“Son wins court battle against mom for $5k bar mitzva gift” — New York Post, Aug. 26, 2015
Wait — you can sue your parents over your bar mitzva?! Had I only known:
Decided on March 15, 1974
District Court of Nassau County, First District
The plaintiff claims that his parents subjected him to humiliation and grievous harm by going ahead with his bar mitzva despite a clear lack of motivation on his part, a series of questionable fashion choices, and the insistence that he pursue his Hebrew school studies despite compelling evidence of mental anguish.
Findings of Fact
On Feb. 28, 1974, the plaintiff turned 13, which according to Jewish law made him eligible for a “bar mitzva,” defined herein as a reading of excerpts from the Torah at his Long Island synagogue, a speech thanking his parents, and a catered affair to follow at the Huntington Town House.
In the months preceding this event, the plaintiff’s parents made him attend twice-weekly “Hebrew school” classes at the temple, overseen by rabbinical students who were rarely seen without guitars.
The plaintiff so dreaded attending these lessons that it would often send him into bouts of despair. He explained how, on gym days at Waltoffer Avenue Elementary School, students were required to wear their red gym shorts under their pants. When he used the boys’ room he would see the red cloth of his shorts through his fly, which would remind him that it was Wednesday and that he had to go to Hebrew school that afternoon instead of hanging out at the playground. Crushed, he would stand nearly catatonic in the boys’ room until summoned by a hall monitor.
The plaintiff also asserted that, given an unfortunate growth spurt brought on by over-indulgence in Drake’s FunnyBones and what his mother called a “glandular issue,” he was forced to shop for his bar mitzva suit in the “husky” department at Ohrbach’s. He further maintained that the suit chosen for him — a three-piece plaid suit with seven-inch lapels and flared bottoms, worn over two-tone platform shoes — would surely come back to haunt him should anybody see the photos, say, 40 years later.
On cross-examination the defendants testified that the suit was considered a fashionable choice in 1974, and besides, it closely matched the suits worn by his two older brothers, to the degree that when they were photographed together they looked like actors auditioning for a B-movie about the Osmond Brothers.
On March 7, a few days before the bar mitzva, the tailor took the suit into the back room of the shop for a final pressing, only to emerge minutes later with a stricken look on his face and a steam iron-shaped hole in the pants. A new suit was delivered the day before the bar mitzva, but if anything this one had even louder checks and wider bell bottoms.
On the afternoon before the bar mitzva, the plaintiff was taken for a haircut at El Matador on Jerusalem Avenue, across from the Big Apple. Whether the stylist was intoxicated or distracted, the ensuing haircut was bizarre and unflattering, even by the standards of 1974. Subsequent attempts by the plaintiffs’ oldest brother to “repair” the damage with hair spray and a “hot comb” were to little avail, as photographs attest (Plaintiff’s Exhibit 1).
Despite the attendant unease brought on by these occurrences, the bar mitzva went off that Saturday morning, with the plaintiff sharing the bima with another boy with a much better suit and haircut. Plaintiff took little solace in the fact that he didn’t need to stand on a stool to reach the microphone, performed his haftara without stumbling, and did not break into inappropriate laughter at the reading of the week’s yahrtzeits, which included last names like “Lipschitz,” “Hymen,” and “Frankfurter.”
At the party that night, however, the plaintiff was subjected to multiple wet kisses during the performance of the “candle ceremony.”
Conclusions of Law
The elements necessary to establish a claim of humiliation and grievous harm may be presumed when one is talking about (1) Jewish adolescence, (2) postwar suburban Judaism, and (3) the 1970s. (See Gruen v. Temple Micah 1970, BBYO vs. AZA 1972, and various episodes of The Brady Bunch, 1969-74.) The evidence clearly establishes that the plaintiff “did not ask to be born”; however, the defendants testified that the choices they made for the bar mitzva were no different from those made by other families “in their circle.”
This evidence convinces the court that the bar mitzva boy had what is known as a “normal Jewish childhood.” Accordingly, judgment after trial is neither for the plaintiff nor against the defendants, although our sympathies are with all involved.