Coming of Age in Skokie, the Bar Mitzvah Rite

    January 2010            
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The Gentile Bar Mitzvah

By Margie Sheaffer

1962 was the year I turned 13 years old and Christopher Andrews was my so-called adolescent boyfriend. He had light blue eyes and light blond hair worn in a short crew cut. He was always dressed in dungarees rolled up at the ankles, white t-shirt and some sort of plaid shirt over the t-shirt. He was so stylish! He also was the only gentile boy in our crowd. My home town of Skokie, Illinois had such a large Jewish population, that the grade schools and high schools in the district closed for all of the major Jewish Holidays! If they had kept the schools open on Yom Kippur or Passover, maybe… 2 teachers would have shown up and perhaps…10 students!

Throughout the years I would always prefer the company of Gentile boys to the Irwin Goldbloom, and Joey Cohen types. One reason may have been that on more than one occasion my mother would preach to me one of her many one sentence sermons "Jewish boys will NEVER marry you if you let them have their way with you…Gentile boys might!"

But that was okay. The Irwin Goldbloom's, Joey Cohen's, Murray Plotkin's and Lloyd Rubinstein's in my class preferred the likes of the Blond Shiksa's like Kathy Aument and Nancy Reid. . These were the girls that the majority of us dark curly haired, Semitic types all loved to hate!

When Jewish boys reached the age of 13 years old it was common for the majority of them to celebrate their rite of passage with the Bar Mitzvah. With this observance these boys were considered adults and, therefore responsible for their moral and religious duties. Starting in the 6th grade these boys are provided with a Rabbi or Cantor and begin studying Hebrew and the Torah in preparation for the sacred Bar Mitzvah ceremony.

In my neighborhood Bar Mitzvahs were much more than a religious ritual. Skokie Bar Mitzvah's could be compared to a swanky wedding starting with the planning of the event a good 6 months out. The catered affair would include calligraphied invitations, and would be held at one of Chicago's classiest hotels and restaurants with a hired band, and Irwin, or Joey or Elliot would receive plenty of presents and envelopes filled with "Gelt". To paraphrase the actor, Adam Sandler, some of these young men would receive more money at their Bar Mitzvah bash than they would ever earn in their lifetime.

The Bar Mitzvah boy would be forced to endure the humiliation of shopping with his mother for his dress suit at now defunct department stores such as Marshall Field's or Carson Pierie Scott. The likes of young men like Murray Plotkin would have to suffer the humiliation of having shop tailors handle their privates to make sure the suit would fit just so.

The pubescent porcelain skinned feminine non-Jewish blondies were invited to every single Bar Mitzvah throughout 6th and 7th Grade. I, on the other hand, was only invited to a handful of the male pre-teen's rite of passage. Even though I was a very good dancer, and Irwin Goldbloom and I won every Cha Cha and Twist contest, it did not make me popular with the that…you know….heart stopping, blubbering, she's so pretty, I want to kiss her, I can't stop staring at her, WOW, way.

For some reason, Christopher Andrews, the Goy boy of our group liked me. After all, I could dance, and sing and was very petite. He probably had sisters like the porcelain cuties and I was different. I made him laugh. When I say that Christopher Andrews was my "Boy friend", it was more like he was a friend and he was a boy. He was cute and nice. I was funny and short. What better combination for a short lasting pre-teen platonic relationship.

The Bar Mitzvah frenzy of 1962/63 was in full force in Skokie, and one's level on the popularity scale depended solely upon the number of Bar Mitzvahs you attended. The parents of these "men to be" only permitted them to invite a limited number of classmates.

Joey Cohen was one of the taller boys in our class with light blue eyes, light brown hair and was well liked by all parents. (He must have had some gentile blood in him) In Joey's case he could invite 6 girls and 6 boys to his Bar Mitzvah. He came to me after school one day with his head hung low. "I feel really bad, Margie. But, I can only invite 6 girls and you would have been # 7". It seemed that I was the odd girl out a majority of the time. If Howie could invite 5, I was number 6, if Elliot could invite 7, I was number 8 and so on.

Christopher, on the other hand, was invited to most of those ceremonial bashes. My small crowd felt bad that just because he wasn't Jewish he couldn't enjoy the joy of a special party and gifts when he turned 13. Lloyd Rubinstein and Elliot Kaplan, the "nice Jewish boys" of our crowd decided we should throw a special party for Chris. "After all", Lloyd exclaimed, "it wasn't his fault he was born a Sheygetz"

I was not a very assertive young girl. I did not do the party planning, but, I followed whatever orders I was given. This was to be a surprise party.

We did not mail invitations for this party, calligraphied or hand written. We didn't hire a caterer or reserve a fancy restaurant. We definitely did not expect large gifts or envelopes with plenty of 'Gelt". However, we wanted Chris to know he was one of our circles of friends and it did not matter that HE could not have a Bar Mitzvah.


from the January 2010 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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