Observations of Jews in their Natural Habitat
Jewish people are a strange bunch. When it comes to their celebrations, however, the ’strange’ dial gets cranked up to 11. For the uninformed, it can be a treacherous path towards bloating, guilt and lipstick smeared cheeks, should one wander into a simcha without proper forewarning.
“Forgetfulness leads to exile while remembrance is the secret of redemption.”
–The Baal Shem Tov
So in the spirit of generosity and my recent experiences at a myriad of (two) family Bar Mitzvah parties, I thought I’d share a little wisdom, and introduce my Top Ten Tips for Surviving Simchas.
1. Tardiness is next to Table-lessness
Now this rule can be considered the most important – mostly because it goes against the traditionally accepted notion of ‘Jewish Standard Time’. When arriving at the function venue, being on time is crucial to enjoying the simcha experience, and failure to do so may result in the following shameful realities –
a) Walking in mid-speech, and feeling the death-stares of 200 guests burn through your cheeks
b) Finding your name on the table lists, snaking through the crowd (who are still glowering at you as the MC waits for you to sit before he continues) and discovering that some intrepid kid/boyfriend/grandparent has taken your place at the table.
c) Those little mushroom risotto balls, and the mini sweet potato latkes are finished. The horror, the horror.
2) Gratuitous Performances
The generally abysmal slew of DJs (who run the simcha circuit with the endurance of a long distance runner) provide sub-par entertainment, that generally includes a bit of Jewish stuff, and a lot of badly-pronounced Latino party starters. What they lack in originality and head hair, they more than make up for in enthusiasm and back hair – not exactly an entertaining equation. Here enter the gratuitous performance – depending on the theme, Brazilian capoeira musicians/dancers, magicians, soccer stars, tattoo artists, fairy floss machine attendants – what ever you want. Even circus midgets, at the right price of course. And the right price, of course is: Not Cheap.
3) Old people dancing salsa. Badly.
As the DJ yells “Every body get on the dance floor”, there is an unfortunate phenomenon that occurs, when old people hard of hearing combine with the music of Ricky Martin, and the rhythmic intelligence of a turtle. It’s the painful, car-crash spectacle that everyone tries not to stare at as they themselves shimmy past in a conga line. Everyone that is, except the old pair’s children, who are outside shot-gunning whiskey, hoping to die of alcohol poisoning rather than go back inside to the communal heckles of ”Are those your parents…?!”
4) Creepy old men toting video cameras
These are usually relatives from out of town. So give em a little wave, a smile and a kind word of congratulations (”Mah-zell Tohv”), before retreating to warn your kids to “stay away from that guy”.
5) Never wait until they “call your table number”
You’ll leave hungry if you do. This rule can be a bit of a maybe – but the reality is, he who eats last, eats the last of whatever is left. And at a function where the food is the reason to attend, you don’t want to be left picking up the scraps. So get those elbows ready, steady your stilletos, and when you see the wait staff clear the path to the heaving tables – remember, it’s first in, best dressed.
6) If the meal is milk, leave room for desert. If its fleish, dont bother.
This is a pretty simple one – generally speaking, milk based meals are average to pretty fishy, but the desserts (creme brulee, chocolate fountains, cheese blintzes) are to die for. On the other hand, the meat based meals can be great. So choose wisely, because either way, the only way you are getting outta there is by rolling.
7) BYO – We are Jews, we don’t drink, we eat!
8 ) Simcha thank you speech
Usually the father of the bar mitzvah boy, this speech is longer, more boring, and less inspiring than an Academy Award thank you speech. All your favourites are there: The overseas guests who made it (who have to be named individually), the overseas guest who didn’t (also, all named, one by one), the caterers, the immediate, extended, and hyper-extended families, the fellow speech givers, the shleppers and shlemiels – it’s just a damn shame we can’t get them off quicker with some thoughtfully place Oscar wind up music. But then there is always next time …
9) Hora etiquette
The power of the hora is like a black hole of never-ending dance mania, where those unfortunate souls stuck in the middle are lucky to get out alive, without being hoisted onto a chair, thrust onto a bed sheet and thrown skywards, or forced to jump endlessly on a skipping rope made of left-over table cloths. Add to this some maypoles, a couple hundred balloons filled with glitter, gimmick-sized sunglasses, and enough shmaltz to make the dancefloor shine – and you have the idea. Remember, some simcha’s are gender-separate, so if you find yourself on the wrong side of the elaborately decorated Mechitza, take care, or you could wind up like Anne Barker on one of her much maligned walks through Jerusalem …
10) Saying good bye (And never leaving)
This is a simple, yet often ignored phenomenon of the Simcha. It revolves around the Jewish need to be seen, heard, and remembered. Indeed, the second hardest thing about getting your guests to arrive on time, is getting them to leave. There is always “just one more person I need to say goodbye to”, always a mutually insincere cry for that “catch-up”, the wail of “we must not leave it this long next time.” Turns out the love of Jesus isn’t the only difference between gentiles and Jews – Gentiles leave and never say goodbye, Jews say goodbye and never leave. Now I know why they needed to bribe the guests into leaving with table decorations …
Feel free to add your own to the list – the more the merrier I say.
jewinthefat at gmail dot com