The Bar Mitzvah BoysSixty-three years ago, my father had his bar mitzvah. Six days ago, my son had his bar mitzvah.

While the ceremonies themselves were likely the same–and since both were in Conservative synagogues, there are no photos documenting either event, although we staged a few photos the day before–the parties were most definitely not the same. Comparing the bar mitzvah of 1953 and the one of 2016, I can’t help but notice a few differences. (Note, I was blissfully in the moment at the party and didn’t take photos, so I’m relying on friends who have shared theirs.)

My father’s bar mitzvah was announced in his temple bulletin. My son’s was announced via the temple YouTube channel.


My father memorized his haftorah from a record and learned prayers by rote in classes four days a week. My son went to weekly tutoring sessions, attended Shabbat services, and had twice weekly Hebrew school to learn haftorah trope, Torah trope as well as how to lead the service.

My father’s party was a lovely lunch affair at a New Jersey restaurant, and my grandmother wore a fabulous hat.
My father's bar mitzvah party

My son’s was an evening affair at the Museum of Science, and I wore no hat (this is pre-party).
The Museum of Science, Boston

My father’s cake looked like this:
Bar mitzvah cake circa 1953

My son’s cake looked like this:
Bar Mitzvah Cake circa 2016

The grown-ups at my father’s party looked rather stern.
Bar mitzvah 1953

Not so much the grown-ups at my son’s party (or rather post-party, as it was here).
Grown-up at 2016 bar mitzvah

The kids didn’t look like they were having that much better of a time.
Bar mitzvah kids 1953

Folks got a little more into it in 2016 (but notice the 2016 bar mitzvah boy is dressed just as dapperly as they did in 1953)


The cost of my father’s bar mitzvah was $670.26 and included $1.10 for wine (that’s a dollar and ten cents, people!), $2.03 for cigarettes, and $5 for cigars. Ours cost [a hell of a lot more than $670.26] and included socks for girls to dance in, M&Ms for party favors, and a rockin’ DJ. No open flames, definitely no smoking, and sadly no cigars at ours.
Cost of a bar mitzvah in 1953

And there you have it. New Jersey, 1953. Massachusetts, 2016. Both boys became men (at least in the eyes of Jewish law), both had parties and cake, but only one had squid heads. See, the good old days weren’t always better. Here’s to modern times!