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How Adam Sandler’s ‘You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah’ drew on real-life Jewish celebrations

(JTA) — To prepare for their role in creating Adam Sandler’s latest movie, crew members hit the Toronto bar and bat mitzvah circuit.

Production designer Perry Blake and set decorator Julia Altschul, guided by a local consultant on the Jewish coming-of-age ceremony, crashed 10 parties within a matter of weeks.

“We saw how amazing and big and outlandish and extravagant they were,” Blake told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “With a movie, you usually set your sights high — bigger than the real world. But that was like, wow, the real world is really amazing.”

The team borrowed several features from the events they attended, from 30-foot-wide videos honoring the bar and bat mitzvah celebrants to costly DJs to fanciful lighting displays. All of those led to to the lavish sets in “You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah,” which hits Netflix on Friday.

One circus-themed party inspired the dazzling Carnivale-themed bar mitzvah that opens the film.

“We actually hired one of the people who was working at this circus bar mitzvah to be in our movie,” said Altschul. “She was a stilt walker and she had different outfits. So at the circus bar mitzvah she was a bearded lady and then at ours, she was this really amazing, flamboyant butterfly girl.”

The world of extravagant, euphoric and angst-charged parties for 13-year-olds is the setting of Sandler’s new comedy, a coming-of-age drama that is also an onscreen vehicle for his real-life Jewish family. Sandler plays the befuddled, uncool dad Danny Friedman to Stacy and Ronnie Friedman, portrayed by his real-life daughters, Sunny and Sadie Sandler, while his wife Jackie Sandler has a smaller role as the mother of Stacy’s best friend Lydia.

Idina Menzel, Sandler’s co-star in “Uncut Gems,” reunites with him for “You Are So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah.” (Scott Yamano/Netflix)

The friendship between Stacy and Lydia makes up the backbone of the film, which is based on Fiona Rosenbloom’s 2005 book of the same name. The two girls start out planning their dream bat mitzvah parties together, but a rift over Hebrew school stud Andy Goldfarb (Dylan Hoffman) threatens to destroy both their friendship and their Jewish rites of passage.

Sandler has previously appeared in movies with Jewish themes, including the comedy “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan,” about a legendary Israeli soldier, and acclaimed dramas “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” and “Uncut Gems.” (The Jewish actress Idina Menzel starred opposite Sandler in “Uncut Gems,” about the diamond business, and again plays his character’s wife in the new film.)

But none has portrayed a centerpiece of Jewish family life so thoroughly, and so earnestly. “You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah” shows Stacy practicing her Torah portion; agonizing over her “mitzvah project,” a service initiative that many congregations encourage; and meeting with her hipster, often-on-the-treadmill rabbi, played by comedian Sarah Sherman. (The movie, directed by Sammi Cohen and written by Allison Peck, filmed in part at a real Toronto Conservative synagogue, Beth Tzedec.)

For Stacy, Lydia and their friends, the point of the milestone is the party. The movie explores the intense pressure that families, especially in affluent communities, can face to throw the best-ever bash. Bar and bat mitzvah parties in the United States can cost between $10,000 and $40,000, or upwards of $100,000 for families in New York City and Los Angeles, according to The Bash, an event-planning platform — though the price tag can easily rise higher for families that choose pricey venues and entertainment. One 2015 celebration in New Jersey that featured teen idol Nick Jonas reportedly topped $1 million.

Sandler’s character battles back against the pressure. After Stacy demands a private yacht on the Hudson River and pop star Olivia Rodrigo on a jet ski, her father responds: “When I got bar mitzvahed, we had a party in Grandma’s basement. We all split this giant matzo ball. That was the fun. You know what the theme was? Being Jewish!”

One coming-of-age party in particular fueled the crew’s imagination: star Sunny Sandler’s real-life bat mitzvah, which took place in Los Angeles just a few months before the film started shooting. Blake attended the ceremony and the celebration along with Cohen and Peck.

“That was Adam Sandler’s daughter, so it was pretty over-the-top, too,” said Blake.

The event was notable not only for its famous attendees, including Jennifer Aniston, a close family friend, and Jewish director Judd Apatow, who is Sandler’s former roommate. Like the fictional party at the climax of the film, Sunny Sandler’s bat mitzvah was Candyland-themed. Blake took photos of its impressive candy buffet and pink-and-purple color scheme, which directly inspired the movie set.

The crew worked with Heather Glowinsky, the proprietor of Rockpaper Events in Toronto, to sample other glitzy celebrations. But though the crew had fun building elaborate party scenes, they said they also sought to convey the significance of a ritual that unites Jewish families.

“The coolest thing was just seeing that it’s so much about family,” Blake said. “Just seeing the old grandma table with one kid there, or the parents all hanging out and they just know each other, and all the kids know each other from going to Hebrew school.”

