When I was in seventh grade, I only cared about three things: pulling off skirts over jeans, marrying Tom Welling, and having an epic bat mitzvah. It wasn’t the reading-my-haftarah-on-stage part that I was worried about or my forthcoming entrance into Jewish adulthood; in my tiny Westchester town — like many other small, largely reform enclaves of New York and New Jersey — the quality of your bar or bat mitzvah party could make or break your social career.
Looking back, my party was never exactly going to be a rager. While some of my classmates’ events had Playboy Bunny–dressed waiters or the band Cascada performing “Everytime We Touch” (a 2006 fever dream, truly), my dorky 13-year-old self chose the questionable theme of “Rachel’s Purrfect Party.” There was a DJ and a photobooth and giant centerpieces of calicos and Russian blues on the tables. Sure, it wasn’t quite a blowout, but standing in the center of that room, surrounded by my family and friends and cats galore, I’d never felt cooler.
Over the years, a handful of movies and TV shows have tried to depict the unique thrills and pressures of bar and bat mitzvahs, some more successfully than others. The latest is Netflix’s new film You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah, which stars Sunny Sandler (daughter of Adam, who produces and appears as her father) as Stacy, a precocious and privileged seventh grader determined to have a legendary party. It’s a funny and surprisingly poignant look at the intensity of this rite of passage, but is it the best bar or bat mitzvah movie ever made? Let’s see.
Keeping Up With the Steins (2006)
Let’s be clear: Keeping Up With the Steins is not a particularly good movie (not that anyone expected gold from a film that stars Jeremy Piven and was directed by Garry Marshall’s son). But it deserves a spot on this list for the fact that it’s the rare movie to be all about a bar mitzvah. Ben (Spy Kids’ Daryl Sabara, who was studying for his real bar mitzvah at the time!) is forced to have a ridiculously elaborate party because his parents are jealous of their friends’ wealth. There are fistfights, ruses, and a performance by Neil Diamond. It may not be top-tier cinema, but it does shine a nice spotlight on the pressure to spend the equivalent of a down payment on what amounts to a middle schooler’s birthday party.
13: The Musical (2022)
The 2022 movie adaptation of the Broadway show is far less charming and memorable than the stage version, and it also doesn’t have the benefit of starring tweenage Ariana Grande. But it does have a Star Wars–themed bar mitzvah (held in a Catholic Church, for some reason) that makes for a fun set piece, and the songs are sweet enough to distract from the rest of the film’s mediocrity.
Lizzie McGuire (Season 1, Episode 31 “Gordo’s Bar Mitzvah”)
You can credit this 2002 TV episode with teaching a generation of non-Jewish preteens what a bar mitzvah is. When Lizzie’s BFF Gordo starts feeling insecure that his male peers are entering adulthood before him, he asks his parents to throw him a belated bar mitzvah (he initially said he didn’t want one). It goes swimmingly, and Gordo gets to look cool in front of Lizzie. Not the most memorable episode of the Disney Channel show, but a sweet one nonetheless.
New Girl (Season 3, Episode 16 “Sister”)
Of course Nick and Schmidt would totally ruin a bat mitzvah with their antics. From Schmidt using the opportunity to hit on a Hebrew-school teacher to Nick getting into a drunken tirade that culminated in an ill-advised kiss with an elderly woman, the events of the 2014 episode are a mess. But these are the New Girl guys, after all, so it’s also somehow totally charming.
A Serious Man (2009)
In this 2009 Coen Brothers movie, 13-year-old Danny (Aaron Wolff) gets super-duper high on weed before his bar mitzvah and is so stoned during the service that he nearly passes out on the Torah. Luckily he makes it through, but it’s touch-and-go there for a while. The amusing scene is just one small part of the movie, but it stands out for how well it depicts the overwhelming feeling of standing up at the bimah to sing-read a foreign language in front of dozens of people. High or not, it’s a terrifying — and exhilarating — experience.
Curb Your Enthusiasm (Season 6, Episode 10 “The Bat Mitzvah”)
Would you ever expect an important event to go smoothly on Curb? In this 2007 episode, Larry — instead of simply enjoying the free food at Sammi’s bat mitzvah — makes the event all about himself by giving a toast with the sole purpose of denying a rumor that he put a gerbil up his butt. Suffice it to say Jeff and Susie aren’t pleased, and the day likely goes down in history as the only bat mitzvah to ever reference that Richard Gere rumor.
