San Diego Jewish World

 'There's a Jewish story everywhere'


 Vol. 1, No. 151

         Friday afternoon, September 28, 2007
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In today's issue...

Donald H. Harrison in San Diego: "Bar/bat mitzvah receptions become increasingly high tech/ high glitz."

Donald H. Harrison in San Diego: Book review: The Golem: Man of Earth by Howard Rubenstein



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The Jewish Citizen
by Donald H. Harrison

Bar/ bat mitzvah receptions become
increasingly high tech, high glitz

SAN DIEGO—Eric Sands, the self-styled "bar mitzvah king" disc jockey, says bar mitzvah celebrations are becoming increasingly higher tech productions, causing them to escalate in cost.

"Whereas in the 1970s, you could say that deejays were just there to play records; in the 1980s you would say 'well it's not enough to just play records anymore, now you've got to say something on the microphone.'  In the 1990s it wasn't just play music, talk on the microphone and have some lights, but you have to interact with the crowd, show them how to do the dances."

And today, in the 2000's?

"It is not even enough to dance with the crowd, interact with the crowd, and give out party props, hats, and silly glasses for everyone, even that is not enough now — now you have to have video screens.  Everyone wants video.  Everyone wants to see themselves on the projections. People not only want to hear the music and dance to the music, but they want to see Britney Spears on the screen, wild and dancing."

DEEJAY—Eric Sands, left, with assistant and dancer emcees a bar mitzvah

As the technology level demands get higher, the attention spans of the young teenagers seem to get lower, Sands commented.

"I think kids today are more ADD and hyper-stimulated than they have ever been, from anything I remember, and it takes more and more to keep them interested today, more so than before....I remember attending bar mitzvahs in New York in the late 60s and 70s: there was a band, and it was the same routine, the band would play the hora and they would do their music, and people would dance and that would be the extent of it. 

"Today the kids really want games and contests; they don't want just to participate in the party; they want to be the party: they want to be the judges for the contests; they want to invent dances; they want to be spontaneous; they want to see themselves on the video screens."

Sands, owner of Sundance Productions, can be found emceeing four-hour bar/bat mitzvah receptions almost every Saturday night, and sometimes on Saturday afternoons as well. He estimates he had been the deejay at over 500 bar mitzvahs in the last 15 years

His basic package, including his assistant, two dancers, various prizes, and special effects including a confetti canon, cost $2,995 for a party of up to 150 guests, "if people reserve early," he said.  By his estimate, that is about 10 percent of the cost of an average bar mitzvah reception in San Diego, which he pegged at $30,000.

Typically, bar/ bat mitzvah receptions have themes which influence table and room decorations, music choices, even the questions in trivia contests. 

For example, "I was talking to a client a few weeks ago who decided on a comedy theme—his kid was really into comedy.  I suggested that each of the tables could have the name of a different comedian, with that comedian's picture as a center piece; that we could orient the games towards comedian trivia questions, and give out prizes that have to do with comedy."

Typically in a candle lighting ceremony, relatives are called up to be honored by the bar/bat mitzvah and to have the honor of lighting one of 13 candles.  But that ceremony, a staple of so many bar/ bat mitzvah receptions, also is undergoing changes.

"Now people will have a photographer take a picture of the bar/ bat mitzvah person before the party, blow it up into poster size, razor blade out 13 pieces, and turn it into a jumbo size 13 piece jigsaw puzzle that each person, when he or she is called up, will place  piece of the puzzle on," Sands said.  "The crowds will see the full poster take shape, and by the end of the ceremony, there's the picture....

"I did a party a few weeks back where they were giving Oscar awards during the candle lighting, where they actually had prepared all these Oscar awards.  Instead of doing 13 candles, they gave out Oscars for the best type of personalities.  They did it in the style of an Academy Awards presentation.  I had the kid come in with a Hollywood-themed entrance, where he came in with an attaché case just as if he had come from the Ernst and Young accounting firm, with the sealed results  in the case."

Sands said there are some marked differences between what a 12- or 13-year-old bat mitzvah girl will want at her party versus what a 13-year-old bar mitzvah boy wants programmed.

"The guys want more games, more contests, more chaos, more destruction," S
ands said.  "The girls want more dancing.  The reality is that there has to be a delicate balance, a combination of both of these."

By "chaos and destruction," Sands said he meant that the boys "want contests that are more running around, more relay types, games like 'Coke and Pepsi,' 'Survivor,' musical chairs, scavenger hunts.... "  On the other hand, the girls are more likely to choose contests that are "more thinking oriented... contests such as 'Millionaire,' a take off on the TV show, when we ask them trivia question for prizes."

At bar/ bat mitzvah age, "it's an awkward time, more so for the guys," Sands says. "They are not quite sure where they are and how they fit and what they want and what they don't want. Girls are more involved with their life direction."

