10 Torah-‘inspired’ bar/bat mitzvah themes

The contemporary bar or bat mitzvah has become quite a production, but you can still create a spectacle that’s connected to substance. You can even let the Torah portion inspire you, so that your inappropriate excess is also informative and educational. (Well, sort of.)

Bereshit (Genesis 1:1-6:8)

You and your guests can frolic like the party animals of the first week of creation by experiencing that night-to-morning transition (“and then there was evening, and then there was morning”) to the beat of trance and house music at dawn with a Daybreaker dance party. Be sure to serve coffee instead of cocktails. 

Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9)

Siblings (in this case, Jacob and Esau) battle for a birthright. Through a persuasive costume, a humble protagonist becomes a hero, then a refugee, running into an uncertain future. Celebrate Toldot’s teen dystopian literature DNA by identifying reception tables as “Hunger Games” districts, based on guests’ professions and socio-economic status, or “Divergent” factions, based on their personalities. The former facilitates networking, the latter will identify how people attack the smorgasbord.

Shemot (Exodus 1:1-6:1)

If you’re always misspelling “dessert” and “desert,” this Exodus-themed party will cure you of that in no time. Bring your guests to an isolated, sandy area near Palm Springs, spend 40 minutes wandering through the desert — remember, no one is allowed to ask for directions — and then enter “The Promised Land” (an air-conditioned hotel lobby). For dessert, serve bundt cakes shaped like Mount Sinai. 

Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35)

The infamous golden calf was made of melted-down donated jewelry and valuables. It’s the perfect excuse to collect all the money and jewelry you receive, and trade it in for a ticket to Comic-Con to see your modern-day idols. 

Shemini (Leviticus 9:1-11:47)

This portion about keeping kosher can become a learning opportunity featuring Los Angeles’ finest food trucks. If you include a dairy truck and a meat truck, be sure to separate them with a giant challah mechitzah

Behar (Leviticus 25:1-26:2)

Behar starts with shemitah, the injunction to let the land rest every seventh year; it’s time to identify one annoying friend from your guest list and ask them to “give it a rest” this year. Alternately, forget the text and focus on the work, life and style of comedian and original co-host of “The View,Joy Behar. 

Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1)

The red heifer was a mystical animal with the power to purify the ritually impure and impurify the ritually pure. More important, it provides the perfect excuse to celebrate with a bucking, oscillating mechanical bull. (Let guests know, though, that by touching it they may have to leave the “camp”; be sure to provide coffee, snacks and Netflix to prevent excessive complaining.)

Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9)

A king who sets out on a journey with a donkey that periodically speaks to him is obviously the narrative inspiration for “Shrek,” so take the whole gang to Universal Studios to experience meaning, Hollywood style. Start with Transformers: The Ride, clearly a metaphor for the angry transition to adolescence … but with alien robots.

Vaetchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11)

This portion celebrates the Israelites and their connections: “For what great nation has a god so close at hand as is the Lord whenever we call?” See? It’s all about who you know. So, who do you know? Nicki Minaj, Flo Rida, Snoop Dogg, Beyonce, Madonna and Donald Trump have all appeared at bar and bat mitzvah celebrations — it never hurts to ask.

Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)

Full of more slaying, fleeing and siege-laying than an episode of “Game of Thrones,” this portion will make you want to embrace the best of the HBO series. Mark reception tables as “House Stark” and “House Lannister,” and suggest that instead of gifts, guests bring sworn oaths of loyalty. Extra points to blonde women who show up with dragon eggs (even if they’re Judith Leiber clutches). 

Jewish Themes Dominate Oscars

Rarely has Jewish talent and Jewish themes received as much recognition as at the last Academy Awards of this century.

“Life Is Beautiful,” the tragicomic fable set partially in a concentration camp, earned best actor and best foreign film Oscars for its star and director, Roberto Benigni.

The irrepressible Italian actor-director, who leaped over rows of seats to reach the stage, dedicated the foreign film award to those “who gave their lives so we can say life is beautiful.”

Benigni was the first filmmaker to direct his own Oscar-winning performance since 1948, when Laurence Olivier won the acting award for “Hamlet.”

The best actress award went to the heroine of “Shakespeare in Love,” Gwyneth Paltrow, who counts 33 rabbis among her ancestors on her father’s side. The rabbis were members of the Paltrowitch dynasty, which originated in southwest Russia.

Steven Spielberg was named best director for the graphic World War II saga, “Saving Private Ryan.”

“The film is really an extension of my earlier ‘Schindler’s List,'” Spielberg said in a recent interview. “It honors the men whose bravery ended the war in 1945, rather than in 1947, when no Jew would have been left alive in Europe.”

The biggest non-Jewish winner at Sunday’s ceremony was the Bard of Avon. “Shakespeare in Love” won best picture and picked up six other Oscars.

“Saving Private Ryan,” with five awards, and “Life Is Beautiful,” which scored in three categories, were not far behind.

In a somewhat less glamorous category, “The Last Days,” which presents the testimony of five Hungarian-Jewish Holocaust survivors, took honors as the best documentary feature.

The film was produced by Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, which has videotaped the testimony of more than 50,000 survivors.

The documentary’s director, James Moll, thanked the foundation for “assuring that survivors will have a voice for generations to come.”

In the documentary short subject division, the winner was “The Personals: Improvisations on Romance in the Golden Years.”

In her acceptance speech, producer Keiko Ibi expressed her wonder that a film by a Japanese woman on the lives of Jewish senior citizens could garner an Oscar.

Ibi, a New York University film school student, met her cast on New York’s Lower East Side, where they were members of the Alliance Stage theater group.

“I think she clearly touched a chord in the seniors, who clearly touched a chord in her,” said Alan Goodman, executive director of the Educational Alliance, a Jewish social service agency that has worked with immigrant populations for over a century.

“The seniors are a generation of immigrants from many years ago, and the director is somebody who’s new,” said Goodman, whose agency is a constituent of United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York.

“But the feelings are still the same — the same emotions, the same struggles and aspirations. I think that some of that kind of language, that emotional language is universal.”

“The Prince of Egypt,” the animated version of the life of Moses, picked up a single award for best original song with “When You Believe.” The Stephen Schwartz tune is sung triumphantly by the departing Jews during the exodus from Egypt.

Two Jewish men who influenced the movie industry in different ways — the late director Stanley Kubrick and film critic Gene Siskel — were commemorated in special tributes.

During the long evening, there was, as usual, some Jewish-themed humor.

Norman Jewison, who directed and produced the 1971 movie version of “Fiddler on the Roof,” accepted the Irving Thalberg Award by dancing onstage to the strains of “If I Were a Rich Man.”

Acknowledging the applause, the non-Jewish filmmaker told the audience, “Not bad for a goy.”

In the final acceptance speech of the evening, Harvey Weinstein, head of Miramax Films, which produced “Shakespeare in Love,” ended his list of thanks with a tribute to his mother — “who makes Jewish mothers look good.” —Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

JTA staff writer Julia Goldman in New York contributed to this report.