performance by nationally renowned band Revivo Project, sending the crowd into an absolute frenzy.

Music: Dance music, MTV hits, Middle Eastern pop and the musical stylings of the Revivo Project.

Food: Hors d'oeuvres including sushi, chicken wraps, hummus, kibbeh, salads and steamed salmon, followed by grilled fish, meat pastries, chicken schnitzel for the kids and steaks.

Drink: Soft drinks, wine and lots of vodka.

Word in the ear: Anat, on Noam’s part in planning the evening’s events: “She chose the swan entrance. We just went online, fishing for ideas. She also chose the invitations as well as the dance with her friends. We figured since she didn’t know most of the events, she’d at least have a part in planning the event.”

In my spiritual doggy bag: That what big-time productions lack in intimacy, they more than make up for in a sense of absolute inclusion.

Random quote: One guest, remarking with a smile as the swan carriage is led into the hall: “So, goose liver’s on the menu today?”

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