Becoming a Woman Before Their Eyes

The Look

The American bat mitzvah has never been more widely broadcast than in 2019.

Judith Kaplan didn’t celebrate her bat mitzvah in a hotel ballroom with a D.J. or an open bar for her grown-up guests.

Instead, Ms. Kaplan, who in 1922 was the first American girl to become a bat mitzvah in a public service, simply read her Torah portion in both English and Hebrew from a book-bound Chumash, or bible, and went home.

Gender-based outrage over her ceremony quickly followed, but the dissent didn’t seem to bother her. “No thunder sounded. No lightning struck,” Ms. Kaplan later said.

Gabi’s parents had made custom geofilters for Snapchat, so people watching attendees’ Stories would have no doubt whose affair was on display. (Gabi’s dad also proudly told me he purchased a geofilter for his home, where that night, 18 of Gabi’s camp friends would be staying over for an after-party sleepover.)

“We only invited close family and friends,” Gabi’s mother, Lisa Ivler, said. “It’s so much nicer and quaint. We loved it.”

But Gabi said she didn’t feel all that connected to the religious aspects of her bat mitzvah. She was more excited for the party — and to no longer attend Hebrew school.

“I was mostly looking forward to dancing with everyone and having a good time,” Gabi said.

Ms. Ivler, who also happens to be a bar and bat mitzvah planner, wanted to go all out for her third and youngest child’s party. The events she works on typically have budgets in the $40,000 to $150,000 range.

“I get very good deals,” Ms. Ivler said. “So I’d say this was the most over the top I’ve done.”

As guests trickled into the venue they were greeted by disembodied hands holding cocktails through cutouts in a makeshift wall. When they turned the corner and walked through the ballroom’s French doors they would see a redheaded woman in sequin shorts perched on an elevated hoop and holding a bottle of champagne. To her right was a brunette whose skirt was made of champagne flutes.

The ballroom was designed with Gabi’s younger guests in mind. Instead of formal tables, the kids’ section was a lounge, which included a bar with signature blue mocktails with gummy bears dropped inside, light-blue couches and high-top tables and chairs with matching light blue seat covers. A gallery of Gabi’s professional portraits lined the walls.

There was no question whose party it was. A logo had been designed for Gabi (her name and a rose, symbolizing her middle name) and stamped around the room. There were custom pillow cases and cubed centerpieces plastered with more glamour shots and topped was a golden, glittery “G.” Everything had its place — including the personalized napkins in the bathrooms and messages on the mirrors encouraging guests to “like my Insta,” “Snap me,” “apply lipstick” and “wash hands.”

Gabi’s dress was Cinderella-like: baby blue with an overlay of shimmering tulle that cinched at the waist with a gold sequined belt. As Gabi walked, her dress flowed around her. Twisted strands of her softly curled hair were pulled away from her face, showing off her unblemished skin.

“It was very important for me to go overboard,” Ms. Ivler said. “It was almost because I had to show off. It was a showcase. It needed to look good — I want to get hired by other people.”

Farin Fox, 13, of Glen Rock, N.J., did not have quite as big of a bat mitzvah blowout. Still, her mother, Robyn, said the preparations “felt like more work than planning my wedding.”

First there was the service though. Farin had been studying for months. In addition to her regularly programmed Hebrew school, she also attended weekly lessons to prepare to chant her Torah and haftorah portions and attended services every Thursday to learn the prayers.

Farin said she was most worried about messing up and speaking in front of everyone.

“It was actually fun,” Farin said. “And it was exciting as I was getting deeper into the service and reading from the Torah.”

Paige walked away with a similar feeling. Despite a few slip-ups, she said she “had an amazing time.” And when she tripped over some words, she laughed at herself.

“The cantor was like, ‘I have never seen someone look so happy to have made a mistake,’” she said.

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