Sunday, August 2, 2009
Rebecca Gratz's First Bar Mitzvah Party?
Rebecca's family celebrated their boys' Bar Mitzvah's, but it is not clear how. There are no descriptions in her letters because relatives had no need to explain these things to each other. We do know that her youngest brother Benjamin had the misfortune to have his Bar Mitzvah during a yellow fever scare in 1805. Rebecca commented that the Etting's (her oldest sister Fanny's family) would celebrate the occasion with the Gratz's; no one else in the congregation was still in town.
Perhaps the custom Rebecca followed was visiting the family of the Bar Mitzvah after services to offer congratulations. In any case, in 1841, after watching one of the boys from her Sunday School read the whole Torah portion, Rebecca went to his home. The boy and his (male) friends were there as well as the male and female friends of the parents. In the front parlor were two tables covered with a "magnificent feast," where the two groups were eating. Rebecca reported that she could feel "the joy and happiness circulating freely."
She expressed her surprise "at finding such a scene" to the mother who explained, "He is our eldest son and we wished to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah...this is his great day."
It's clear from her words and the fact she is reporting it to her niece that this is all new to Rebecca. The family's name which she mentions is difficult to read (her handwriting can be a challenge) but it seems to end with -berger. Perhaps they were relatively recent arrivals in the great wave of German immigration which began in the 1820's, and retained their customary celebrations in America. I don't have the answer, but I would be very interested in knowing if someone else has run across any information on this topic and also if anyone knows the form the celebration took among Jewish Americans like the Gratz family in the 18th and early 19th century.