Altschul, who has a Jewish father but did not have a bat mitzvah celebration herself, said the bar-and-bat-mitzvah-crashing season made her rethink her own connection to Jewish tradition.

“I realized how much I know about being Jewish,” she said. “I really didn’t consider myself so Jewish, and then I realized that my grandma and my dad had actually instilled so many things in me. So that was a nice discovery.”

The post How Adam Sandler’s ‘You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah’ drew on real-life Jewish celebrations appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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New Faculty Campaign Aims to Show Solidarity With Jewish Students

Anti-Israel students protest at Columbia University in New York City. Photo: Reuters/Jeenah Moon

Over 1,000 university professors will participate in a new campaign to show solidarity with Jewish students experiencing levels of antisemitism that are without precedent in the history of the United States, the Academic Engagement Network (AEN), which promotes academic freedom, announced on Tuesday.

Titled “KeeptheLightOn,” the initiative comes amid a reckoning of congressional investigations, lawsuits, and civil rights inquiries prompted by an explosion of antisemitic discrimination at some of America’s most prestigious universities. It will see the formation of a new group, the Faculty Against Antisemitism Movement (FAAM), comprising professors from across the US who will pressure senior administrators at their schools to address anti-Jewish hatred as robustly as other forms of racism.

“We have written books, op-eds, and articles, but they are not penetrating the echo chamber of anti-Zionist antisemitism,” Southwestern University English professor Michael Saenger said in a press release. “As with previous protest movements, visual displays are sometimes necessary to get people to stop demonizing marginalized groups. We need to respond to bullying and hate, directed against ourselves and Jewish students, more directly and more personally: by visibly advocating for a university that treats Jews as people, and that treats Israel as a nation.”

As part of the campaign, FAAM professors will leave their office lights on after hours to “publicly demonstrate their commitment to fighting antisemitism.” AEN added on Tuesday that the lights will “also symbolize the faculty’s commitment to ‘light a fire’ under administrators to ensure a better academic year ahead.”

“Keep the Light On” was inspired by University of California, Berkeley professor Richard Hassner, who last month held what was widely believed to be the first teacher “sleep-in” protest of antisemitism, AEN said. For two weeks, Hassner lived in his office until administrators agreed to stop an anti-Zionist group’s blockade of a campus foot-bridge which made it impossible for Jewish students to cross without being verbally abused.

Numerous Jewish faculty members at other campuses have also begun stepping up and demanding a change. Some have organized faculty trips to Israel. Others have cobbled their peers together to form groups — such as Yale’s Forum for Jewish Faculty & Friends and Indiana University’s Faculty and Staff for Israel — which have since grown exponentially and will serve as a well of support for FAAM.

“The FAAM initiative is both a distressing sign of the times and a hopeful symbol for the future not only for Jews but also for the academy,” Smith College professor and AEN advisory board member Donna Robinson Divine said. “An academy that has become the core location for an activism promoting social justice cannot sustain its credibility by tolerating hostile attacks against its Jewish student and faculty. Nor can education leaders preserve the legitimacy of the universities over which they preside by ignoring the recycling of this old and dangerous hatred. Rooting out antisemitism in classrooms, lecture halls, and social gatherings is thus as important for Jewish students and faculty as it is for the academy and the nation.”

As The Algemeiner has previously reported, Jewish college students have never faced such extreme levels of hatred. Since Oct. 7 — when Hamas-led Palestinian terrorists invaded Israel, massacred 1,200 people, and kidnapped 253 others as hostages — they have endured death threats, physical assaults, and volleys of racist verbal attacks unlike anything seen in the US since the 1950s.

Many college officials at first responded to the problem sluggishly, according to critics, who noted universities offered a host of reasons for why antisemitic speech should be protected even as they censored students and professors who uttered statements perceived as being conservative. At the same time, progressive thought leaders came under fire for hesitating to acknowledge a swelling of antisemitic attitudes in institutions and organizations reputed to be champions of civil rights and persecuted minority groups. One recent study found that US universities have demonstrated an “anti-Jewish double standard” by responding to Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel and the ensuing surge in campus antisemitism much less forcefully than they did to crimes perpetrated against African Americans and Asians.

The situation changed after three presidents of elite universities were hauled before the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce to account for their handling of antisemitism and said on the record that there are cases in which they would decline to punish students who called for a genocide of the Jewish people. The stunning admissions prompted the resignations of Elizabeth M. Magill as president of University of Pennsylvania and eventually of Claudine Gay, Harvard University’s former president, who would not leave until a series of reporters exposed her as a serial plagiarist.

