My super-uncool, roller-skating bat mitzvah
I remember the crackling sound of late nineties alt-rock and the stench of roller-rink pizza like it was just yesterday. My bat-mitzvah was at the beginning of sixth grade — early on in the party season — and I had just recently switched from an ultra-Orthodox, gender-segregated school to the community Jewish day school. Needless to say, I did not exactly exude the effervescent nonchalance of the “popular clique.” My parents fervently believed that mixed dancing was the equivalent to devil-worshipping orgies, thereby further sealing my fate as an overly pubescent dork with the roller skating bat-mitzvah party.
The most vivid memory I have from that day was not necessarily the music, or the rink, or the god-awful pink sweater I forced my mother to buy for me; it was my failed attempt at trying to be cool. Riding on the euphoria of it being “my day”, I sidled up next to one of the hippest boys in the grade, hoping to win him over with my quick wit and good humor. “Hey Jacob, spell I-CUP,” I smirked.
“I see you pee? Are you kidding? That’s the lamest joke I’ve ever heard!” He howled with laughter, skating off hand in hand with the ironically named Kristin Kaplan. I remember feeling so nauseated by my humiliating attempt at flirting that I couldn’t eat my cake, a delicious looking red-velvet monstrosity (still my favorite to this day!) that my mother ordered from the specialty bakery near my house. Instead, I cried in the bathroom, spurning any attempts at comfort and preferring instead to indulge alone in my self-pity.
It’s funny though. At the end of that day, the only error I saw in my own behavior was the “lame-o” attempt at being cool. I wished I tried harder, dressed better, and did everything I could to be more popular. I didn’t notice my mother, cleaning up behind those buffoon boys I was trying to befriend. I conveniently overlooked how she didn’t buy a new outfit for herself so that I could get the expensive invitations that I demanded. I blamed her for my follies, thinking that I would look back on the day and be ashamed of how embarrassing she was.
Eventually, I bloomed. Jacob became one of my closest friends in high school. We occasionally joked about those awkward years when I was so desperately nerdy, but I don’t think he even remembered the I CUP joke. That doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten. I CUP is significant to me, not for the shame it brought at the time, but for how it branded me as a misguided, superficial person. If I could go back and re-do things, I still would not be cool and I would probably not pick out a better sweater. But I would definitely eat the red velvet cake.
Jessica Leader is an editor at TribeVibe.
Do you live in the Boston area? Join JWA at the November 20th event Today I Am A Woman: Celebrating Bat Mitzvah in Boston and Around the World to discover bat mitzvah stories from around the world, meet other bat mitzvah girls, create a craft project, and explore your own bat mitzvah story with maps, writing, interviews, and art. Also, be sure to check out JWA's most recent project MyBatMitzvahStory.org, a safe and engaging website where girls will explore and express their emerging identities. The site also features free activity guides for eductors and tutors to use in mixed-gender, offline settings.
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