This morning at approximately 11:00 a.m., the doorbell rang, an odd thing on a Saturday in my household because here Saturday is Shabbos, the Sabbath, and friends know to knock when visiting. But on rare occasions a carpetbagger, Jehovah’s Witness or someone selling something will make it up the stairs and press the bell only to find themselves at the wrong threshold. Today it was Federal Express. The package they’d brought apparently required no signature because I saw the courier’s truck pull away as I opened the door. I looked at the box. It had my son’s name on it.
After Shabbos, my boy unwrapped the box. From all appearances, he’d received an expensive gift. He peeled away the bubble wrap, then worked his way through several layers of fine orange tissue paper to find a 13x9x2-in. perfect-bound, four-page, acrylic hardcover with expensive fabric endpapers and a woven bookmark hand-sewn into the lining. Sporting all the detailed production values of a high-end limited edition from Subterranean Press, this publication was glove-fit into a substantial Lucite shell with a laser cutout that allowed the book’s custom monogram to peek through, while the Lucite itself was custom-inscribed with my son’s name.
My boy examined it. No, not a book. It was an invitation to a classmate’s bar mitzvah in Livingston, New Jersey. The entire production must have cost at least $30-$40 apiece to produce. Perhaps more. It weighed just over 4 lbs., as described on the bill of lading, and had come all the way from Los Angeles courtesy of Creative Intelligence on Venice Blvd.
While I may not have been bred among the blueblood of Livingston, where new money (apparently so new it still smears) grows on trees, neither was I raised in a pumpkin patch. Regardless, in all my born days, I don’t believe I’ve seen a more garish, vulgar display of conspicuous wealth. We’re talking about an invitation, folks—something you read once, then toss away. The event it heralded was once holy to Jews. This one would take place at New York City’s Pierre. A black tie affair. I allowed my son to watch me throw the 4-lbs. epistle in the garbage.
Oscar Wilde referred to fox hunting as the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible. Never mind the environment. Never mind that the invitation for this “Jewish event” had been sent for specific overnight delivery to arrive at one’s home in violation of the Sabbath—I could chalk that up to ignorance. But the idea that moneyed Jews would throw away such money on unabashed, unblushing, unconstrained frippery frankly made me wanna womit. Only several weeks ago, there were all too many families in our surrounding communities—both mine and Livingston's—who lacked food for Pesach, and here’s my son staring at an invitation that cost over $100 each when you add in the overnight charges ($15 extra just to get it to us on Shabbos). Multiply that by 200 or 300 (or 500) invited guests. In a Lucite, custom-engraved shell no less. I can only imagine the pompous punctiliousness in store for everyone at the Pierre.
I have regretted sending my children to the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy since it left its modest dwellings in West Caldwell some years ago and moved to the palatial Livingston. The fig leaf of Torah Judaism they provide these days, after a king’s ransom in tuition, hardly seems protection from the pandemic ostentations that their Conservadox crowd find themselves helplessly, hopelessly addicted to. But this school's administration, like Herson's Chabad, like Ramaz, like any institution preying on the uninformed, knows instinctively like a good confidence man to pander to its wealthiest patrons; that at the end of the day, the business of business is business.
Does the presence of this bar-mitzvah invitation among the eggshells and tunafish scrapings raise the value of its neighboring contents in my trash can? More importantly, will there be anything even remotely Jewish about l'affaire à la Pierre? These are uncomfortable questions for terribly comfortable Jews.