Many receptions incorporate some "Jewish" traditions such as saying ha motzi  over the challah; having a Havdallah celebration; dancing the hora (including the hoisting of the bar/ bat mitzvah on a chair in the middle of the hora circle), and the candle lighting.  Sometimes with all the focus on the bar/ bat mitzvah receiving presents and money, Sands said he is heartened when parents build tzedakah into these fests.  Sometimes table decorations will be donated to senior homes, sometimes the honoree may announce a percentage of his or her haul may go to charity.

Recently, said Sands, he was touched when during a candle lighting ceremony, a relative who was in a wheel chair was called upfront and the bar mitzvah boy explained how pleased he was that she was well enough to attend. As she was escorted to the front, it was to the melody of the emotional "Jerusalem of Gold."

The deejay got into his business during the 1980s because he had one of the best record collections at his dormitory at State University of New York at Stony Brook.  He started carting the records to dances, and picking up some pocket change for spinning them.  Eventually he graduated to weddings, anniversaries, and in the 1990s decided that he would do bar mitzvahs. 

Being Jewish, from New York, and having had his own bar mitzvah at the Kotel in Israel (but no reception), Sands thought he could relate particularly well to Jewish clientele in San Diego.

There were some early challenges.  During the 1990s, kids seemed to be influenced by Seattle grunge rock, which featured dancers slamming into each other.  Some of the violence spilled over with one rowdy grabbing one of Sands' CDs and grinding it with his heel on the dance floor.

Sands said that since then he has learned how to establish control at parties.  He counsels that the kid who is acting out the most, usually does so because he wants attention.  Sands said the best thing to do is to channel that need into a positive direction.  He likes to have the rowdiest kid serve as a contest judge—such recognition generally quelling the need to seek negative attention.

The future for bar mitzvahs?  In Sands' view, there probably will be bar mitzvah palaces built, with built in video screens, special effects, catering kitchen and the like, to make bar/ bat mitzvah receptions ever more high tech.


People of the Books

Sinning while trying to be helpful

The Golem: Man of Earth
by Howard Rubenstein; San Diego: Granite Hills Press, 2007, 88 pages, $14.95, available via

By Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO—When we Jews give praise for rain, traditionally it is because it waters our crops—something for which we are especially thankful during this harvest season of Sukkot.  In my case, drizzly days like today provide another wonderful harvest: Both the opportunity and the incentive to read.

From my stash of new books by local Jewish authors, I selected The Golem by Howard Rubenstein.  A two-act play, it was given its premiere in San Diego about a year ago at the 6th@Penn theatre.  More recently, the script has been brought out in paperback book form by Granite Hills Press, a small publishing house in San Diego.

Many of us are familiar with the legend of Rabbi Judah Loew ben   

Bezalel, known popularly as the Maharal, creating a golem out of dirt by intoning sacred verses and pronouncing the holy name of God.

In some legends, the golem protected the Jewish community from its attackers; in other legends, the golem protected all of Prague, its Jewish and non-Jewish residents alike.

Rubenstein’s golem, based on one presented in a Yiddish dramatic poem by H. Leivick, was created to protect Jews from Christian marauders.  The anti-Semites were whipped by a priest into a frenzy by the blood libel that Jews mix the blood of Christian children with their matzoh for Passover.

Even before this golem was created, however, its spirit warned the Maharal not to go forward with his plan—that no good would come of it.  Convinced that he and not some voice in the wilderness understood God’s purpose, the Maharal disdained the advice, and created the man-creature.

He learned to his horror that the creature he had fashioned felt many passions, including a sense of lust for Eva, the Maharal’s granddaughter.  He also discovered that the golem had a temper, which only the Maharal himself seemingly could control.

The Maharal gave the golem a job as a woodcutter—putting an axe into the man creature’ hands.  The Jews of Prague alternately taunted the Maharal, or were terrified by his menacing bellows.  The golem was sent from the Maharal’s house to live among the homeless people of Prague in a deserted and dilapidated castle.

Angry that he was sent away, resentful that he was neither a Jew nor a Christian, feeling friendless, frustrated that the Maharal forbade him to express his love for Eva; not understanding who he was or why he was created, the golem became increasingly alienated from his creator.

It might be said that the Jews treated him as badly as they were treated by the Gentiles.

Eventually, of course, the golem lashed out—and instead of defending the Jews against the Christians—he himself became the attacker in a mad moment of mayhem.

Of course, the Maharal realized that he brought this terrible tragedy upon himself and his community by being so arrogant as to imagine he could imitate God’s act of creation.   Chastened, deeply sorrowful, he incanted the words that turned the golem back into the dirt from which he was created.

There are many ways to read this play: on one level it could symbolize the relationship of humanity to The Creator.   Speaking of rain, an analogy to the brutish people who lived in the time of Noah comes to mind.

Rubenstein, who has translated ancient Greek playwrights Aeschuylus and Euripedes, and who has written an epic poem based on the story of the Maccabees, among other works, is to be congratulated for adding this work to Jewish literature.  Even though the story is an old one, it can still shock—and cause people to ponder enduring truths.



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