Fifty years post Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, this group celebrates. . . again

by | May 4, 2023 | Trending News

The year was 1959 and three young couples in Norfolk were about to add to their growing families. Who knew the women would deliver their babies on the same day at the same hospital, creating lifelong friendships for their newborns?  It was the beginning of annual joint birthday celebrations for Matthew White, Steven Friedman, and me — Stephanie Adler Calliott.

Home movies and Kodak instamatic photos captured the years of December birthday dinners for the three families — and the annual “okay boys, give her a kiss on the cheek” routine. In the younger years, the boys would grab me for that smooch on my cheek; in the teenage years, Matthew and Steven would look at each other and negotiate: “You go first”. “No, you do it.” “No. You.” And I’d stand there, cool (and embarrassed) with those juvenile delinquents, until they got to it. Simpler times.

Fast forward to 1972/1973.  We carried around our colorful Panasonic ball and chain AM radios when we weren’t listening to records in our room (when we should have been doing homework). We spent every Tuesday night (BBYO) and Sunday afternoon at the JCC on Newport Avenue. Tins of Charles Chips were delivered to homes and families went out for Chinese food on Sunday nights.  Braces on our teeth and macrame belts around our hips were all the rage. We ate Carrol’s hamburgers and played in the street after supper. It was the time of our Bar/Bat Mitzvahs.  Simpler times.

We bought our shoes at Hirschler’s and visited the monkey at Hofheimer’s. Mr. Tiner, at the Wards Corner Barbershop, cut everyone’s hair. Our parents were members of the Amity Social Club. The popular bands, Angus and Mad Wax, played Stairway to Heaven, Colour My World, and Jesus is Just Alright with Me at our parties. The Lafayette Yacht Club was alive and well.  Simpler times.

As was the custom in those days, Matthew, Steven, and I had a joint Bar/Bat Mitzvah party in Room 400 at the JCC. We had a dance contest and showed home movies from our annual birthday parties through the years. We received Cross pen and pencil sets.  We ate popcorn and celebrated at Regino’s afterwards. Simpler times.

When we turned 60, the three of us had lunch and talked about the many years we’d celebrated our childhood birthdays together. And then, an idea was born — wouldn’t it be fun to get everyone back together?  We didn’t remember our haftorahs, but we DID remember our friends’ bar/bat mitzvah parties. They were fun. And we went to one almost every weekend.  Simpler times.

A few years passed and when we turned 63, we still loved the idea. We would bring back a piece of those simpler times.

We searched address books, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and began asking people “do you know what ever happened to so and so?” We called people’s siblings, texted friends of siblings, and emailed friends of friends. “Hi. I know you haven’t heard from me since we made fun of our Sunday school teacher together, but do you happen to have so and so’s email address?”  We amassed a list of people from our childhood and sent out invitations to our “Bar/Bat Mitzvah 50th Anniversary party.” We told people, “If you’re wildly rich, famous, and successful, just remember we knew you when (and we don’t care).” Simpler times.

We wondered, would anyone come?

Well, the reaction was positive and immediate. People were coming. They were changing their plans. Meadowbrook Terrace. Wards Corner. Riverpoint. Wexford Terrace. Sterling Point. Kempsville. They, too, wanted to take a trip back to simpler times.

And come they did.

On April 15, 2023, more than 100 people from across Virginia, California, Massachusetts, Maryland, Georgia, Colorado, Florida, New York, and South Carolina gathered in the Marty Einhorn Pavilion at the Simon Family JCC. The DJ played the hits from 1971 through 1974 (putting that playlist together was the best). There were scrapbooks of old bar mitzvah invitations and yarmulkes, souvenirs from BBYO days, and a lot of old photos. Gift bags of old-time candy made the evening even more nostalgic.  I wore a crocheted granny square potholder vest with my Hebrew name necklace and the “Steph” bracelet I’d received when I turned 16. If only I’d had time to whip up a macrame belt. Simpler times.

It was a beautiful night for a 50th reunion of our childhood.

Everyone wore name tags.  So many people hadn’t seen each other since junior high school. We were beyond joyful.  You could hear people exclaiming “Oh my gosh. You’re here!” “It’s really you!” “I can’t believe we’re together again.” “Remember the time we…?” People were hugging and laughing and snapping pictures. I loved watching all the mini reunions. We never gave out the trophies or held the traditional dance contest. People just reconnected. That’s why they’d come. We were together again. And we promised to stay in touch.

It was a wonderful reminder for each of us. Old friends are special. Simpler times are worth revisiting. It’s never too late to reconnect. Find the joy in your friendships and treasure them.

Simpler times.

-Stephanie Adler Calliott