New teen trend: ‘Faux Mitzvahs’

By Sarah Cohen, John Burroughs High School

The social lives of both Jewish and non-Jewish seventh graders expand tremendously as they are invited to classmates’ bar and bat mitzvahs. However, recently these students’ social calendars have begun to overflow as their non-Jewish classmates throw their own “faux mitzvahs.”

The term “faux mitzvah” was coined to describe a party held by a non-Jewish family for their child when he or she turns 13. The trend started in cities like Los Angeles and New York where there can be thousands of b’nai mitzvot in a given year. Florida, a state that boasts a large Jewish population, reportedly has abuot 100 b’nai mitzvot every Saturday night. Many b’nai mitzvot involve a very elaborate party. The cost can range anywhere from hundreds of dollars to millions. However, the average cost is between $15,000 and $30,000.

As b’nai mitzvot parties have become more impressive and expensive, some non-Jewish kids have begun to feel left out and want elaborate parties of their own. This feeling led to the advent of the “faux mitzvah” and an increased pressure on parents to throw them extravagant parties at the same time that their Jewish friends are having their own parties.

Entertainment and party planning companies in various parts of New York and California each reported planning about a dozen “faux mitzvahs” in 2004, more than four times the number each planned in 2001. While the trend is expanding in other areas, it has just started to emerge in St. Louis.

Non-Jewish John Burroughs seventh grader Olivia Smith said that if her non-Jewish classmates had a celebration like a “faux mitzvah,” that she “would think that they wanted to relate to their friends and not be like them but just have the same fun event.” Even though Olivia has never been to anything like a “faux mitzvah” and would not want one herself, she would be fine with her non-Jewish classmates having one.

Jewish Crestview Middle School seventh grader Caleb Pultman, who will soon have a bar mitzvah at Congregation B’nai Amoona, feels that if his non-Jewish classmates “were doing it to try to one-up the friends who are having bar/bat mitzvah that would be really wrong, because Jews are doing it for a religious reason and not just to have a big blow-out party. If they are doing it as a family tradition, then that would be OK.” Whatever one’s opinion of the “faux mitzvah,” it is a growing trend and seems to be here to stay.