Anyone Who’s Anyone Knows the Horah

Anyone Who’s Anyone Knows the Horah

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Be The Best You Can Be

Anyone Who’s Anyone Knows the Horah

If we look at the path, we do not see the sky.

~Native American Saying

There was a point in my life when, almost every single weekend, I would pull out the nicest clothes that I owned, put on what little make-up I knew how to apply, and strap on a pair of not-so-high heels to dance the night away with all of my friends. That time, surprisingly, was seventh grade.

I hadn’t realized how many of my friends were Jewish until they each started turning thirteen and having the inevitable Bar or Bat Mitzvah. I became accustomed to the routine: Go to the service. Try not to giggle when they recite their Torah portions, no matter how off-key. Throw gummy candy when the service is done. Bring $36 in an envelope to the party for whoever was becoming a man or woman. Dance the electric slide in tube socks. Repeat.

And repeat and repeat. Countless weeks of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and I became an expert. I could do the horah flawlessly and anticipated the rhymes for the candle ceremony. Every time I went to a Bar Mitzvah with someone less experienced, I felt like the person at the movie who spoils the plot.

“This is the part where they march around and carry the Torah,” I’d whisper to the new Bar Mitzvah-goer. “Don’t touch it with your hands!”

Week after week, I took pictures with my friends that were turned into key chains and wore silly party favor sombreros. I anticipated the moment when my middle school boyfriend would ask me to dance, eyes on the floor and hands fidgeting. I made sure to remove my heels, towering over him even when barefoot. Then we would dance, arms straightened, with a good three feet separating our bodies.

Inevitably, I started to get jealous. Every week I watched a new friend, sometimes someone I barely knew, be doted on. I wanted my parents to stand on the bema in front of everyone and give a speech about how proud of me they were for having accomplished all the work that went into a Bat Mitzvah. Instead, my mom, a professional chef, was cooking every day for people who weren’t me, and my dad was working long hours in New York City and living with his new wife. I envied the kids whose happily married parents were planning elaborate ceremonies and parties for their kids as they entered adulthood.

I started to consider the possibility of having my own Bat Mitzvah. Although my Dad was Catholic and I was currently enrolled in Sunday school, my mom was a non-practicing Jew. If my friends, whose grades were surely worse than mine, could learn Hebrew, why couldn’t I? It was an obsession. I imagined what my Bat Mitzvah dress would look like, who I would invite to the party, and I envisioned all those smiling faces in the synagogue, staring up at me as I did my haftorah portion.

What I like to call the “Bar Mitzvah” phase of my life came and passed, as we all started to turn fourteen and enter eighth grade. My desire to have my own Bat Mitzvah decreased when I realized how much work and dedication it would take for me to pioneer my own religious education, ceremony, and party. But a big part of my realization was seeing why, exactly, I even wanted one in the first place.

I was looking for faith, for family, and for appreciation. I wanted to feel part of a religious community for the first time in my life, and I wanted my whole family to congregate because of my hard work. I found other ways to get those things.

I joined the church choir a few years later. Singing had always been my passion, and it helped me feel the spirituality I was seeking. In high school, I managed great grades and tried out for every musical I possibly could. I had found a way to get that attention I craved — I could be on stage.

But every now and then, when a big, white envelope with calligraphic lettering arrives in the mail from some family friend turning thirteen, I smile and think of all the outfits I wore, the boys I danced with, and the chicken tenders I scooped onto my plate from the buffet line. Bar Mitzvahs were awkward and loud and completely over the top. But most of all, they were fun.

~Madeline Clapps

More stories from our partners