February 25, 2020

I went to a $2 million bar mitzvah with DJ Khaled and the Clippers dancers

Last year, a friend presented me with a unusual opportunity: How would I like to make $250 for attending a bar mitzvah at the Beverly Hills Hotel?

My job — if you really could call it that — was to serve as one of 18 counselors for 35 kids. Our only role, as the event planner explained it in an email, was to “just make sure that they are OK, ALIVE, and HAVING FUN.”

The planner also explained why the event was in Los Angeles. The bar mitzvah boy’s family is obscenely rich, she explained, and they “essentially own” the small Southwest city where they live. But his mother hates it there, so they decided to have the bar mitzvah in Los Angeles.

I wish I could tell you exactly what this event ended up costing. The rumor I heard was $2 million, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true, or even a conservative estimate. Between a superstar DJ, an appearance by the members of the Clippers Spirit dancers and rooms at one of the most iconic hotels in the region, the bar mitzvah bacchanalia was by far the most luxurious party I’ve ever been to.

The experience left me deeply ambivalent. Ostentatious wealth usually has the effect of repelling me, and it did this time, too. And yet, sanctimony aside, I couldn’t help but have a blast.

Here’s how it went. I showed up at the hotel on the appointed Saturday afternoon and my car was parked by a valet, courtesy of the bar mitzvah family. I arrived to a sumptuous lunch for the counselors. T-shirts were distributed with the name of the bar mitzvah boy and the word “Coach” on the back. We proceeded to the pool area.

That’s when the fun began. At first, the kids were timid. But slowly, they began to venture beyond the candy-and-soda-stocked cabanas. Soon DJ Khaled, the hip-hop sensation and social media superstar, arrived and settled in a cabana next to where the kids were stationed.

Initially, this seemed to be a coincidence, but the counselors whispered that the bar mitzvah boy’s father had paid Khaled to make a poolside cameo. A hotel employee tried to shoo away the kids, and Khaled made a point of loudly berating him while the kids watched, sniggering.

Soon, who else but DJ Khaled mounted the stage to perform a two-hour set.

Former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal also stopped by the pool that afternoon but quickly turned around when a mob of teenagers greeted his poolside jaunt. Clearly, he wasn’t being paid to play it cool, unlike Khaled.

After the pool, the counselors were assigned kids and rooms. My two kids seemed polite and responsible, bordering on nerdy. They also were totally overwhelmed by the MTV-style experience they were having. It seemed too much to even contemplate. Neither had been to Los Angeles before.

Shortly, the three of us, my kids and I, were suited up and ready to rock. The bar mitzvah service itself was a hurried affair in a room off the lobby — a footnote to the celebration. We proceeded to the Crystal Ballroom to party.

The entrance to the ballroom is a long, descending spiral staircase. A crystal chandelier dips elegantly from the roof, announcing the luxury that was to meet us at the bottom. The kids jetted down the stairs, screeching with delight.

The scene that greeted us did not disappoint.

The bar mitzvah boy likes sneakers, and they decorated the table settings. The open bars were fashioned out of ice, with yet more sneakers frozen into them. Servers with glasses of Grey Goose vodka and other expensive spirits circulated through the crowd.

Halfway through the party, three pro basketball players arrived to kibbitz with the kids and sign shoes. Not being a basketball fan, I’m not sure who they were, except one was Nick Young of the Los Angeles Lakers (I think the other two were Clippers).

At one point, I sneaked off to look for the vendor dinner. I opened the door where I understood it to be, only to find an attractive woman in a cheerleader-type outfit stretching in a full split.

“Vendor dinner?” she asked.

I spluttered some response and she pointed me in the right direction. She was surrounded by other women in matching outfits — the Clippers Spirit dancers, I realized. I guess the Laker Girls were booked that night. The vendor dinner, by the way, was as sumptuous as any you’d hope to find at a five-star restaurant.

The Los Angeles Clippers Spirit dancers were among the bar mitzvah attractions. Photo from Facebook

Returning to the ballroom, we found the party in full swing. A couple of dancers, paid to encourage people to get on the dance floor, were working the room. The Clippers Spirit dancers came out during the blessing over the challah, which was performed by a rabbi in full ultra-Orthodox gear. I wondered if the rabbi could even look at them, or if that would be forbidden.

Soon, who else but DJ Khaled mounted the stage to perform a two-hour set.

It turns out Khaled spins a mean set — not that the kids would know, since they spent most of the time crowding him onstage and taking pictures to post online.

At one point, Khaled descended into the crowd. The rotund DJ had the poise of a supermodel or a politician, moving slowly, almost elegantly through the crowd, perfectly composed and looking from camera to camera so everybody could get a money shot. I confess: I took one, too.

In any case, while the kids where snapping their chats and tweeting their tweets, it mostly was the counselors who were lighting up the dance floor. The kids seemed too busy capturing and sharing the moment to truly take part in it.

Early the following morning, the kids headed to the airport and back home. Some of the counselors had been contracted to chaperone the flight, but not me. That meant I could hang around the hotel until checkout, at noon.

So, what did I do?

Well, what else? I donned the Beverly Hills Hotel slippers and robe, and made my way down to the saltwater pool. I got in and slipped under the surface. Frank Sinatra was crooning underwater: Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away … Yes, the hotel actually pumps lounge music into the pool.

All that, and I wasn’t paying a dime to be there. In fact, I was making money.

My natural inclination is to rebel against materialism and displays of conspicuous wealth. But was I having a good time? You bet I was.