The “Not Mitzvah”: A Different Approach to Celebrating Milestones

Many cultures have a coming-of-age ceremony. A 13-year-old Jewish person has a Bar or a Bat Mitzvah. A young Latina may have a quinceanera. A young man of the Hamar tribe of Ethiopia jumps over a bull.

The "Not Mitzvah": A Different Approach to Celebrating Milestones

My family is not Jewish, nor LatinX, nor are we members of the Hamar tribe of Ethiopia. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to celebrate!

My oldest two daughters have both had a party celebrating crossing that bridge from childhood to adulthood. My oldest had her party at age 13; the middle just had her party at age 14. Hey, one of the advantages of Making Up Celebrations is that you can change the rules as you go along!

My sister is the one who suggested the tongue-in-cheek term “Not Mitzvah” for these kinds of parties; the party isn’t really commandment (mitzvah), but it is a blessing.

We rented Coralville’s lovely North Ridge Pavilion and invited all sorts of people–family, of course, including the cousins from Illinois and Minnesota, Sammi’s friends and their parents, and the people she has worked with as she volunteers. Sammi’s actual birthday is in January, but we opted to plan for March in the hopes that Iowa weather would cooperate. It didn’t, and on March 24 we found ourselves very worried about people traveling during the weird 6-10 inch snowstorm. Luckily, everyone from out of town made it to the event, although a few locals were still snowed in their driveways.

Every family has its own values. Ours are Family, Service to the Community, and Creativity. Our daughters both completed three projects, one in each of these realms.

The oldest interviewed her grandparents for the family project, did a dance for her creativity project, and collected toilet paper for the food pantry for her service project.

The middle child, Sammi, is the one who just celebrated 14. She chose to donate her time to two causes she cares about—working at the Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center, where along with her adult guide (that’d be me), she washes litter pans, learned to harness dogs, and hangs out with small animals like rabbits to help them get used to human voices. She also volunteers once a week with the teen volunteer program at the Coralville Public Library. As she said in the speech we made her give, she chose these charities because she loves to read, and because she loves animals “A lot!”

The "Not Mitzvah": A Different Approach to Celebrating Milestones

For her family project, Sammi interviewed people in our family who have sisters. This included both of her grandmothers, me, my sister, and her own sisters. These interviews were recorded and an edited video was shared with the crowd at the party. Her sisters stole the show, especially her 10-year-old little sister who, when asked “How do you and your sisters differ?” responded with, “They’re tall, I’m short.”

For her creative project, Sammi chose to do a dance. This surprised us all; Sammi has long been an internally creative person, and we thought she would choose a story to write and share. But as she explained, she likes to dance, and she likes to act, and dancing allows her to do both. She choreographed the number herself, and had only a bit of help from her big sister, who has danced for years. That help was mostly in the form of her sister shouting “Point your toes!” at her.

The "Not Mitzvah": A Different Approach to Celebrating Milestones

A Reason for Celebrating

One of my favorite parts of the evening was when Sammi’s friend-since-before-kindergarten took the microphone and talked about how great Sammi is. It’s wonderful to see your child so beloved. Although her other friends didn’t speak into the mic, their presence was a blessing, and it was wonderful to see my child, in the middle of those fraught middle school years, surrounded by a tight crew of friends.

We may not have had a first holy Communion to celebrate, or a debutante ball, but we still got a chance to show the world how great our kid is. And that’s a very happy feeling.

What are some of your family’s unusual traditions?


Sharon Falduto is a Central Iowa native who came to University of Iowa in 1991 and essentially never left the area. She is involved in local community theater, notably as one of the co-founders of Iowa City's Dreamwell Theatre. She has also directed children's plays with the Young Footliters group. Sharon works in with English Language Learners in a support position at Kirkwood Community College.. She lives in Coralville with her husband, Matt, and three daughters Rachel, Samantha, and Piper.


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