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The articles in this issue have been divided upinto the following categories






Faux Mitzvah

The Rite Stuff First, the bar mitzvah. Now...the faux mitzvah?

Inspired by Jewish coming-of-age parties, teens from Methodist to Muslim want
their own celebrations

She's got the deejay blasting Beyonce and a computerized light show. She
has nearly 100 friends crammed into Manhattan's ritzy Bryant Park Grill.
She's got the gift table groaning with Tiffany bags and guests greeting
her dad at the door with "Mazel tov!" Everything is perfectly poised for
13-year-old Kimya to have a world- class bat mitzvah, except for one
tiny detail:

Kimya isn't Jewish.

Welcome to the strange new world of faux mitzvahs, where non- Jewish
teens like Kimya Zahedi--whose parents are Iranian-born Muslims--and
Taylor Lasley, African-American and Presbyterian, get to party like it's
5764 (that's 2004 on the Hebrew calendar). A centuries-old Jewish
tradition, bar mitzvahs (for boys) and bat mitzvahs (for girls) mark the
passage from childhood to adulthood with rituals like candlelighting and
slicing braided bread called challah, as well as with elaborate and
often expensive celebrations. Now more and more non-Jewish kids are
insisting on their own bar or bat mitzvah-style parties--without the
religious rites and months of studious preparation--when they turn 13.
"You see how you can have so much fun with so many people," says Kimya,
who attends one or two bar or bat mitzvahs every weekend in and around
her wealthy neighbourhood in Alpine, N.J.

"We didn't want her to feel different from her friends," says her
father, Tooraj, 46, a Manhattan endocrinologist. "A lot of my Jewish
friends tell me they always wanted a Christmas tree and never got one.
This is the same thing."

A phenomenon primarily in big cities and areas with large Jewish
populations such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, faux mitzvahs are
"starting to become popular and get buzz," says Marc Jason, whose
Englewood, N.J., company Total Entertainment worked 12 such parties last
year, compared to just a handful the year before. "It's contagious." For
Kimya's Feb. 20 bash, the Zahedis shelled out around $40,000 for a
caterer, deejay (her mom, Nassrin, 47, a cosmetic dentist, even asked
him to play the hora), emcee and two professional dancers, a fog
machine, a fashion show, a video montage of highlights from Kimya's
life, and party favors from haut chocolatier Fauchon. The result was "no
different from a bat mitzvah, just without the long service," says
Kimya's classmate Andrea Yoss, 13, who had her bat mitzvah at
Manhattan's Harvard Club in November. Adds friend Christina Guidera, 13:
"The music was a lot better too. At bat mitzvahs they play weird songs
for the parents."

But swiping the style of this Jewish custom and ignoring its substance
just isn't kosher to some. "It's the frills without the faith," says
Rabbi Jeffrey Sirkman of Larchmont, N.Y. "It sends the wrong message.
The bar mitzvah is not only a grandiose affair; it's about an ongoing
process of becoming a part of Israel." Yet Rabbi Irwin Kula, president
of New York's CLAL--National Jewish Center for Learning and
Leadership--welcomes the bar mitzvah's broader appeal. "In open
societies people see each other's rituals and borrow them," he says.
"You don't have to be Jewish to want a party."

That's exactly what inspired Taylor Lasley's "black mitzvah" last year.
"I wanted to do something really fun that was in keeping with what the
rest of my grade was doing at the time," says Lasley, who is
African-American and a student at the Harvard-Westlake School in Los
Angeles. "I asked myself, 'If my best friend is having a bat mitzvah,
why can't I?'" Her parents, both real estate attorneys, agreed--as long
as she kept the tab down to a superthrifty $1,000. (Among the ways
Lasley cut costs: making her own invitations and serving turkey dogs and
fries.) "We kept it low-budget," she says, "but it ended up being really

Clark Buden, the great-grandson of former Vice President Nelson
Rockefeller, preferred his faux mitzvah to the many real deals he has
attended because "I didn't have to sit there in a suit." Held in his
family's private Tudor-style country club on the rambling grounds of the
Rockefeller estate outside New York City, his December 2002 blowout
featured disco lights pulsing on oil paintings of his famous ancestors,
a diving contest in the club's indoor pool and phony money--with Clark's
picture on it--for his 45 friends to bid on prizes at an auction.
"Christians don't have a rite of passage like the bar mitzvah; it's
something missing from our culture," says his stepfather Peter Humphrey,
57, a shamanistic healer (his mother, Clare Pierson, 47, is an
herbalist). "Now kids get a car or driver's license as their rite of
passage, and that's too bad."

