A Bar Mitzvah is a special time in every young Jewish boy’s life. A religious ceremony associated with achieving the age of adulthood, the Bar Mitzvah includes several traditional components including leading the congregation in prayer, reading from the Torah, and giving a prepared speech. Afterwards, you celebrate with friends and family, including dancing a traditional dance called the Horah with a bunch of Klingons.
It’s possible that the last part there is just me… because I had a Star Trek themed Bar Mitzvah party!
When it came time to choose the theme for my party, it was an easy choice. As someone who had dealt with anti-Semitic discrimination in school, a future of “infinite diversity in infinite combinations” where different cultures get along had long appealed to me. Star Trek was also something I’d shared with my mom, which seemed appropriate for a family celebration. (Dad, to his credit, was extremely supportive of this Mitzvah plan despite not being a fan himself).
When the big day came, the morning’s services went smoothly. At least part of this was because my Rabbi had gently suggested that I should speak rather than chant the prayers I was leading due to my horrific singing voice (a problem that did not resolve itself with the conclusion of puberty, though I have since been quoted about the value of karaoke as a professional networking skill).
Since the Haftorah portion I had been assigned to read dealt with some pretty strange subject matter, I even joked in my speech to the congregation that my non-Jewish friends who were there supporting me were going to leave the service thinking that all the weird stuff they’ve ever heard about Jews was true! Little did they know how much weirder their day was gonna get. We’d made the choice in advance to not tell any of the guests that the evening’s celebration was Star Trek themed! Mom had even told her friends about the fancy dress she had purchased for the party, which was totally made up — their faces when they saw what she was actually wearing were priceless
My mom, my dad, my brother and I dressed up in Star Trek uniforms (I would go on to get some extra use out of mine by later wearing it to high school a few times). We invited members of a local fan club to attend in costume, which is where our Horah-dancing Klingons came from. The decorations were all Star Trek themed as well, the signing board was my 13 year old face pasted onto a cardboard cutout of Captain Picard, and the party favors said “thanks for beaming aboard the Starship David.” While a few of the more traditional types among our invitees were pretty shocked at first — because this is just not what a Bar Mitzvah party traditionally consists of, to put it mildly — but in the end, resistance was futile and everyone ended up having a blast.
Every young Jew believes that their Bar Mitzvah party is the best, but I heard that mine was the best from lots of my Hebrew School classmates. Some of my favorite memories include a cousin trying repeatedly to learn how to pronounce Q’plah and my father’s longtime secretary slow dancing with a Klingon warrior. Dad, God bless him, is pathologically incapable of doing the “live long and prosper” hand signal correctly, despite the gesture having Jewish roots.
Later in life, in my professional capacity as a marine conservation biologist, I had the opportunity to spend the day on a research vessel with Gene Roddenberry’s son, who, among other things, runs an ocean conservation organization called the Roddenberry Dive Team. I showed him pictures of my Star Trek themed Bar Mitzvah, and I’ll treasure his reply for the rest of my life: “As you might expect, I’ve seen a lot of geeky things in my life. But this may be the geekiest thing I’ve ever seen.”
There are many Star Trek fans out there, and fandom is not and should not be a contest. But in terms of having a Star Trek themed Bar Mitzvah in the 1990s, to my knowledge I boldly went where no one had gone before. And to anyone else out there worrying if you should let your geek flag fly, I would encourage you to make it so.
Dr. David Shiffman (he/him) is a marine conservation biologist and science journalist based in Washington, DC. Follow him on Twiter @WhySharksMatter, where he's always happy to answer any questions anyone has about sharks.