Get Down!

Not Everyone Loves Being Lifted on a Chair

By Lenore Skenazy

Published September 30, 2009, issue of October 09, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

When Sara Schwimmer Marcus, founder of JewishWeddingNetwork.com, gives her brides a pep talk, it always includes this: “Hold on tight, enjoy the ride and try not to make that face.”

Up Above: Sara Schwimmer Marcus and David Marcus are lifted high on chairs at their wedding at The Angel Orensanz Foundation on August 6, 2006.
CARLA TEN EYCK
Up Above: Sara Schwimmer Marcus and David Marcus are lifted high on chairs at their wedding at The Angel Orensanz Foundation on August 6, 2006.

By “that face,” she means try not to make the grimace that tells it like it is: “Help! Helllllllp! Get me down off this chair!”

Marcus had to follow her own advice three years ago, as she grinned through gritted teeth above her own wedding hora, but my question is, why? Why has the chair lift become so ubiquitous, not just at weddings, but at bar and bat mitzvahs, too? And not just the lifting of the happy couple or proud 13-year-old, but also the mother, father, sister, brother — everyone but the family cat (which at least could enjoy it, knowing it was going to land on its feet)?

Even at my own wedding, the lift seemed like fake festivity — a tradition that owed more to Marc Chagall paintings than to my own suburban upbringing. My parents hadn’t been lifted up at their wedding, so why were we suddenly acting as if this thing came straight from Moses — one long, unbroken chain of newlyweds desperately clutching slippery catering hall chairs? Feh!

Then it came time for my son’s bar mitzvah this past spring, and darned if this wasn’t the thing he was most looking forward to. So, despite my tradition of disliking this tradition, up he went — and loved it. A bar mitzvah high point. Literally! Could I have been wrong about its heinousness?

As it turns out, the chair lift is the most divisive issue in Judaism (if you don’t count… everything else).

“To me, it’s always been a central theme in all weddings or bar mitzvahs,” said Robert Firestone, a big guy who happens to be a judge in New York City as well as a compulsive chair hoister. “It’s exciting! It’s an honor! In a way, you sort of connect to the people in a different way.”

That being said, Firestone’s wife, Laurie Milder, recalled her own wedding. “They got me 2 inches off the ground, and I said: ‘Okay. That’s enough.’” Down she came.

Their daughter, middle-schooler Arielle, who had never heard this story before, looked alarmed.

“Don’t worry,” her mother added. “It doesn’t mean we’re not married! I was just concerned they were going to drop me.”

Turns out, that concern has a basis in reality. Richard O’Malley, president of The O’Malley Project, oversaw about 1,500 bar and bat mitzvahs in his days as a party planner (now he procures discount items for big events). “I’ve seen overzealous friends who’ve had a few launch a dad — and I don’t just mean out of his chair; I mean across the dance floor. So he flew from the chair and they picked him right up and, like, crowd-surfed him back to his chair. I’ve also seen a very unfortunate occurrence where the guests used a folding chair and the chair closed on the mom when she was sitting on it, and it trapped her.” With only her head and arms sticking out, he added, “she looked like a moose head.”

Happily for all concerned, the mom survived just fine and had the wherewithal to joke about it that same night, earning everyone’s admiration. But did she even have to go through with this ritual to begin with?

No. The chair lift at bar mitzvahs seems to have become popularized only in the past generation or two. “I think that DJs who don’t know any better have worked weddings, seen the chair lift and maybe figured it was just a ‘Jewish thing’ and brought it to bar mitzvahs,” said Lisa Kanarek, a mom and home office maven in Dallas.

As for where the tradition comes from at weddings, the National Jewish Outreach Program’s associate director, Rabbi Yitzchak Rosenbaum, says there is a story in the Talmud of a Rabbi Acha who danced with the bride on his shoulders.

Clearly this raised some eyebrows — or whatever — and other men were interested in doing the same, so the rabbi drew up some caveats. You can do this lifting, he said, only if, to you, “the bride is like a piece of wood.” (You want poetry? Read Song of Songs.)

The tradition of both bride and groom being lifted may have its origins in Eastern Europe, where this way they could “dance” together even if men and women were separated by a divider (and the couple’s hankie made it even more kosher). But the truth is, a lot of different ethnicities do the chair thing, including some Muslims. And in Mexico, sometimes the bride gets bounced on a blanket.

Perhaps TV writer/producer Bill Grundfest has discovered the real truth: “The tradition of having out-of-shape Jews lift overweight Jews up in chairs was popularized by a personal injury attorney in Bayside. He foresaw the falling and breaking that followed, and cleaned up.”

Then the attorney realized that he could get them to do it at bar mitzvahs, too, and the rest is hernia. Er…history.

Lenore Skenazy is the author, most recently, of “Who’s the Blonde That Married What’s-His-Name?: The Ultimate Tip-of-the-Tongue Test of Everything You Know You Know — but Can’t Remember Right Now” (Penguin).


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.