100th Post!

I never thought I’d make it this far – I thought I’d lose interest within a week – but my 100th post is here. I hope you’ve been enjoying my random ramblings up to now, and there will be more rambles, rants, reviews, and random memories to come.

Now, apropos, I’d like to comment on an interesting news story I read about recently.

On December 2, NPR correspondents Gregory Warner and David Kestenbaum published a piece on the afterlife of American clothing, which you can read here. Apparently, Africa is where America’s donated t-shirts go to die. Warner and Kestenbaum’s travels took them to Africa, where they ended up in a Kenyan clothing market. The t-shirt section, as one might suppose, is massive, considering the amount of custom-made t-shirts Americans distribute for film festivals, family reunions, and 5k runs, that usually end up either in the back of a messy closet or, as these were, donated to Goodwill and then sent over to Africa. That sentence had an inordinate amount of clauses.

One of the shirts they found was this gem from 1993, the classic “I [verbed] at [Jewish first name]’s [Bar/Bat] Mitzvah.”

Clearly, this Kenyan danced the night away in celebration of Jennifer becoming a woman.

Ah yes, the bar/bat mitzvah t-shirt. The shirt that you gladly took pictures in that night but never saw the light of day again. The bane of every laundress mother’s existence, especially for those mothers who had more than one kid attend the event, or, even worse, multiple children attending multiple different b’nei mitzvah circuits, thereby increasing the number and variety of garments, making it nearly impossible to sort after a particularly large load. “Which of you kids got slashed and burned at Jimmy and Kimmy’s eco-themed double-mitzvah?”

Upon reading the story and seeing the picture of the smiling Kenyan showing off the shirt, on December 10, Jillian Scheinfeld of Kveller.com set out to see if she could find the mysterious Jennifer. The only clues available were the date, November 20, 1993, and a tag sewn into the back bearing the name “Rachel Williams.” Armed with this info, Scheinfeld appealed to the Internet, and because this is 2013, the bat mitzvah girl was located exactly one day later. Thanks to the initiative and Facebook skills of Aaron Soclof from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the t-shirt’s owner, Rachel Williams (now Rachel Aaronson) was alerted to the presence of her discarded swag in a marketplace in Kenya and on computer screens across the Jewish world. Aaronson gladly consented to being interviewed, and at the end, gave Soclof the final piece of the puzzle: the identity of one Jennifer Slaim, now Rasansky, a Hebrew school friend at whose bat mitzvah Rachel Williams danced with the toons in Troy, Michigan in 1993. Aaron Soclof published the results of his search and interviews with the girls (who are still friends!) here. To bring the story full circle, Kestenbaum and Goldstein, our friends from NPR, published this follow-up which features a picture of Jennifer, all grown up, posing with the same shirt.

All in a day’s work.

This story takes me back to my own bar mitzvah. As the youngest in my class (and the least popular) my parents wanted my bar mitzvah party to be extra special, in contrast to all the Saturday night Beth El auditorium dances I’d been regularly attending for the past year of my life. It just so happened that earlier in the year, they had taken a ride on the now-defunct Liberty Limited, a dinner train that ran from New Freedom to York in southern Pennsylvania, and pitched it to me for a possible bar mitzvah venue. I probably mumbled something like “I don’t care,” but I ended up going with them toNew Freedom to see the train and figure out if it was financially feasible. As it turned out, the cost of renting three train cars for the afternoon (a car with chairs/tables for myself and my friends, a car with chairs/tables for all the adults, which included a “sky car” covered with a glass dome, and a big, open “dance car” to run around which came with a DJ who played me and my sister’s CDs) was less than that of a fancy party hall and hired DJ/ professional entertainment. My parents were thrilled with the idea that they’d come up with and at how cooperative the train company were. When I asked about having some sort of entertainment on the train, my parents set out to get that taken care of as well, hiring five local actors to act out a murder mystery on the train for my guests to solve.

The big day came, and honestly, I wasn’t too excited to attend. The only friends I had were a handful of people from my grade who’d bit the bullet to attend their 139th bar mitzvah that year, and a few from my synagogue, and even so, most of them were really my sister’s friends, going along for the ride to make me feel like I actually had friends. We met in the parking lot of my middle school and boarded a coach bus for the hourlong ride to the New Freedom train station, where we would board the train. At some point during the day I realized that my entire party would be in motion, and I couldn’t decide whether that was cool or nauseating. Since it was a Sunday morning, clothes were casual and food was of the breakfast variety, consisting of Goldberg’s bagels and donuts from the kosher Krispy Kreme – choices that I later discovered my friends appreciated, both in terms of eating familiar foods and for the girls who happily showed up in sweatshirts and jeans rather than the tiresome teenage excuse for an evening gown. As the day went on, I actually started to enjoy myself. We had a bunch of disposable cameras, and I remember taking lots of pictures of people (but not being in them myself), playing with my younger cousins, running around the train, and even going up to the front to honk the horn, something which I initially had no interest in doing, but…YOLO, you know? Plus, it was November in the beautiful Pennsylvania Dutch country, providing interesting vistas that changed throughout the party.

The party ended with little fanfare – we got back to New Freedom and back on the bus to Baltimore. I didn’t think much of it until I heard a few people still talking about it a few weeks later, with comments on how interesting and different it was. My favorite review came from my mother’s friend Denise, who was also mother of my friend Robin who had attended the party (names have been changed to protect the innocent). According to Denise: “Robin came home, threw up from motion sickness, and said she’d had the time of her life.”

That’s what I’m talking about.

Oh, and to answer the big question: yes, I had a t-shirt at my bar mitzvah. Since it was a mystery party, it was black, had a magnifying glass, and proudly proclaimed that the wearer had “solved the mystery at Jacob’s Bar Mitzvah.” I designed it myself, and I thought it was pretty slick. I still have mine, and I even wear it sometimes. I will not show you a picture of the shirt, so here’s this one instead:

Works Cited:

Kestenbaum, David and Jacob Goldstein. <http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2013/12/11/250200378/we-found-this-20-year-old-t-shirt-in-kenya-the-internet-found-the-original-owner>.

Scheinfeld, Jillian. “Let’s Help NPR Find the Owner of this Bat Mitzvah Shirt from 1993.” Kveller.com. 10 December 2013. <http://www.kveller.com/blog/parenting/lets-help-npr-find-the-owner-of-this-bat-mitzvah-t-shirt-from-1993/>.

Scheinfeld, Jillian. “Mystery Solved.” Kveller.com. 11 December 2013.< http://www.kveller.com/blog/parenting/jennifers-1993-bat-mitzvah-t-shirt-mystery-solved/>.

Soclof, Adam. “How Jennifer’s bat mitzvah t-shirt wound up in Africa.” Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 10 December 2013. <http://www.jta.org/2013/12/10/news-opinion/how-jennifers-bat-mitzvah-t-shirt-wound-up-in-africa>.

Warner, Gregory and David Kestenbaum. “The Afterlife of American Clothes.” National Public Radio. 10 December 2013. <http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2013/12/10/247362140/the-afterlife-of-american-clothes>

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