Adam Langer’s novel Crossing California is a humorous coming-of-age novel centered on the teens of three families who live in Chicago’s Jewish neighborhood of West Rogers Park in 1979. The interconnected band of characters navigate prosperity and need, alienation, love, and desire, through and within their Jewish identities. In this excerpt, Jill Wasserstein, who is about to become a Bat Mitzvah, is frustrated at the formulaic social rituals and conspicuous consumption surrounding the event. She attends K.I.N.S., a modern Orthodox synagogue in West Rogers Park, which was established in 1924 as Knesses Israel Nusach Sfard.
Suggested Activities:Ask students to characterize Bar and Bat Mitzvah culture in their own experience. How is it similar to or different from the rituals and receptions Jill attends? How does Jill’s Bat Mitzvah experience compare to Eleanor Hoffman’s Confirmation experience in Who Would Be Free (resource #4 above)?
A “champagne snowball” is an activity that was common at DJ-led Bar/Bat Mitzvah receptions in the 1980s in which the kids at the party would circle around the Bar or Bat Mitzvah, who would pick a dance partner. They would dance until the DJ said “champagne snowball,” and then each of the dancers would pick a different partner, until everyone was dancing. Invite your students to do a “champagne snowball” or another popular DJ-led Bar/Bat Mitzvah reception party game (like “Coke vs. Pepsi”). Then, ask students to discuss how this party culture relates to the coming of age rituals of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah itself. Some possible answers include the element of public performance, the idea of stepping into adult roles (like participating in romance), and the ritualized nature of the games.
Source: Adam Langer, Crossing California. (New York: Riverhead Books, 2005), 200-201.