The US Congress is currently investigating whether several colleges intentionally ignored discrimination when its victims were Jewish. On Wednesday, its focus will shift to Columbia University, where Jewish students have been beaten up and harassed because they support Israel. The school’s president, Minouche Shafik, is scheduled to testify, and the event promises to be a much scrutinized affair.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post New Faculty Campaign Aims to Show Solidarity With Jewish Students first appeared on

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Adath Israel and Beth David: a pair of Conservative synagogues in Toronto narrowly decided against becoming one

It was close, but Toronto synagogues Adath Israel and Beth David will remain separate entities after Beth David’s vote on amalgamation fell short of the required two-thirds threshold. Adath Israel, the larger of the two Conservative synagogues by membership and facility size, voted overwhelmingly on April 14 to amalgamate, with 91 percent in favour. But […]

The post Adath Israel and Beth David: a pair of Conservative synagogues in Toronto narrowly decided against becoming one appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Amid Dimming Hopes That This Year Will Be in Jerusalem, Jews in Ethiopia Prepare for World’s Largest Seder

Jewish women in Ethiopia sort through grain to be used in baking matzot. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

The Jewish community in the embattled region of Gondar, Ethiopia is preparing for the world’s largest Passover Seder this year, with nearly 4,000 Ethiopian Jews residing in camps and awaiting immigration to Israel expected to attend.

Over 80,000 matzot have been baked by members of the community over the past several weeks in preparation for the holiday, Jeremy Feit, the president of the Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ) aid group, told The Algemeiner. A smaller Seder, with almost 1,000 attendees, will take place in the capital of Addis Ababa.

The Jewish holiday of Passover, which celebrates the Biblical story of the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt, will begin next Monday evening and end the following Tuesday.

A portion of the 80,000 matzot for use during Passover in Ethiopia. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

Past Passover Seders in Ethiopia have provided attendees a rare opportunity to partake in the traditional feast, offering some their first ever taste of meat — a luxury they could not otherwise afford. But according to Feit, food price hikes of 50 percent to 100 percent have meant that this year’s feast will largely consist of potatoes and eggs.

“With the extreme price increases and the resulting hunger, the community will feel the intensity as they pray to celebrate the Seder next year with their families in Jerusalem,” Feit said.

The Seder comes on the heels of an airlift of medical supplies for the beleaguered community, facilitated by SSEJ. Ten pallets of aid were delivered to a medical clinic established by the group a year ago in Gondar, serving 3,300 children and 700 elderly. The aid was dedicated in memory of former US Sen. Joe Lieberman, who served as SSEJ’s honorary chairman and who passed away during the weeks-long airlift operation.

SSEJ, which is based in the US  and entirely volunteer-run, is the only provider of humanitarian aid to Jews in Ethiopia. The group aims to mitigate some of the hunger ravaging the community by providing more than 2.5 million meals per year, prioritizing very young children, pregnant and nursing women, and students at a local yeshiva, who Feit said were often “so hungry they would faint in class.”

SSEJ and its leaders have assisted around 60,000 Ethiopians immigrate to Israel, more than the total number brought to the Jewish state during its storied military operations in 1984 and 1991.

Jewish men in Ethiopia need the dough that will be baked into matzot. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

According to Feit, some 13,000 Jews still remain in Ethiopia. Recent years have seen several hundred Ethiopian Jews immigrate to Israel at a time, especially during periods of violent civil strife, but even that trickle has dried up following the brutal Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on southern Israel.

“The average person in Gondar and Addis Ababa has been waiting to make aliyah for 20 years,” Feit said, using the Hebrew term for immigration. “They left their villages with the thought that Israel was going to bring them in. And they’ve been left since as internally displaced refugees.”

Feit said the decades-long wait is especially painful for those with first-degree relatives in Israel, and is further compounded for those with relatives serving in the Israeli military.

“Jews in Ethiopia are extremely concerned about their [family members’] welfare as the IDF [Israel Defense Fores] battles Hamas terrorists” in Gaza, he explained. “They are especially concerned given the vastly disproportionate number of Ethiopian Jewish soldiers killed in Israel during the current conflict.” Jews in Ethiopia, he averred, comprise “one of the most Zionist communities in the world.”

Since Oct. 7, there has been no indication as to how many Ethiopian Jews will be brought to Israel and when. Those with relatives in Israel were struck with another blow when Israel’s economy took a hit following the Hamas onslaught, and many of those who rely on remittance from their loved ones in Israel stopped receiving money.

“This has left the Jews in Ethiopia in a dire situation, with food and medical care hard to come by. Living in squalor, without access to clean water, electricity, or even bathrooms, the malnourished Jews in Ethiopia suffer untold horrors,” Feit said.

Despite the grim depiction, Feit struck a more positive note about the upcoming holiday.

Ethiopian Jews eating matzot in synagogue last year. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

“Given that most of the year they’re feeling despair at their lack of redemption, at least Passover is a time to celebrate the possibility of redemption and reunification,” he said. “Being able to celebrate with thousands of their friends and family members in a joyous celebration of Passover is a welcome relief.”

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