Forget about the religious ceremony: A bar or bat mitzvah is an opportunity for the family to show off its riches, with lavish parties in fancy hotels and enough food to feed a small town. Right?
Well, at least that’s how I remember it, growing up in Rio in the 1990’s.
Every weekend there would be two or three bar mitzvahs, and parents who knew each other too well in such a small community (composed of mostly Ashkenazi Reform Jews) would ostentatiously compete to see who could serve the most expensive champagne; who could hire the most popular band; who could book the swankiest venue.
Then, in those years before the mass adoption of digital photography and video, bar and bat mitzvah parties began to feature a usually embarrassing tradition (for the boy or girl): A “surprise” slideshow for all guests to see, right before dinner was served, featuring embarrassing childhood pictures. There would be those classic shots of you as a naked baby trying to lick your own feet and of you as a toddler during a potty training session; or a photo of your mom with a weird hairdo from the 80’s holding you as you blow the candles on your first birthday cake. But that was about it, and everybody marveled at the time at the corny PowerPoint effects.