My B-M

By Harvey Tobkes

In case you were thinking otherwise the headline stands for My Bar Mitzvah, and that event dates back to 1941 but I still remember it all.

At my Bar Mitzvah we did not have a professional photographer, but we did have Manny Collins, my father’s good friend.. It seems Manny was very susceptible to the effects of alcohol and after 2 drinks he was more plastered than the walls, so we never had a single photo as a remembrance, although I still have among my mementos, the typed copy of my Bar Mitzvah speech.


My father was very impulsive guy and he had a creative idea as a way to add to the evening’s entertainment.

This turned out well. Here’s the story and it all happened in the early 1940’s:

My mom and dad rented a bungalow every summer for the family vacation in Rockaway. It was wonderful times and every block was unique and neighborly. There was the ice-man with his slabs of ice for the Ice Box in the kitchen, there was Dugan the Baker hawking boxes of the world’s best chocolate covered cupcakes, there were block parties and shows put on by the residents that always featured a mock wedding with a pregnant bride, or I should say (a man dressed as a bride with a belly-pillow stuffed beneath his bridal gown.

There was also “Princess.” She was a corpulent colored lady (black people weren’t invented yet) who went from block to block singing favorite old Yiddish songs. She was soooo good, with a rich voice similar to Mahalia Jackson; people responded by dancing and contributing spare change and dollar bills.
To cut a long story short, my father signed her up (with a handshake and a promised fee of $25) to perform at my Bar Mitzvah; she was magnificent and her songs belted out in the rich Yiddish language were sensational. I particularly remember her doing “Yossel, Yossel” and as a finale, “My Yiddisher Mamma.” Naturally, the guests were all in tears and the following week Princess reverted to her role as the Street Singer of Rockaway.

Nowadays, the ceremony of passing from boyhood to manhood is celebrated by ludicrous, profligate spending to make an elaborate affair for a bunch of kids who have a great time, while the adult guests are getting headaches from the wild music and can’t wait to leave.

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