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Everything you need to know about the Jewish tradition of throwing candy

Don’t be an Airhead

for The Brooklyn Paper

Dear Cantor Matt,

I don’t want to sound silly, but I’ve heard that it’s traditional to throw candy at the bar mitzvah boy during the service. Where does that come from? Should we do it?

— Is Twix True?

Dear Twix,

Don’t feel like an Airhead. This is an actual bar mitzvah tradition. And, I don’t want to (Star)burst your bubble, but this is one of those customs that sounds better on paper than in practice. Why? Let’s unwrap the convention so that we can better taste — err, I mean — understand it.

The tradition started with a service called an aufruf, which is when a soon-to-be married bride and groom would be called up to the Torah to get an aliyah. After they were done, members of the congregation would shower them with candy, to symbolize the beginning of a sweet life. Eventually, some temples figured they could do the same thing for bar or bat mitzvah kids.

But it doesn’t take a Dum Dum to recognize what happens when you put little projectiles into the hands of a couple hundred guests — including a large number of seventh graders — and give them permission to throw the Warheads at some hapless kid in an ill-fitting suit. He might as well be marked with the Hershey’s Kiss of Death. Talk about a Jawbreaker.

And what if you decide to choose a candy that’s less lethal, like those soft, individually wrapped jellied candies? One problem is that all candy must be distributed to the congregants before it’s time to toss them. That means that some younger siblings or cousins will have to go up and down the aisles holding baskets, letting guests take handfuls of candy, and passing them down the rows. And because that will undoubtedly take place while the Torah service is going on, there will be a lot of loud rustling of plastic in the background, which equates to a ton of distraction.

And when it’s time to throw them, an otherwise respectful and solemn service, turns into utter mayhem. The people in the back won’t be able to make their throws reach all the way to the binah, so poor Aunt Bessie sitting up front is going to get pummeled with Snickers — and she wasn’t the one who’s voice cracked during a haftorah! The poor lady will be picking pieces of Reeses Pieces out of her well-coiffed hair for the next hour. And then there’s Uncle Steve — he’s the one who thinks it will be really funny to wait for the throwing to subside and then slug his Baby Ruth at the binah when no one is expecting it. Thanks Steve, you just pegged the rabbi in the head when he wasn’t looking.

Finally, assuming everyone has survived, you still have a binah completely covered in candy. One custom is to call all the little kids up to collect the pieces and clean up the floor. And after all this, everyone is expected to sit quietly for the next hour of the service. Not to be a Sour Patch Kid, but that will never actually happen.

Still trying to guess my recommendation on Skittle-slinging?

Sure, it’s a lovely thought. It’s very meaningful to connect the act of taking on greater responsibility within the Jewish community with the sweetness of our tradition. But the reality will be a messy, loud, and chaotic few minutes in the middle of a service. And it may spoil something you have been looking forward to for years.

Cantor Matt Axelrod (Congregation Beth Israel, Scotch Plains, NJ) is the author of “Surviving Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah: The Ultimate Insider’s Guide.” He’s always happy to hear from you and he might answer your question in a future column. You can email him at cantormatt@mattaxelrod.com.

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Reader Feedback

Jk from Yhhfh says:
Where do they celebrate this tradition
Dec. 5, 2014, 12:47 pm
ofra gilinsky from israel says:
yes, but what is the alternative?

i threw flower petals over my husband to be at the shabbat hatan but my 13 year old son will die of shame if i do that.

pls advise.

shalom and kol tuv,

beachbash2503@hotmail.com
Dec. 23, 2015, 4:35 am
Raquel de Almeida from Cambridge,England says:
Our shul has this tradition and it may be chaotic but we feel is is part of the celebration. The children as well as some of the adults really look forward to a sweet during the sermon as some bar/bat mitzvah services are very long and the guests become easily bored.
There are some cantankerous members who feel that this is a "pagan" practice and it shouldn't happen, but they are in a minority and their mumbling are usually just that, mumblings under their not so sweet breaths.
Feb. 7, 2016, 6:33 am
Randye from Boynton Beach FL says:
Our congregation passes out the wrapped jellied candies before the service starts, and we throw them at the Bar Mitzvah in the social hall. Thus, getting it out of everyone's system and not disrupting the service!
June 6, 2016, 12:59 pm
Linda from Brooklyn says:
I often attend services at a Reform congregation in Jerusalem where people through small flowers instead. It's lovely. No one gets hurt, and even though it makes people happy, it's actually also a rather moving moment.
Something worthwhile to consider IMHO.
Oct. 28, 2016, 12:47 am
Linda from Brooklyn says:
Sorry about the misspelling. People THROW flowers, not through. Thanks for your understanding.
Oct. 28, 2016, 12:48 am

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