Nearly thirteen years have flown by in a way I never anticipated possible. I have woken up to find that I am suddenly the parent of a boy who is definitely taller than me, and whose voice is now entirely distinguishable from his younger sisters. He has suddenly gained an intellectual maturity and a mastery of skills I will never acquire – like a nearly infallible sense of direction and an entirely relaxed approach to life. As when he was little, a sudden onset of big changes can only mean one thing, a birthday is near. And while each one was big, this one is really big. In two weeks he will become a bar mitzvah.* As we countdown to the day, my husband and I reflect on what this day means, how to mark it and what we would like for him to remember.
There is seemingly great pressure to orchestrate a production worthy of the Hong Kong skyline that will serve as a backdrop. We have been to simchas where international sensations performed, pop star impersonators have come in posses and acrobats, snake charmers and fire dancers amazed with incredible feats.
Raising a child in Hong Kong, a land of plenty, has many advantages; there are also numerous disadvantages – being that it is a land of plenty. Whereas Israel is the land of milk and honey, I am about to prepare a simcha in the land of Dom Pérignon and Gucci.
When I think back to my own bat mitzvah, I remember the lavish catering hall, the vodka and caviar bar (for the adults), the cocktail-hour sushi chef, the Madonna impersonator (of course), my custom-made dress, customized favors and my elaborate invitation with calligraphy in pink. I remember discussions about whether or not I should have my braces temporarily removed and whether or not it should be black tie. What I don’t remember was that the parsha that week was Emor. I had to look it up because it certainly was not printed on the invitation nor was the Hebrew date. This was clearly an opportunity lost. Likewise, I remember that bar/bat mitzvah invariably meant, to most in my world, an end to formal Jewish education, well, actually an end to all Jewish education. Bar/bat mitzvah was seen as a finale, a send off.
And while our parents, well informed that anything is possible in Hong Kong, eagerly await an elaborate and large-scale production of the red carpet-type, I am afraid we might have to disappoint. The good news is that my son has agreed to layn not only his parsha, but his sister’s as well – my daughter will become a bat mitzvah just six months later. And, we will of course proudly sponsor a communal Kiddush lunch for both now and then. We have also embarked on a year-long family Mishnah study with the rabbi on alternating Sunday mornings. My husband and I have agreed to extend this long beyond the year, though we haven’t told the children yet as we have already collected evidence that supports the fact that teenagers and the early hours of Sunday morning are often intrinsically opposed to one another.
Things are certainly moving in the right direction; however, when it comes to the party we are still undecided. External expectations are certainly high and while I am rarely indecisive, with this decision we find ourselves wavering from one extreme to the next. Our extended family’s tickets are booked and the overseas frenzy over what to wear has begun. They, however, just may see that they came for a bar mitzvah, but without the bar.
As a family, we know that it will be in Ohel Leah Synagogue, a place where we are all at home. We know that Jewish education doesn’t end here and this is actually just the beginning. We all know the name of the parsha. We know the theme is Torah not iPhones, European football, Disney or Madonna. With what we consider the essentials covered, there are some unique details where planning a simcha becomes very Hong Kong.
Here is what I am discovering are the essentials of Hong Kong b’nai mitzvah planning:
In a community of about 4,000 Jews with a Jewish Day School, seven congregations and many more rabbis, even off the Jewish map, we have this more than covered. We are not suffering from a lack of choices.
In Hong Kong, we don’t need to look for the best websites for kippot. We are about 45 minutes from the Chinese border where there are tailors galore and prices are low. The trick is to find kippot from a simcha that you liked and get the name of their tailor. If you want tablecloths, this is the place for that as well.
Again, with a bit of creativity and access to printing prices that haven’t been seen in New York since 1980, this is an easy one. The advent of digital printing also means that if you can provide the layout, the rest is easy. (If you are sending these overseas, you do have to stick to a schedule, though, and allow for extra time.)
Ok, a potential pitfall. This is where things get a bit more complicated. This requires schlepers who can bring in hundreds of benchers from New York (Israel works too) and then you can customize the covers (see invitations).
Again, somewhat problematic. We do have a kosher market but if you want candy that is anything but the single available selection that year, again you must call in the schlepers.
Tefillin/Talit Cases for both and other ritual items for the Bar Mitzvah boy
Sorry. It is back to those schlepers or some pretty serious advance planning.
But in the end we have the parsha and all the rest is commentary.
Post-bar mitzvah, we have decided to (indefinitely) continue our family mishnah study with the rabbi. We hope our children are beginning to understand that learning isn’t reserved for a particular period in our lives or for a specific event but it is a lifelong pursuit.
Our plans for how to celebrate in November are still most definitely undecided.
This article originally appeared in The Jewish Press: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/features/feautures-on-jewish-world/my-big-fat-hong-kong-bnai-mitzvah/2014/05/30/