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June 17, 2014 10:44 am

Attending a Satmar Bar Mitzvah Celebration

avatar by Ronn Torossian

Jewish boy reads Bar Mitzvah. Photo: Peter van der Sluijs.

A friend, Herman Friedman, invited me to attend the bar mitzvah celebration of his son, and I was one of a handful of non-Charedi attendees at the recent event. He and his family are members of the ultra-Orthodox Satmar community, the largest Chasidic sect.

Having spent considerable time with this community, I know they are charitable and do outstanding work for the sick, wounded, and Jews in need. The community went out of their way to make me feel comfortable – and translated the Yiddish speeches. From attending, I learned that all bar mitzvah parties for the Satmar community are only held in Satmar’s Menucha V’Simcha Hall in Williamsburg and at a kehilla hall in Kiryas Yoel. Regardless of one’s wealth or prominence, this scenario allows everyone to feel comfortable and not to seek to out-do one another. In today’s world of excess, I found it to be a beautiful concept.

While there are similar restrictions for weddings, sheva brachos, etc. it is a nice custom – and it allows people to have one less worry during these times. There is a limit to the amount of attendees – and the flat (affordable) fee includes waiters, the hall, food, etc. The event was warm, the food was good, there was music, and it was a nice simcha. In this community with so many children it is a wonderful, nice idea.

Why should one take out a loan if they cannot afford an event for their child? And if they can, why should a celebration for a 13-year old be an expensive outlandish event? Why would a band or extravagant party favors make Jewish children feel more special? The bar mitzvah had people smiling, talking and enjoying one another. This Satmar tradition is one that I think many other Jewish communities can learn a lot from.

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