Raising the Bar| December 20, 2022
My older sisters were all still doing the pizza bar and kumzitz. It might have been simple but there was nothing like good old-fashioned fun
our quinoa salad looks divine,” Bella gushed. “And so healthy! Nothing like my fully loaded pastrami roll.”
“It tastes better than it looks,” I replied, opening the lid of my salad container and starting to eat. “I’m saving all the calories for next week.”
“Don’t talk about Chanukah food and calories in the same conversation,” Hadassa chimed in. “My mouth is watering for some heavenly fried stuff already.”
“Speaking of Chanukah,” I said between mouthfuls. “We need to talk about the party. We’re actually going away for Shabbos Chanukah this year, so Sunday doesn’t work, but I’m happy to host it on Wednesday if that’s what everyone wants. Unless someone else wants to host it a different day.”
Our class may have been small, but it still wasn’t easy to get everyone to agree most of the time. Regarding the Chanukah party, everyone was happy for me to play hostess and just like that, with one announcement, our annual class Chanukah party was sorted. Our basement had hosted numerous parties over the years — too many to count. I was the sixth sister in a string of girls and considering the fact that we had a huge basement and a chilled mother who didn’t mind the noise or mess of teenage girls, our basement had become the preferred location over the years.
The Chanukah parties always followed the same schedule. I would collect a small amount of money from everyone and supply pizza dough, cheese, and tons of toppings. I also provided the pizza maker we used to make DIY pizzas. Everyone brought along some nosh which we set out on a table for dessert, and one or two pairs of girls would offer to make a game, or I would take an idea from one of my sisters. The highlight was the kumzitz at the end. We would turn off the lights, put some tea lights on a low coffee table, bring out the throw cushions and rugs, and then regardless of anyone’s musical abilities, we would sing the night away.
We lived in a small, out of town community and although this year was our first year in high school, nothing much had changed. It was still the same motley bunch of classmates that had been together since elementary school. I didn’t see any reason to deviate from the usual schedule. My older sisters were all still doing the pizza bar and kumzitz. It might have been simple but there was nothing like good old-fashioned fun.
From the first night we lit menorah, our house was a merry-go-round of fun, laughter, and tasty delicacies. Wednesday, the night of our party, my two besties Bella and Hadassa came over early to set everything up. We set the pizza bar up and then laid out lots of empty bowls on the dessert tables. As everyone arrived, they opened their goodies into the waiting bowls. There were lots of duplicates and triplicates and it was clear which items were on sale in our one and only kosher supermarket, but nobody minded and the party was the usual roaring success.
The next day we packed up to spend Shabbos Chanukah with my grandparents. On Motzaei Shabbos my cousin Chava took me as a visiting guest to her class’s Chanukah party. I was dumbstruck by the originality and extravagance of the theme, food, decor and entertainment. Later that night, when we were enjoying a good DMC, I told Chava (quite proudly) about our class Chanukah party and what a good time we’d had.
“Don’t be insulted,” she started, and I knew even before she finished her sentence that she was about to say something insulting. “But that’s the sort of party the young kids have here. Homemade pizza, potato chips, jellybeans, and some singing. I mean, it’s sweet, but aren’t you ready to grow up a bit?”
And here I had been feeling all grown up. Suddenly, good old-fashioned fun seemed nerdy and stifling.
As the year went on, I kept referring back to Chava’s Chanukah party as the yardstick for sophistication that my class should be aiming for. Every time I spoke to my cousin, she would describe the different events held by her school or class and I couldn’t help but to compare it to what was going on in my school. I would discuss the differences with my friends, but most of them were happy and didn’t see the need to raise the bar. “This is the way things have always been done in our school; why change a good thing?”
“Just because that’s how our school has always done things,” I griped, “doesn’t mean we have to keep doing things that way. Times have moved on, standards have changed.” I would animatedly describe the different events Chava’s school held and although they were interested in hearing about them, nobody besides for me seemed to have any interest in changing the status quo of anything.
“You’re not doomed,” Chava said when I lamented my fate to her. “You just have to give them a taste of something different. Don’t make the same Chanukah party again. Show them what a real party should look like.”
I managed to get Bella and Hadassa on board and we enjoyed several conferences with Chava and her friends to start planning something different from anything our class had ever seen. It didn’t take long for all of us to get caught up in the excitement, despite my friends’ initial reluctance.
We decided we were going to keep the planning a secret and surprise the class but there were two problems. First of all, the money. No more homemade pizzas or eight packages of discounted jellybeans. We were going all out with the food and decor but it cost money. Lots of it. Even when we divided it by 20 the number was still high. “It’s not unreasonable,” Chava reassured us when we called her for some sympathy. “We all chip in and pay. Being grown up is expensive.”
Still, as persuasive as Chava sounded over the phone, she wasn’t dealing with our classmates after we told everyone how much they would each need to chip in.
“My mother’s never gonna give me so much money,” and “Why can’t we keep things how we’ve always done it?” were just some of the milder responses.
But we persevered and we managed to get money from every girl. We spent an endless amount of time planning and preparing and then planning some more, but in the end, it paid off and we managed to creat a magazine-worthy party that had all my older sisters gawking in admiration. Not to mention my classmates’ delighted reactions when they saw what we had prepared for them. Still, there was no denying that the secrecy and the complaints tainted the atmosphere. Despite all the upgrades, the party was nice but I had to admit that it was definitely not as spirited as it usually was.
The next day in school all the older grades were talking about our Chanukah party. “That’s it. You’ve raised the bar for our little school,” one of my older sister’s friends said. “Everyone loved the pictures. No more going back to homemade pizzas. I suppose next year will have to be something even better.”
It should have made me happy that I’d finally succeeded in opening everyone’s eyes to the boring simplicity of our school and our lives in general, but unexpectedly I felt sad. I had raised the bar, but did we really achieve anything? Had the party been more fun? Were the girls happier now?
The answer was screaming from my conscience as much as I tried to shut it down with everyone’s admiring comments. I had been so intent on raising the bar that I hadn’t thought beyond that. It wasn’t worth the price. And the worst part, which I knew deep down in my heart as much as I tried to deny it, was that once standards had been raised, there was no turning back.
(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 941)
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