When actor Kirk Douglas had his first bar mitzvah, he was 13. That's the traditional age. To prepare for it he did what every Jewish boy did: he studied Hebrew so that he could recite the verses of the Torah before an assemblage of family and friends. On that day, he said the sentence every 13-year-old says at his bar mitzvah, "Today I am a man."
Recently, however, Douglas had a second bar mitzvah. He was 83. He says he did this one to honor his mother's memory and because, at 13, he was too young to appreciate the significance of his first.
In the new book "Mazel Tov," Douglas is one of 21 famous people who tell what bar mitzvahs or in the case of several women, bat mitzvahs meant to their lives. The authors of "Mazel Tov" are sisters, Jill Rappaport and Linda Solomon. Rappaport is an entertainment reporter for the Today show. Solomon is a photographer.
Neither of the authors actually had a bat mitzvah, because the female equivalent of the bar mitzvah was less common when Solomon and Rappaport were young. However, they do remember the excitement of being invited to the bar mitzvahs of various boys they knew.
At the time they were mostly excited about the parties after the service. They loved getting a new dress and dancing with their friends.
As they look back on it, though, they remember the religious service itself. They remember that the boys they knew did seem more adult after their bar mitzvahs. The sisters were impressed, on some level, with the true meaning of the occasion, and with the way it linked their generation to all the generations that had gone before.
"Mazel Tov" is a book of photos and short interviews mini spiritual biographies. Some of the interviews are serious, and others are light in tone. But because the topic is meaningful, the book rises above the level of celebrity profiles. For example:
• Fashion designer Michael Kors is quoted as saying, "I didn't wake up that day and suddenly think, ... 'I'm going to be an adult.' ... But I do think that in a quieter way, my bar mitzvah did let me know that, as an adult, your opinions really do count. ... It is your adult introduction to some of these people, people your parents do business with or whatever."
• Talk show host Larry King recalls, "My father wasn't there, having died when I was nine and a half. My mother, little brother and I had just come off welfare. ... We had no money. So it was not a huge bar mitzvah. But all my friends came. I had a lot of friends. ... Soon after that, by the way, I lost interest in religion. I would say today that I'm agnostic. But culturally, I'm very Jewish. I like things Jewish. I like the Jewish way of thinking."
• Television producer Jeff Zucker said that today's bar mitzvahs are too ostentatious. "I don't think back then we all looked on it as a competition. I mean the bar mitzvahs of today are out of control and crazy. They are bigger than weddings. ... I would like to see all four of my children bar or bat mitzvahed. I would hope to keep the celebrations in perspective."• Josh Bernstein, president of the Boulder Outdoor Survival School, said, "Being asked to participate in this tradition that goes back thousands of years across hundreds of generations, and to be able to read from the same scroll and to wear the traditions of Judaism and step into that role, is more than just a practical reading of texts. There is a spiritual change that happens in someone."