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A Bar Mitzvah Divided - Ross Rosenfeld

It was perhaps the worst idea ever for a bar mitzvah theme.

One can understand where it came from, of course. Henry – the boy – or man of thirteen now, in the Jewish religion – was very much into politics, you see, and he had insisted on a politically-themed party. His father was a bit uncertain about the idea, but his mother, an NPR tote bag-owning environmentalist who hadn’t missed a minute of the DNC since the age of ten, was absolutely enamored with it. And so it was.

At first she had suggested mixing the tables to engender lively discussions, but Henry, ever her boy, thought that it might be better instead to place all the Democrats in a grouping of tables on the left, and the Republicans on the right. The undecideds or independents would be in the middle area just above the dance floor, allowing each political party to try to pull them to their side by the end of the night. Whichever side could win over more of those in the middle, they determined, would be able to take home all of the table arrangements.

And what beautiful table arrangements they were! Red, white, and blue and filled with all sorts of political paraphernalia. They had replicas of campaign buttons and posters, official presidential portrait pics, ballots with hanging chads, 501 (c)(3) forms, talking points memos, and even official endorsements from the NRA, Planned Parenthood, ALEC, and the American Federation of Teachers.

They hired performers as well, because – why not? They acted as protesters as people entered the party. One wore an American flag hat and a shirt with a snake reading “Don’t Tread On Me!” He had a beer in his hand and a replica open-carry .45 at his side. The woman playing his wife had a glittery “Make America Great Again” cowboy hat on and an assault rifle strapped over her shoulder – pink. Opposite them was a bespectacled man who looked about twenty-five, with a neat mustache and goatee, an NYU shirt, and a sign that said, “We Are the 99%!” A woman protesting next to him had an LGBTQ tank top and a sign that read “Meat is Murder!” The two sides were fortunately kept at bay by lines of velvet ropes. The (somewhat confused) guests entered the hall by walking between them as each side shouted out endearing remarks such as, “Going to your safe space, snowflake?” and “Global warming’s going to kill you even if you ignore it!”

During the smorgasbord hour, different actors playing political candidates walked around glad-handling. They gave out fliers, held babies aloft, and delivered stump speeches. Some guests found it amusing; others, not so much: Uncle Fred hauled off and punched a Democratic nominee for the State Senate (though, in fairness, he did not realize that this was just an actor). Aunt Ellie told a GOP candidate for Congress where he could shove his pamphlet.

The atmosphere also, unsurprisingly, led to numerous political debates breaking out over tax policy, abortion, immigration, education, the climate, and whether John Oliver is the funniest person on TV or a “communist dipstick.” By the time the guests entered the main ballroom, tempers were flaring. It led to a very unusual occurrence in the annals of bar mitzvah history: when Henry was announced as the first Jewish President – something the tribe has been waiting for since the founding of the nation – rather than being celebrated, the giant picture of him on the screen above the DJ with a clear “(D)” next to his name led one side of the room to erupt in cheers, the other side to boo or sit begrudgingly muted, and the two tables of independents and undecideds to remain utterly befuddled.

Even the hamotzi proved a disaster when cousin Eric, a junior at MIT and the apple of his mother’s eye, shouted out, “I bet the Republicans are going to demand at least 90% of that challah!” Uncle Morty then screamed out in reply, “Well, at least we’ll work for it!” Which led Eric to counter, “Welfare fraud is a myth and you know it! It’s the corporations that are stealing from the American people! Don’t be a fool!” The room became so filled with noise after that that the emcee had to use all his best humor to calm everyone for the candle-lighting ceremony.

Yes, the candle-lighting ceremony. To be honest, I’m loath to even bring it up. They counted the candles like votes, with each side alternately booing and applauding. There was almost a riot, even, when Uncle Isaac, a nonagenarian from the Democratic side, almost accidentally lit two candles, leading to cries of fraud. The situation was only quelled by the intercession of Aunt Audrey, seated with the independents and considered a relative moderate, excuse the pun.

As for the kids, they were just as angered and confused as any. Thorough questioning had led to their arrangement on the dais, but it wasn’t quite equal, being that they represented the youth side of things. It was easily three-quarters Democratic. But it should be noted that the GOPers among them were exceptionally vociferous, making them seem larger than the five or six they actually were. Tyler Bernbaum was among them, spouting off quotations from Ayn Rand and William F. Buckley in a condescending tone a la Tucker Carlson. This infuriated Sophia Moretti, who told him that he should try caring about other people once in a while.

The games didn’t help.

During Mock Debate, one participant – a business associate of Henry’s father – hauled off and elbowed the Republican defending oil subsidies to the head, sending him sprawling to the floor. True, he had said something utterly, utterly stupid, but still – she definitely should not have hit him.

Likewise, the quiz bowl just got out of control, especially once Republicans tried to declare a host of the Democrats’ answers invalid, saying that they had been arrived at illegally. They even sought to have smart old Uncle Albert’s answers discounted completely on the basis of his having not been born here, and therefore not being a “real American.”

Dinner was a cold affair. Hardly anyone touched the chicken, fish, or filet mignon. All were too busy working on the independents, many of whom sat suffering like lobsters in a supermarket tank, just waiting for it all to be over.

The emcee, for his part, did his best. They had managed to get through the horah at the beginning all right enough, but after that the dancing was a disaster, with each side trying to dominate the center and endless kicking and pushing as they did so. Even Henry’s mother got knocked over at one point, causing her to break a heel. Rather than perhaps learn a poignant lesson from the episode, she instead declared, “You see what the GOP is capable of?!”

The Viennese table, meanwhile, was nothing short of violent. The Republicans quickly seized the halvah and refused to budge on distribution. The Democrats made a weapon of the cotton candy.

Pudding flew, as did spoons.

There was also what was thereafter referred to as “The Ice Cream Incident.” You don’t want the details.

The police were called at 12:42 AM – less than twenty minutes before the party ended. It was the maître d’ who’d made the call after two tables had been knocked over and eighty-two-year-old Aunt Mildred had seized the butane torch from the crème brulee stand. Several people had already been assaulted with pastries, and there was indeed reason to fear that the entire place might be destroyed unless the gendarmes were called in. And so they were.

Fortunately, no arrests were made, though things almost started up once again as all waited for their cars from the valets and someone from the Republican side made a snide remark about a Leaf that pulled up.

Henry didn’t hear it, though, and was spared this last bit of confrontation. He sat instead on a sofa in the lobby, quietly taking in the events of the evening. He was beginning to think that perhaps politics wasn’t for him after all. Instead he’d consider a career a little less painful, like becoming a UFC fighter.


Ross Rosenfeld's work has appeared in the Daily News (frequent contributor), The Hill, Newsday,,, and


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