Certainly the trend reflects the pressure on adolescents to keep up with
their peers--and on parents to do their part. When Janie Bruyere asked
her folks for a faux mitzvah, "I said no," recalls her father, Bob
Bruyere, 52, who, like his wife, Anne Kniffen, 48, is a Dallas
architect. But after Janie begged for three months, he gave in. Her
Oscar-theme party for 100 friends in August 2002--featuring a magician,
caricature artist, deejay and dance leader--was a big success. "I want
our kids to be popular. I don't want them being the loner or the
outcast," says Bruyere. "The party set Janie on the social list with all
her buds, and she's been invited to every party since then."

For many parents, saying no is tough when "every week it's a new dress,
a new outfit" for another friend's bar or bat mitzvah, explains Diana
Beauchamp, a suburban Chicago playwright and mother of four, including
two daughters who had faux mitzvahs (her husband, James, is a salesman
for a high-tech firm). "I wanted them to feel it was just as important
to us that she was turning 13 as it was to other parents." First,
Antoinette enjoyed a $10,000 supermodel- theme shindig for 30 friends at
Chicago's exclusive Metropolitan Club, complete with tattoo artist and
ice-cream sundae bar in May 2001. Then in October 2002 it was her sister
Renee's turn: 30 pals were ferried by limo and bus to a posh indoor
botanical garden at Chicago's Navy Pier for an $11,000 Island Girl-theme
affair. According to Renee, "some of my friends said it was the best
party they'd been to."

And that's saying quite a lot. "Sometimes these girls go to several bar
or bat mitzvahs in one weekend," observes Kimya Zahedi's cousin Hani
Ahmadi, 22, as she watches her whoop it up on the fog- shrouded dance
floor. "You can't just throw them a party at Chuck E. Cheese's."

By Alex Tresniowski. Jennifer Frey in New York City, Wendy Grossman in
Houston, Lyndon Stambler in Los Angeles and Anne E. Stein in Chicago


"There's nothing we said no to," says Kimya Zahedi's father, Tooraj, who
with wife Nassrin splurged for:

Room rental and catering (including drinks)

$17,000 Entertainment $5,000 Video montage $1,500 Fashion show $600
Kimya's dress $500 Nassrin's dress $3,500 Flowers, decorations $1,500
Party favors $2,000 Photographer $2,000 Room to dress for event $250
Tips $3,500 Invitations $1,500 TOTAL $ 38,850


Is it wrong to copy the trappings but not the teachings of Jewish

Yes. '[Parents] should look at their own spiritual traditions to find a
way to celebrate their child's coming of age' RABBI SIRKMAN, LARCHMONT,

No. 'I thought to myself, "If it will get them set with their
friends...then it would be money well spent"' BOB BRUYERE, DALLAS DAD

Kimya (at her faux mitzvah) "wanted to return the favor to her Jewish
friends," says her mother. "I think she wants to feel as special as Jewish
people do at their bat mitzvahs," said one of the 95 guests of birthday
girl Kimya "My dad calls this my bat mitzvah, but I just wanted a big party," says Kimya (with
her father, left, and listening to speeches by her friends, below).

Antoinette Beauchamp "It was awesome and I was grateful to my parents," says Antoinette (center,
sharing a 7 Up toast with pals on the way to her party at Chicago's
Metropolitan Club).

Clark Buden
After swimming and dodgeball, "we danced the night away," says Clark


(c) 2004 Dow Jones Reuters Business Interactive, LLC. Trading as
Factiva.All Rights Reserved.





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