Hey Arnold (Season 2, Episode 15 “Harold’s Bar Mitzvah”)
The Nickelodeon cartoon Hey Arnold produced many great episodes in its heyday, including this memorable 1997 installment featuring the bar mitzvah of the apparently 13-year-old fourth-grader Harold. Scared to become an adult in the eyes of God, Harold runs away and has to be convinced by Arnold to return in time for the ceremony. Luckily, Harold realizes that he can still be an immature kid if he wants to, and the whole gang (even Helga!) ends up dancing to the Hora. Harold’s Judaism is rarely mentioned again, but hey, at least it results in a solid party and a good life lesson.
The Simpsons (Season 15, Episode 6 “Today I Am a Clown”)
Krusty wants a star on the Jewish Walk of Fame, so he decides to have a bar mitzvah, having never had one as a teen. The resulting event, a.k.a. Krusty the Clown’s Wet ’n’ Wild bar mitzvah, is such a spectacle — Mr. T attends! — that he sells it to Fox as a TV special. But Krusty’s dad, a rabbi, is disappointed in his son not taking Judaism seriously, so the clown ends up having a traditional temple service afterward. It’s a really solid Simpsons episode, earning 2004 Emmy award recognition for Dan Castellaneta’s voice work and a Writer’s Guild nod for Joel H. Cohen’s script. All’s well that ends well for the Jews of Springfield!
Big Mouth (Season 1, Episode 9 “I Survived Jessi’s Bat Mitzvah”)
Leave it to Big Mouth, a show that never shies away from depicting adolescence in all its awkward glory, to have a top-tier bat mitzvah episode. Jessi’s party includes acrostic poems, an overly sexual cantor, and the theme of “Great Women in HERstory” featuring Anne Frank as a table setting, which is exactly what a well-meaning but clueless 13-year-old would do. The whole 2017 episode is a chaotic and cringy delight, just like the show itself.
Pen15 (Season 2, Episode 9 “Bat Mitzvah”)
No show has ever gotten middle-school life as well as Pen15, and the series’ bat mitzvah episode is no exception. Anna and Maya’s mean-girl classmate, Becca, invites the entire grade to her upcoming celebration, and the event is perfectly cringy, hilarious gold. It features all the classic bat mitzvah highlights: making a highly awaited “grand entrance,” violently waving around glow sticks, turning your haftarah portion into an opportunity for a dramatic solo. Yet the 2021 episode also goes serious with the girls having a moving discussion about the survival of the Jewish people. That’s Judaism for you — there’s no celebration without some good ol’ sadness, too.
Cha Cha Real Smooth (2022)
A tiny indie that flew deeply under the radar when it was released in June 2022, Cha Cha Real Smooth is an absolute delight. Starring Cooper Raiff (who wrote and directed) as a bar/bat mitzvah “party starter” who falls for the young mom (Dakota Johnson) of his younger brother’s classmate, the film is more concerned with its adult romance than the teenage parties of its setting. But oh, are those bar and bat mitzvah scenes done well. Every detail, from the glowstick décor to the airbrushed T-shirts to the hilariously awkward group dances, feels like a perfect recreation of real life. It’s cute, it’s cringy, and it’s heartwarming, just as these events should be.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Season 2, Episode 10 “Will Scarsdale Like Josh’s Shayna Punim?”)
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was one of the most openly Jewish shows ever on TV, so it’s no surprise it had a killer bar mitzvah episode. In the 2017 installment, Rebecca brings her boyfriend Josh to a family bar mitzvah and is displeased to discover him bonding with her relatives and getting in on the fun — since, as he should know, Jews are inherently miserable. It leads into a rousing Hora-dancing rendition of “Remember That We Suffered” led by Patti LuPone, which is so entertaining on its own that the rest of the (great) episode is just sugar on top.
You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah (2023)
What a fantastic year it’s been for films about preteen Jewish girls in the suburbs. Coming four months after the excellent Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, the new Netflix movie is another rare gem of a dramedy that dares to treat its preteen lead with respect. In Stacy’s eyes, her entire social future hinges on the outcome of her bat mitzvah, which she envisions as featuring private yachts and guest appearances by Olivia Rodrigo. The filmmakers (director Sammi Cohen and writer Alison Peck) have a good time making gentle fun of the fanfare while still taking Stacy’s anxieties seriously. They understand that middle school is scary enough without also being told you’re on the brink of adulthood. And as the chaotic-good Stacy, Sandler is an electrifying screen presence, making the teen’s struggles through friendship changes, one-sided crushes, and never-ending Hebrew school mornings feel vividly real. Jews and goys alike will see themselves reflected in You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah’s empathetic portrait of a pre–bat mitzvah emotional rollercoaster. And to that, we say “L’chaim.”